CA Constructor — March April 2013
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Push Intensifies For Open Standards In Construction Industry
Carol Eaton

From the increasing use of Building Information Modeling to the growth of online bidding and web-based project management programs, technology has made major inroads into the construction industry in recent years.

Software companies and vendors currently offer an array of programs designed to help contractors manage their businesses and build their projects smarter, better and faster in order to gain a competitive advantage.

Even as technology adoption has grown, however, a major hurdle remains: namely, the lack of integration and interoperability among many construction software programs and applications.

Proprietary accounting, estimating and project management programs often do not facilitate an easy flow of information and data sharing among software platforms.

As a result, labor-intensive, redundant work processes are still required for everything from filling out different versions of the contractor’s questionnaire used to prequalify contractors and subs for projects to securing surety credit and bonds that are still largely issued in paper rather than electronic format.

Tech Survey: Integration Lags

Last year JB Knowledge Technologies, Inc., makers of SmartBidNet, surveyed over 450 commercial building professionals on their software usage and application integrations for its first annual Construction Technology Integration (CTI) Survey.President James Benham first presented the results at the AGC of America’s 2012 IT Forum in Chicago last August.

In his “Foreword” to the CTI Report outlining the survey results, Benham commented that “many firms in the construction industry are ‘just this side of pen and paper when it comes to technology.’ Too many companies are not integrating data nor seeking solutions that integrate data. The incredibly high numbers of professionals still using spreadsheets for data storage, process and transmission is concerning.” (To see the full report, go to www.smartbidnet.com.)

There is growing awareness and efforts underway to change that paradigm, however.Several organizations and individuals are working to improve and promote interoperability and open standards in the construction industry.

AgcXML: Push for Open Standards

Among those leading the way is AGC of America, which this year renewed and strengthened its efforts to promote open standards through its agcXML, a computer language designed to automate and streamline the electronic exchange of information between different software programs.

AGC first rolled out its agcXML approximately seven years ago, working in partnership with the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) to develop the first version of the language that includes 10 “schemas” such as application for payment, bonds, change order, change directive, RFIs and RFPs, among others.

According to Fara Francis, AGC of America Chief Information Officer, “AGC remains very committed to interoperability and open standards for construction.” She notes that over the next several months a newly hired “ombudsman” will focus on promoting the use of agcXML with software vendors and encourage them to implement and embed the agcXML tags into their future software rollouts. They will also establish a new forum or “Vendor Consortium” to involve individuals and companies in the process and to help develop additional schemas.

Given that the typical construction project may involve over two dozen different software programs containing data that must be shared among the various project stakeholders, according to Francis, the need to re-enter data due to lack of interoperability among the programs can be a major productivity drain.

“AgcXML allows for the transfer of that data easily,” she says. “We need to educate the public that they can save money and time if all of these processes can talk to each other seamlessly.”

Surety Connection Project Partnership

In California, one public/private partnership that has shared AGC’s vision and has partnered with the association to move open standards down the road is The Surety Connection Project.

Funded by a $100,000 grant from Tracy Gateway Business Park, The Surety Connection Project is a collaborative effort that has involved diverse entities including AGC of America, California State University (CSU) Chico, owner Tracy Gateway Business Park and others seeking to promote open standards to allow greater interoperability and data processing between public agencies and construction companies.

The project is the brainchild of Dixon Wright, alumni of CSU Chico and a surety broker who recognized the need for open standards in his own surety business nearly a decade ago and started working to find an industry-wide solution. The project recently scored a key success when Caltrans adopted agcXML codes for its project data and public bid information.

At CSU Chico, students have worked collaboratively with the Surety Connection Project and the CHICO process (Commonly Held Information Collaboration Objective) to develop shareware prototype applications designed to identify and “tag” data fields for agcXML that can be utilized by the construction industry.

For additional details, go to www.chicoprocess. com. To find out more about the Surety Connection Project, go to www.surteyconnection.com

Improving Access to Surety Credit

Working through his company known as Surety Resource Connection, Dixon Wright has been involved in a wide variety of efforts and initiatives to promote open standards with a particular emphasis on improving access to surety credit for small and emerging contractors. He notes that while the surety industry has been working hard to improve access to credit, a major hurdle has been the fact that smaller contractors do not generate enough premiums to compensate for the high cost of administering surety programs – meaning qualified contractors may sometimes be denied because they are not profitable clients.

“Reducing the high cost of administering surety credit and increasing the amount and quality of information is only possible when each system can share information – and open standards makes that possible,” says Wright.

Wright discussed his work during AGC of California’s Bay Area Public Works Night in September 2012 and is also slated to speak in conjunction with a Caltrans presentation during AGC of America’s National Convention in Palm Springs on March 6, 2013.
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