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eConstruct: eConstruct -- Now you're talking our language

It is generally acknowledged that the building-construction (BC) industry has a great deal to gain from the exploitation of internet-based communication (eBusiness). There is an apparent lack of enthusiasm to embrace these technologies and reasons cited include: the industry is made up of millions of small companies and there are few organisations willing to lead the way through investment and influence. Now a pan-European group of construction-related organisations is rising to the challenge of making such new technologies more accessible to small companies so that they can reap the benefits of using eBusiness effectively.

The partners of eConstruct include contractors Taylor Woodrow Construction of the UK, Betanet of Greece, research and development organisations TNO of the Netherlands and CSTB of France, the Technical University of Delft, the Netherlands construction specifications organisation STABU and software vendors EPM Technology of Norway and Nemetschek of Germany. They are concerned that information and communication tools are not being developed to resolve the problems arising during the inception, design, realisation and exploitation of international construction projects like high speed rail links and inter-European state highways. Consequently eConstruct's aim is "to develop, implement, demonstrate and disseminate a new Communication Technology that can be used over the Internet to support meaningful communication across the borders of the European member states".

The starting point for eConstruct is that the current standard for Internet documents, HTML, is too simple and unstructured to support building-construction's communication requirements. "If you try to source a component over the Internet at present, your search will turn up all sorts of interesting sites," explained Jeff Stephens of TWC. "Whether any of them can supply what you wanted - or are even construction-related - is quite another matter."

The eConstruct team is determined to ensure that the construction maximises the benefits from using the Internet as the technology evolves. The project will use the eXtensible Mark-up Language (XML) instead of the relatively simple HTML because XML offers the ability to structure data according to "schemas" and a language called "XML Schema" is due to be released by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) shortly. The eConstruct partners' aim is to develop a vocabulary called bcXML (bc for building-construction) that will "know" what is meant by user terminology.

A computer will therefore understand what is meant by terms such as Wall, Floor, or Roof in conjunction with concepts such as cleaning, painting, etc., making web-based communication and interrogation much more accurate. In addition, concepts used in bcXML like 'Door' and 'Height' are available and translatable into different national languages, classification and coding systems.

Initially bcXML will only provide a limited set of words, but these will be capable of supporting real end-user cases. The first bcXML vocabulary should be finished by the end of 2000. The next stage of the project will develop commercial software applications for the building-construction market. The eConstruct partners intend that the language will also be published so that software companies outside the consortium will be able to use it in their application developments. The first of these co-operating partners are already expressing an interest. Related initiatives like ISO STEP, IAI IFC, aecXML and UN/OASIS's ebXML are also being consulted to achieve a harmonised solution as efficiently as possible.

The first applications using bcXML will focus on the "shopping phase" of eCommerce, allowing such questions as "Where can I buy a new boiler and what will it cost me?" to be answered. The second generation of bcXML applications will be more influential and will concentrate more on the goal of the project: to help increase the competitiveness of the European building-construction industry by supporting business-to-business transactions.

The project, which started in January 2000, is programmed for two years. The partners intend to undertake a third year to include other partners across the EU, including Eastern Europe.

eConstruct is a project in the European Commission, Community Research, Fifth Framework Programme under Information Society Technologies (IST).

For further information, please contact: Jeff Stephens, at Taylor Woodrow



Prepared by Robin Cover for The XML Cover Pages archive.

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