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Achieving Interoperability in the AEC Industry

April 23, 2021

By Henry Auger

The challenge of interoperability exists in most industries, but it is particularly difficult in construction. While the industry has made significant leaps to increasing digitalization, disconnected applications continue to drive productivity pitfalls. The challenges faced in 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic and the forced shift to a remote workforce, highlighted issues with sharing information both externally and internally.

AEC professionals have traditionally operated in very siloed environments. That problem is only exacerbated as data growth explodes, and new solutions are added to the technology stack. With an interoperability approach, teams can use the best systems and applications for the job without having to worry about exchanging design and construction data from system to system. Shifting focus from competition to collaboration will ultimately benefit the end users who operate, design, and construct our built environments.

In our recent webinar moderated by Nathan Wood, Executive director of the Construction Progress Coalition, we sat down to discuss interoperability. The panel included AEC industry professionals from Corgan and BWBR. We discussed how they leverage Newforma Connectors with third-party applications to deliver projects more successfully, and how this pushes the industry towards achieving interoperability.

Here are some highlights from the discussion:

The State of Interoperability

The Newforma 2019 State of Technology survey highlighted some of the interoperability issues that A&E firms are facing. Over 45% of respondents indicated that they struggle with administration tasks and 32% responded that sharing files was an issue. The panel discussed how these issues are still prevalent, but how technology and automation is playing a role to improve interoperability.

Nathan: First, I wanted to kick it over to Aaron and talk about the state of interoperability. It seems like we're always talking about how many apps we have on our phones, how many apps IT managers have to manage, and how we're dealing with this challenge. So, Aaron what are you seeing out in the marketplace?

Aaron: What we’ve come to realize is that it's not necessarily the number of apps that's the problem. The problem is the ways that they're being used, and the silos that they create. At Newforma, our goal from two different perspectives is to help connect the teams and the apps that people are using within their own companies. But then, also bridge the gaps between the companies that they work with.

The Benefits of a Connected Environment

Getting a handle on data across an organization without connectors can be very difficult. If our data is living in different places, how do you create connections or one place that allows project teams to access this data? Establishing a single source of truth eliminates the data silo issues project teams currently experience. Providing that single source of truth is at the heart of Newforma’s mission.

Consistency Across Projects

Nathan: The main benefit of all these connectors is that you can try and maintain some level of consistency internally, despite all these external factors that may not be consistent. Could you talk a little about that?

Jennifer: At BWBR, one of our big things with the way we use Newforma is to get information into a central location where everybody knows on every project where to look for information. Having that consistency of key points where data is stored or can be accessed is very important for teams to be efficient. Newforma’s connectors have allowed us to bring even more information into Newforma that we used to have to enter manually.

Single Source of Truth

Nathan: Who owns this single source of truth that we are all supposed to be accessing from? Chad, from Corgan’s perspective how are you tackling that data ownership at the project level?

Chad: It's really that we own different parts of the source of truth, but we also own them simultaneously. The contractor often comes in with a PIM system, and as the architects and designers, we have our own ways of managing all that information. We do that so that we keep everybody honest, and everybody truthful. We need to own the information just as much as the other contributors own that information. So if there's discrepancies or something is out of sync, we need to make sure that we're seeing that. Having that single source of truth with all of the logs and the information synchronized, is really the key goal.

A Customer-Centric Development Approach

At Newforma, our connector strategy is very focused on where we can deliver the most value to our customers. We integrate with many popular solutions on the market such as Outlook, Bluebeam, ProjectWise, Revit, BIM 360, Microsoft Teams, Procore, and many more. We will continue to listen to our customers to gain valuable feedback on what will make their jobs easier as we expand our connector strategy and enhance Newforma Project Center.

Interoperability is a collaborative process

Nathan: I’d like to change gears and talk about how exactly firms are saving steps through integration? What are those mapping decisions we need to make in order to make this work? It’s not magic, although it might look like it when it’s done. Jennifer, do you feel like sharing for folks who are earlier in this journey of adopting integrations and process change?

Jennifer: For us it was having a group of beta testers who were willing to jump out and try it. And that's both internally as well as with contractors that we have a good relationship with. That they're willing to try something they've not done before to make sure that it will work. Having that initial conversation and good communication throughout the process is key. Then if there are stumbling roadblocks, or lessons learned we can share that with Newforma to improve the connector. Let’s find those sticking points. Let’s find those tough spots. And let's see if there’s a way to improve those moments of friction in the process.

Chad: I like that commentary about the moment of friction. When I took this position one of my goals was to narrow things down to four primary pieces of software. What software do we author in, manage in, collaborate in, and what are our graphic tools? We've narrowed it down and now we need all of these tools to work together. Although we have four primary tools, we have dozens of add ins, and plugins, and tools that our contractors and consultants work with. Going back to Jennifer’s point, we then start to challenge our users and create a little bit of that conflict so that we can say, what are the right tools? Then, the technology leadership team needs to go back to the Newforma team and say, OK, we use these tools, help us get these connectors to work so that we're not hindering our staff.

Doing Your Part

Nathan: I think if there's one message to leave with it's that everybody needs to do their part. It isn't just a technology thing or a project owner thing or an IT thing. Everybody needs to come together and understand the roles that they play. Once we define the requirements for interoperability, we can really start to solve these challenges.

For more information on Newforma's Connectors please visit Our Connectors.