openBIM for Facilities Management


The UK Government has defined 3 deliverables for publicly procured projects from April 1st 2016. These are PDF, native models and COBie (see diagram below). PAS 1192-2:2013 sets out the process for the production of these deliverables. Key to PAS 1192-2 is an Employers Information Requirement (EIR) which sets out a clients requirements for projects. Here begins the problem!

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Image: “Level 2 BIM” diagram courtesy of the BIM Technologies Alliance (BTA)

The principles of PAS 1192-2 are sound but the EIR contents list within the PAS has and is causing problems in the industry. The suggested contents in places read more like a BIM Execution Plan (BEP). The BEP is also required by PAS 1192-2 and is a response to the EIR setting out HOW and exactly WHO will deliver the outputs. An EIR though should be WHAT and WHEN information needs to be delivered. Some have recognised they need to define the what but have focussed solely on tools and not on the output requirements and the intended outcomes for the project.

The CIC BIM Protocol document also exacerbates this by providing a space for the client to specify the software to be used (Appendix 2 item 3.2). Whist the authors have provided assurance that this was only intended for use on certain projects this is not made clear. The inexperienced client can be excused for thinking that they need to select a single software for the project. This blog piece focuses on the need for clients to look beyond specifying particular tools and consider mandating open solutions for their asset information deliverable.

Skills not tools

Clients who specify tools are potentially limiting those that can tender for their projects. If this were known before the tender process then a client could select only those whose use a particular tool. However this is not normally the case and companies can get down to a shortlist and then be unable to meet the software requirements. Either way clients are potentially reducing their options by discounting large sections of the market. Some clients might not see this as an issue. There is however a scenario where all but one tenderer uses the ‘right’ tools but the one who doesn’t has far more experience of delivering BIM. The question is which is more important? Is it those who have chosen the ‘right’ software or those who have the skills regardless of tools and have the knowledge to deliver?

Of course BIM is a vehicle for better project delivery and project delivery alone is not just about technology. All disciplines offer a whole variety of skills and knowledge and this should be treated as a whole. Some of the more ‘famous’ architects in the UK don’t use the market leading software so does that mean they can’t do BIM or don’t provide real value to their clients? Of course not. Like all companies they use the technology that suits their business needs.

Employer Information Requirements

To date we have seen two types of Employers Information Requirements (EIR) emerge when it comes to technology. Some have gone for specifying particular software solutions and others have specified open formats. However, neither has yet focussed on the data required. Specifying the tools without specifying the actual requirements is missing the point. I could use the ‘right’ tool but not know how to deliver the requirements?


The important thing is to use the right tool for the job at the right time. For example, if you use Autodesk software, Revit might be the right tool for the MEP Consultant, but for the Civil Engineer it might make more sense to use Civil 3D or for the Architect to select Graphisoft ARCHICAD. Equally for a Structural Engineer they also may select Revit but the Steelwork Fabricator is more likely to select Tekla Structures because it is more suited to their business needs. Specifying tools may mean using the wrong tool for the job. Of course the output may still be achievable but it may not produce the best or most efficient outcome. Some tools will become dominant in certain areas but no one should be naive enough to think that only one tool can do the whole job.

We should also remember we live in a global market so different tools will be used in different territories. With the large multinational companies they will find it difficult to mandate specific tools and it makes more sense to remain open. Open also means that there is competition in the market and it encourages innovation. Having one tool can only mean one thing, price increases for all. This cannot be a good thing for the industry!

When it comes to technology we should also look at key tools that use open standards. For example Solibri is a key player in model checking and validation and this relies on IFC to do this process. Also the recent announcement that NBS had won the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) tender for the Digital Plan of Work (dPoW) and Classification (2 of the 3 missing components of “Level 2 BIM” – there is also PAS 1192-5) means that the tool will be developed as an open solution in the form of a web based Digital BIM Toolkit. The dPoW is based around IFC 2×3 format (a new IFC Model View Definition (MVD) for the dPoW is being developed). We have also seen NBS recently publish their BIM Object Standard and this is also built around IFC and COBie. So the direction is already being set.

To assist in the adoption of the dPOW the BIM Technologies Alliance (BTA), the software vendors group reporting to the Governments BIM steering group that includes all the major players, has defined and agreed what they are calling Level 2i.  Namely Level 2 using IFC for interoperability. (See Diagram)

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Image: “Level 2i BIM” diagram courtesy of the BIM Technologies Alliance (BTA)

This should not come as a surprise to anyone.  On page 61 of the 2011 BIS BIM Working Party Strategy paper it is stated:  Our final vision for the delivery of this information will be a fully web enabled transparent (to the user) scenario, based on the Building Smart IFC/IDM and IFD standards.”  IFC’s have always been on the Bew/Richards Maturity route map. Level 2i just helps us on our journey to sharable digital data. (see diagram below)

Level 2i BIM wedge

Image: BIM Maturity Diagram showing where “Level 2i BIM” fits in between “Level 2 BIM” and “Level 3 BIM” courtesy of Ben Wallbank, SmartBIM Solutions

In the vast bulk of projects BIM authoring tools are not required for day-to-day Facilities Management.  There are now a number of IFC based FM tools on the market, some of which will also allow the model to be modified by the client.

