Achieving Global Collaboration

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Anne-Marie Walters from Bentley Systems presents the case for the ISO 15926 data standard in order to create collaboration across global organisations

The global economy has created new challenges for plant owners, engineers, and designers. Under pressure to reduce project timescales, slash costs, and leverage all available resources, there is a drive towards global, multi-team cooperation. In many cases, the inability to effectively collaborate – across organisations as well as disciplines – around the world has increased the length of projects, added costs and created problems in areas of safety and maintenance.

Anne-Marie Walters from Bentley Systems

Organisations have proven the benefits of improved information sharing internally to drive down costs and shorten time to market. Now the challenge is to build on the growing global commitment to the ISO 15926 data standard to create cross-organisational collaboration. But, as Anne-Marie Walters, global marketing director, Bentley Systems, asserts, organisations across the supply chain need to look carefully at the best way to leverage the growing commitment to real-time, seamless sharing and interoperability of data and information across different organisations and systems, without incurring an untenable cost.

Extending the supply chain

Today’s infrastructure supply chain is more complex than ever before. In a bid to achieve a flexible mix of global talent and have greater access to limited expertise, infrastructure projects increasingly involve a multitude of geographically dispersed companies, from architects and designers to engineers and constructors.

Too many of these projects, however, are jeopardised due to cost overruns and unacceptable time delays. The reasons are many; from poor design efficiency to the complexity of managing this globally sourced supply chain – which result in high operations costs – to poor resource planning, late deliveries, and dysfunctional distributed project teams, which cause schedule overruns. For owners, the result is often a delay in the start-up and operation of the project, which, for engineering contractors, means penalties on top of the unexpected additional labour costs.

One of the key problems facing the extended supply chain is the inability to effectively share information. With each organisation working on separate IT systems, important data cannot be easily shared by the rest of the distributed team. Moreover, reliance on paper-based documents and 2D drawings often leaves organisations struggling with out-of-date information resources.

The accuracy and timeliness of relevant engineering data throughout the project, from design to handover, have a direct effect on the on-time delivery and quality of the infrastructure build, as well as on the profitability and returns from the facility. Inaccurate information results in safety issues not being addressed early in the process, leading to costly rework; it also has an impact on the ongoing maintenance of the facility, with information silos constraining efficient scheduling of maintenance. Indeed, plant managers have to dedicate huge resources to manually populate the maintenance management system.


So what can be done to improve the timeliness and accuracy of information required across the infrastructure supply chain?

Global standard

Over the past few years, organisations have gained significant benefits from information sharing internally across multiple disciplines, from design to planning, typically using proprietary data models. The challenge now is to extend that collaborative model across multiple organisations in order to shorten schedules and improve workflow by sharing information along the supply chain more freely.

There is growing support for the use of the globally accepted ISO 15926 standard for reference data and information modelling to provide a platform for collaboration. The standard is robust, has been in place for nearly 20 years, and is globally recognised as the best way to achieve multidiscipline interoperability. Indeed, it is firmly supported by the iRING user community, (, which is committed to driving real-time, seamless sharing and interoperability of data and information across different organisations and systems.

Organisations have begun to leverage data exports in the ISO 15926 data format to, for example, enable a rapid population of maintenance management systems, reducing costs for plant owners. But this must be just the beginning: there is extraordinary additional value that could and should be achieved by enabling plant owners and engineering firms to collaborate effectively far earlier in the process.

Open platform

The key to achieving this cooperation is real-time access to data and a completely open approach to the ISO 15926 data model. In today’s economic climate, organisations across the supply chain are reluctant to make significant investments in new technology for any reason. The whole essence of a globally accepted standard such as ISO 15926 is to enable any organisation, using any software, to be able to cost effectively share information in real time.

And this does not mean having the use of a data model prescribed by a software vendor or being forced to adopt expensive APIs and/or data export tools. In addition to adding untenable and unnecessary cost, this approach adds an additional layer to the data model, often restricting the information that can be shared among organisations. Furthermore, data export tools typically require manual intervention to produce the information snapshot, leaving organisations without access to real-time information and at risk of costly mistakes as a result.

But with an open approach to ISO 15926, organisations can share information resources across any system, enabling real-time dissemination of 3D models and project schedules without additional software investment.

Quantifiable benefits

With the right, open approach, the benefits and return on investment will be significant. For the plant owner, faster and earlier access to information during the build process will enable far more effective decision making, provide early warning of any problems, and ensure operations and maintenance requirements are considered before expensive plant purchase and build decisions are taken.

For example, the impact of improved information, better decision making, and faster problem solving during design means operators can achieve a huge reduction in the average 20 percent downtime experienced in the first year of plant operation, resulting in a dramatic payback. In addition, owners can save 1 to 4 percent of the total installed costs by having a faster, accurate information handover from engineering design and construction into operations, which is achieved in a variety of ways – from rapid population of the maintenance management system to a reduction in the 20 to 40 percent of the time spent by engineers searching for information.


Given the current economic climate, with the emphasis on cost reduction and shorter project timescales while improving plant performance and safety, the lack of effective collaboration across the global supply chain is clearly unacceptable. For those attempting to work together, interoperability is being attained at some level, but at what cost? The global commitment to ISO 15926 should be the platform for true, open cooperation. However, too many organisations are being asked to invest heavily in proprietary interpretations that cannot be easily integrated into existing software and are simply not viable across the entire supply chain.

Without doubt, a globally accepted data standard is the key to driving down costs. But it is only by leveraging a totally open data model in real time that the global supply chain will be able to collaborate cost effectively to deliver improved performance in plant design, build, and operation as well as real quantifiable value.


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