In the latest episode of Let’s Be Civil, “Bringing Open Data Standards & IFC into the World of e-Bidding,” we were joined by BIM expert Ron Gant and technology leader Andy Martin to explore the overall goals of Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) and how implementing these standards in a bidding platform is the best way to connect the owner and contractors.
As the civil infrastructure industry adopts a necessary digital transformation, organizations have to look at each phase of the project lifecycle collectively and connect the disparate systems in order to support full asset lifecycle management. The industry is shifting toward the development and use of open data standards to support interoperability. By adopting Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) into online bidding software, organizations can begin building the foundation for asset management. In this article, we’ll detail some of the insights covered during the episode.
Data isn’t just the new oil - it’s the new gas
“Construction becomes a well-oiled machine based on how well you move the information throughout the construction process. I think that’s really where you get this idea of “new oil” for construction, because with it, we operate better, we’re more efficient, and we produce at a level we should. Data becomes key in being able to do that.” - Ron Gant
When something is referred to as “the new oil,” it’s usually meant to describe an invaluable resource that everyone wants to get their hands on. While this is true of data in the construction industry, our panelists took a different perspective. To Gant, data isn’t just a resource - it helps drive the machine. When stakeholders have easy access to critical data throughout the construction lifecycle, it enables them to work more efficiently, like the leap from horse-drawn carriages to oil-powered vehicles. Additionally, it acts as WD-40, ensuring that the entire operation runs smoothly. Martin also added that oil isn’t useful when it’s in the ground. Like data, it has to be extracted, which is the purpose of using open data standards.
Open data standards are common in other industries
“If you think about how cell phones work, one person can have an iPhone, another can have an Android, one can be on T-Mobile, the other can be on AT&T, and they can intercommunicate with no problem. Think about the layers of data transfer that have occurred to make that happen. They’ve all agreed on how they’re going to transmit data.” - Andy Martin
To Martin, the goal of instituting open data standards in the construction industry is similar to that of phone providers; seamless interaction between systems (green text bubbles aside). Open data standards help disparate systems communicate with each other without user data manipulation or human error. Throughout the modern computing era, we’ve seen the benefits of open data standards in other industries - it’s now on the construction industry to collaborate to achieve similar outcomes. Continuing the phone metaphor, the construction industry is currently more in the early aughts stage of development, where you could text your friends for free after 9:00pm, but only if they also have Verizon
The biggest driver in LPA adoption of online bidding was the pandemic
“More and more locals and municipalities are starting to adopt electronic bidding. I think in that segment, that’s where the pandemic really started to shift things. We started to see a lot of traction amongst municipalities looking to streamline things electronically, because one, people weren’t coming into the office, and two, unfortunately some companies closed down so they wanted to cast a wider bidding net.” - Chad Schafer
When you look at a technology maturity matrix for the adoption of e-bidding, you’ll often find DOTs leading the way and LPAs lagging behind. While it’s still the case that almost all DOTs bid electronically and that percentage is far lower among LPAs, the pandemic did drive significant adoption among locals and municipalities. The Civil Quarterly, a report that surveys the civil engineering industry, found that 69% of civil contractors use a paid bidding platform, a 2 point increase compared to 2020. Similar, 88% of contractors are leveraging a bid notification and aggregation tool to find and win more work, an 8 point increase over 2020.
To get a complete vision of project, you need open data standards and APIs
“If you think of BIM as the umbrella of the entire model of a project, IFC is just the portion that takes care of that physical representation... When you need 3D representation of your project, you pull in IFC. When you need funding information, you pull in AASHTOWare Project. When you need to be thinking about safety analysis, you're looking at your asset management projects. That’s why open data standards are so important - the flow of data from beginning to end.” - Andy Martin
As Martin outlines, there’s no escaping disparate systems. The role of IFC and open data standards is to democratize the model so an organization can pull in relevant information from multiple sources to paint one cohesive picture. Schafer added that the evolution and adoption of open data standards will prevent vendor lock for DOTs who are currently dealing with proprietary data standards and tools. The democratization of data almost forces technology providers to innovate, because functionality will be the only differentiator when data flows seamlessly between systems.
Using the model in e-bidding software is crucial to preventing data loss
“Right now, you’ll have an owner design a project. They’re going to model all the aspects of that project, then they’re going to flatten it into plans and cross-sections. That is, in my opinion, a moment of data loss. You’re taking a very rich model and you’re hacking it to bits, essentially… Let’s give them the originals, too. Let’s give them a way to not have to page through 600 pages of 2D designs.” - Andy Martin
Plan sets aren’t going away, according to Martin - but he believes we should be supplementing plan sheets with the detailed models that more accurately represent real-world assets. By giving project owners access to the model in a virtual space where they can pan, rotate, zoom in and out, do virtual cross-sections, or turn on x-ray vision, it provides an intuitive, powerful interface that’s easy for anyone to manipulate and understand. In the bidding world, it allows vendors to look at the model instead of pouring over plans and make a determination on whether they have the capabilities, equipment, and subcontractor network to effectively bid on the project.
For more information on IFC, open data standards, and how they relate to the world of e-bidding, listen to the latest episode of Let’s Be Civil here.