FC Collaboration and Interoperability  

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Collaboration and Interoperability

Since Monday evening I have been in Brussels attending a CIO workshop on Collaboration and Interoperability, hosted by Bentley Systems and Farkas Berkowitz. I have had the privilege of joining about 20 CIOs and senior IT execs from both global EPC (Engineering Procurement Construction) and the European AEC/Building industry players and engaging with them on the challenges they are facing with collaborative working.

Before I leave Brussels on the Eurostar a bit later this morning - my general observations on the event. Besides Bentley Systems I was the only representative of a technology consultancy / software vendor in the room and there was absolutely no salesmanship involved in the days events. Instead the focus was on a group of technologists facing common problems and discussing common approaches to solutions on an industry-wide basis. A fair bit of conversation was centred around the working practices of the aerospace sector and the global EPC sector (particulary the energy energy) and how to translate these into other industry spaces such as Infrastructure (Airports/Rail/Water/Road) and building - which are normally not global in scope.

The standout characteristic of the conversations all day long was the unanimous recognition of the problems faced and agreement that the solutions are to be found through all the participants in the supply chain working together, driven top-down by the owner/operators (the client organisations). Both the client representatives and the engineers/contractors agreed that unless the top of the supply chain demands collaboration and standardisation then the change will not happen. Everyone agreed that the efficiencies to be derived will drive significant cost savings to the top of the supply chain and that this business case has been proven time and again in diverse industries over the last 15 years. It was also acknowledged that the business case for this type of improvement is not clear to many of the consultants and time and materials contractors within the supply chain. Because of this it is down to the owner/operators within each industry sector to work together and agree to shoulder the cost of standards definition and of educating the supply chain. No small task, certainly - but one through which significant value can be unlocked.

The holy grail for standardisation within any of the industry sectors served by the EPC and AEC supply chains is a full standards-based data model for all of the materials, equipment, and engineering which moves through the supply chain. The idea held wide currency that a drawing, for example, should be merely a snapshot or report at a point-in-time from the data store - rather than a proprietary document format containing unstructured data.

The desired result was that an owner/operator could lay out the DATA and the standard data format which he/she expected as a result of the design process and therefore leave the choice of software tools within the supply chain completely up to the designers and engineers.

People in the room looked primarily to the ISO organisation and to its STEP standards to lead this and secondarily to industry standards organisations such as the IAI and FIATECH in the States.

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Copyright © Nathan R. Doughty 1994-2005