Interviewer: Ralf Golinski
Frank Weiss has been campaigning for a continuous digital asset lifecycle for collaboration in the construction industry since 2000. First as a co-founder of the start-up conject and now as Senior Director for Strategy, New Products, BIM and Innovation at Oracle Construction and Engineering.
He works closely with buildingSMART International and has launched several standardization initiatives. He now leads Oracle to achieve the BSI Kitemark certification for a Common Data Environment (CDE). FIND THE GERMAN VERSION HERE!
Frank, you co-founded conject AG 21 years ago, what were your thoughts about BIM at that time?
In 2000, as founders, we were driven by the idea of advancing the digitization of planning, building and operating assets. Our Business Plan 1.0 saw internet-based solutions as an enormous lever to improve cooperation in our industry. After the first wave of digitization through CAD systems, it was all about holistic approaches. BIM already existed, but the challenge really existed in information management, i.e. a continuous flow of information across phases of the project.
Today you work for a global software company. Does your work still have to do with the original idea and BIM?
Yes indeed. Oracle is known for its database systems, middleware and cloud solutions. In the Construction and Engineering Global Business Unit, to which I belong, we are focused on further digitizing the construction industry in planning, building and operating. This is especially true with our Oracle Aconex CDE product.
Let us get into more detail about Common Data Environments or “CDEs”. What exactly does it mean?
The name CDE - Common Data Environment - really says it all: It's about working together, and it's about data or information. In daily practice, a CDE platform is the environment in which this collaboration actually happens. The CDE is typically a cloud solution that includes data storage, project management functions, and workflow management applied to model-based collaboration. Processes in the workflow, such as the delivery and checking of information, can be greatly simplified and accelerated through automation. This requires model coordination, document management, workflows, mail, reporting, forecasts with dashboards, but also integration with BIM authoring or quality systems. The great majority of project participants need simple solutions for the exchange of information and collaboration without having expert knowledge. This is where a CDE can be of great help.
As Senior Director, Frank Weiss has been globally responsible for strategy, new products, BIM, and innovation at Oracle Construction and Engineering since 2018. He also represents Oracle as a Strategic Advisory Council Member at buildingSMART International and has launched several standardization initiatives such as DIN Spec 91391 and openCDE APIs. In 2000 he was co-founder of conject AG for project collaboration in the construction industry.
Who are the typical users of a CDE?
Our customers come from all segments of the private and public sectors. General planners, project management and construction companies. Projects could include infrastructure such as roads, airports, waterways, or even hospitals, oil, gas and renewable energies such as wind farms.
The construction industry is highly fragmented. How does this impact the use and adoption of a CDE?
Around 90% of German companies have fewer than 20 people. And because of technical specializations, the construction industry is further fragmented. This contributes to isolated "information silos". Collaboration and transparent data exchange are therefore advantageous levers in projects. Active information management requires a CDE platform that acts as the only source of truth. If a platform is not accepted by the users as a trustworthy solution, they tend to create "backup copies". This leads to double and triple copies, which of course undermines the data integrity. We, therefore, need secure and powerful CDE solutions that actively integrate specialist applications into a single CDE.
"CDEs are obviously a huge part of what we do: producing information and managing it through the project lifecycle“.
Fergus Hohnen, Global Manager-Design Technology, Woods Bagot
► CDE in Reality - Oracle Roundtable with Eldad Asulin (Multiplex), Mohammad Aldawood (The Red Sea Development Company), Florian Friedrich (VAMED), Fergus Hohnen (Woods Bagot), Aidan Mercer and Leon van Berlo (buildingSMART International)
The smaller companies also work on BIM projects. Does a CDE make sense for them too?
Our construction industry is strongly characterized by mid-size companies. In the industry, for example, SMEs play a very important role as subcontractors in larger projects. They must also be integrated into BIM projects. With a CDE platform, the integration of SMEs in BIM projects is very easy. Additional software does not have to be procured for this, because a true CDE is browser-based. General contractors and building owners can invite their subcontractors to the platform, who then can be integrated into the collaboration easily from the start.
In this context, you have a brand new message for all involved with BIM. For the very first time, a CDE has achieved the BSI Kitemark certification for ISO 19650 and also the DIN SPEC 91391. What makes this achievement so special?
Yes, Oracle Aconex is the first project management solution to achieve British Standards Institution (BSI) Kitemark certification of the ISO standard and DIN specification for BIM software. This is important because the BIM market is growing very rapidly, but there still is uncertainty about the technologies to be used. Therefore, the market needs more clarity about the capabilities and quality of the solutions offered.
