Autodesk’s article Why Data Interoperability Is Game-Changing for Collaboration written by Amy Banzel caught my attention over the weekend. It speaks about the future of interoperability but comes with a shift. The industry is moving from “files” to “data” and this is a very remarkable event.
For more than two decades in engineering software, I’ve heard the word “interoperability” so many times. The world of CAD and other engineering solutions is built around multiple applications and for very long times, file exchange was the most debatable question. In a nutshell, the ability of CAD and other applications to open (or import) a foreign file was pain and focus on many solution providers.
My favorite passage is this one that explains how cloud-based APIs will solve the problem of interoperability.
Cloud-based APIs on developer platforms (such as Autodesk Forge) allow people to build applications that augment and integrate design and engineering data, connect existing software systems, and create new workflows that help them work better and faster. And APIs can alleviate performance issues that come with data exchange across increasingly larger models.
For example, in the past, getting a mechanical design solution to talk to an architectural design solution was difficult. This API- and data-based approach makes that exchange much easier. Imagine, for example, that you need to access design data for an HVAC system that needs to be placed on top of a large apartment building. The API approach allows you to bring in only the granular data rather than an entire monolithic file.
The question about mechanical design and architecture design in the passage above is the most fascinating. In of my recent articles – Will AEC and manufacturing software converge together, I touched on the problem value chain in construction and how digital transformation in AEC is connecting construction and manufacturing application flows. Check the article AEC Value Chain and Digital Transformation. The connection between mechanical software and AEC packages is the one I discussed there.
What sounds like a data exchange via API (instead of using files) is, in fact, can go much deeper. There are two interesting aspects here – (1) merging the data and (2) connecting the processes using information. Let me talk about both.
Merging Data using Cloud API
Cloud API and REST services provide a super-easy way to transfer the data and merge and transform the information. Think about getting information from a system like Autodesk Inventor and merging it with Autodesk Revit. Autodesk is talking about this scenario in the first place. You don’t need to save, export, import, read files anymore. The REST services do the job. The data can be recombined, merged, and visualized.
Connected Processes and Value Chain
The next level of data connection using REST API and services is to support the business process. Think about architect and engineer work for general contractors in AEC projects later getting in the position of providing some of the data to mechanical contractors to perform some work. Because of the data merge described above, they don’t need to save and transfer files. The data is transparent and available. Here is the next step – business applications can build services on top of the data and by doing so, to support business processes downstream focusing on connected value chains. For example, mechanical contractors can use CAD data to extract everything needed to create RFQ or plan purchasing of components and equipment. Another service is responsible for connecting the data and building the process.
What is my conclusion?
The end goal of digital transformation is to switch from paper-dependent, manual, analog, files based activity to converge into a connected online digital process. This is a dream, but it won’t happen overnight. Companies focusing on building REST API and cloud services will be pioneering the approach and break silos, not only in the company but across businesses and in the value chain. In the coming five years, we will see a growing number of service providers (SaaS) applications perform online tasks and connect silos. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network-based platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.