Digital influencer John Ford talks about the merits of COBie

September 2021

As we continue our interview series with COBie professionals, we spoke to John Ford, Galliford Try’s BIM and Digital Construction Lead, about his introduction to COBie and being one of the more influential BIM-minds in the UK.

John has been contributing to the UK BIM-journey for 10 years, helping to inform and develop information management industry standards. Having taken part in some of the early BIM case studies that lead to the BIM Maturity concept, John has now contributed to the authorship of several British and International information management standards as well authoring Parts B, C and F of the UK BIM Framework guidance.

As a buildingSMART COBie Certified Professional™, John talks about his experiences with the COBie Certified Professional Examination itself.

What is your background with COBie?

I first heard about COBie in 2008. I was researching standards to help me deliver operational maintenance information and came across COBie version 1 back when it was still in development. I read up on it and it seemed like an excellent way to integrate our traditional schedule data into a standard exchange process and format - so I pursued it further. The other option was to invent a bespoke information handover with each project which was - and still is - the norm when it comes to O&M handover delivery. But COBie seemed like a smarter and more agile way of doing things.

When I implemented COBie on the project I was doing, that was the first example of COBie being used in the UK. It was challenging but quite a successful achievement!

How has COBie benefitted the construction industry?

Our industry likes to reinvent the wheel a lot. Almost every data rich schedule we exchange - whether that be a door schedule or an equipment register - is different on each and every project. O&Ms that contain huge amounts of information are completely different from one to the next - even if you have two very similar assets. I believe that is because it is easier for contractor to throw information together than it is to spend time structuring it to a standard. However, in an increasingly digital environment, this approach is both laborious and ineffective. Digital processes demand a standardisation of data. If we want to harness the power of automation and machines, we need to follow a data structure.

COBie is not specifically designed to solve the challenges of how we structure door schedules - but it was designed to enhance the exchange process of operational and maintenance information that we as contractors hand over to our clients.

So, although COBie is considered to be most beneficial to clients, in fact it allows the whole supply chain to have a standard approach for how it exchanges its documents and asset data for the purposes of operational management and maintenance.

We just need more clients and their operators to become more digitised themselves. Consumers of COBie are currently the ones struggling to understand what to do with all the data now they have it - which is damaging the value of COBie.

How did you contribute to the creation of the COBie Certified Professional Exam?

Bill East approached me to help develop challenging questions for the exam. We wanted to really test the candidates to ensure they truly understand COBie and the issues one can face when implementing it. I have lost count of the amount of COBie files that have passed my desk with 100% bad data. Simple requirements that are well defined in the COBie standard, like naming your components in COBie as they are defined on your drawings and models, are essential otherwise all those pieces of equipment have no logic or meaning once exchanged. I focussed a lot of my attention on the elements of COBie that I have seen most often ignored or misunderstood, and ensured the questions covered them. That is how you can be sure that hiring a COBie Certified Professional will get you someone who is fully qualified and ready to deliver COBie well.

Who should take the exam?

There are lots of reasons you might want to take the exam. If you lead, manage or contribute to the COBie process in any way and you would like to learn more, test your understanding or provide assurances for your organisation and those you support then this exam is something you should seriously consider . It is one of the few certifications that I have faith in - and at the end, it provides an assurance that you do know what you are talking about when it comes to COBie. Very few certification programmes that have been developed in the last 10 years around BIM provide the same level of assurance.

I like to see that my BIM consultants have passed this exam, as very few of them truly understand COBie in as much depth as is needed. Some are not even aware of the COBie standard and think the spreadsheet is COBie all by itself - which is the greatest misconception and barrier to COBie adoption.

How has the COBie Certified Professional qualification impacted your work?

Many will agree that COBie is a hot topic for debate on projects. Lots of issues can cause disputes. You only need a misunderstanding of COBie by a client or a contractor to throw the whole project’s information management approach into chaos.

And if the opposing views are trying to persuade a single party on the right decision to make, having the COBie Certified Professional stamp can provide you with a decisive advantage and stop drawn out discussions. The greatest benefit for me personally is being able to provide my opinion alongside a certification that instils confidence in my clients!

John has co-authored two books with COBie founder Dr Bill East and regularly writes for industry publications such as Construction Manager Magazine and BIM Plus Magazine on the merits of COBie. To find out more about the buildingSMART COBie Certified Professional™ examination and understand if it’s right for you, visit the COBie Examination Structure page on our website.