As an industry, our toolset is comprised of multiple tools from multiple vendors, often in use at the same time. This is not going to change, nor should it.
These tools connect through preparing, cleaning, exporting and importing data between proprietary forms that – much of the time – can barely work without significant loss of time, energy, data and geometry. Even tools published by the same vendor are typically unable to exchange geometric and non-geometric data effortlessly.
As a response to this, open and closed source products and tools offering their own solutions to improving the transition of data between proprietary file formats or open schemas. More recently, larger vendors have proposed introducing their own proprietary cloud-based data frameworks, which merely scales the problem from a vendor-specific file format lock to a vendor-specific ecosystem lock.
Rather than amendments, fixes, or new tools, this situation now needs to be rethought from first principles.
Recognising this in his 2021 presentation at NXT BLD, Greg Schleusner proposed the concept of a “data bridge”, agnostic of any single vendor. Seeing the impact of the Universal Scene Description (USD) format on the media industry, Greg proposed an agnostic data bridging approach for all tools to interact and avoid the recurring inefficiencies associated with the current status quo.
The establishment of a common data framework that all AEC software platforms can read from and write to, allowing for a more transparent and efficient exchange of data between platforms and parties.
Taking cues from Greg’s work, a common data framework will enable design teams to use the best tool for the job, and benefit from the associated performance, without being reliant on particular formats or conversion processes. This framework should provide consistency to current methods of working and establish a data foundation for future automation and machine learning processes (see Automation + Intelligence)
An incorporated version control system – similar in style to “git” – will enable permissions and access control, enabling a more efficient management of the design process. Design options and studies – a common part of industry practice – can be incorporated into the “main” model at the right time, following the appropriate approvals and checks. Robust version control, freed from the constraints of files, would bring clarity to these workstreams and allow the design to easily move backwards and forwards between different states and options.
The detail of this common data framework is not set out within this specification. However, there cannot be a perpetuation or evolution of the current proprietary data “lock”. To this end, the development of the framework should be led by industry with dialogue, support and buy-in from multiple vendors.