And this is where the BSI Kitemark certification comes into play: When making a selective decision, three things can help: 1. Standards, because they can create more clarity. 2. Declarations of conformity by companies and manufacturers. 3. Confirmation by a neutral certifier. This creates trust that you have made the right decision. With the certification, everyone knows that it's not only labeled CDE but there's a “true CDE” inside.
"Oracle Aconex is the first project management solution to achieve BSI Kitemark certification. With this, we feel that we have set the benchmark for the CDE market." Frank Weiss, Senior Director for Strategy, New Products, BIM and Innovation at Oracle Construction and Engineering.
DIN SPEC 91391 already contains a lot about CDE with over 200 criteria. Why was it also taken into account in the certification?
Anyone who deals more intensively with BIM is familiar with the British PAS 1192 standards, which ultimately became the blueprints of the ISO 19650 standard. The DIN SPEC is the German counterpart to PAS standards. Daniel Schmidt, a board member of DIN, the German standardization body, said: “The inclusion of the DIN SPEC 91391 in the certification program of our partner BSI shows the high importance and quality of the standard and will immensely advance the international penetration of DIN SPEC 91391!” This makes a big difference because now we can advance the topic at the European level at CEN and internationally at buildingSMART.
“It's not like a DropBox where we just upload a BIM file.”
Mohammad Aldawood, BIM Manager, The Red Sea Development Company
► Expert interview about DIN SPEC 91391. Inga Stein-Barthelmes talking with DIN's Philipp Albrecht and Frank Weiss, ORACLE
And what exactly does the BSI Kitemark certification include?
It covers a very broad spectrum of test criteria. Not only the pure CDE functionality is being validated, in accordance with the DIN SPEC. The BSI Kitemark also includes hosting, and how secure data centers are. We were able to take advantage of the results of our ISO 27001 certifications and demonstrate that our data is stored in accordance with the respective local security requirements. Health and safety were also targeted by the BSI Kitemark auditors. It also highlighted how we involve our users in the software development process and how users get help from our global support team.
Another area included model coordination, how the partial results of the specialist planners are brought together and checked on the Aconex CDE, and how any errors found are corrected in a coordinated process. Lastly, the certification ensured that we use the open formats of IFC and BCF.
Where do you see the primary benefits for customers and users? What is most helpful for them?
Standards describe the much-cited "best practices", that is, tried and tested procedures for BIM application. This is particularly important in a market in which certain topics such as BIM or CDE are not yet fully mature. If you can relate to what has been tried and tested, it is much easier to get started and this is precisely what is achieved with certification. However, it is a known issue that anyone can claim to be following best practices and standards with their solutions. But only a certified vendor, who verifies this seriously and competently, creates trust and security for customers.
Many still consider BIM to be a "new territory". What would you describe as best practices?
When I look at our customer’s work who predominantly work model-oriented, they apply their best practices to BIM projects. This is where the much-cited aspects and advantages are put into practice.
If you look at the planning process today, you will find huge differences in the quality of information handling. Plans are often not coordinated well enough because important information is not exchanged between the planners. As a result, cost, quality, and adherence to deadlines are often unsatisfactory for the client. And that happens a lot even though the individuals are doing a good job in their “silos”.
Creating good 3D or BIM models alone is not enough. The many interdependencies between the trades and specialist areas require a well-thought through coordination process. In many cases, the client is quite helpless in this matter. They can only hope that the planners will sufficiently coordinate between themselves so that serious problems will not arise on the construction site. With established BIM standards, this “principle of hope” is increasingly a thing of the past. The building owner can now demand the application of BIM standards and the use of standardized products in his tenders with reference to these standards and certifications.
It is sometimes hard for people in the industry to keep track of the BIM-relevant specifications, standards and certifications. Can you try to briefly explain this?
For a better overview, I recommend the German cross-market platform BIMSWARM, which was published by Planen Bauen 4.0. Our BSI Kitemark certification is also listed there. You should also know that we have the ISO 19650 series for information management with BIM internationally. The focus of the certification is composed of six parts:
2. Information management in the planning, construction and commissioning phase
3. Operation phase
4. Information exchange
5. Security concerns of BIM
6. Health and Safety
Additionally, when we talk about open interfaces of CDEs, this work is being pursued in two ways. CEN, the European Committee for Standardization, is developing a standard for open programming interfaces. buildingSMART International is developing a prototype for open data exchange between CDEs and/or CDEs, authoring and validation applications. This demonstrates how important it is to have an open BIM approach and have the CDE as an open ecosystem.
