What is a Data Template (DT)?

Preparing the construction industry for a more sustainable and digitised future

This article will explore the detailed methodology behind Data Templates (DTs) and their connection to the anticipated role of Digital Product Passports (DPPs) in the construction industry. Starting with structuring and digitising data in Data Templates is an important first step towards integrating Digital Product Passports in the future. By aligning DTs with DPPs, the sector is not only moving towards adherence to revised European legislation, but is also leveraging digitalization for a more sustainable and efficient future in construction.

Table of contents:

Introduction to Data Templates and Digital Product Passports

Every construction organization has developed its own methods for structuring data. While such customisation has benefits, it often complicates communication and the exchange of information across different systems and stakeholders. To address these challenges, the construction industry is embracing standardisation through Data Templates (DTs). These templates provide a uniform framework for structuring and transforming data into interoperable assets, essential for digitisation initiatives within the industry. Developed in alignment with international standards by organizations such as CEN and ISO, Data Templates not only facilitate enhanced data exchange but also actively prepare the construction industry for a more sustainable and digitalised future.

In parallel, the industry is preparing for the upcoming adoption of Digital Product Passports (DPPs) for construction products as part of the revised Construction Products Regulation (CPR). Mandated by the European Commission under the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation (ESPR), DPPs are not yet implemented but are designed to provide comprehensive and standardized information about construction products throughout their entire lifecycle. These digital passports will deliver critical data, including safety information, usage instructions, and declarations of performance and conformity. By enhancing transparency and traceability for all stakeholders, from manufacturers to building contractors and end users, DPPs aim to simplify and enrich sustainability practices within the construction sector.

Data Templates: What are they for people and for machines?

For its user, a Data Template (DT) is a common data structure describing the characteristics (called ‘properties’) of a construction object, and its physical qualities, according to a credible source of information, e.g. a standard or regulation.

On the other hand, for any software, the data template structure is a set of concepts that are connected to each other with different relationships. By establishing the connectedness between concepts through unique pieces of code, a specific logic for machines is set. This allows us to create a common technological language, which helps any software convey meaning consistently regardless of the language used in a particular country.

There are several technical terms that we need to explain further when we talk about the methodology behind Data Templates. Those are construction objects, properties, attributes and groups of properties.

What is a construction object?

One of the major, and mandatory, prerequisites to define and create a Data Template is to have a construction object which to associate the Data Template with.

The construction object identifies the object-of-interest in a construction process which the data template describes further. This could be a window, exterior door, expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation, masonry wall and many more.

What is a property, attribute and groups of properties?

One can think of a product property as the smallest building block defining a product for digital use.

Properties are characteristics that describe a construction object. To create a property, it is a must to define its attributes. Attributes can be the property’s ‘measure’, ‘value’, ‘unit’, i.e. they are the property’s “metadata” that define what physical quantity the property measures and the unit it is expressed in.

Defining unique properties with different attributes is a very important step that enables software to compare values. For instance, to compare the percentage of water absorption of two products.

Last but not least, groups of properties are simply collections that allow users to group properties based on a certain criterion and then easily re-use and re-distribute them.

How do Data Templates ensure interoperability and transform data into ‘machine-readable’ language?

In different countries and within different organisations the product characteristics (or properties) do not share the same name, spelling or abbreviation. Thus, this information is deemed different by various software programs. The data template methodology takes into account all these differences.

To help machines understand the intended meaning of information there is a need for a common framework of concepts and the relationships between those concepts.

Data Templates are built upon a framework, called ‘digital data dictionaries’, that enables the mapping of similar concepts to unique codes so that machines will be able to “read” and “understand” one common meaning, no matter the local differences in semantics. This way, all devices will “know” that if we search for “thermal transmittance” for example, it means the same as “u-value”.

There is no universal data dictionary available in the construction world. There are many different dictionaries that construction organisations create themselves. However, those dictionaries need to be interconnected. The experts of CEN/TC442/WG4 are aligning the available standards to ensure that any dictionary can store properties and their attributes in a consistent way.

Example of such data dictionaries are Define data dictionary and buildingSMART Data Dictionary (bsDD).

A common digital language for
the construction industry

Standards: The credible sources of data

When we speak about Data Templates, it is important to say that credible sources of product characteristics (or properties) are international standards, European standards (e.g. harmonised standards), regulations, directives, documents and more.

It is also important to underline that there is a specific hierarchy of those credible data sources taken into account in the DT structure. Legal data sources, such as European Harmonised Standards have greater priority than national standards, and the national standards have greater priority than user-recognised requirements, like BREEAM and COBie.

This is how Data Templates are created to serve as a common framework to use when managing construction product data.

What standards define the methodology for creating DTs?

The international Standartisation bodies CEN and ISO are developing a series of standards to cover the methodology for creating data templates. These standards are developed as part of the CEN technical committee 442 work and were published in 2020:

  • EN ISO 23386  Building information modelling and other digital processes used in Construction – Methodology to describe, author and maintain properties in interconnected dictionaries;
  • EN ISO 23387  Building Information Modelling (BIM) – Data templates for construction objects used in the life cycle of any built asset – Concepts and principles;

What is a Data Sheet (DS)?

