By Doug Chambers
The current state of interoperability in AEC – Architecture, Engineering, Construction Industry, is challenged at best. A frequent complaint is that industry professionals need software systems that work together; an end-to-end solution that is also fully mobile and user-friendly.
The reason end-to-end solutions are not user friendly is because it’s next to impossible to deliver a strong solution that does everything for everyone. While this might sound disappointing, the fact is no single platform can or should try to do it all. Instead, it’s important for developers to focus on a problem they are trying to solve and deliver the best possible solution for that problem. And more importantly, make that solution interoperable with other solutions so that construction workers can use technology the way they want and need to.
In AEC, it’s common to find construction professionals either using one end-to-end solution that frustrates them, or using several siloed applications that don’t allow for an open, but secure, exchange of data. It doesn’t make sense and it’s not what’s best for the industry. Construction software developers need to provide a simple way for construction-specific technologies to work together seamlessly so users can access data that flows freely among platforms. When it comes to all the information being managed and shared on a jobsite (field communication, blueprints and drawings, equipment tracking, management of RFIs and submittals, accounting, contract management and so on), technology needs to support a collaborative environment to meet the goals of project completion as safely as possible, on time and on budget.
The problem of interoperability is universal in the construction industry, regardless of firm size, but small firms are affected more because costly end-to-end solutions and long implementation cycles aren’t an option. Small firms tend to choose solutions answering specific needs because they are more affordable and user friendly than a massive end-to-end platform. However, when those solutions fail to share data with one another, efficiency suffers. The majority of AEC companies are small to mid-size, and taken with the fact that construction companies are the fastest growing small business and that small businesses make up 99.7 percent of all businesses in the United States, it is clear that providing efficiency gains to these companies has the potential to move the economic needle in a real way.
Large contractors also face difficulties with software systems that don’t “talk” to one another. These companies had the resources to invest in massive end-to-end solutions that were developed for the industry long before mobile technology became ubiquitous on the jobsite. Compared to the efficiencies offered by today’s user-friendly, mobile solutions, large contractors are starting to see the benefit of modern mobile solutions, but they want them to be able to feed into those legacy systems and work in tandem with them so that there is no loss of data.
In today’s tech-driven workplace, interoperable software is leading the charge as a necessity in nearly every industry. “Best of breed” software solutions are superior to the end-to-end solutions. When software companies use several technology platforms to build a product, each serving a different and unique purpose and each with APIs allowing them to share information and data with one another, this free flow of data among software solutions makes the developers more efficient. Whether building software or building a structure, both demand accessibility of information to succeed.
It’s time that construction software companies increase availability of public APIs so that jobsite communication operates as harmoniously as possible, making data truly powerful to simplify the workflow and impact contractors’ bottom lines along the way. Systems and devices should be able to exchange and interpret shared data to help make AEC technology as dynamic as possible. The folks in the field work too hard to be saddled with unusable software. Software developers cannot just think about the kind of software they want to build; they need to think about the people they are building for: their needs and what makes them happy. That’s how to have a real impact. Interoperability is the answer.