Electronic Data Management (Archived)

RT-020 Topic Summary
RT 020


Electronic Data Management (EDM) for the purposes of this research focuses on the implementation of information management technologies and work processes to support the capital project delivery process. The specific EDM technologies referenced in this Topic Summary includes research performed on the concepts of:

  • Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)
  • Integrated Databases 
  • Integrated Data Environments
  • Bar Coding
  • Voice Recognition Technology
  • Commodity Codes
  • Expert Systems
  • Data Integration Strategies

The combination of these topics approaches the issue of data management and data sharing from both a point problem and macro industry wide scale to describe barriers to "Data Centric" project execution and adoption. It also provides some possible solutions to reduce the overall project Total Install Cost (TIC) and time required to design and deliver construction projects. 

This body of research conducted in the over-arching area of Electronic Data Management was published by CII in 1987-1992.  

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)

EDI technology is generally credited with reducing paperwork and data transmission costs, improving data accuracy, reducing material inventories, and enhancing the planning of activities that depend on accurate, timely material shipping notifications. EDI can, therefore, play a significant role in achieving U.S. construction industry goals related to reducing project costs and improving project schedules.

EDI is a technology that permits direct computer-to-computer exchange of data in a standard format. EDI while common in some industries is not common in the EPC business.

EDI while common in some industries is not common in the EPC business.

The research provides an overview of EDI concepts and terminology and reports on the costs and benefits associated with the implementation efforts of two CII member companies. Recommendations for pilot project implementation and industry actions are also presented.  

Some benefits can be derived from simple PC to PC based systems; however, maximum benefits are only possible when integrated by each participating entity into their existing systems. Also, a higher volume of transactions equates directly to higher cost savings. (RS20-1, p. 12)

Reference: (RS20-1)

2 : Integrated Data Systems

Electronic technology in the construction industry today is entering a new era of advancement and sophistication. Management and implementation of the new technologies are becoming integral parts of company strategic plans. One emerging concept is the integration of systems and data structured in a manner compatible with the sharing of information both internally and externally. This philosophy is referred to as Integrated Database Systems.

An integrated database is a concept of organizing, storing, and managing all electronic data relating to a major activity or area of interest (a project, for example) in such a fashion that data is entered and stored once and then accessed and utilized by multiple users and applications. Primary benefits include reduced errors, elimination of duplicate effort and input, and shorter cycle times.

The research provides examples of approaches and ideology in the implementation of integrated database systems within our industry. The examples display some of the issues that are being faced in the selection of hardware and software platforms in a changing electronic environment. A pressing need is for standardization – to allow for the internal as well as external sharing of information.

Barriers to adoption still exist both internal and external to any given company. Internal barriers can be mitigated by creating a good strategic plan, selecting the appropriate technology, and having a firm commitment and support by managers. External barriers will need to be addressed by the industry over time and include: lack of common commodity codes, graphics, and other electronic standards. (RS20-2, p. 19)

Reference: (RS20-2)

3 : Integrated Data Environment

Advances in PC computing are creating many “islands of automation” with point solutions for discrete tasks. To make full use of these improvements by linking them together an integrated data environment is needed to make it greater than the sum of its parts. An integrated data environment will occur in the construction industry in three phases as shown below.

The research describes the barriers that threaten to limit the pace and effectiveness of the industry’s drive towards the integrated data environment. It also presents a series of pragmatic recommendations for individual companies and the industry as a whole to remove these barriers. The effectiveness with which the industry implements these recommendations will impact its future competitiveness and growth.

The research team found that there were direct benefits to be gained from an integrated data environment, such as increased productivity and shorter cycle times. In addition there were indirect benefits that were probable and harder to quantify due to the lack of sufficient data in the industry and include: 1) a more high tech industry which will improve recruiting, innovation and marketing, 2) enhanced information flow between customers and suppliers will create better relationships with respect to each other’s needs leading to product improvements, and 3) data integration becoming an ally of TQM. (RS20-3, p. 14)

Reference: (RS20-3)

4 : Bar Codes

The use of automatic identification technologies, particularly bar code technology, continues to expand in all industries in the United States, including the construction industry. Bar coding is essentially a means of providing rapid, error free data entry into a computer system. When the system is implemented using a portable programmable data terminal, additional benefits in the form of error free data entry at locations remote from the host computer result.