Native software files also degrade.  Software releases are growing more frequent and there is often no backwards compatibility from version to version.  IFC on the other hand is “boot strapped”.  Each release of IFC must be able to open all previous versions.  IFC files therefore offer clients a much more robust form of archived information.  If at some stage for example a facility needs extension or alteration an IFC file will provide the ablity for the work that has been done to be re-used. Authoring tools mean data is likely to be lost over a number of versions and there is no guarantee that those authoring tools will even exist in 30+ years time.


At “Level 1 BIM” and “Level 2 BIM” we have seen a number of key standards defined that support the delivery and use of information. A full list of standards is available on our Standards page. One of the most significant is BS 1192-4:2014, which sets out “fulfilling employer”s information exchange requirements using COBie” and was released in September 2014. COBie stands for ‘Construction Operations Building information exchange’. This document sets out the standard structured data requirement for handover for UK Government projects. Some clients may choose to not adopt COBie but the positive thing about COBie for the industry is that it provides a clear structure for data delivery for Facilities Management (FM) handover. Having this clear open data structure allows everyone to aim at the same output. COBie is an output that can be delivered in many ways. It’s an output not a tool!

To put COBie in a wider context it is a “subset of BS ISO 16739 IFC documented as a buildingSMART model view definition (MVD) which includes operational information” (BS 1192-4:2014). Put simply COBie is selected data from the wider data available in an IFC file but without the physical geometry of the model. IFC stands for Industry Foundation Classes and is an open structured data format managed by the international organisation buildingSMART. The dPoW will allow those who wish to do so to port FM information directly to an FM tool from IFC without a COBie spreadsheet unless that is a Client requirement.

Long term

The UK Government’s BIM Maturity Levels (shown in Figure 1 of PAS 1192-2:2013) describe 3 levels of maturity. The UK currently is aspiring to meet “Level 2 BIM” by 2016. This is less than 15 months away. Many major projects starting now will be past that by the time of project completion and they should already be looking further ahead. We should not forget that assets are produced for the long term and not just for the design and construction phases of projects. Therefore looking past “Level 2 BIM”, project teams and clients should already be looking ahead and aligning their directions with the long term strategy. “Level 3 BIM” is yet to be fully defined but the BIM maturity ‘wedge’ diagram already identifies 3 key standards that will form part of the future. They are:

So any client aspiring to the future should not ignore these standards. This doesn’t mean to say that all technology solutions can currently align with these standards but the industry should encourage the adoption of these open international standards. This means that as of today we should consider the long term and where possible, even now, promote and use IFC as a file format. Therefore asking for this in an Employers Information Requirement (EIR) document (where it is possible) is a logical request. To me IFC should be the 4th deliverable alongside the requirements of PDF, native models and COBie. With Level 2i this will indeed be the case.

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Image: The buildingSMART IFC logo represents Design, Procure, Assemble and most crucially to Facilities Management: Operate 

Of course adopting this approach will have benefit to clients who choose to adopt this route. By applying open standards it has 3 major benefits that I can immediately see:

  • Every project working this way will have consistent structured data, which means mapping data to other tools becomes either unnecessary or certainly minimal. This means the transfer of both model and data at handover from the design and construction phase is smoother and less costly. Of course COBie already offers this in terms of data but the IFC adds back in the geometry which is largely lost with just a COBie handover.
  • By having open standards new Facilities Management tools will come to the market that will create competition and will also allow clients to ‘shop around’ for their FM tool in much the same way we compare prices for phones, electricity or gas. This means they won’t be tied to one solution for an asset’s life as the data should be able to be easily transferred from one system to another reducing the cost of transfer.
  • For those with large estates across the globe there will be no need to worry about local software dominances. As I said earlier, I see some of the major global players as being a key driver for open structured data.


At the point of handover the model gets transferred from the Project Information Model (PIM) to an Asset Information Model (AIM). It has been interesting look at a few FM solutions over the past few months and talking to FM professionals. Most look at COBie in horror and understand little about how it can be useful. However when you show this model in its IFC context immediately there is a change in understanding. Why is this? Well IFC was developed for Design, Procure, Assemble and Operate. The crucial part is the structure, a tree structure, and on the whole this should not be unfamiliar to an FM professional.

