Standards, integration, and the digital future

by Peter Kray

Earlier this summer, CSI unveiled CROSSWALK, the first agile application programming interface (API) that integrates fundamental construction industry organizational standards. This new technology connects CSI’s MasterFormat, UniFormat, and OmniClass for the first time, and accelerates the communication cycle from designers and specifiers to contractors and subcontractors, so that they can build with more accuracy and more safely, with significant savings in cost and time.

OSCRE International is a data standards body in the real estate industry. OSCRE and CSI are collaborating to integrate CSI standards into the OSCRE Industry Data Model to help enable data exchanges along the entire life cycle of an asset. OSCRE’s CIO Ian Cameron discusses the challenges and opportunities of data integration in the AEC community and how he thinks CROSSWALK will improve communication between all parties involved. OSCRE International is a data standards body in the real estate industry. OSCRE and CSI are collaborating to integrate CSI standards into the OSCRE Industry Data Model to help enable data exchanges along the entire life cycle of an asset. OSCRE’s CIO Ian Cameron discusses the challenges and opportunities of data integration in the AEC community and how he thinks CROSSWALK will improve communication between all parties involved.

Please briefly describe your job as CIO of OSCRE International.

I help set the vision for OSCRE International on two levels. The first includes looking to the future of information-enabled real estate, both strategically and operationally, over multi-sectors, such as corporate versus investment, and commercial versus residential. We constantly look ahead to the future of digital real estate to understand it better, articulate implications for stakeholders, and translate that into practical steps forward.

The second level is to design and deliver OSCRE programs and tools to help the industry get there. I monitor and incorporate trends and innovations from within and from outside the real estate industry for utility and transferability to our world. From there, we develop educational and training programs to build the skills for a digital future in real estate for individuals, teams, and organizations, including effective integration with business partners.

How do standards, and the integration of data, impact your work?

Standards are the oil that makes data flow and integrate much more effectively across the industry. Integration is a high priority for every function and organization in this industry—we need organizations like OSCRE and CSI to help us reach new levels of integration, and to make it easier, faster, and, ultimately, more valuable to implement those data integrations.

That new level of integration is more achievable today than before. This comes from technology advances and a better understanding about what integration is, why it is valuable, and how to achieve it. Many organizations are mandating the shift to being more ‘data-driven’—that implies not only data quality, but also improved capabilities and understanding of what that means for new ways of operating, including integration with business partners of many kinds.

Whether you build buildings or lease them, how do you ensure the data generated in the beginning stages gets used ‘downstream’?

Integration has several features worth acknowledging, such as process integration, systems integration, data integration, and business partner integration. Clarifying this allows us to create continuity from the beginning to the end of the asset life cycle.

A variety of players generate data in their area of focus, such as construction, that other downstream players depend on to do their job, such as operations and maintenance (O&M). Until now, those two functions have done a very good job of tending to their own needs, but less to passing data down the line.

There are several pivot points like this along the asset life cycle. Without making the connections at those pivot points, we lose the ability to understand and analyze various constituent parts and features of an asset. For example, cost savings in the construction world may not end up being the right solution from an operation and maintenance standpoint. The only way to know that answer is to be able to generate, capture, and share data from one stage in the life cycle to the next with an underlying commonality in the data itself. It has become critical to implement a data model and standards that specifically provide that commonality end-to-end.

How can CROSSWALK impact this process?

CROSSWALK is well-suited to connecting the construction to the O&M worlds and looks to enable that handoff between functions and players with roles in each area. It makes it easier to support data flow from one function to another, such as construction to operations. It simplifies the choice of which standard to use in a given situation, which makes it easier to incorporate the CSI standard into data models. It increases the value of the underlying standards because of the ability to link to other functions and sectors of the industry.

CROSSWALK itself is a technical solution to connecting a variety of standards as well as a model for standards integration in itself—this means the underlying logic behind the design and intent of CROSSWALK, like OSCRE, is entirely consistent with a view of the industry as fully data-enabled. Therefore, it depicts a way of operating, and provides a specific solution to build on. CROSSWALK has significant additional value when linked to and integrated with other standards, like the OSCRE Industry Data Model. This means end-users are better served when it comes to migrating to new ways of data management in the future.

How will end-users benefit most from this innovation?

For clarification, end-users in OSCRE’s world are clients of construction firms, architects, etc. For us, they could be corporations constructing and occupying a building, or an investor constructing a building and expanding their real estate investment portfolio. CROSSWALK is well-positioned for the firms serving those end-users as they deliver services.

Service providers will use CROSSWALK to select the right definitions and codes to include in their internal practices, such as cost estimating, construction contracting, etc. Service providers are shifting toward greater support from the transfer of data from one function to another, especially if they are delivering more than one service to a customer. They are also connecting functional silos even in their own organization as they serve their customers.

By enabling this life-cycle view, these firms will be able to better position the data they generate for handoffs to clients who then would incorporate that data into their own systems—this is a competitive advantage for those firms that make that transition easier rather than keeping their data practices ‘behind a curtain.’ It is especially important in regard to the shared responsibilities for data quality and data governance where service providers will be increasingly accountable not only for the data they generate, but also their ability to pass data off to clients in a way that matches their clients’ data governance practices.

The full value of CROSSWALK emerges when thinking beyond the service providers. Ultimately, clients want to be able to harness information from many sources and place higher value on the data management capabilities of service providers who can provide data in a way that fits directly into their data strategy and operations, and across the asset life cycle.

Personally, how will you incorporate CROSSWALK into the work OSCRE is doing?

Incorporating the CROSSWALK components into the OSCRE Industry Data Model enables a cross-functional, end-to-end view of data along the asset life cycle. Other approaches include:

  • leverage CROSSWALK to maximize the use of its technology in combination with data modeling tools;
  • keep OSCRE’s Industry Data Model up to date with refreshes from CROSSWALK, which makes it so much easier to manage versions;
  • promote the asset life-cycle perspective as an achievable goal since CROSSWALK has solved the functional links between the construction and operations worlds;
  • support our ability to show what data integrations look like into the future—CROSSWALK is consistent with a vision of an information-enabled real estate industry; and
  • incorporate the principles behind CROSSWALK into education programs related to data strategy and data governance, as well as reinforcing the collaboration emerging between OSCRE and CSI.*

*This article is adapted from a blog by this author that first appeared on the CSI website.

Peter Kray is a content strategist with CSI. He can be reached at

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