Bridging the interoperability gap

Interoperability image: connected cogs
Image: Robyn Mackenzie | Dreamstime.com
The consultation period for the draft interoperability code of practice concludes on 22 February. Here, John Ryan offers his perspective on why SymTerra has submitted its feedback to the Government & Industry Interoperability Group, and what the sector can do now to get ahead of the code of practice. 

In the last century, there has been an ever-increasing level of complexity in construction to design and deliver bigger, better, and more impressive buildings, supported by a global supply chain of improved systems, products and materials. 

Despite huge technological advances across the built environment, record keeping and information management in construction has evolved at a snail’s pace. Since not all buildings are built equally, not all data is captured, stored, and accessed equally either. 

The reality is that asset owners struggle to get a full understanding of the state or ‘operability’ of their assets due to information being siloed in various departments, offices, systems and computer folders. This is untenable in a highly legislated environment where owner-operators must be able to provide information related to their buildings. In other words, we need alignment and interoperability of data so that clients and contractors – and all their suppliers – will be able to operate in any meaningful, profitable capacity in the years to come. 

An affirmative step
John Ryan, CEO and founder of SymTerra

“The key to making the code of practice workable is to focus on getting the basics right for the majority of suppliers.”

John Ryan

A code of practice is an affirmative step for industry resilience, and an important missing piece of the puzzle on the government’s Transforming Industry Performance roadmap 2030. 

The key to making this workable and valuable to the industry is to focus on getting the basics right for the majority of suppliers. What that means is designing a code that works for the vast majority of micro- and SME businesses that make up the sector. To support adoption, there should be no requirement for expensive software, purchasing of standards online or the need for specialists to set up. The alternative will only serve to put off smaller companies from allocating the required time and resource to comply – and that could lead to disaster. 

The SME factor

Realistically, most data will be created from small businesses across the construction and infrastructure supply chain, which have neither the access to expensive software, nor the in-house information managers with the expertise to apply the principles of the code in order to navigate the standards, requirements and guidelines referred to within the code. 

Conversely, the organisations that need the data – owners and operators – do have the expertise in-house, but have developed their own standard data formats and protocols, or adopted bloated, custom-built software systems that keep the wheels turning, but do not play well with other software.

Adopting the code of practice will require this significant gap to be bridged – allowing small companies to comply without insurmountable expense, and for large organisations to be able to untangle themselves from legacy software and proprietary systems. It is this disparity that will hold hostage any chance of sector-wide interoperability. 

It is crucial that software ensures data is available to clients in open standards that are system agnostic and can be used with open-source software. Collectively, we need guidance on a standardised framework that will enable software companies to produce nimble, high-performance off-the-shelf platforms, that are ready to use, easy to deploy and avoid excessive customisation. 

Getting ahead

How can we get ahead of the code of practice?

  • There needs to be a standardised (best practice) framework of requirements in place so that companies of all sizes can comply with it simply, affordably and without uncertainty.
  • Secondary legislation should be enacted, mandating the compliance with it for all government contracts or for the building and/or managing of high-risk buildings.
  • Legacy systems should either be brought up to standard or be phased out for newer, compliant solutions.
  • Client organisations should streamline and simplify data capture requirements and workflows to ensure they capture what matters.

The code of practice is but one piece of the puzzle, but clearly data is at the heart of business resilience for many construction companies over the coming months and years.

Good record keeping and data stored in system-agnostic open file format is clearly and unilaterally required. Mandating adherence across a project’s entire supply chain may be a hard sell with an impending recession, but the catastrophic failure of a building with poor records at the root of it will be impossible to recover from for any business in the future.

John Ryan is chief executive and co-founder of SymTerra.

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