Construction Supply Chain
The AEC supply chain is fragmented in the same way as most information management processes in the industry are.
An integrated supply chain would include activities from design, procurement to installation, performed by
different parties and organizations. As the current practice indicates, having information available as needed
can significantly reduce lead-time as well as increase accountability for tracking purpose. Sharing of information
within and across companies is critical in effective supply chain management.
However, this is not an
easy task: the information sources are often scattered in several locations, utilizing different software and
hardware platforms and not easily accessible. Specifying proprietary-designed representations
and "one-time" information channel to exchange data and knowledge is not viable or justifiable because of the
"One-of-a-kind nature of project, temporary multi-organization" nature of the AEC business. In addition,
different goals and objectives of project participants deter information sharing. If these difficulties can be
overcome, there is a lot to be gained in the AEC industry.
The purpose of interoperation is to increase the value of information when information from multiple and,
likely, heterogeneous sources is accessed, related and combined. Specifically, interoperability allows two or
more information sources (which could be computer systems or software components) to exchange information and
to re-use the information for further purposes. Interoperation thus provides added value to each individual
source and, in particular, enhance efficiency and productivity in a supply chain. A study by NIST has shown
that inefficient interoperability costs more than $15.8 billion, in the year 2002 alone, to the construction
industry on the design, construction and maintenance of large commercial, institutional and industrial buildings.
The need for efficient information exchange in engineering has been a subject of active research and development
since the mid 1980s. Probably, among the most recognized industrial exchange standards is the ISOís STEP effort.
Within the AEC industry, there have been many product models such as CIS/2 for the steel industry, PlantSTEP and
AEX for the process plant industry and the IAIís IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) for the building and
construction industry. While the earlier models focus primarily on product description data, recent developments
have also incorporated data definitions for cost estimation, project management and supply chain. As opposed to
the manufacturing industry where product model standards have become common practice in product lifecycle
management (PLM), the AEC industry has just started to realize the importance of information sharing and exchange.
With the rapid development of the Internet and networking technologies, the computing environment is evolving
toward an interconnected web of autonomous services, both inside and outside of enterprise boundaries. A "web
service" can be described as a specific function that is delivered over the Internet to provide a service or
information to users. Web service integration is important for the automation of application-to-application or
organization-to-organization cooperation using the Internet infrastructure. However, it is not easy for a user to
perform a complex task which composes of many sub-tasks and requires access to many web services. To integrate
distributed services over the Web, not only information interoperability standards need to be employed, so that
results can be reused by other applications, network communication and mechanisms for invoking and terminating
applications over the network have to be provided.