New ROI: Return on Interoperability

I try to keep abreast of developments in IT developments in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) world. One useful newsletter I receive weekly is This week’s includes a link to the latest issue of Bentley’s magazine BE (not to be confused with the UK-based AEC organisation of the same name – see last week’s note about Constructing Excellence), wherein there is an interesting article by Bentley COO Malcolm Walter, looking at interoperability issues.

Walter focuses on what he calls “NIST dollars” – referring to the $16 billion lost annually in the US due to poor IT interoperability (this waste was identified in 2004 study of US capital facilities by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) I mentioned this study in Ch.10 of my book: similar lack of integration in the UK, I suggest, may cost the industry between £0.8bn and £1.6bn). He proposes a new meaning of ROI. Instead of ‘return on investment’, he talks about achieving a ‘return on interoperability’.

Walter’s solutions to the problem include interoperating software products (with Bentley at the core, naturally, alongside XML developments, and Bentley alliances with Adobe and Microsoft, among others). He also proposes Bentley’s ProjectWise collaboration solution as a means to save NIST dollars; US consultancy HDR found that:

"… using ProjectWise eliminated up to 30 man-hours per month per project, by avoiding file losses and unintentional reconfiguration of the design environment. In NIST dollars, that’s about $2,000 saved per month on each project. … it greatly reduces errors and confusion in file management. The natural result is better design, because time is focused on essential work, instead of tedious tracking and backtracking."

In my view, such savings will not be unique to ProjectWise, but could be attributed to the use of most sophisticated construction collaboration systems. Walter, however, does move the scenario forward in time, arguing that Building Information Modelling (BIM) and, in due course, integration with e-procurement offers yet further ‘NIST dollar’ savings. It is an intriguing vision, and while Walter argues that it can all be achieved "by taking advantage of the interoperability afforded by Bentley’s solutions" there is certainly no reason to believe that his company will be the only one active in this area.

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