Why data can put us on the road to better building performance

Many building owners and facility managers lack good documentation for their automation control systems. Documentation has value; lack of system documentation can cost an organization and will increase risk. Lack of documentation means troubleshooting and work orders take longer, are more expensive and it extends the time it takes to resolve issues for tenants or occupants.

It also may mean preventative maintenance isn't done because you don't know what the p.m. schedule is, possibly shortening the life of the equipment. Or it may mean that facility personnel really do know a lot about their systems but if they move to another organization or company or retire, all that knowledge or "system documentation" leaves with them.  

This lack of documentation for automation and control systems is caused by inadequate organization and planning in the handoff from construction to building operations and the fact that much of the documentation is in a paper format.

Help is on its way. The buildingSMART alliance, with the input of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has developed and proposed a data structure for representing information related to automation and controls. It falls under a large umbrella called Building Information Modeling or BIM.


If you've had any involvement in new building design and construction, you're probably familiar with BIM. You may be aware or exposed to the 3-D modeling of a building and its components and understand the value it can provide in avoiding potential "collisions" between the designs created by different engineers. Likewise, this modeling can prove useful to contractors in fabricating building systems and components. Major designers and construction companies have embraced BIM and rightfully so; it can reduce change orders, assist in maintaining schedules and generally produce better buildings.

The larger picture and the use of BIM should be an approach of a life cycle asset management tool. Such a tool is used in creating and acquiring data during design and construction, which is then delivered to facility management. It's the building operations that will be 85 to 95 percent of a building's life cycle.

To facilitate the exchange of information from design and construction to building operation, a standard called Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) was developed by a laboratory of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

COBie is a format of data for building assets. It's associated with BIM, but doesn't involve spatial modeling. It is part of the National Building Information Model. COBie may include data such as preventative maintenance schedules, model numbers, warranty information, product data sheets and everything needed to operate and maintain the particular asset.

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Building image by Blazej Lyjak via Shutterstock.