Bar codes are being used internally by many construction related companies. Approximately 60% of the electrical manufacturers, 67% of the pipe, valve, and fitting distributors, and 25% of the instrumentation manufacturers responding to the survey are using bar codes for internal operations. They are using bar codes internally in shipping, receiving, and inventory management. The findings of the surveys indicate that owners, contractors, and construction materials suppliers have identified similar application areas for bar code use. (SD-47, p. 52)
Reference: (SD-47)

5 : Bar Code System Standardization

Bar coding is further expanded in the SD-70 Bar Code System Standardization report. The primary reason for this research is that construction companies are at the beginning of the steep climb of the S-curve of this technology. The knowledge is available, the processes well-known, the technology relatively simple, and the cost of entry relatively low. This one technology can have significant benefits to users. Although there may be many reasons why companies are not taking advantage of bar code, one major reason is the lack of standards. Without standards, companies will develop their own requirements, and it will be difficult and costly for trading partners to exchange information. Without standardization, the effect will continue to be “islands of automation.”    

To achieve the overall objective of increasing the use of bar codes in construction, this research has the following goals: (SD-70, p. 1)

  • To reemphasize the benefits and costs of employing systems using bar code in construction. By pointing out these benefits, perhaps more companies will be convinced to take advantage of bar code.
  • To provide a current, comprehensive reference on bar coding in construction.
  • To show how a common shipping label standard has evolved and how it will improve the materials management system.
  • To show some future trends in bar coding.
Reference: (SD-70)

6 : Voice Recognition

The research discusses the basics of voice recognition technology (VR) and the state of the art; costs and capabilities of the various commercial systems, as well as some of the major applications. To determine whether VR is suitable for a particular user, the report also provides information on planning and implementing a VR system. (SD-76, p. 68)

The potential uses of voice technology in construction are significant and include both the home office and construction site. Nevertheless, this potential must be fully explored to yield reasonable economic benefits. VR technology is not cost effective if one simply buys an off the shelf piece of equipment and delivers it to the office or site. VR, like other technologies in automatic identification, must be part of a system, with clear productivity advantages. A careful study as to where the technology will be used, who will use it, and what should be accomplished by its use must precede any initiation of implementation of a voice system. Upper management must endorse and be responsible for this process if voice recognition is to have any opportunity to prove itself.

An important reason for using voice recognition in the near future is an activity or series of activities having characteristics such as "hands-busy, eyes-busy," continuous, and repetitive. The most likely field engineering and construction uses are quality inspection, safety inspection, materials takeoff, CAD, and materials handling. There are potential uses in contracting, purchasing, and other office situations where a great amount of keyboard entry is required. 
Reference: (SD-76)

7 : Common Commodity Codes

This report identifies the major benefits to the construction industry in achieving common commodity formats, or ultimately common codes that would be acceptable and usable by the entire industry. A common commodity is a component which is generic in use and whose manufacture is usually governed by industry dimensional and material standards. Some of these include:

  • Improved procurement through greater reliability 
  • Reduction in inventory
  • Better identification of shipments 
  • Inventory 
  • Surplus materials
  • Standard design criteria
  • Improvements in quality, startup, accounting, and maintenance

CII member companies’ support of the Common Commodity Code User’s group of the Construction Industry Action Group (CIAG) efforts to establish standard material formats will simplify and standardize the automated transfer of data between trading partners; this includes engineers, owners, contractors, distributors, and manufacturers. Finally, any computerized transfer of information, whether in EDI, CAD, bar coding, imaging, voice, or other system, would be immeasurably improved by the use of common formats and codes. (SD-92, p. 16)

Reference: (SD-92)

8 : Expert Systems

The report was developed to promote a better understanding of expert systems technology and identify promising construction industry trends and applications. An expert system can best be defined as a computer program that emulates the problem solving process used by human experts. Expert systems are also called knowledge-based systems, or rule-based systems. Some authors prefer the term “intelligent assistant.”

