EatYourCad Babbage Award goes to … Avanti

On the excellent EatYourCad blog (see December 2005 post) Nigel Davies has had an irreverant look back at  2006 and made some awards for ‘“things that should not be”, things that have drawn a wry smile or things that have been plain crazy’.

And ‘The Cart Driving The Donkey Award’ goes to … Avanti. Nigel writes:

Anyone remember Avanti? Anyone heard of it in the first place? Avanti was the Department of Trade and Industry-backed “last ditch” attempt to address waste in the construction industry. Literally hundreds of thousands of sponsor companies’ pounds and something like three-quarters of a million of tax-payers’ hard-earned cash was ploughed into meeting after meeting, lunch after lunch, pilot study after pilot study ad infinitum to demonstrate “better ways of collaborating”. If anyone out there has actually seen this demonstrated (outside of the original handful of teams involved) we’d love to hear from you. You can sum the initiative up by its best example of “Babbage-ism”: the extranet-led naming convention.

There is a problem raised time and time again when working with extranets: how time-consuming it is re-formatting, renaming and uploading data, and how every system is different. Well, in common-sense circles, you’d think it would fall into the hands of the extranet providers to look at how designers work and redesign their software to suit. Oh no, not so. What we had instead was an extranet service provider-led committee put together to produce a standard naming convention which all designers would then need to follow. That doesn’t sound too bad does it? It does when you then consider that the idea was to produce a single document naming convention for all digital file types, including spreadsheets, correspondence, schedules and drawings, not forgetting 2D and 3D CAD models, visualisations and so on. What you ended up with was a lot of effort to produce a lot of characters – something like 32 for a typical file name. Of course you can see the architect sitting down to start the scheme stage, reaching for his glossy copy of the document naming standard and filling out each character just so that in two years’ time, after stoppages and restarts, the extranet system will be able to accept his file. Get real!

We’re sorry Mr Egan and Mr Latham, perhaps we are fighting a losing battle after all.

I know Nigel was being a bit light-hearted but I am not sure he should blame the extranet service providers for whatever standard naming convention emerged from Avanti.

  1. For a start, only a small number of vendors ever got really involved with Avanti (Asite was one of the early partners; 4Projects participated in a couple of case studies; on behalf of BIW, I also contributed to an earlier initiative, the PIX Protocol – since absorbed into Avanti)
  2. Reviewing some of the documents to emerge from Avanti, I don’t see any sign that an extranet vendor had a key role in authoring any of them. For example, the Standard Method and Protocol document – the one that specifies the file naming convention in detail – was authored by Mervyn Richards and Steve Race, with a steering group comprising people from industry, plus CICA and individuals active in the IAI. Not an extranet vendor among them.
  3. Given a free hand, I don’t think any extranet vendor would insist on creating a single convention to cover all file types (currently, most extranet vendors are normally content to divide file types up into different folders or, if using a relational database, registers).
  4. If and when such file naming conventions do become necessary, I am sure the extranent vendors will have technology available that will automate large parts of the naming (or re-naming) process (for example, once a user is logged in, his identity, company and discipline will already be stored in his user profile, and as information is published, file types will be automatically identified and numbers and metadata applied).

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