What Is A Data Template (DT)?

Advancing the construction industry through standards

Every construction organisation has its own way of structuring data. And this is perfectly fine. But to make it possible to communicate and exchange information with other organisations and systems in a reliable way, a common ground is needed. An agreed approach to structuring and transforming data into an interoperable asset should be implemented across the construction industry. This will enable organisations of all sizes to bring forward their digitisation initiatives and benefit from the numerous technologies available on the market today. More importantly, a common approach to developing data models in construction facilitates data exchange and accelerates the digital transformation of the whole industry.

To address this need, the data template methodology was created and is further developed by standardisation bodies, such as CEN and ISO, to provide the industry with a guideline on common rules and best practices for structuring data for digital use. Another common alternative to digitising construction data is by applying classification systems.

In this article, you will find the most important information about the data templates methodology.

Following international standards to define and structure product information in common data templates is paramount to achieving a higher degree of digitalisation across the entire industry.

The data template methodology: International and national standards are among the credible sources that help to define and structure construction product information in common data templates that facilitate digitalisation in the construction world.

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 – be it 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. In order 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.

You can read more about properties, attributes and the principles of connecting them that are established by the standard EN ISO 23386, in our summary article.

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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.

Names and concepts: Machines cannot compare the values if they cannot link it to the same concept

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.

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Standards: The credible sources of data

When we speak about data template, 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 data template structure. Legal data sources, such as European Harmonised Standards are with greater priority than national standards, and the national standards have greater priority than and 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.