Optimizing Building Processes Through Data Sharing
With roughly 2.5 million employees and an annual revenue of 130 billion euros, the construction industry is one of Germany’s most important economic sectors. However, its productivity level lags behind the industrial sector. A typical construction project involves many stakeholders, often with conflicting interests or priorities. Close alignment and collaboration are therefore vital for productivity. However, data silos can complicate or even prevent efficient collaboration in value chains as well as the exchange of important documents between the stakeholders.
What is iECO?
iECO, short for intelligent Empowerment of COnstruction Industry, is a consortium of 11 partners funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK), which aims to unblock the stranglehold on efficiency in the construction industry. It was one of several entries accepted last year in the first wave of proposals for Gaia-X, the federated infrastructure designed to host the next generation of interoperable data exchange and services (read here about the IOTA Foundation joining the Gaia-X Community). Following Gaia-X 4 ROMS, iECO is the second Gaia-X project to involve the IOTA Foundation.
iECO aims to establish a shared data space in the construction industry, which will be the foundation for the digital representation – or “digital twins” – of buildings alongside their whole life cycle. Not only could this merge data silos within the construction industry, but it also opens up the possibility of developing smart services that optimize building processes. A digital layer of trust will ensure the immutability of essential digital twin data for trusted collaboration in a multi-stakeholder environment. The digital twins and smart services are available to both public and private actors in the building sector and heavily contribute to closing the existing productivity gap. Alongside the technical challenges, the project also involves legal entities to enable digital approval procedures, which are an obligatory part of every construction project.
Ultimately the delivery of iECO’s vision will play a crucial role in increasing efficiency, decreasing costs, improving safety, and resolving legal conflicts in the industry. Furthermore, with the construction industry being a major contributor to CO2 emissions and not being known for high recyclability, iECO drives sustainability by providing transparency along the whole life cycle of buildings and used materials.
The IOTA Foundation has already gained experience in construction-specific distributed ledger technology projects by collaborating with the UCL Construction Blockchain Consortium (read about our work here).
While the nature of the smart services to be developed depends on the specific use-case requirements of the involved consortium partners, it is safe to say that the IOTA Foundation’s main contribution to this project will be to provide the core technology for the identity and trust layer as shown in Figure 1. This layer will allow native interaction with the IOTA DLT and enable IOTA-based smart contracts to support a prototypical digital twin implementation with smart services on top of it.
In everything we develop at the IOTA Foundation, we place an emphasis on delivering industry-agnostic and thus easily reusable components. An example of this in the case of iECO is that it shouldn’t matter whether a digital twin describes a car, a building, or an IoT device: the set of features contributed to a digital twin concept by a DLT should remain unaffected by which real-world object is represented. Please note that we don’t expect our technology to replace digital twin implementations, but rather complement them with DLT-specific and unique capabilities.
The unique features that a DLT could add to a digital twin solution include:
- Self-sovereignty through decentralized identities.
- Data integrity through distributed consensus (digital forensics).
- Data authenticity through digital signatures of involved actors.
- Automatic execution of contractual obligations.
- Incentivisation of desirable behavior through token rewards.
- Secure payments without a middle man.
Among its collaborations with other consortium partners, the IOTA Foundation will work closely with Software AG and A1 Digital on a technological level to achieve a holistic digital twin solution. Our DLT know-how complements Software AG’s expertise in edge technologies and A1Digital’s expertise in cloud technologies. Our contribution to an abstract Trust and Identity layer makes it the perfect binding tissue between the two technology stacks and will allow us to port gathered insights and developments to other, similar patterns.
IOTA technology stack
There are three main components we intend to demonstrate in real-world scenarios as part of iECO:
The IOTA Identity Framework implements the most common standards and patterns for decentralized identity in both a DLT-agnostic and IOTA-specific manner. It is designed to provide identity for people, organizations, things, and objects, acting as a unifying layer of trust between everyone and everything. IOTA Identity already utilizes the standards of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which are also an essential component of the Gaia-X Federation Service (GXFS) Trust & Identity as well as the Federated Catalog. Decentralized Identifiers (DID) refer to a given subject and are exchanged on-DLT, while Verifiable Credentials (VC) are digitally signed by DID controllers and stay off-DLT to ensure full GDPR compliance at all times.
DIDs, for example, can be used to grant access to heavy machinery to only those who can prove the required credentials, such as a safety course for a machine operator. Alongside our involvement in Gaia-X, we’ll maintain compatibility with the Gaia-X Federation Services while further enhancing the capabilities of our IOTA Identity solution.
One of the enhancements to our IOTA Identity Framework will be made possible via tokenization on our IOTA mainnet. With the upcoming upgrades, the IOTA protocol will transform into a multi-asset ledger. Native tokens and NFTs will live on the IOTA ledger and enable premium features to so far purely data-focused applications. Tokens can be transferred without fees and, by making a dataset part of the current state of the IOTA ledger, the protocol guarantees its availability and consensus on every node in the mainnet.
In the case of IOTA Identity, this means that the Decentralized Identifier (DID) is guaranteed to be available on all mainnet nodes for verifiers to check signatures on verifiable credentials against it. However, a holder can remove a DID document at any time and thus remains in full control over its availability. This is a beneficial fusion of decentralized technology and self-sovereignty, which are essential pillars of the Gaia-X vision.
With the upcoming release of the IOTA Smart Contracts Protocol, IOTA will offer programmable smart contracts on top of the IOTA mainnet. Together with the integration of the Tokenization Framework, it will provide a powerful solution for seamless, trustless, and feeless interoperability and composability between smart contracts on IOTA. This will allow builders to set up smart contract chains in order to enable the trusted execution of decentralized applications to support the specific needs of stakeholders within a consortium or ecosystem. Due to native communication between IOTA Smart Contracts and the IOTA mainnet, these chains inherit the security of the mainnet. In addition to that, it allows for horizontal scalability of permissioned and permissionless smart contract ecosystems, while avoiding the creation of new and unreachable silos, since the public and permissionless IOTA mainnet acts as an exchange layer for information and assets in a pseudonymized way. Within Gaia-X, these ecosystems are called Federations; with iECO we intend to showcase how decentralized applications can increase efficiency in a future construction-focused Federation.
A defined set of validators (committee) are especially adept at providing trust when they are distributed over parties with opposite interests. This is the case with stakeholders involved in the life cycle of a building. A decentralized application operated and validated by this committee can enable the fully-automated execution of contractual agreements, such as withholding payments for concrete, if its temperature or humidity isn’t within a required range.
Recent projects like Gaia-X iECO (running from Q4/2021 until Q4/2024) allow us to incorporate new capabilities around tokenization and smart contracts in real-world projects, right from the start. Collaborating with well-established partners in the construction industry enables a close feedback loop and ensures that the development of our technology stack is in line with real-world requirements.