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Data dictionaries in the world of construction product data

Do you use the same language to describe something delightful to your colleagues as you do to describe the same thing to your kids? Do you use the same vocabulary at a business meeting as when you are with friends? The terms you use depend on the context. This applies not only to individuals, but also to organisations, industries and countries. But why is it relevant for the efforts to digitise the construction industry? How do data dictionaries improve information exchange within different contexts?

The Context of Data is very relevant in the construction sector

Within the BIM world all these different parties (individuals, organisations, and countries) communicate through technology. Digital technology holds the key to ensure that the information we share can be understood by all, and this is essential for any construction business. Have we clarified, though, how to achieve accurate information transfer?

The data template methodology: International and national standards are among the credible sources that help to define and structure construction product information in common data templates that facilitate digitalisation in the construction world.

Why do we need Data Dictionaries?

Data Dictionaries (such as Define) are developed to serve as a solution to this problem which is so central to BIM. A Dictionary seems simple enough. However, in the digital era we can go beyond the use of the same dictionary for everyone to flip to the page of their own language. We need a technological solution that builds upon a data dictionary. A solution that will allow people to understand the meaning of a concept (a term) in their own context, while automatically mapping it to any other existing meaning of the same concept, within a different context anywhere in the world. That way everyone can keep up with the truth, while perceiving it through the lens of their own specific understanding.

A trusted source of information

The most important prerequisite to establishing a common understanding is establishing the truth – in our case the truth about any concept (terminology) related to describing construction objects in the industry. The data dictionary Define uses a simple scientific approach like the one you most probably have also used while writing your university essays. We use credible, acclaimed sources.

The acclaimed sources in the construction industry are standards produced by the relevant regulatory or standardisation bodies. Their relevance can be established at different levels starting at the global and through to the national, organisational, industrial and market levels.

A technological solution

Standards and technical specifications that construction products are tested against define their essential characteristics. They establish the test methods for these characteristics and the measures they are tested in. They provide a reference point for the meaning of concepts, the purpose of their use and the context within which this information is intended to be used. This is the baseline or the core of all the different ‘truths’ used within different systems so that we can facilitate the translation of concepts to different data ‘contexts’.

Main benefits

Back to the topic of Data Dictionaries, we must note that in order to support the need for data ‘context’ in the construction industry, one needs to know how to manage a dictionary first. This is why the data dictionary Define is essential. It is a dictionary of a very important language – the language of machines. Within Define, the ‘truth’ about each concept is labeled with a unique code which serves as a reference point that machines can understand.

This way we can build a network of interconnected codes that link everything to the one ‘true’ meaning, even if terms are in different languages or are synonyms used by a different business. This way machines can work with similar concepts, compare and calculate with them, while humans can still see the ‘context’ they are used to.

Common language for construction actors

A paradox in the construction sector is that we want to collaborate, but we do not want to come to common terms with everyone across the industry, around the globe. Well, it is a difficult task to get everyone to agree. That is why, agreeing on using standardized processes for structuring data and a knowledgeable middleman is key to solving this puzzle. What do we mean by that? If we all agree on how to use technology-enabled processes to define, source, organise, clean and maintain data then we can lift this knowledge in a space that is available to all – the cloud.

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More about Define

The data dictionary Define is developed to support this process. Whenever a new data ‘context’ is created, it will be linked to all existing meanings in the cloud. Hence both humans and machines know if they are talking about the same thing or whether it is something entirely new. In that way everyone can build their own data structures but know that they are not only useful for them internally – they are sourced from the cloud that everyone uses. Define enables the creation of ‘contexts’ and self-managed terminology.