CIty; CIty;

It's time our buildings set public data standards

Over time the architecture, construction and engineering industry has ended up contending with a complex web of differing tools, standards, specifications and formats. Designers, builders and operators of assets in the built environment have to work with a series of proprietary formats. In essence, a lack of industry wide standards in both interoperability of design formats and data access practices is holding back digital innovation and building performance. I believe this has to change. 

Overcoming fragmentation

The lack of consistent industry-wide data approaches makes it impossible to create the beneficial feedback loops that should ideally inform and drive the design process. That feedback should trigger innovations that improve asset performance, and help the built environment to meet agreed climate goals. Today, fragmentation remains a break on this.

The fact that the industry had to develop and use ‘Speckle’, software that translates data for different parts of our work from one standard to another, demonstrates the scale of the problem. Speckle helps, but some information gets lost in translation, time is wasted and innovation still suffers. Long-term we can and must do better. 

Whose data?

Data ownership is also mired in outdated practices. If asset owners would own consistent data sets of their assets they could better manager their estates and third party suppliers could help them to improve the performance of their entire portfolios. There are social benefits to more open use of asset data too. If building data was publicly available, there would be more ability to learn from failures, accidents and other outcomes. Emergency services could respond to issues with greater awareness of an asset’s precise materials, characteristics and vulnerabilities. Everyone would benefit. 

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If building data was publicly available, there would be more ability to learn from failures, accidents and other outcomes.

It's slow, but regulation is coming

In shaping EU’s digital future, one of key actions in their digital strategy “Shaping Europe’s Digital Future (February 2020)” is the formulation of a strategy for standardisation which will allow the deployment of interoperable technologies and which is to be published in Q3 2020.

Looking at the EU’s Rolling Plan for ICT Standardization 2020, it seems entirely reasonable to assume that more regulation is coming, in which common digital standards like Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) are the way to drive both innovation and higher standards in the industries it regulates. It would benefit the entire industry, from software developers to designers to construction companies, to get ahead of regulation and define workable set of practices, as Arup is doing as a key member of BuildingSmart.  However there is more to do.  

Our vision for better public data standards has a few pillars. Beyond the clear operational benefits for owners, operators, occupants and users of built assets, data practices should possess these features:

  • It must be maintained throughout the asset’s entire lifespan: to enable cost efficient alterations, extensions and change of use, but also up-to-date data for analysis after critical events such as fire, storms, flooding and earthquakes. 

  • Asset data and asset data ownership should be aligned: as the asset data will have financial value and should be appropriated by the owner of the asset. 

  • Operational data must by perpetually accessible: to allow users and owners to improve asset performance over time.

This approach would reduce the life-cycle costs in delivering the services provided by these assets, increasing the quality of the services offered, and reducing associated risks. But this public data manifesto could also deliver wider social, economic and environmental benefits. Indeed, the largest potential impact would be establishment of secure feedback loops on asset performance, increasing the industry’s ability to innovate and reduce assets’ negative impacts and role in climate change.

Open standards drive creativity

At Arup we are hugely invested in collaboration – it’s the lifeblood of design and engineering. We are working with tools of unparalleled power and sophistication, but held back by siloed data and a lack of common standards. Our belief is that when standards align, creativity grows. Let’s come together as an industry to take that creativity to the next level. Our ‘Good data for the Public Good’ manifesto is about giving attention of this critical issue and raises new issues in the dialogue about Data for the Public Good.

Find out more about the Good Data for the Public Good initiative at the Institute of Engineering and Technology, featuring insights from Arup, Atkins, Arcadis, Buro Happold, Norconsult and Sweco.