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Jul 10 2009

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Collaboration vendors unveil (old) plans for deeper interoperability

Last month, members of the UK-based Network for Construction Collaboration Technology Providers (NCCTP) announced plans to provide greater integration between their different applications (see news release). At the time, I was too busy to write about it, but the topic cropped up briefly in conversation with the Incite guys (post) recently, so I’ve had another look.

To be honest, the “new plans outlined by the NCCTP members” are nothing new. Ever since it was founded in 2003, the NCCTP has had a long-term vision of achieving real-time integration – so this latest “news” is simply a reiteration of that objective.

However, its members struggled to reach even the intermediate step of creating a useful export/import standard that would allow information and metadata to be switched from one member’s system to another. I represented my former employer BIW Technologies at numerous NCCTP meetings at which progress towards the data exchange standard was debated ad nauseum (see Evening, Standard?), with BIW and Aconex finally giving up on the initiative last year. Far from being the claimed ‘confidence builder’, given the different architectures of the vendors’ applications and their varying levels of process complexity, it was only possible to achieve a lowest common denominator standard, and, in many instances, whenever data needed to be transferred a considerable amount of work was still required.

Reaching the next level, which would allow users to use their favourite application as an interface to retrieve and interact with information stored in a different system (thus avoiding the need to retrain on different systems), remains – to me, at least – some way off.

Why? Well, for a start, the NCCTP now only represents a minority of the vendors active in the UK market. I understand BIW, Asite, Cadweb and Aconex have all recently ceased NCCTP membership; Sword CTSpace (formerly BuildOnline) was expelled from the NCCTP some years ago; other providers such as ePin, Union Square, Autodesk Buzzsaw, StoreData and MPS were never part of the initiative in the first place; and there are new players in the market (Woobius and Clouds UK are two recent examples – see posts here and here respectively) for whom data exchange is not yet (as) important.

Second, it is debatable whether the remaining NCCTP members deliver “the market leading collaboration tools”. 4Projects is undoubtedly one of the most widely-used systems in the UK, but they have always historically lagged behind BIW in terms of turnover and number of users, and Business Collaborator, Causeway and Sarcophagus have all lagged behind 4Projects.

Third, as the various applications have developed, the initial focus on sharing drawing and document files has diminished in importance, with some vendors looking to focus on contract administration or financial control (BIW) or building information modelling (Asite) to differentiate their solutions. Expanding functionality to cover a wider range of workflows and an expanding range of metadata will create further interoperability gaps between them and the remaining NCCTP members.

Permanent link to this article: http://extranetevolution.com/2009/07/collaboration-vendors-unveil-old-plans-for-deeper-interoperability/

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