Today, the internet is ubiquitous in the lives of most people, but what would life would look like without it? When considering what made the Internet take hold, there are multiple factors, but one is certainly true: the Internet wouldn’t have developed as freely and rapidly without an open, bottom-up approach that encouraged anyone and everyone to contribute.
Without a set of commonly accepted interfaces, file formats and protocols, computers and networks, people around the world wouldn’t be able to communicate with one another the way they have come to expect. And without open standards, the Internet probably wouldn’t exist. In the same way, the construction industry needs standards – and in particular, open standards – to continue its development toward more connected and seamless processes that drive productivity.
NOT ALL “STANDARDS” ARE CREATED EQUAL
For the last 200 or so years, standards have been the guidelines that ensure consistency in many of the processes, products and services keeping society ticking. They provide regulations, ensure quality and make it faster and easier for technology innovations to hit the market. It may not be entirely obvious, but many of the wonders and comforts of modern life, from turning on the lights to sharing digital photos of family and friends, are due to standards.
To understand the kind of standards the construction industry needs, it’s important to take a closer look at three main types of standards. First, industry standards are those owned by a company. They may be good for the company, but usually aren’t good for the market, customers or other companies. Despite the fact that this type of standard is often widely adopted within an industry, industry standards can quickly become outdated because companies don’t have incentive to further develop them.
Next are formal licensed standards, which are owned by a neutral organization and require a license. The specifications of these standards are publicly available, but the fees for licensed standards can be incredibly expensive, making it difficult for new or small companies to join the market.
The third type of standard and the one that is critical for advancement of the construction industry is an open standard. Open standards are owned by a development organization, such as BuildingSMART. Open standards are widely available without licensing fees and can be used for anything.
OPEN STANDARDS DRIVE INNOVATION
Open standards help to strip away the restrictions that surround so many of the services, products and processes. While industry and licensed standards often hinder development and innovation, open standards have the ability to strengthen advances, mainly because they create fair markets in which competition can flourish. With fewer barriers, it’s easier for companies to enter the market which in turn, prevents monopolies and drives innovation. Open standards level the playing field and give new players an opportunity to join the game with fewer restrictions.
Open standards drive competition, and this gives users more choices. What’s more, users themselves are able to gain a deep knowledge of open standards because all of the related information is publicly and freely accessible. Anyone can participate for a reasonable fee, giving users and smaller companies the opportunity to impact the development of open standards.
MODERN PROJECTS DEMAND EXCHANGE OF CONSTRUCTIBLE DATA
Like the Internet, the construction industry often relies on open standards and, in fact, the complexity of today’s projects often demands them. On any given project, there can be hundreds of stakeholders involved, from the architect to the crew member pouring concrete on site. Each person who touches a project, at any given phase, needs to access, manipulate and share data. If that data can’t be easily exchanged or reused throughout the project’s lifecycle, problems arise.
Using data exchange formats such as IFC, which is the core standard defining how to digitally describe a building and its geometry as machine-readable data, communication becomes easier and more efficient. Different stakeholders can exchange data regardless of which software solutions they use, giving them the freedom to choose the best, purpose-built tools for the job.
Streamlined data exchange is just one-way open standards are helping to transform BIM-based workflows within construction. Automation promises to be the next big productivity leap within construction and open standards play critical role in the transition from human-readable documents to machine-readable data that can be consumed automatically by software.
In an open BIM environment, people and systems can communicate more efficiently and effectively share constructible data, terminology and workflows. As they did with the Internet many years ago, open standards have a tremendous potential to boost industry development and innovation in construction.