Electronic Documents
part 1 - Introduction  

by Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA

electronic documents

unless there is standardization, attempts to automate information exchange are doomed

part 1 - intro 

part 2 - HTML 

part 3 - XML 

part 4 - e-docs 
and CSI 

part 5 - aecXML developments 


Many years ago I had one of the first versions of AutoCAD. In its day it was an exciting tool, though a slow one at best. Running on an 8088 processor with little RAM, beginning redraw of even a simple drawing meant it was time for a coffee break. Despite its lethargic performance, the CAD advocates were promising that someday soon our CAD documents would automatically produce specifications, materials lists, and cost estimates.

That was almost twenty years ago, and we're still not there. There are some high-end systems that can fulfill the promise, but for the average design firm, we still do things the old-fashioned way.

However, a few recent events indicate that more automation of construction documentation and processes is not far off. CADBlocks (www.cmdonl.com/cadblocks.html), developed by CMD Group, AutoDesk, and Thomas Publishing, offers standardized details and product information. The Uniform Drawing System (www.csinet.org/technic/uds/udsintro.htm), supported by CSI, AIA, the Tri-Service CADD/GIS Technology Center, the United States Coast Guard, and the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) CADD Council, now sets a variety of standards for drawing information.

These efforts are leading to an easy exchange of drawings. Unless there is standardization at this level, any further attempts to automate information exchange are doomed.

One of the most recent attempts is made possible by the universal acceptance of the Internet and its lingua franca, hypertext markup language or HTML. Browsers are little more than programs that can read and interpret a standard language, then display text and images based on the interpretation.

A variation of HTML is now under development. Called XML, for extensible markup language, it establishes rules for adding additional code to an Internet document. This information can be used to add product characteristics, such as cost or performance. It can also be used to control how the information is displayed; for example, a single document could be presented either as a text document within a browser, or as audible information with a speech generator.

XML already has many variants for specific industries. There is one used to describe chemical structures, another for genetic structures, and others for general commerce. Of interest to us is aecXML, for the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. Next month we'll take a look at what it is and what it can mean for our business.

1999 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA
on the web at www.CSI-MSP.org 

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