It was determined during the course of the research that a “hands on” tutorial, with examples chosen from the construction industry, would serve as the ideal vehicle for communicating expert systems fundamentals to CII member firm personnel. One reason for the relative scarcity of construction applications is perhaps a lack of technology familiarity on the part of construction management personnel. It is anticipated that the tutorial portion of this report will serve as an effective mechanism for conveying expert systems fundamentals to both domain experts and persons responsible for expert systems development efforts. (SD-75, p. 87)

Reference: (SD-75)

9 : Data Integration Strategies in Construction

EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) has the potential for very tangible cost reductions in materials management and project control areas. However, the U.S. construction industry lags behind other industries and foreign construction competition in its implementation. The potential European construction boom after the 1992 European Common Market takes effect is one reason for implementing new competitive technologies. The U.S. construction industry must be proactive, rather than reactive, in implementing EDI. Modifications to existing computer systems, whether to provide integrated database capability or implement EDI, should be undertaken in discrete stages, with strong upper management support. Small-scale pilot projects should be undertaken to demonstrate benefits before full-scale system implementation.

Two areas that are particularly suited to EDI are special construction methods and trade partnering. Prefabrication, preassembly, and modularization are special construction methods that are becoming more common on industrial construction projects. EDI has the potential to enhance procurement on these types of projects to take advantage of the economies realized with EDI applications in manufacturing. EDI also forces companies to develop closer relationships with trading partners. The outcome of this process will probably be more partnering agreements between engineering and construction firms and their major suppliers. The resulting cost savings introduced by improved schedule deliveries, inventory reduction, and procurement efficiency will be impressive. (SD-57, p. 137)
Reference: (SD-57)

10 : Implementation Tool #1

SD-46, BarCode Implementation Guideline and Tutorial

Provides guidelines and educational materials for persons with little or no experience with bar code technology, and is intended to stimulate discussions between a wide range of potential system users, and subsequently lead to the implementation of cost saving data processing applications.

Reference: (SD-46)

11 : Implementation Tool #2

SD-75, Expert Systems Application & Tutorial 

A hands-on tutorial which can be used as either a stand-alone teaching tool or seminar reference, and is intended to stimulate informed discussions among a wide range of project decision makers to promote the effective utilization of expert systems throughout the construction industry.

EDI Implementation – Provides a logical overview and implementation flowchart showing EDI implementation strategy.

IDB Implementation – Provides a logical overview and implementation flowchart showing IDB implementation strategy.
Reference: (SD-75)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved cost, Improved schedule

Research Publications

Common Commodity Codes - SD-92

Publication Date: 05/1993 Type: Source Document Pages: 35 Status: Archived Reference

Achieving an Integrated Data Environment: A Strategic Initiative - RS20-3

Publication Date: 02/1993 Type: Research Summary Pages: 18 Status: Archived Supporting Product

An Introduction to Integrated Database Systems - RS20-2

Publication Date: 02/1993 Type: Research Summary Pages: 22 Status: Archived Supporting Product

EDI: Concepts and Applications - RS20-1

Publication Date: 02/1993 Type: Research Summary Pages: 18 Status: Archived Supporting Product

Evaluation of Voice Recognition Technology - SD-76

Publication Date: 06/1992 Type: Source Document Pages: 82 Status: Archived Reference

Expert Systems Application and Tutorial - SD-75

Publication Date: 06/1992 Type: Source Document Pages: 101 Status: Archived Tool

Bar Code System Standardization - SD-70

Publication Date: 03/1992 Type: Source Document Pages: 56 Status: Archived Reference

Bar Code Standardization in Industrial Construction - SD-47

Publication Date: 06/1989 Type: Source Document Pages: 114 Status: Archived Reference

Bar Code Implementation Guidelines and Tutorial Part I: Guidelines - Part II: Tutorial - SD-46

Publication Date: 03/1989 Type: Source Document Pages: 95 Status: Archived Tool