New software standards could save contractors $1 billion annually

The Associated General Contractors of America has partnered with the non-profit technology consortium Fiatech to begin the process of developing computer language standards to address information exchange problems for the construction industry.

“The industry has not been geared to create standards with the technology that has been developed,” said Ric Jackson, Fiatech director. “This goes back to the beginning of time in software history.”

The new computer language standards will hinge on the use of Extensible Mark-up Language (XML), commonly used in Web development.

Common elements in construction documents will be tagged and assigned XML schemas. Once the schemas are implemented in software, different groups – contractors, subcontractors and other parties – will be able to exchange information in a seamless fashion.

“We’re working together to tackle this inoperability problem from the bottom up,” Jackson said. Instead of traditional top-down approaches, he and others working in technology standardization found that addressing the basic structure of such issues was more effective.

“The world has experience in setting standards for things,” Jackson said. “That process has worked well for several hundred years.”

The resulting problems from standardization not keeping pace with technology are decreased efficiency and subsequently, lost profit. The staggering loss of $1 billion annually for the construction industry was determined by a National Institute of Standards and Technology study.

The NIST study found a consensus among surveyed general contractors that seamless electronic information management and exchange would permit them to compress their schedules by an average of 7.5 percent.

General contractors cite incompatible computer systems, firewall limitations and the reduction of paper-based information systems as key opportunities to achieve shorter completion schedules, according to the study. The biggest challenge is the “lack of ability to have everyone on the same page with current information,” said one contractor surveyed for the study.

With more than 33,000 general contractors as members, AGC recognized the large impact such information exchange problems could have. AGC’s decision to work with Fiatech came as a result of that organization’s efforts in developing the Automating Equipment Information Exchange. In that project, Fiatech developed XML schemas for automating the design, procurement and delivery of engineered equipment such as pumps and heat exchangers.

“It’s costing everyone a lot of money not to fix this problem,” Jackson said. “I’m thrilled AGC is showing leadership for this issue.”

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at [email protected].