Open source data platform for the real estate industry.
Real estate is the result of the work of many talented professionals, all of them with their own specific skills and expertise. The third industrial revolution resulted in these professionals getting equipped with digital tools aimed at improving their specific workflow. Coordinating workflows, working together on the same digital model proofed to be challenging.
There are a lot of reasons why it’s really hard to get everyone united around a common model. The #proptech market is very fractured, and even between the same provider backward compatibility between versions is all but guaranteed. (I’m looking at you Autodesk.) On top of this, the real estate industry is organized around a per-project model, where harmonizing data models seems pointless when the partners are frequently replaced by associates with a different digital back office.
As a result, the communication channels between disciplines reverted in most cases to the least common denominator: PDFs and Excel exports.
But a new crop of innovators is building solutions around this problem, smashing the data silos, enabling cooperation between different digital platforms without sacrificing data resolution.
Speckle is providing an open-source data platform aimed at the AEC (Architecture, engineering, and construction) industry. It allows for interoperability and data exchange among interdisciplinary teams. At the moment Speckle’s main focus is unlocking the geometry data locked up in the CAD and BIM applications like Revit, Rhino, and AutoCAD, but they are working on various other connectors. Given Speckle is open-source software and has a pluggable architecture it is possible to extend the solution to support any software tool with an API endpoint.
imagery courtesy Speckle
Unlocking collaboration along multiple disciplines opens up a lot of possibilities but also introduces the need for coordination. Speckle tries to solve this, inspired by the programming industry, with a git-like object-based version control system.
Example multi-user cooperation in Speckle. imagery courtesy Speckle
Speckle grew out of a research project Dimitrie Stefanescu worked on at The Bartlett School of Architecture. In April 2020 he and Matteo Cominetti, founded a company around the project. The project is still in beta. If you want to test it out a hosted version is freely available for individuals and small teams. If you need more, a supported paying enterprise version is available.
🕵️♀️ Who else?
The real estate industry is very aware of the risks and the negative effects that these data silos pose in getting a project delivered on time and on budget.
Here are some other tools trying to open up BIM data.
Flux.io used to have a service for cloud interoperability and data-sharing for the AEC industry but was discontinued on the 31st of March 2018.
Xbim provides an API using the OpenBIM standard. It allows you to publish BIM data and visualizations and to integrate them into custom-built software.
Allowing AEC professionals to work in their preferred applications, while making sure that all the contributions are automatically in sync with each other is already a big value add. If you want tightly integrated communications, the default answer now is, limiting the software tools that are allowed to be used in a project. This has the tendency to lead to a quasi-monopoly for the dominant software provider, possibly stifling future innovation. Using an intermediate software integration layer will combat vendor lock-in and allow selecting team members based on output instead of the software tools they use.
Unlocking the data from the data-silos will allow innovative solutions to be built on top of existing workflows without being burdened by interoperability problems every time a new version is released. That responsibility can be safely forwarded to the integration layer.
👎 Why not?
Per definition this type of software will lag behind in implementing new features considering they can only be integrated after they become publicly available. Even worse, when the changes happen outside the common abstraction layer or are only relevant in a narrow use case, they might even be ignored. Of course, you can always pay someone to add this functionality, or in the case of Speckle being open-source, implement it yourself.
📚 Further reading?
BIMvoice: In-depth interview with Speckle founders
Go forth and break down the data walls.