Frank, getting back once again to the question about the benefits of standards and certifications, could you please expand on this a bit more for us?
It's a well-known problem that anyone can claim to be following best practices and standards. There is hardly a stronger validation than a confirmation from an authorized certifier, who takes the certification seriously.
The certification can provide guidance, specifically if experts in key positions have different opinions, for example during a rollout. The certification increases trust and commitment responsible for the rollout and can help eliminate any potential differences of opinion.
We often hear from customers, including public sector clients, how important certification is for the selection of a CDE product. It gives decision-makers the security that they can carry out their projects in accordance with the standards. This leads to higher acceptance and increases the added value for customers and users.
On a certified CDE, project managers can be assured projects are being carried out in a controlled way and with higher quality. By using a certified CDE, clients can rely on standard-compliant working methods and work results. The entire supply chain can create, deliver, quality-check, release and make information available for use in defined process steps. On the delivery side, subcontractors get clear information requirements and know exactly what information they need to provide. The delivery is irrevocably traceable in the CDE.
You're speaking about is a “true CDE”. What's behind it? Can you give practical examples? What is important when choosing and using a CDE?
When it comes to CDE, three things are important: simplicity, security, and data ownership. What's behind it? A CDE is intended to promote the automation of processes; this is where the value-adding lever is located. Strong capabilities such as process support, model integration, business intelligence (BI), and AI, create transparency and enable better decisions.
However, the best functionality is only helpful if it is easy to use and user-friendly. Data security and thus the consideration of regional requirements such as German Data Protection Legislation, GDPR are also important. Securing data ownership and access is often underestimated or misunderstood, especially in the event of a dispute. It must be guaranteed that sent messages and documents (including models) cannot be manipulated or withdrawn afterwards. Received once, they have to remain with the recipient. This creates trust and security and avoids shadow data storage in parallel systems. This has been proven in thousands of projects and is a critical best practice.
“Security and data ownership is the foundation for using a CDE“
Florian Friedrich, Technical Director Europe, VAMED
Several important criteria have to be defined in projects: How do I specify information requirements, and how do I tender information deliveries? How do I specify information delivery processes for everyone in a BIM Execution Plan (BEP)? How do information deliveries take place, who checks them, and who approves them? In an end-to-end process of model coordination, the following happens, for example: Technical models from various trades are delivered, merged and checked as a whole for inconsistencies, e.g. collisions. What needs to be defined is what standardized project communication should look like, such as information or change requests, model releases, etc.
And the current status of the project can be clearly displayed via dashboards and reports. These and other proven information management procedures can be found in ISO 19650 and DIN SPEC 91391.
We're hearing that the industry often refrains from using BIM because there are still no final standards. Can the BSI Kitemark certification help to get things moving?
Definitely, yes. And the first part of your question - I would state it more positively. We are currently experiencing a stronger dynamic towards BIM. Which is good! But you can't lump the whole construction industry together. The high degree of specialization and the associated fragmentation plays a role here, from small businesses to large-scale industry. All are important in this chain and must be upgraded for digitization. But investments must be made, and that only happens if the risks are manageable. Standards are helpful "guard rails" here. They provide the security that clients need to be comfortable making the needed investments.
►CDE in Reality - Oracle Roundtable with Eldad Asulin (Multiplex), Mohammad Aldawood (The Red Sea Development Company), Florian Friedrich (VAMED), Fergus Hohnen (Woods Bagot), Aidan Mercer and Leon van Berlo (buildingSMART International)
Can you explain why Oracle is so committed here?
Supporting data standards is part of Oracle's DNA. In the GIS environment, Oracle has co-developed the standards for over 20 years and thus made a significant contribution to the opening and further development of the market. There are many examples of this, such as the extension of the SQL standard for geospatial data.
But of course, Oracle also contributes to the establishment of formats in the BIM environment, such as IFC 4.x and BCF 3.0 as well as through the initiation and participation of the openCDE Doc API. We are also active with the DIN standards. The institute is currently developing the DIN BIM roadmap, where different standardization activities will be brought together in an overview. The same applies to the German VDI 2552 BIM guideline series, as well.
“Supporting Standardization is in the DNA of Oracle“
Frank Weiss, Senior Director for Strategy, New Products, BIM and Innovation at Oracle Construction and Engineering.
How important is DIN SPEC 91391 here? Why was this also taken into account in the certification?
