Transforming information exchange in the construction sector


By Antony Brophy, director of business development UK at Cobuilder

Within every stage of a construction project lies a wealth of information encompassing product specifications, materials, and technical design briefs. 

Historically, the industry has relied on a mixture of Excel spreadsheets and unstructured file formats like PDFs to house this critical data. Regrettably, this approach hampers the ability to locate and compare information across various project stages, leading to wasted time and resources. 

The key to streamlining information exchange lies in making data accessible and interpretable for all parties involved in construction projects. This demands a format that is not only easily searchable and identifiable, but also machine-readable. 

Data dictionaries streamline information exchange – but challenges remain 

The introduction of data dictionaries has marked a significant step towards achieving this goal. These digital tools establish a common digital language within the construction sector. By standardising and structuring information, these dictionaries empower all stakeholders to describe construction objects and processes in the same way. 

For example, the European Woodworking Industry Confederation, CEI-Bois, identified the need for a common data model for digitising product data to support its 180,000 members – many of which are small- and medium-sized businesses at different levels of digitalisation. 

The organisation introduced a data dictionary to form the foundations of the new model, enabling members to develop product templates based on relevant European standards. To date, twelve different data templates have been created, through which manufacturers and others in the industry are able to capture and exchange reliable, interoperable data about wood products. This is not only streamlining product dataflows, but also helping CEI-Bois members to make better use of environmental data. 

Despite the widespread adoption of such standardised data dictionaries, many organisations in the construction sector still struggle to form information links between different stakeholders during projects. 

One persistent challenge is the lack of consensus and communication regarding specific responsibilities. Each party involved in a construction project must possess a clear understanding of their roles, obligations, and deadlines spanning all project stages. Ambiguous information often leads to confusion and a lack of accountability. 

Finding a solution 

Antony Brophy, Director of Business Development UK at Cobuilder.

In response to existing challenges around information exchange, innovative digital platforms are reshaping collaboration and data sharing within construction projects. 

These digital platforms allow project participants to establish and distribute standardised data templates, which define the properties and physical attributes of a construction object – such as its fire resistance, durability or density – according to national standards or regulations. This enables the consistent recording and sharing of essential product information across all stages of a construction project. 

Technically, these digital platforms help project leaders to set the ‘level of information need’ for a project in a standardised and interoperable format. This entails specifying the quality, quantity and purpose of product information, ensuring precision and efficiency throughout a project. This is important, because it means that everybody involved in the project is interpreting the information in the same way. 

Once the project has been sufficiently planned and the data templates have been created, these digital platforms can distribute the requirements via an Application Programming Interface (API), a shared parameter file compatible with Revit (a widely used 3D modelling tool), as well as Excel, IFC and Information Delivery Specification (IDS) files. This ensures that the information is accessible to all participants, including those lacking direct software access. 

What this means for the sector 

For stakeholders, the introduction of these digital platforms can result in considerable time savings. They eliminate laborious manual searches and data compilation headaches, enabling organisations to focus on project execution. This efficiency not only accelerates project timelines but also enhances overall productivity. 

Aligned with global sustainability initiatives, stakeholders utilising these digital platforms are better equipped to meet and exceed Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), by evaluating a project’s environmental impact using a standardised dataset, ensuring consistency.  

Additionally, these digital platforms empower stakeholders to harness shared knowledge and project information, allowing for the reuse of existing data templates in similar projects. 

By providing a unified digital ecosystem where stakeholders can collaborate seamlessly, these digital platforms nurture the exchange of ideas throughout all construction phases – from conception and design to manufacturing and construction. This enhanced connectivity encourages effective decision-making, ultimately contributing to the successful delivery of construction projects. 

CEI-Bois used the Define data dictionary, which has been created by the industry, for the industry. Managed by Cobuilder, the software enables construction organisations to structure their data in line with all relevant international standards for data management. 

Cobuilder has also created its digital platform, Link, to enable multiple stakeholders to create and distribute standard-based information requirements – based on data templates developed in data dictionaries like Define – and ultimately ensure smooth communication through all stages of a project. 

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