Interoperability code seeks to end construction’s perennial information issue

Image representing interoperability
Image: Funtap P |
The new code of practice for interoperability, produced by the Government and Industry Interoperability Group (GIIG), seeks to end the industry’s perennial issue with the poor exchange of information.

The GIIG published the code in draft form at the end of January. Following more than 100 written responses, it has now issued the first complete version of the code.

The code, known as Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies, is designed to support the whole-life information needs of industry clients, in particular asset-owner operators in the public sector. It also aims to enable the wider supply chain to manage their contractual information exchanges.

As well as technical requirements, the code outlines five principles to underpin interoperability:

  • longevity;
  • security;
  • information value;
  • information ownership; and
  • competition.

Paul Wilkinson, the code of practice working group chair, said: “Government is calling for the sector to deliver better whole-life outcomes. To do this, we need data and information to inform better decisions throughout the lifecycle of our assets. The code of practice is tackling these challenges, setting some core principles and providing supporting technical recommendations to software providers and to the wider industry.”

Paul Wilkinson of the GIIG

“A number of respondents said they need to maintain access to data for a long time: warranties and regulatory requirements, for example.”

Paul Wilkinson

Speaking at the launch of the code yesterday (Monday 17 April), Fergus Harradence, deputy director, infrastructure, construction & rail at the Department for Business and Trade, said: “The objective of the code is greater sharing of better data and the delivery of better whole-life outcomes, in line with UK construction strategy.”

After the launch, BIMplus spoke to Wilkinson to find out more about the code’s evolution and what might happen next.

BIMplus: How much feedback did you get in the consultation phase?

Paul Wilkinson: We had a four-week consultation period from late January to late February. We had something like 500 people view the consultation; 300 and looked at it more than once. From that process, we had 117 written comments from across the supply chain – technology providers, asset owner-operators and those in the supply chain that work on delivery and asset management.

We had questions that allowed people to simply and quickly indicate whether they were in agreement with the core principles or not: 94% were in agreement with the key need and the principles. There was strong support for the technical requirements.

With the latter, respondents could look at it from the point of view of them being information users on the one hand, and if they were technology providers, they could look at it from the point of view of how easy or not the proposals would be to implement. There was little difference between the two: both cohorts scored the technical requirements between four and five out of five.

Ultimately, we were comforted by the high level of positive support. Of the two-thirds of responses that weren’t incorporated [as changes to the code], many of them were general expressions of support and observations about interoperability. About a third of the responses resulted in changes to the draft code.

What were the key concerns and how have you responded to those with this first version of the code?

What we tried to do was reflect particularly the changes that were raised by multiple respondents. These essentially boiled down to four main areas.

First, one of the principles in the code is longevity. A number of respondents said they need to maintain access to data for a long period of time. They gave specific examples, which we have incorporated into the first edition of the code. These examples of access requirements include warranties, regulatory requirements – around the Building Safety Act and golden thread obligations – and professional indemnity insurance.

“We’ve strengthened the technical requirements that relate to user access rights and permissions management.”

Paul Wilkinson

The second area reflected the use of data to support whole-life outcomes. So there’s a bit more in the code now about ISO 19650-3 and trigger events.

Third, we had some feedback about strengthening the emphasis on security guidance, in particular the guidance that comes from the National Cyber Security Centre and advice from the National Protective Security Authority (formerly the Centre for Protection of National Infrastructure).

Thus, we’ve accentuated the advice in relation to the official government sources and the ISO 19650-5 guidance. In particular, we’ve strengthened the technical requirements that relate to user access rights and permissions management. It now doubles down on the requirement that you have a clear process for managing who accesses what, and that there are appropriate processes in place for authorisation and authentication.

Fourth, we clarified the language about open standards, so that there was less ambiguity in what we delivered.

Any thoughts about mandating the code?

The suggestion could have been made that this needs to be mandated immediately. But you’re not in a position to mandate something until people have had chance to review it.

This is the end of the beginning, it’s about establishing some foundations.

“We’ve had some conversations with Build UK about incorporating the requirements for interoperability into their common assessment standard.”

Paul Wilkinson

This was a minimum-viable-product-stage code of practice, which we’re hoping will develop and build as more people become aware of it, as industry upskills about the need for interoperability, as procurement teams start to grasp the opportunity of being able to stipulate interoperability as a condition of contract.

We’ve already had some conversations with Build UK about incorporating the requirements for interoperability into their common assessment standard.

What are the next steps?

We need to expand awareness of the code beyond the launch. We’re looking to provide mechanisms to help organisations sign up to, or support, the code of practice.

Clients, or appointing parties in BIM parlance, might want to mandate the code and might want to be supporters of the code. Technology vendors might want to sign up to say they support the principles and the technical requirements of the code.

One opportunity that we’re talking about is the potential for us to develop a bronze/silver/gold assessment process. Those who are procuring technology can then have a view as to the extent to which a particular software or a particular technology provider meets the code’s requirements. But we cannot stipulate that without further engagement with industry, creating a stewardship group for such a mechanism.

We’ll be evangelising about interoperability at Digital Construction Week. And we are planning an online event about the code of practice, probably in June.

The initial focus is clearly on the public sector. Is there a desire to promote this to the private sector as well?

If you compare the government’s Construction Playbook and the Private Sector Construction Playbook, you’ll see that both make references to the need for interoperability.

At the launch event, Terry Stocks, head of property at Faithful + Gould, said that he sees a major opportunity for the code of practice to help deliver better digital practices for clients regardless of whether they’re government clients or private sector.

What impact will this have on technology SMEs and start-ups?

We’re very clear that this is an opportunity. Interoperability is not something that can only be achieved by the major players.

Smaller vendors can be more agile. They can be disruptive, and they might be able to provide a more competitive service than some of the major international players.

It might not be as easy for some global players to transform their technologies, which are required across multiple markets. On the other hand, an SME active primarily in the UK might be able to deliver something that is very UK-centric.

Don’t miss out on BIM and digital construction news: sign up to receive the BIMplus newsletter.

Story for BIM+? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Latest articles in Analysis