With DIN SPEC 91391, it is now possible to meet the British PAS standards internationally on an equal footing. It was developed in Germany in a representative industrial consortium. Right from the start, great importance was attached to the readability and applicability of the DIN SPEC. It is available free of charge in German and English at Beuth.de.
We have been focused on the CDE here, but before that there was obviously a gap. This has achieved a lot internationally, for example we can now advance the topic at the European level at CEN and internationally at buildingSMART. That is why DIN SPEC 91391 is an important part of this current certification process.
“I love standards as long as people read and understand them“.
Eldad Asulin, Multiplex
It really can help to carry out projects more successfully in everyday life. Let's look at the public sector clients. According to the step-by-step plan for infrastructure projects, the German Ministry of Construction has urged its departments to work in a BIM-oriented manner. The need for a CDE platform is being expressed more and more frequently. Potential users ask: What exactly is important for CDE services?
The CDE customer wants to better understand which functions are important for his project. Here the DIN SPEC helps with a list of over 200 criteria for the necessary capabilities of a CDE, and thus supports active risk management in platform selection.
With the help of these criteria, potential CDE buyers can qualitatively differentiate between:
1. Pure electronic data storage in the cloud
2. First generation platforms for collaboration
3. Industry-specific true CDEs, NEXT-generation CDEs
These “next generation” true CDEs take automation to a new level and are certified. The DIN SPEC is also about how data can be easily and reasonably reused in subsequent project phases and about the future viability of providers.
Does the success of BIM require more from the other software vendors?
I think we have to put more emphasis on the fact that there is still lots of opportunity for the different applications to communicate with each other even better. This means even more use of open BIM formats in the current releases, such as BCF 3.0 and, in the future, IFC 4.3. But that also means direct communication via open interfaces, such as the openCDE Doc API 1.0, which we will soon see as a prototype.
You referred to the “openCDE API”. Can you offer some more detail and context?
The open-CDE API can be traced back indirectly to DIN SPEC 91391 Part 2. API stands for Application Programming Interface, and are the interfaces through which programs can "talk to each other". Talking to each other is generally a good thing, but of course you have to speak the same language in order to understand each other.
We tried to develop this common language in DIN SPEC Part 2. However, every software manufacturer has its own language and would like to persuade the others to adopt their “dialect” if possible. In reality, that just doesn't usually work. So, you have to agree on common standards. In this case, a definition of how different CDEs exchange information with one another.
Die angekündigte Erweiterung mit openCDE Doc API (z.B. zwischen Solibri und Aconex) ist ein Meilenstein für uns“.
(The announced extension by the openCDE Doc API (e.g. between Solibri and Aconex) is a milestone for us".)
Sven Oettinghaus, BIM Program Manager - Tractebel
Such an agreement also makes it easier for authors or validation tools to connect to a CDE - initially for data exchange, but in the future to be able to carry out cross-linking workflows for model coordination. In the future, a CDE will become a kind of ecosystem in which, in addition to its own functionality, other applications can easily be connected. This opening of a CDE to others stands in contrast to information silos, which keep all data to themselves and do not offer any open interfaces.
Digitization and sustainability go together. You recently spoke about this at the BIM Days Germany “Germany Net Zero 2045!” How would you describe the connection to BIM and CDE?
The goals of the Paris climate agreement are broken down into sub-goals for the individual industrial sectors. It should be clear to everyone that this is not feasible without the digitization of every single step from planning to construction and operation to dismantling and reuse. NetZero 2045 in Germany means challenges facing the construction industry and all those involved. Personally, I think it is necessary that by 2046 at the latest, all new construction projects and all existing buildings are climate-neutral.
In order to achieve this, however, it is necessary to define what that means in concrete terms. Suitable key figures and progress measurement are required. Only if we can trace back decisions are the effects comprehensible and optimization possible through lessons learned. Given the complexity of the construction process and the size of the construction sector in Germany and worldwide, the tasks can undoubtedly only be mastered with systematic information management. I explained that in more detail in my presentation.
Improving the productivity of an industry is in the interests of both its customers and the industry itself. We are now observing a new dimension: society's demands on the effects of the products that an industry produces. Of course, you have to look at what effects planning, building, operating, including dismantling, have, where we can do things better, and what means we should use for this. But its clear that there is no chance without suitable digitization. In the construction industry, that means: The BIM method, the CDE and the digital twin play key roles. And reuse only works systematically if, after decades of service life, we still know what exactly has been installed in a building. This information should not disappear as a folder in the drawer of the former client. This requires new considerations as to how this valuable data can be made reliably available in the long term.