June 1, 2021
TO BE SPECIFIC
Peter Kray, CSI, Hugh Seaton
In May 2020, CSI launched Crosswalk, a groundbreaking digital engine that is designed to dramatically enhance standards communications among the architecture, engineering, construction, and owner (AECO) community. With the program in use for more than a year now, we sat down with Hugh Seaton, the product lead for Crosswalk, to discuss how early adoption of the technology is helping software providers add powerful new capabilities to streamline construction projects.
The Crosswalk product enables software users to easily look up and cross-reference classifications made in MasterFormat, UniFormat, and OmniClass through an enterprise-grade application programming interface (API), resulting in spot-on accuracy and accelerated efficiency.
Can you provide a brief overview of what Crosswalk is and how it can impact the work of specifiers?
The Crosswalk product is a digital way to easily access the standards, which are so critical to what specifiers do. It is not just MasterFormat and UniFormat and OmniClass individually, but all three of them, with the most up-to-date information across the board. The Crosswalk API provides the ability to translate between them for the most useful classification for those specifications. This makes it much easier for downstream users of specifications to accurately use, track, and work with specifications.
With the Crosswalk product, we have made CSI standards accessible to software products through an API. The relevance here is: everything specifiers are producing is being consumed by software somewhere. What we are doing is making it easier to access and used more accurately.
Can you share some examples?
One example would be when construction estimators are doing material take offs, which means pulling quantities of materials from construction plans. These plans are specified in MasterFormat but estimates and other job-specific documents are usually created with UniFormat. In fact, a general point is UniFormat is used by construction companies, while MasterFormat is used by architects and their specifiers. So, you have designed the project in MasterFormat but want to operate and do project controls in UniFormat. That is what the Crosswalk product was created for. By powering today’s premium software to translate between standards accurately and automatically, the Crosswalk product reduces the need for hand-coding and provides powerful new tools for software.
How does Crosswalk ensure everyone has the same information, no matter which CSI standard they are using?
Crosswalk’s API will also power translation between different versions of the standards. So, processes can be made backward-compatible. The API powers translation of classifications not only across standards, but also within the standard, allowing different functions to seamlessly talk to each other without loss of data and with more accuracy.
Is there a cost savings?
Yes, there is a huge cost savings. A client told me the average transcription error is between 11 and 33 percent. So, if you have a person going from column A to column B, they are going to make mistakes, especially when it is specifications. Imagine you got a specification for floor tiles and ordered $100,000 of this tile but mis-classified them. Now, they are sitting on the jobsite, and accounting has the wrong numbers, costing the job as much as that $100,000. This happens more than we would like to admit.
Now, imagine the personnel expense of manually translating between MasterFormat and UniFormat, especially when there are multiple rounds of value engineering. The savings the Crosswalk product can create are significant.
I have also seen statistics suggesting more than $150 billion a year is spent on rework and construction mistakes. I am not saying the Crosswalk product will save all of this, but we are chipping away at it.
How is adoption across the industry going?
Adoption by software product is one of my biggest priorities this year. It is not so easy for big platforms to integrate the Crosswalk API—despite its benefits—because they are mature products with large code bases. Imagine, for example, a platform with half a million lines of code that wants to be able to integrate the Crosswalk product. It is not trivial to integrate such a fundamental API and then thoroughly test it. In the early days, we are getting more traction with startups, because it is something they can implement into their code base quickly.
This sounds like the gas-versus-electric car argument about 10 years ago
The analogy is exactly right. You are talking about an ecosystem. Back then, there was one point about gas versus electric car that does not apply anymore—electric cars could not go as far. But the bigger issue was there was no ecosystem. Getting batteries and getting them charged was hard. We are essentially entering an ecosystem as a non-standalone product; someone else must change their product to use ours. These players see the value and are putting it on their roadmap. That said, we are going to see smaller companies adopting the Crosswalk product more quickly and larger companies doing it more slowly.
What is the tipping point?
I do not think there is a tipping point. Just steady adoption. The term “tipping point” assumes social pressure. There is a moment when everyone is doing it, so you must do it. That does not really apply to most ingredient brands like the Crosswalk product. So, we will tell the story that use of standards is better when the software includes the Crosswalk API, and work directly with all players in the ecosystem to ensure adoption.
Who is championing the Crosswalk product right now?
In software companies, it is often senior management or the product team, because they see how the Crosswalk API is saving time and effort. Software creators do not have to think about how they will manage MasterFormat or the other standards ever again. When CSI updates the standards, the software companies do not have to change anything—the API will handle it all. What we are doing is what software is supposed to do, which is to make the process automatic. It pulls the process away and makes it our problem, not yours.
In the past, and for many software products now, every time there is a revision to these standards, someone must re-hard code everything, then test it. That’s potentially hundreds of workhours. We are saving software companies a lot of money and anxiety by automatically updating it for them. Further, this will make downstream use of their output much more effective and useful.
How can one start using the Crosswalk product today?
Visit www.crosswalk.biz/home for a tour, and to contact the Crosswalk team to set up a demo. Let us know if we can answer any questions by emailing email@example.com.
Peter Kray is a content strategist with CSI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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