Interoperability code of practice for AECO technologies launched

A new interoperability code of practice for technologies, developed in the UK by the GIIG, has been launched.

Delivering Valuable Data: An Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies in the Built and Managed Environment - coverAs previewed in EE (13 April 2023), “Delivering Valuable Data: An Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies in the Built and Managed Environment” was launched at the Institution of Civil Engineers in Westminster on 17 April 2023. Around 100 people attended the in-person event (see also this 18 April BIMPlus article).

The Code (downloadable here) is one of several outputs from a group formerly known as the Government & Industry Interoperability Group, which was funded by the what is now the Department of Business & Trade (DBT), formerly BEIS. Since the publication of the BIM Interoperability Expert Group’s report in March 2020, the GIIG has developed various practical initiatives. These aim to achieve greater sharing of better data as a foundation to help industry clients deliver better whole-life outcomes.

DBT view

Fergus Harradence, deputy director, infrastructure, construction & rail at the DBT, was the first main speaker at the Code’s launch. After highlighting the need to invest in further embedding digital practices, and citing the TIP Roadmap to 2030 guidance, he positioned the Code as a key enabler of information flows across the industry to ultimately support achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals:

“Government is calling for the sector to deliver better whole-life outcomes. To do this, we need data and information to inform better decisions throughout the lifecycle of our assets. The code of practice is tackling these challenges, setting some core principles and providing supporting technical recommendations to software providers and to the wider industry.”

The Information Management Platform (IMP) foundations

Fiona Moore, the GIIG’s technical lead, then took to the stage. After a brief look back to the 2020 BIEG report (see previous post), she focused on the capabilities that need to be embedded in many client organisations to help them support their existing and future asset portfolios. Key to this is the Information Management Platform (IMP).

The IMP is an evolution of the AIM CDE (asset information management common data environment), a concept discussed in some UK public sector project circles from about 2018. This was subsequently expanded to incorporate emerging industry thinking in relation to the ISO 19650 suite of standards and the UK BIM Framework. It has also incorporated learning from development of new whole-life information approaches within some ground-breaking UK government teams – notably the Environment Agency’s flood and coastal project team. (As part of the GIIG, I helped write a case study on the EA’s development of its IMP, and contributed to an IMP guidance document – both are available here).

The IMP is not a single technology but a modular set of technologies that delivers a capability to support asset owner-operator’s through-life information needs. It enables data-centric processes involved in specifying, procuring, planning, designing, constructing, handing-over, assuring the related data, then operating and maintaining assets and the related data through to the assets’ end-of life. As such, the IMP concept helps to set some foundations for the GIIG’s emerging thinking on what client organisations, their supply chains and their technology providers should do to improve interoperability. The GIIG’s published Glossary defines this as:

“The ability of two or more systems to exchange information securely and to use the information that has been exchanged, ensuring that information is independent of the technologies used to deliver it.”

Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies

As chair of the GIIG’s code of practice working group, I talked to the ICE audience about the perennial need for better interoperability. I gave some context to the challenge, identifying many of the policy statements and guidance documents that were taken into consideration.

Interoperability Code of Practice for Technologies - context

From this background, the group was able to distil – in addition to interoperability – some key underpinning principles that should guide industry practice when it comes to contractual exchanges of information:

  • longevity – enabling long-term findability, access, reuse and exploitation, and continued value, of information
  • security – maintaining security, confidentiality and privacy protections, while allowing sharing of non-sensitive information for the public good
  • information value – enhancing the value of information created, managed and shared by technology-using professionals
  • information ownership – ensuring enduring ownership and control by asset owner-operators of valuable data about the assets they own, and
  • competition – promoting fair competition between technology providers (and indirectly among supply chain users of technologies)

Across the six principles, around 20 sets of associated technical requirements are defined. In many cases, these specify existing open standards and current good practices employed by industry practitioners. The requirements incorporate AECO industry guidance including the ISO 19650 suite of standards and the UK BIM Framework. They also refer to relevant generic technology guidance – for example, from the Central Digital and Data Office’s Technology Code of Practice.

Consultation and next steps

The draft code of practice was shared in a public consultation process over four weeks in January and February 2023. The GIIG received 117 written comments from across the supply chain; 94% of respondents agreed with the key need and the principles. There was strong support for the technical requirements.

This first edition of the code is a foundation document to be developed beyond the industry launch. Next steps include expanding awareness; providing mechanisms for sign-up to, and support for, the Code, including by procurers; establishing self-sustaining industry ‘stewardship’ of the Code  (to capture experience and industry feedback on adoption, including for procurement, to develop a possible ‘bronze, silver, gold’ assessment system; to develop version 1.1, and to explore potential international dimensions).

I will be talking about the code of practice at Digital Construction Week at London’s ExCEL on Wednesday 17 May 2023 (at 2:30pm BST as part of the Information Management Exchange programme) and there will be other GIIG-related presentations too; an online event about the code may also be organised in the near future,

Mandate interoperability through procurement

Terry Stocks, head of property at Faithful & Gould delivered the final presentation at the ICE. A veteran of the BIM adoption drive, he represented the private sector and supply chain members at the launch. He noted that “Buying data once and using it lots of times has been an Information Management ‘mantra’ for some time,” and offered a thought. “Perhaps it should be – ‘Buying Data Once’ and using it lots of times on the systems we choose“.

There was a lively Q&A session to conclude the formal part of the launch, and it was reiterated more than once that procurement can be a powerful lever to encourage interoperable approaches. If clients insist contractually on their supply chains supplying interoperable information, suppliers will, in turn, insist that the technologies they buy and use can deliver that interoperable information.

[Post delayed due to a COVID-19 infection contracted soon after the launch.]

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