Construction won’t change until we learn the true value of the data

Data management in BIM

We’ve learnt to value the interconnectivity of data in our personal lives now, but when we get to work it’s a whole different matter. It’s easy to say that it’s fear of change, but it’s not just that - we haven’t discovered how the data we’re uncovering in these new processes will be of value to us. We can’t see the benefits yet, how they’ll help us in our daily lives, so of course we’re reluctant to adopt.

What needs to happen?

There needs to be a revolution. A revolution similar to that of Health and Safety (H&S) in the workplace. Once we started to understand the consequences of dangerous working conditions and we recognised the value of improving site conditions, it now seems ridiculous and incomprehensible that we didn’t have the laws in place before which now seem like common sense. But, it took time to change, and the same is true now with the digital revolution.

We’ve got to a place in our personal lives where we understand the value of the interconnectivity of data. We wouldn’t be without our smartphones – we can hail a cab, pay our electricity bill, control our heating, buy whatever we like, all at the touch of a button. We get annoyed at the slightest slow down or glitch in the process.  

We’ve got to reach that point in our working lives but to do that, we need to understand that we HAVE to change the way we work in order to realise the benefit. We have to understand the value of the data. The talk of smart buildings and smart cities isn’t so pie in the sky, if only the right processes were followed to start with. The right data gathered, so it could be analysed and controlled to help us run our assets effectively.

The greater good

We have to begin each project with the end in mind. Even if we’re not ready to use our assets to their full potential now, we need to build in the scalability so we can switch it on in the future.

The benefits will then be realised right throughout the asset’s lifecycle – proper budget and timescale control at conception and construction, effective and efficient Operation and Maintenance, easy linkage to the entire estate, successful resource planning, and so on.

One example, we’ve mentioned previously is how big data and the IoT could help with emergency planning across towns and cities:

Imagine an emergency situation in an inner city high street where a fire breaks out. It is important to protect life and contain the environment to stop the fire spreading. By monitoring fire detection equipment and temperatures within spaces linked to a 3D building model, it is possible to assess the extent of the fire and determine the best escape paths. Access to detailed building information can provide rich information on possible danger and safety areas, fire containment strategies and rescue planning.

Now bring into the scenario anonymous cellular data feeds, linked to the building model which can indicate the location or concentration of people in the building or in other dangerous areas.

Then consider the weather. If it’s windy, sending an emergency code to sensors to close air vents and seal the building may help bring the fire under control and stop the fire and smoke from spreading.  Anonymous cellular device feeds can also inform the emergency services on the dangers of predicted debris areas based on structural information and weather conditions. Traffic systems can automatically place signals on red to avoid traffic entering the area, and corridors opened up to assist first responder access.

That’s the Promised Land, the greater good. We need to engage people to believe in that – the question is how?

Slow and steady wins the race

While those of us who are already engaged and can see the benefits it will bring just want this to happen as quickly as possible, just as the H&S revolution before, this isn’t going to happen overnight. It could take 10 years or more. The key thing is to show to people how we can help them do their job better, the benefits it will bring them on a day to day basis. It’s starting to happen, and the momentum will only continue to build. But, we have to make the arguments for change that are relevant to each person involved – how it will save them time or money, or make them more productive so they can get out of the office on time?

It’s also about making sure the whole supply chain can be easily involved. Open standards so that proprietary and costly systems aren’t required by everyone.  We must make sure that you don’t have to have a degree in CAD to be involved. It should be as intuitive to use as the iPhone.

The harder we make this, the slower it will be.