Innovations: New standard data system could be boost for contractors

On any given commercial construction project, there can be anywhere from two to ten different contractors and sub-contractors working on a site.

Construction professionals know how difficult and time-consuming the necessary exchange of information between different contractors on a project site can be.

“Different companies have different software programs to conduct and organize business,” said Kurt Koenig, vice president of Brookfield-based Penta Technologies Inc. “The (construction) industry still relies heavily on the transfer of information via, paper, faxes or regular e-mail, which forces companies to enter the data manually into their software program, each and every time.”

Penta is a software company that specializes in the development and support of project management software for engineering, construction, architecture and project-oriented industries.

“In today’s world, pretty much all contractors are using some sort of software to manage their businesses,” Koenig said.

However, because that software is different for each company, the construction industry has been way behind the curve in terms of keeping up with technology.

According to a study done by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the slow exchange of information and redundancy in data entry cost the construction industry nearly $16 billion in 2002.

Over the past eight years, the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America has supported the development of a data transfer standard that would allow contracts, submittals, requests for information, change orders and other documents to be shared between companies, regardless of which software systems the company used.

The AGC teamed up with the National Institute of Building Sciences to develop a set of extensible markup language (XML), standards for the construction industry’s exchange of documents and information.

Recently, a breakthrough in the development has revealed the new agcXML data transfer standard.

According to Koenig, the agcXML product uses a non-proprietary format to exchange project information. That means that contractors can select product software that fits the needs of the company, without having to worry about loss of revenue due to slow transfers, data re-entry and redundancy.

Koenig served on AGC’s Review and Validation Committee for the agcXML project.

“There has been significant interest across the industry to improve this situation,” Koenig said. “It took awhile but the development of this standard is a significant milestone. The new technology really shortens the time required for the exchange of information; which will be a huge positive for the industry.”

According to Koenig, the benefits of rapid exchange of information are bountiful. Data will not have to be re-entered, it can be sent and viewed almost instantly, and then sent back. Projects will be done on time, and on budget which will ultimately save everyone involved in the project money, he said.

AGC is offering the agcXML technology free of charge to software companies that have programs for the engineering and construction industries.

Penta is incorporating the new standard into its Penta Project Management Workbench. Koenig recently demonstrated the transfer of a request for information document using the agcXML data exchange standard at the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) building SMART alliance National Conference.

The data standard is a major innovation for the industry, but could also be used as an example for other software markets to look at and replicate, as well, Koenig said.

According to Koenig, technology companies such as Penta have started integrating the software into their products, but it could take a few years to adopt the standard on an industry-wide basis.

“Assuming that we are successful in driving adoption of this technology, it could take a significant bite out of that unnecessary $16 billion a year cost,” Koenig said. “Ultimately we think that it will reduce the cost of delivering facilities in the built environment, and allow teams to collaborate more effectively and efficiently, which in turn will improve the quality of the product to the end user, which is essentially everyone.” 

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