What is ‘context’ in the world of construction product data?
Do you use the same language to describe something delightful to your colleagues as you do to describe the same thing to your kids? Do you use the same vocabulary at a business meeting as when you are with friends? The terms you use depend on the different context you are in. We at Cobuilder can certainly say that this statement is true for organisations, for industries, for countries as well as it is true for individuals. But why is it relevant for the efforts to digitize the construction industry?
The context of data is very relevant in the construction sector
Within the BIM world all these different parties (individuals, organisations, and countries) communicate through technology. We know that digital technology holds the key towards structuring information in a standard way that can be understood by all. We know that this is essential for any construction business. Have we clarified, though, how to achieve accurate information transfer?
This is why we have Digital Data Dictionaries
Digital Data Dictionaries (such as the most prominent one – buildingSMART Data Dictionary based on the IFD standard) are developed to serve as a solution to this problem which is so central to BIM. A Dictionary seems simple enough. However, in the digital era we can go beyond the use of the same dictionary for everyone to flip to the page that is in accordance to his or her language. We need a technological solution that builds upon a data dictionary such as bSDD. A solution that will allow people to understand the meaning of a concept (a term) in their own context, while automatically mapping it to any other existing meaning of the same concept, within a different context anywhere in the world. In that way everyone can keep up with the truth, but see it within their own specific understanding.
How does Google know what are we talking about when we search for a ‘window’? ‘Context’ is now an essential element of the AI bot that aids the search engine optimisation.
What is the truth, anyway?
Without getting into discussions about the subjective and the objective, we have to say that we at Cobuilder have a way of defining the truth about a product-related concept (terminology) in the construction industry. We are using a simple scientific approach like the one you most probably have also used while writing your university essays. We use credible, acclaimed sources.
The acclaimed sources in the construction industry are standards produced by the relevant regulatory or standardization bodies. Their relevance can be established at different levels starting at the global and through to the national, organizational, industrial and market levels.
Standards and technical specifications that construction products are tested against define what the essential characteristics of products are. They define the test methods for these characteristics and the measures they are tested against. They provide a reference point for the meaning of concepts, the purpose of their use and the context within which this information is intended to be used. This is the baseline or the core of all the different ‘truths’ we use in our systems so that we can facilitate the translation of concepts to different data ‘contexts’.
Mapping to sources of truth
Back to the Digital Data Dictionary discussion, we must note that in order to support the need for data ‘context’ in the construction industry, however, one needs to know how to manage a dictionary first. This is why the buildingSMART Data Dictionary is essential. Because it is a dictionary of a very important language – the language of machines. Cobuilder are among the contributors to the bSDD whose experts assign a unique code to the ‘truth’ (remember we find the ‘truth’ in different standards) about each concept so that this code then becomes a reference point that machines can understand.
Languages – OK, Synonyms – OK
In that way, we can build a network of interconnected codes that link everything to the one ‘true’ meaning even if they are in a different language or synonyms used by a particular business. In this way machines can work with similar concepts and compare and calculate with them, but humans can still see the ‘context’ they are used to.
So how can we work together if we all have our own data ‘contexts’?
It is a paradox in the construction industry that we want to collaborate but we do not want to come to common terms with everyone in the whole industry, around the globe. Well, it is indeed a difficult task to get everyone to agree. That is why, we at Cobuilder believe that the key to this puzzle is rooted in agreeing on using standardized processes of structuring our data and a knowledgeable middle man. What do we mean by that? If we all agree on how to use technology-enabled processes to define, source, organise, clean and maintain data then we can lift this knowledge in a space that is available to all – the cloud.
The Middle Man
Cobuilder is developing a solution that will support this process and currently lays the groundwork for a cloud-solution that can become the industry repository of all things product data. Whenever a new data ‘context’ is created, it will be linked to all existing meanings in the cloud so we know if we are talking about the same thing or is it something new. In that way everyone can build their own data structures but know that they are not only useful for them internally – they are sourced from the cloud that everyone uses.
The software enabling the creation of ‘contexts’ and self-managed terminology (working title Cobuilder Define) is to be fully released on the market in summer 2018. Currently, the tool is still being trailed by manufacturers and trade associations.
Contact us if you want to find out more about Cobuilder Define and the integrated Cobuilder portfolio.
How does Google know what are we talking about when we search for a ‘window’? ‘Context’ is now an essential element of the AI bot that aid the search engine optimisation.