Electronic Documents
part 4 - How Will They Affect CSI?

by Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA

electronic documents

if we focus only on specifications CSI will become little more than a
social club

part 1 - intro 

part 2 - HTML 

part 3 - XML 

part 4 - e-docs
and CSI 

part 5 - aecXML developments 


In the last few columns we have looked at some of the new electronic documents, including hypertext markup language (HTML) used on the Internet, and extensible markup language, a recent innovation. "That's all interesting," you say, "but what does it have to do with my specifications?"

Fifty years ago, CSI founders set out to bring order to the chaotic world of specification writing. There were no standards at that time to guide the specifier in how to describe products or procedures, in what order to present the information, or how to write clearly.

The resulting documents, the CSI Manual of Practice, MasterFormat, SectionFormat, and PageFormat, created universal standards for writing and organizing specifications. They also clarified the relationship between written and graphic documents. These standards were readily accepted because their implementation made it easier to both prepare and interpret construction documents.

We face a similar situation today. Electronic documents are now widely used, but standards for preparing or using them are still being developed. Until recently, electronic text and graphic documents were nothing more than their hardcopy counterparts; they are easier to change and distribute, but are still treated as paper documents.

We can continue to ignore the capabilities of our computers, just as our predecessors could have ignored the benefits of CSI's guidelines. But, if we do, someone else will see the opportunity to bring order to the chaos of electronic information transfer. There is no doubt that this will happen; the only question is who will lead the effort.

Why am I so certain? Fifty years ago, CSI's work was done for the good of the industry, and ever since then we have lived on the work of volunteers. Today, there is money to be made - big money. Whoever sets the standards for information exchange will be in a position to control the construction industry.

"So what? I don't care who controls the information, I'll just go on writing specs like I always have." Don't count on it. If some large company decides that we no longer need MasterFormat, and they convince owners theirs is "the right way", you will have no choice but to change.

CSI now faces one of its biggest challenges. We can look at the big picture and try to figure out how to use the new technology, at the same time incorporating the needs of non-building construction, or we can ignore the rest of the world and focus only on specifications. The first choice will allow us to remain a viable, useful organization; the second will see us turn into little more than a social club, meeting occasionally to tell each other how important we are.

Which path will we choose?

2000 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA
on the web at www.CSI-MSP.org 

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