May 06 2015

Is your built asset talking to you?

Internet of thingsBig Data is a topic that is increasingly prominent at construction industry events and it is undeniable that the construction, real estate and infrastructure industries are becoming more data centric.  This can been seen in the way we increasingly find ourselves talking about sharing data rather than files, document or drawings.  How this data is generated, gathered, managed and utilised to deliver tangible benefits at all phases of an asset’s lifecycle is the challenge facing the industry.


An explosion in all kinds of data 

Increasing adoption of BIM, driven by the UK mandate has been one driver for the increasing focus on data in the industry.  BIM requires the integration of model files with structured data on individual objects (data that resides in a fixed, defined field), all of which ultimately support the management of an asset throughout its lifecycle.

Structured data is not the only challenge, even on a BIM project, there will still be a lot of unstructured or semi-structured data that needs to be passed to the operate phase. This can include pre-inception proposals and correspondence, contracts, reports and programmes, plus commercial, financial and workflow-related information captured in invoices, statements, forms, certificates, etc.  In case of any future dispute, such records still need to be retained and managed, even though they may not form part of the information needed for asset management.


The Internet of Things in Action

In the near future a major source of data for built assets will be the ‘internet of things’ (see our six predictions for 2015), and this will complement data captured in building information models.  With Soft Landings in mind, clients will increasingly seek data from every firm delivering design inputs for use in later phases of the assets lifecycle.

If we view information provided by suppliers during the design and build process as data about the asset then information generated by the ‘internet of things’ (IoT) is data generated by the asset.  The internet of things refers to the network of physical objects which have embedded electronics (software, sensors and connectivity) that enable them to exchange data with the manufacturer, owner-operator and/or other connected devices. In a building, this could mean many thousands of fixed ‘things’: thermostats, switches, pumps, meters, escalators, lifts, light fittings, doors, etc – all uniquely identifiable through their system addresses, capable of interoperating with other systems, and streaming data.

This data will allow asset owner-operators to measure and improve their facilities’ performance quantitatively, on an on-going basis.  Building management systems have, to some extent, been helping with this for years, but as the number of embedded sensors grows – Gartner predicts 26 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to IoT by 2020; ABI Research estimates over 30 billion – we will be gathering data at an ever-increasing rate from an ever-growing array of ‘things’.  This data can then be related to the business operations conducted inside a building, providing a powerful link between the effectiveness of an asset’s design and construction and the business outcomes that the owner-operator envisaged when the project was first conceived.

For example, energy efficiency can now be ascertained in seconds using real-time data collated from a building’s systems, potentially changing how buildings are certified. The US Green Building Council, through its LEED Dynamic Plaque, is already looking at verifying building performance using actual data. Displaying static paper certificates may become a historic novelty, replaced by digital displays showing the asset’s latest scores on energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience. And post-occupancy evaluations will, of course, be dramatically improved by such systems.


Interaction between built assets and their users

The IoT revolution will also extend to how people interact with the built environment around them. Refrigerators that can tweet may be a gimmick, but alongside steadily growing smartphone ownership, use of wearable devices monitoring a person’s blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, etc is also growing, and such applications can increasingly share data seamlessly with other systems. Subjective assessments of comfort and efficiency can be augmented by quantitative data collated from users themselves, providing the information needed to optimise the fixtures, furnishings and equipment they use, and the systems managing the environment around them.

Managing data about assets will not be enough. The ‘internet of things’ will mean managing data created by assets and people’s interactions with those assets.  This represents a significant challenge to owner-operators but also a huge opportunity to improve the efficiency and usability of their assets, both adding value and improving the experience of the people using them.

About the author

Michelle Mason

Michelle Mason leads the UK and MEAP Marketing team, with far too many years in B2B marketing to mention. A CONJECT newbie, Michelle is eagerly climbing a steep learning curve.

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