Open standards are what drive innovation. They encourage new technologies to emerge, processes to become more efficient and simply make things easier to use. Take, for example, the biggest ever success story of open standards: the Internet.
The internet is built on open standards. Without a set of commonly accepted interfaces, file formats and protocols, computers and networks around the world wouldn’t be able to communicate with one another. And without an open, bottom-up approach, which encourages anybody and everybody to contribute, the Internet likely wouldn’t have developed as freely and rapidly as it did. In fact, without open standards, the Internet we know and love today probably wouldn’t exist.
In the same way, the construction industry needs standards – and in particular, open standards – to continue its development towards better productivity.
What are the standards?
For the last 200-odd years, standards have been the guidelines which ensure consistency in many of the processes, products and services that keep society ticking. They provide a solid foundation for technology by providing regulations, ensuring quality, and making it faster and easier for innovations to hit the market. This might not seem the most obvious thing in the world, but we owe many of the wonders and comforts of modern life to standards. We’re able to do everything from plugging in a lamp to sending an email because of them.
Today, there are three types of standards.
- The first type, industry standards, are owned by a company. While good for the company, industry standards usually aren’t good for the market, customers or other companies. Despite the fact they’re often widely adopted within an industry, industry standards can quickly become outdated because companies don’t have any incentive to further develop them.
- Second, we have formal licensed standards, which are owned by a neutral organization and require a license. While the specifications are publicly available, the fees for licensed standards can be incredibly expensive, which makes it tough for new or small companies to join the market.
- And finally, we have open standards, which are owned by a standards development organization, such as BuildingSMART. Open standards are openly available without licensing fees, and can be used for anything. Needless to say, as Trimble’s BIM Ambassador, I’m all for open standards.
The beauty of open standards
Open standards stand out from the crowd because they help to strip away the restrictions that surround so many of the services, products, and processes we use. Industry and licensed standards often hinder development and innovation – open standards, on the other hand, can strengthen them.
Open standards stand out from the crowd because they help to strip away the restrictions that surround so many of the services, products, and processes we use.
This is mainly because open standards can create fair markets in which competition can flourish. There are far fewer barriers, making it easier for companies to enter the market, which in turn prevents monopolies. The playing field is even, and new players have the opportunity to join the game with fewer restrictions. When licensed and industry standards get involved, things get tricky for companies needing to implement and use certain standards.
Within a competitive market, users have more choice. What’s more, with open standards, the users themselves are able to have deep knowledge of the standards, because all the information is publicly and freely accessible. Users and smaller companies can even have an impact on the development of open standards because anyone can participate for a reasonable fee.
The role of open standards in BIM
Like the internet, the construction industry often relies on open standards – and, in fact, the complexity of modern construction projects often demands them. A single project can involve hundreds of stakeholders, from the architect all the way to the on-site contractor, each of whom needs to contribute and access data. Needless to say, if that data can’t be easily exchanged – or be reused throughout the project’s lifecycle – the project will descend into chaos.
Open standards help to solve this problem by making it easier and more efficient to communicate using data exchange formats such as IFC, which is the core standard that defines how you digitally describe a building including its geometry as machine-readable data. This way, different stakeholders can exchange data no matter the tools and software solutions they’re using, which gives them the freedom to choose the best purpose-built tools for the job.
Open standards make it easier and more efficient to communicate using data exchange formats such as IFC.
Streamlined data exchange is just one way open standards are helping to transform BIM-based workflows within construction. Take, for example, the next big leap in productivity within construction: automation. As we transition from human-readable documents to machine-readable data that can be consumed automatically by software without our help, we’ll need open standards to enable choice in the tools used.
Open BIM environment, in which a variety of systems efficiently communicate using model-based data, shared terminology, and common processes and methods, has the potential to boost industry development and innovation in a major way. In fact, the growth of the industry will depend on it, just as the Internet did not that long ago.