I recently spoke at the 2012 AGC IT Forum in Chicago along with James Benham, president of JB Knowledge Technologies, Inc., makers of SmartBidNet. In his presentation, James talked about the software now available to contractors from different vendors, the importance of a data exchange standard, and the advantages of integrating construction solutions in the cloud.
I agree 100 percent with what James was saying. In fact his presentation was the perfect segue into my AGC talk about interoperability. James had provided a lot of great examples of integrating data between best of breed software within a construction company. That is one way to look at interoperability. The other way is exchanging system data between companies involved in a construction project.
Take submittals for example. The reality is 80 to 90 percent of the submittal process is already electronic. However, sharing submittal information between the architect, engineer, contractor and vendor is still time-intensive and error prone because the software programs each one uses don’t talk with one another. They are not interoperable. In order to more efficiently share data, we have to have a data exchange standard that is fully adopted by the construction software community and built into our products.
In 2007, the AGC first released agcXML, a standard to automate and streamline information exchange during the building and construction process. The standard currently consists of 10 “schemas” for the data that is now commonly exchanged in paper documents. Examples of the documents include requests for information (RFIs), requests for proposals (RFPs), change orders, owner/contractor agreements, and submittals, to name a few. There are still some gaps. Daily reports and time card schemas are not yet available but in the works.
At Sage, we believe in the agcXML concept. As a technology vendor, we can’t have the attitude of doing it all ourselves. We want our customers to use our products, like Sage Construction Anywhere, and be able to submit and accept RFIs and other documents no matter what software system another building team member is using.
The agcXML effort stalled for a few years but is regaining momentum with better communication vehicles now available for information sharing. There is also a resurgence in agcXML interest among the software community as contractors demand technology that will improve building team collaboration. One new group that is trying to improve data exchange is the Construction Open Software Alliance (COSA). Their effort to build a community of software developers and providers who support the transfer of cross-application data is a major step in the right direction.
The construction industry is still in its infancy when it comes to efficiently sharing information between everyone involved in the building project. But with an industry standard in place, increased demand from contractors, and greater cooperation from software providers, the future for true interoperability is bright.
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About the Author
Dennis Stejskal has over 30 years of experience developing, supporting and selling software and technology to construction and real estate companies. His comprehensive product knowledge and understanding of customer and market needs propelled him into his current role as Vice President of strategy and customer success for Sage Construction and Real Estate. Dennis has been a member and co-chair on the CFMA Technology Committee and often speaks at industry events, including CFMA, AGC and NAHB meetings and conferences.