Achieving Interoperability in Construction

Achieving Interoperability in Construction

Interoperability is kind of strange word. It definitely does not roll off one’s tongue and is not very intuitive in communicating its value to the Construction Industry. Pinning down that value is importation, because construction firms are at a tipping point with interoperability and those that  get there first will be disrupters in the marketplace.

First, let’s take a broad look at  interoperability. Wikipedia’s definition is simply; “the ability of making systems, processes and organizations work together”.

It is easy to see interoperability in the transportation industry. Major modern railroads have greater  interoperability out of necessity—they had to conform to standards of gauge, couplings, brakes, signaling, communications, loading gauge, structure gauge, and operating rules, to mention a few parameters. We have also seen our armed forces achieve historic levels on interoperability between the branches of the military and integrated command and control of land, sea, and air operations.

Additionally, in the United States we are hopeful as a nation for the medical industry that is trying to achieve interoperability between emergency response, providers, hospital operations, medical doctor care, drug companies, and insurance providers.

Rising to Meet New Challenges

The construction industry, however, is standing on the brink of achieving interoperability as it responds to the market forces of design build (DB), design build operate (DBO), and design build operate maintain (DBOM). In these new delivery models holistic design is required to survive. As construction companies rise to meet the challenge that the risk of DB, DBO and DBOM presents, interoperability and enabling technologies they required will be part of the future conversation.

The diagram above illustrates concepts of how an integrated framework enables the interoperability the construction industry will require.

It begins with an As-Is model using Lidar in the ultimate design. When complete, that design can be moved to the Visual Enterprise to transact within downstream processes. We call this capability Ab Initio integration.

The system should be application agnostic, so that the we can have multiple design tools fed by materials from the ERP system where transactions will eventually take place. Federating these models in SAP’s Visual Enterprise product is suggested here. This final federated model will allow for bilateral integration of materials and quantities for estimating applications, scheduling applications, project control applications and can become the UX for eventual progression data.

Utilizing SAP Data Services

As mentioned above, we have bilateral interfaces bringing materials and quantities to estimating applications, again agnostic. The data elements are the most important factor here, and it would be most beneficial to the customer to use SAP’s ETL tool Data Services to provide that integration to any estimating package.

Then there are the bilateral interfaces, from estimating to creating a project control budget. First using management consulting, not technology, we harmonize the CBS structures with the WBS structures. This gives each group the detail and levels they need to do their job, but having a structure that maintains the relationship to enable roll up and comparison of estimated cost to actual cost. The impact on the integrity of past cost is amazing. We can now seamlessly create a fully loaded control budget with materials, labor and equipment usage from our estimate. Again, application agnostic, utilizing SAP’s  Data Services application is most suitable for this purpose.

Lastly we have created an ETL layer of the most critical data elements that progression tools need to deliver to the control budget. Mostly these are mobile applications, but can also be specially designed HTML5 applications on any device capturing time, installed quantities and equipment hours.

The Data Services layer of these critical data elements become the most efficient integration point for the SAP Cloud Platform to model the data and connect to SAP Analytics Cloud to monitor your most important KPI’s.

An integrated framework with bilateral integration is an enablement to interoperability in construction where all the applications within the framework work together and are more efficient as a whole than the sum of their parts.

Achieving Interopability

By performing the above, two levels of interoperability can be achieved. The first is the Organizational interoperability.  Organizational interoperability can only be built upon Process Interoperability as depicted below.  Traditionally the construction industry was silo’d by process, applications and of course thinking.

The other level of interoperability is Ab Initio interoperability. This is interoperability from the beginning, or from the “first principles”.  It is this level of interoperability that gives some level of management of the “butterfly effect” of a bad design or a bad estimate. And as we all know, it is impossible to recover from a bad design or estimate in the building of anything.

Achieving interoperability in the Construction Industry is no small task for companies today as they continuously strive to compete in the market place. That is why a holistic system architecture and structure becomes crucial to their future success. In my future blogs I will continue to provide my perspective on the state of the industry, providing tips and advice on strategies and system architecture.

Continue to follow us on LinkedIn and on the Vesta blog for more on interoperability in the construction industry.

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