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.
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.
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.
Credible sources of product characteristics are international standards, European standards, regulations, directives, documents and more. Data templates 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;
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What is a data sheet?
When a manufacturer completes a data template the created output is called a Data Sheet (DS). A Data Sheet summarises 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 product’s passport – 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 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.
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 digitalisation.
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 a much more efficient process, 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), and even to evolve to a common digital marketplace within the construction industry.
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 DTs help Specifiers?
It is indisputable that 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.
What are the differentiators of Cobuilder’s Data Templates?
Data templates provide a standard-based approach to support all construction actors in their digital journey. This is the reason why data templates are in the center of Cobuilder’s software platform and solutions.
All data templates that Cobuilder develops are the result of the data modelling methodology, which is described in EN ISO 23387 – Building Information Modelling (BIM) — Data templates for construction objects used in the life cycle of any built asset — Concepts and principles and EN ISO 23386 – Building information modelling and other digital processes used in construction – Methodology to describe, author and maintain properties in interconnected dictionaries, and are based on a coherent data template structure.
- All data templates developed by Cobuilder develops are in line with the standardisation work done by CEN/TC 442 Workgroup 4– The EU BIM standards group for product dictionaries and templates;
- All data templates developed by Cobuilder are used as the basis for different BIM collaboration services. They are implemented in the software and bring tangible benefits to the user;
- Data Templates developed by Cobuilder are in alignment with the evolution of the Smart CE marking initiative;
- All Cobuilder DTs are based on a Common European technical language in a Data Dictionary based on EN ISO 12006-3;
- Through intricate mapping to the common sharing format IFC, all data digitised through Cobuilder DTs can be attributed directly to COBie and hence to different BIM ‘Models’.