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Paper w78-2000-656:
XML, flexibility and systems integration

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Brien M J O', Al-Biqami N

XML, flexibility and systems integration

Abstract: "O'Brien (1997) outlined the two primary ways in which data can be integrated. One invloves the establishment of a centralised data store that meets all the needs of a construction project; the other recognises the geographical and functional fragmentation of the industry and views data integration as a conceptual process. From a purely technical point of view the first is perhaps the easiest, but it fails to meet the organisational and economic demands of the construction industry. Thus the second approach is more likely to be adopted by the participants of that industry. The problem then becomes one of mapping the meta-data structures of one participant onto those of another. Various efforts at the development of standards have attempted to address this issue. However, standards can be both complex and inadequate. The complexity is a demand of the industry while the inadequacy stems from the impossibility of coping with every eventuality - a severe problem given the essential uniqueness of each building product. This is not to say that standards are not required, merely that their limitations are fully realised from the outset and that expectations are not raised to the point where disappointment sets in and they fall into disrepute. EDI is a perfectly good standard but has failed to make a great impact on the construction industry. The volume of application-to-application communications remains small. This paper argues that while standards such as EDI can form the backbone of data communications - and therefore provide a vehicle for data integration in the construction industry - they are insufficient to cope with the desired flexibility demanded by the industry. The paper then develops this idea by suggesting that something more is required, something flexible. Extensible markup language (XML) is a tool which can help provide the necessary flexibility. XML is a language which provides a common syntax for expressing the structure of data. While it can be seen as an extension of the commonly used Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) this fails to recognise that XML has uses beyond the creation of Web pages. In its broadest sense XML allows systems developers to define the structure of a document. Currently its main uses are for data interchange between humans and machines, but the ability to facility machine-machine interactions is the most exciting concept for construction industry systems. Now EDI is a perfectly good tool for such interactions but in the event of any new requirements the standards need to be extended. This is such a long process that by the time it is completed it is of no use to the original users. XML however provides a dynamic mechanism which can be adapted as required to meet the needs of the users. This is its great strength for the construction industry - an industry that is ""document-rich"". In effect by using XML to specify meta-data structures one overcomes the differences between the data structures of different trading partners. No longer will we require all parties to conform to the tramlines of a strictly enforced standard, but rather those parties will be able to exchange data merely by changing the XML description of their documents. Thus in conclusion this paper shows that the use of XML within the construction industry will facilitate data, and hence systems, integration. O'Brien, M.J. 1997. Integration at the limit:construction systems, International Journal of Construction Information Technology, Vol 5, No 1,pp 89-98."

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Full text: content.pdf (154,537 bytes) (available to registered users only)

Series: w78:2000 (browse)
Cluster: papers of the same cluster (result of machine made clusters)
Class: class.represent (0.051918) class.standards (0.032166) class.software-software (0.030798)
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Permission to reproduce these documents have been graciously provided by Icelandic Building Research Institute. The assistance of the editor, Mr. Gudni Gudnason, is gratefully appreciated

 

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