When a construction manufacturer completes a data template the created output is called a Data Sheet (DS). A Data Sheet summarizes the performance and the technical characteristics of a specific product, material or component according to a specific regulation or market requirement that has been incorporated into the Data Template.

In other words, a DS is like a digital passport of the construction product – it is traceable to the manufacturer and unique for the construction product. Data Sheets allow all actors that participate in a construction process to benefit from trusted, accurate, up-to-date manufacturer’s data.

Moreover, manufacturers can integrate the repository that stores their digital product information with their PIM, DAM or ERP systems. This way they can ensure that the data held in the Data Sheets is always up-to-date. These Data Sheets can serve as a single source of truth (SSoT) and the information that they contain can be automatically updated into any third-party systems.

Data Sheets (DS) can be populated with construction product data by other actors besides the manufacturer. Such DSs are often referred to as ‘project-specific’ because their author can verify the accuracy of the data held in the DS at the specific point in time when the Data Sheet is created.

Structure all your construction product data

What are the DTs used for and what benefits do they bring?

After having described what the Data Template methodology is, we will have a look at the advantages that it brings and how structured data can lead construction to the next level of digitalization.

Essentially, the purpose of Data Templates is to make sure that product data requesters (e.g. asset owners, architects, specifiers, contractors, facility managers) and product data providers (manufacturers, distributors) exchange products information based on the same structures and using the same digital language.

Any actor involved in the construction project can use DTs to set data requirements, populate them with actual data and verify input data against requirements. The implementation of Data Templates is the missing puzzle piece that connects Manufacturers’ product information and Clients’ requirements and needs.

Apart from making the exchange of product information much more efficient, Data Templates also serve as a link to smart technologies that the construction industry can leverage.

Only after building a stable backbone of digital data through Data Templates, we will be able to create and benefit from digital representations of physical assets (Digital twins), maintain a network of internet-enabled devices (Internet of Things), enable them to learn from external stimuli (Artificial Intelligence).

Last but not least, structured and digitized data in Data Template format prepares is a prerequisite for the creation of Digital Product Passports. In the following years, this could evolve to a common database or system at EU level storing DPPs and key information regarding construction products.

How is a DT useful to manufacturers?

Data Templates are especially useful for manufacturers who can populate them with the most up-to-date and accurate information about the products, materials, systems and components that they produce. Among the most important benefits of the DTs for manufacturers are:

  • Better quality of the data: A single source of information for all departments and subsidiaries, no more guesswork in tendering, clients gain trust in data that they can access on the fly;
  • Adaptability to emerging business models: By applying the latest standards for structuring data, manufacturers ensure that their high-quality data can enter any existing or emerging digital channel;
  • Cost savings now – By introducing Data Templates, the average manufacturer can save a lot of data management costs.

What a DT can do for clients and building owners?

The client’s main goals are to bring his project and program to success, to stay compliant with regulations, to operate effectively and, finally, to grow. To achieve this, he needs to ensure co-operation and co-ordination with other stakeholders. Among the benefits that the standard-based DTs bring for Clients are:

  • The smart way to achieve project objectives: Enhanced decision-making and high visibility of product data requirements related to analysis on cost, performance, environmental impact, etc.;
  • Automated information exchange and delivery to other stakeholders in the supply chain;
  • High–quality data across the whole life cycle: predictive maintenance, integration with FM systems, access to historical data – all possible with structured data.

What benefits do DTs bring to contractors?

The contractor can benefit from the same opportunities as the client in terms of efficiency and increased competitiveness in the bidding process. As the contractor has many responsibilities regarding the safety of incorporated materials and works, as well as compliance with requirements, the automated validation and verification of data for the constructed asset are crucial. Some of the benefits include:

  • Choosing the optimal supplier and delivery methods by using data that is compatible with integrated BIM-GIS models;
  • Minimizing the risk of making a loss by verifying that requirements and regulations are met by the whole supply chain;
  • Reduce project costs and take advantage of eruptive digital transformation (LCA, cost estimation, digital twins, historical analysis).

How can DTs help the design team?

Construction is a complex process. As part of the iterative specification process, multiple actors need to provide different data describing the performance of various construction products or elements to be installed. Moreover, this is done at different project stages and at different levels of information (LOIs). Therefore, among the advantages that specifiers get by working with well-structured, standardised information are:

  • Easily identify the product data needed in all phases of the information value chain;
  • Customise data templates according to the needed data deliveries per role, stage and levels of information (LOI);
  • Create/reuse specifications, based on best practices and search for matching products.

Distribute standard-based, interoperable information requirements

Conclusion

In summary, this educational article has explored the crucial role of Data Templates (DTs) in preparing the construction industry for a more sustainable and digitally advanced future. By standardising data according to international standards, DTs enhance the exchange of information across the industry, setting a foundation for the future adoption of Digital Product Passports (DPPs). These innovations promise to streamline processes and foster a more transparent ecosystem for all construction stakeholders involved. As the construction sector continues to evolve, structured and standardised data in a Data Template format will be enabling digitalisation and sustainability, crucial for meeting the modern challenges of the industry.