So what does the CAFM system need to do? Well its pretty simple when it comes to BIM. Import the model and data, view it on any device, be able to update the model and data and use it in day-to-day facilities management from any location. For me the logical route from PIM to AIM to achieve all of this is to use IFC along with the data of COBie. There are already tools that can achieve this functionality using IFC so this isn’t something that is a future wish. It is already here! Of course there will be many legacy tools that may not be able to offer this but this should not hold back clients from taking control of their assets – better assets not tools!


The point of this piece is that clients to need to focus on the long term benefits of data for their assets. Fundamentally focussing on tools is the wrong approach to delivering and maintaining better assets be it buildings or infrastructure. Crucially these are the summary points:

  • Skills not tools – it should not be forgotten that in order to have a usable output it relies on the skills of the user (the who). All too often a software solution is chosen rather than considering that an author using a different tool may actual be able to produce a better output 
  • Outputs not tools – the output requirement (the what and when) – is more important than the tool (the how) required to generate that output. There are clients who prescribe tools but fail to articulate their output requirements.
  • Open structured data not closed data – will provide long time value and ensure that data is ‘future proofed’. Because IFC is open you will always be able to access this format. This is not true for native formats which may disappear overtime.
  • Standards not bespoke – will support the above and allow all the industry to work to a common goal
  • Validated data not unreliable data – data created in authoring tools still needs to be validated and the validation tools that are emerging are all based on open international standards

Hopefully this explains why ‘openBIM for Facilities Managers’ is something that should be high on the agenda now for the benefit of client’s long term assets.

See also – What openBIM Does For You – buildingSMART in Four Minutes

Rob Jackson, Associate Director, Bond Bryan Architects



Ben Wallbank, BIM Consultant, SmartBIM Solutions



12 thoughts on “openBIM for Facilities Management

  1. have you got the link to the Uk government article on the defined 3 deliveries(Pdf, Cobie and native files)?

    • Brendan,

      The requirements are covered in PAS 1192-2:2013 which is freely available. A link to this is available on our Standards page under Level 2 documentation.

      Specifically see 9.1.4 where it describes “Data delivery shall include all of the following data entities: native (product-proprietary) file formats, COBie-UK-2012 and read-only PDF; to enable a complete Level 2 project”

      • Rob, that’s not quite the wording. I’ve just followed your link and re-downloaded PAS 1192-2:2013 to be sure it wasn’t my copy that had a mistake, but the wording actually says:

        ‘Data delivery shall include some all of the following data entities’

        Now ‘some all’ obviously doesn’t make sense, but an earlier draft actually said ‘some, any, or all’ so I’m unclear of the intent.

        What I want to know is, that if the EIR says IFC is wanted instead of COBie, does that not comply with PAS1192-2 for Level 2?

        • Chris,

          Agreed that the wording in the current PAS is misleading although all the presentations I have seen from representatives of the UK BIM Task Group over the past 2/3 years have always been clear that Level 2 consists of all 3 deliverables. i.e. ‘all’ rather than ‘some all’. However I’ve just checked the proposed amendments which are planned for September and it is suggested that the wording is amended to ‘some or all’. Of course this is still to be finalised in a revised version so is still subject to change.

          My current understanding is that the UK BIM Task Group is working on a document that is due for publication in September that should set out more clearly what actually constitutes Level 2 as the definition is being interpreted differently by different individuals/companies. Hopefully this should provide more clarity.

          Note: IFC can’t fully replace COBie currently. An IFC doesn’t contain all the data for handover that a COBie file does so would be limited if this is all that was issued. See my posts on COBie. Personally I believe that there should be 4 deliverables for handover: Native models, PDF, COBie and IFC. This is what we are issuing as the IFC is more future proof for clients over native models.


          • Thanks for the reply Rob. I thought COBie was a subset of IFC, so that it did contain the same data, except lacking the geometry?

          • Chris,

            The DESIGN part of COBie is a subset of IFC but there are other parts which are not contained within an authored model. Assembly, Connection, Spare, Resource, Job, Impact and Issue are not required from an authoring tool. I could see how Assembly and Connection could be but the other parts are never likely to be in a model.


          • OK, but

            Those are not ‘yellow’ tabs (not compulsory) and therefore for all practical purposes IFC is equivalent

            It’s against the principals of BIM to add data to COBie ‘by hand’, so if the authoring software can’t do it, it has no value in the BIM process anyway, so should not be a requirement for ‘Level 2 BIM’

          • Chris,

            Spare, Resource and Job are ‘yellow’ tabs and therefore required. These workbooks have to be completed manually either in excel or in a database.I can’t see how this could be automated. BIM is about structured data but not all of that data can be automated (I wish it could be!). Also there are optional parts of COBie but because they are optional doesn’t mean they are not required. Optional means the client can choose to have this data if they require so all data fields in the COBie schema need to be considered when developing an approach to COBie.


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