In the world of construction, interoperable software can prove an invaluable asset to a wide range of tradespeople and professionals. But what exactly does the term ‘interoperable’ mean?
Interoperability refers to the ability of computer software to exchange information and make use of that information once they’ve received it. For example, OpenOffice Writer might be able to open documents created in Microsoft Word (and vice versa), and thus the two can be said to be interoperable with one another.
Interoperability comes on a sliding scale: the ease with which data can be bounced back and forth between different programs determines how interoperable we consider it. The term has become particularly important in the construction industry, where a varied assortment of professions need to collaborate on a particular project.
Why is construction productivity still low?
UK productivity is, at present, dreadful – and the construction industry must take a large share of the blame. Part of the problem lies in software.
There are more than 300 pieces of construction software available, according to a popular construction management software directory. This is a sign of a healthy market. But having this much choice available presents several drawbacks.
Suppose that different stakeholders collaborating on the same project are using different programs made by rival developers. These programs aren’t built to communicate with one another, and so neither can the people using them. An update made by one worker won’t be reflected in the software used by another.
Why is interoperability so important?
This lack of interoperability means that a large portion of everyone’s working day will need to be spent chasing co-workers, asking questions and issuing (and awaiting) instructions. The right software, on the other hand, allows everyone to refer to a single, synchronised database – effectively saving vast amounts of working hours.
Why isn’t construction software interoperable today?
Basic market incentives dissuade developers from making their software interoperable. After all, no one wants to make it easy for their customers to use a rival product. Thus, at present, most large developers aim to create construction software that does everything you could want it to.
In practice, of course, it is impossible to build software that caters for every aspect of a rapidly evolving workplace, and it would be preferable to have lots of programs that specialise in doing one thing well – provided, of course, that those programs are interoperable.
The benefits of interoperability have only been widely recognised in the past few years, and yet most construction software companies came to be long before that. It might therefore take some time for developers to catch up with what the industry is demanding.
What do we need to do as software developers and the industry to move more quickly towards interoperability?
When different pieces of software present the same information in varying ways, the user can end up confused. For example, the colour blue might be used to signify one thing in a given piece of software and something else in another. Standardisation across different software can eliminate this confusion, and bolster productivity – but this requires collaboration between developers.
By developing software that’s as interoperable as possible, developers can help to minimise administrative costs and stress for the end user. This approach will help to recover hours of wasted labour, and ultimately boost productivity.
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