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Bridging the Gap: Interoperability in Construction

August 06, 2021

By Peg Landry

In a recent “Bridging the Gap” podcast, hosted by Todd Weyandt from Allied Software, Newforma’s Chief Product and Marketing Officer, Slater Latour, shares his thoughts on what interoperability means for the construction industry.

Here are the highlights…

Industries Doing "Interoperability" Well

Todd: Can you give us an example of an industry that is doing well with interoperability?

Slater: Let’s look at another industry that I’m familiar with – financial services. When financial services firms interact, there is a common set of fields. Buying and selling shares of stock for example, there’s been a massive explosion of API activity so that you can securely transmit that data across different systems.

Interoperability Challenges and Limitations

Todd: What are some of the challenges that the construction industry faces with interoperability?

Slater: The first thing to understand is what are the limits of interoperability as it relates to the industry that your focused on. If you have 1000 financial transactions, 998 of them might be exactly the same. But in construction we’re not making a thousand of one thing, we’re making a thousand “one things”. They are very unique. Interoperability works best when you have structured common sets of data that have to go from one place to another, but that might not always be the case.

Getting to Interoperability: Where to Begin

Todd: Where should a firm focused on the construction industry start on the journey to interoperability?

Slater: There are surveys out there that say on an average project you’ll see a turnaround time on RFIs is around 10 days. It might be less. You might want start by looking at how much time gets lost through that time period. For example, time spent reuploading documents, rekeying data that existed in someone else’s system, and retrieving old emails for additional context. If you eliminate at least as a starting point, the administrative steps, you are going to start to save time.

How much data do you really need? Is more better?

Todd: There appears to be 2 camps when it comes to collecting data: one camp wants to collecting everything, and the other camp only wants to collect just the data that's needed. There's probably a happy medium, but where do you stand on this?

Slater: It’s easy to say there’s happy medium but there’s an argument that more is better. It also depends on how well data is organized. I could throw a bunch of data at you, and without any structure, you certainly wouldn’t thank me. I think it comes down to governance. More is better as long as you have the tools to quickly gain insights from the data you have at your fingertips.

Different Voices, Different Views of Information

Todd: I think it’s also important to consider other department requirements when determining what data to collect. What are your thoughts?

Slater: The importance of being able to manage your project email is important. It is certainly important during the design and build phase of the project because there are probably important decisions that can benefit from the context that is there. But for a legal department after the fact, they have a totally different set of requirements. Having input from other departments to develop your project record keeping process is so important.

Whose Single Source of Truth?

Todd: Why do you think it's important to have interoperability in the construction industry? And what do you think is the role of APIs?

Slater: There’s enough structure, and the API technology exists, so that regardless of what the official system of record is, data can pass seamlessly back and forth. In a case where it takes 5 minutes to locate, compile, and upload data for one submittal, you are talking about thousands of submittals and document exchanges over the course of a project. That immediate sync between both systems is going to end up saving lots of hours. Plus, you also have to rely on manual work to upload the documentation in two systems. It also creates some level of objectivity in that you can’t just point the finger and say, “you left this crucial photo for an RFI response out when you uploaded to our system”. Technology is more objective than people are. But also, just the time savings will add up at an incredible rate.

Timeline for Interoperability in the Construction Industry

Todd: What timeline are we looking at for the construction industry to achieve interoperability?

Slater: There's been a lot of progress made. And the infrastructure that enables data to pass from one system to another is growing almost exponentially. We started the conversation talking about setting expectations around how much interoperability is possible, given that each project is so unique. But the type of connectivity that exists in other industries to the extent that it is possible, will be in place for the construction industry in the next five to ten years just given how quickly technology is advancing.

Click here to listen to the full podcast.

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