The current state of interoperability in AEC is challenged at best. The number one complaint I hear from industry professionals is that they need software systems that work together—an end-to-end solution that is also fully mobile and user-friendly. I often find myself explaining that the reason end-to-end solutions are not user-friendly is because it’s next to impossible to deliver a comprehensive one that is.
While this may be disappointing, the fact is no single platform can or should try to do it all. Instead, it’s important for developers to focus on the problem they are trying to solve and deliver the best possible solution to that problem. But equally important, make that solution interoperable with other solutions so that construction workers can use technology the way they want to and need to.
Imagine if a plumbing contractor decided to start fabricating structural steel or if a general contractor in retail construction started building bridges. Probably not going to be the best structural steel or bridge construction, right? Software development is the same way—the best applications are developed by software firms that stay uber-focused on what they do best.
In AEC, it’s common to find construction professionals either using one end-to-end solution that frustrates them, or using several applications in silos that don’t allow for an open, 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 data can flow freely between 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 a project and get it completed safely, 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 with their 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 big end-to-end platforms. 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 businesses (according Sageworks financial analysis data) as well as that small businesses make up 99.7% of all businesses in the United States (according to the Small Business Administration) 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. Years ago, those 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. Large contractors are starting to see the benefit of today’s user-friendly, mobile solutions, but they want them to work with their end-to-end legacy systems so that there is no loss of data.
In today’s tech-driven workplace, interoperable software is a necessity in nearly every industry. My experience working in the technology industry has proven to me that “best of breed” software solutions are superior to end-to-end solutions. At FieldLens, for example, we use several technology platforms to build our product, each serving a different and unique purpose, and each with APIs allowing them to share information and data with one another. There’s no question this free flow of data between software solutions makes our team more efficient and allows us to build faster.
It’s time that construction software companies increase the availability of public APIs so that jobsite communication operates as harmoniously as possible, allowing data to move between products to simplify the workflow and improve contractors’ bottom lines.
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.
Doug Chambers is CEO of FieldLens, a mobile field management application built to help construction project teams communicate as efficiently as possible. FieldLens is interoperable with Bluebeam, Navisworks, Revit, and will be introducing a supported API for custom integrations this fall.