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CDE's + Workflow Automation, A Shared Pain?

andersonvdc profile image Grant Anderson ・2 min read

This post is in response to comments by Claudio Benghi, Paul Wilkinson, and Ryan Tennyson about our "Common Data Environments (CDEs)" in this awesome conversation you had a of couple weeks ago as well as inspiration from my own pains in the industry. Big thanks to John E. for encouraging me to post this for the community's feedback. Tear it apart!

As the BIM/VDC Coordinator in a department of one, I am acutely affected by the inefficiencies of current construction software. I believe there is huge waste in my firm and thousands of others around the world using construction software. The current conversation is very much focused around interoperability of this construction data. However, I'd like to bring this to the forefront as a critical piece in the future development of construction data and software: the ability for computers to manipulate this data automatically.

The problem is no longer that systems won't sync with each other, we have solved this issue. There are multiple vendors that will take one file from one database to the next, even individual bits of information. It's that these systems are missing user-configurable work engine functionality as well.

Enter IFTT and Zapier. Web applications that will not only sync information from one program to another, but also conduct automated actions preset by the user typically done within those programs. This is an example of the solution I propose to bring to construction.

Sure, Autodesk Construction Cloud Connect is attempting this with good effort, however they are unfit to do this due to the conflicts of interest I'm sure this community is well aware of.

What are the manual and repetitive tasks still being picked and clicked by people in our industry? Importing, exporting, publishing, aligning models on a shared site, energy analysis, registering point clouds, appearance profiling, clash detection, quantity take-off... the list goes on and on. This costs me hours a week to conduct trivial and repetitive tasks we all know computers can do. "Just create a template", "just use BIM360", or "just hire another employee" are poor responses to this problem, they are band-aids over gaping wounds.

However, we will develop a solution to this issue and am looking for great conversation. Please comment on this post, contact me through LinkedIn, or visit the website: BIMAutomatic.com if this is a shared pain you have. I look forward to the response from the industry's best. :)

Discussion (6)

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ralph_arcdox profile image
Ralph Montague

Thanks Grant for the great introduction to this topic. I'm sure many people are aware of the "Shared-Pain" you have described. But it is not a trivial problem, that can easily be solved with IFTT or Zapier. Because in construction, "information" carries responsibility and liability, and literally has "life & death" consequences. And if you don't believe me, or think this is being overly dramatic, then please have a look at chapter 8, of the Hackitt report, into the Grenfell Fire disaster in the UK, in which over 70 people lost their lives. assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/g...

When we move a file, from one location, to another, we have to be sure that we don't somehow unintentionally disturb the responsibility and liability relationship, simply to save a little bit of time. The contents of a file, are only useful, if you can rely on it, and for that, we need to know a few things about the file: Who produced it? What responsibility/liability did they have? When was it produced? And Why? For what purpose? (was it to simply convey some concept design, or some technical design intent, or construction/fabrication/assembly design, etc). Was it approved and accepted by both parties in the "transactional" relationship? Has the information somehow been changed from the original source? Did the person, or the machine, making that change, have the authority to make that change? Did they take on some responsibility/liability, either intentionally or unintentionally, by making that change, and do they have the professional insurance to cover that change? In moving a file, have you somehow broken some agreement around the copyright, or intellectual property of the information?

All of the above must be carefully considered, and taken into account, as we think about "automation". I'm not making these remarks to discourage you in thinking about automation, but to make sure it is done correctly.

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andersonvdc profile image
Grant Anderson Author

Hey Ralph, I can certainly agree with you that construction information carries with it consequences and that tracking this sort of information is critically important. On a practical application level I have to ask: do these attributes need to be given to every single file? The terms for consent, liability, and responsibility for information is outlined in contracts, and those attributes apply to any files we may send to each other.

For instance, design drawings on paper bear the seal of the designer and typically a stamp is applied by the contractor verifying date of receiving. A percentage is attributed to the drawing set (20% ,50% ,80% ,100%) which roughly surmises what the drawings are good for (QTO, clash detection, fabrication, etc). The files themselves don't explicitly carry this information, rather it's implicit due to the governing documents and industry standard practice. Our job title, stakeholder position in the project, read receipts, and modify dates don't already give an idea into this information (perhaps only to some fraction of accuracy)? If we can automate this explicit labelling to fit our implicit understandings then great, otherwise is taking manual attention to label every correspondence the best use of time?

Ultimately, I don't see these as mutually exclusive. As with any construction processes, liability and information tracking should be doubly considered, and this is something I will be sure to keep in mind. I am very thankful for your perspective and am eager to continue the mind meld!

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ralph_arcdox profile image
Ralph Montague

The "exchange" of printed forms of information, with title blocks, seals, stamps and signatures. is precisely what "digitization" is trying to get away from. This is outdated technology of another era. But, the function of these traditional forms of "governance" still has to be regarded, or replicated "digitally", to give information "trustworthiness". I don't envisage a "manual" exercise of "labelling" information. The "technology" should do that for you. As you correctly stated, the CDE system you are using already knows who you are, what function you have on the project, which stage we are in, who has permission to access or use information, who has received and reviewed information, etc. The "challenge" is, as you move from one system to another, often the "file" gets transferred, but all this "governance" information that is stored in CDE systems, gets lost. And this then makes the content of the file "untrustworthy" (unless you still have some access to the originating application). This is precisely what ISO19650-2 is trying to address, when it says that files (containers), need to carry "metadata" with them, that keep and maintain the contents, meaning and purpose of the file, with the file itself, so that the understanding is not "implicit" (implied, but not easily defined, unclear, potentially misunderstood etc), but that it is "explicit" (clearly stated and understood).

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hughseaton profile image
Hugh Seaton

Grant have a look at Robotic Process Automation - it's IFTTT/Zapier with more sophistication, including producing auditable document trails that might satisfy the concerns Ralph rightly brings up. Automation Anywhere is one provider.

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andersonvdc profile image
Grant Anderson Author

Hey Hugh, I got my first decent exposure to the technology in Construction with Shahansha Shaik's presentation at Autodesk University today! I knew this existed when I was younger (in a simple form) but I'm glad it's coming back around. Certainly considering using this as a solution, but I see a few issues until I get more information:

  1. It automates my picks and clicks (which is awesome and I have a couple things I think I'll use this for), however it's automating through interactions with UI, not working directly with the API under the hood to get the job done. Any UI changes may ruin show?
  2. Don't see any automation with BIM or Construction programs in mind.

Keep in mind I could be completely wrong about this so I'm going to look further into your reference to AA and Shahansha's UiPath. I'm also seeing Boomi as a possible solution already out there. Thank you!

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hughseaton profile image
Hugh Seaton

I'm not sure there's been enough demand in Construction for a pre-baked solution to be there yet. The approach is really my point.

If you'd like to dive deeper, though, I'm happy to have an offline chat about it!