PCSG Perspective: The power of connected data

Adrian perspective pic2

In this Perspective, Adrian Burgess, PCSG’s Technical Director, discusses how to harness the power of connected data, to help manage and maintain large infrastructure assets and building estates.

Since the advent of Building Information Modelling (BIM) software in the early 2000s, the volume of asset information now available for built environment professionals has grown, and continues to grow, exponentially.

The rise of mobile technology, advances in capturing techniques such as laser scanning and photogrammetry and more recently, networked sensors, is generating huge quantities of data and making it more important – and more challenging than ever – to maintain control of the critical information.

The key to the sector embracing the data-enabled future that will transform performance for asset owners and operators isn’t just about the headline grabbing technologies such as IoT, drones and smart analytics. The big difference will come from the next generation of information management systems which puts the connection of data from multiple sources at the heart of its architecture and its capability.

It’s a crucial consideration since this trend towards more and more data will increase the demand to connect it up, make sense of it and make it available at the fingertips of built environment professionals.

As former Google boss, Eric Schmidt said in 2010, the volume of data produced every two days is the same as the entire amount collected from the beginning of time up until 2003. Seven years later, our ability to collect and store information has probably accelerated beyond even Schmidt’s expectations. 

For built environment professionals the challenge is to keep a lid on all that data and stay in control through proper structure and organisation. Beyond that, the real task is understanding how we can truly take advantage of the opportunity that it presents.

The first part of this challenge is simply about proper organisation, control and structuring of information. It covers the adoption of shared processes for capturing, creating and sharing data using common standards and supplying it to clients when they need it. 

In reality, managing information should be a quite straightforward process. Despite the growing quantity of data, the BS1192 standards and recently produced best practice guides, shine a fairly bright light on how to do this. The BIM Level 2 and now Level 3 programmes being driven by the UK Government-backed Digital Built Britain programme, have helped enormously in this regard. Whilst there is still much work to do to get the industry’s large fragmented supply chain to change working habits to produce good information as well as produce good work, we are well on our way.

As a result, most new build projects in the UK now include the delivery of a “digital twin” or a virtual information management equivalent designed specifically to help the owner and operator to control data across whatever infrastructure asset they manage.

So, for most forward looking, data-enabled built environment professionals, the next and more compelling challenge is understanding how we can now leverage that vast quantity of ordered data, connect and interpret it in order to extract greater value for the owner, contractor, operator or customers.

It is a challenge that really cannot wait. If we are to take advantage of the new data rich environment now is the time to make sure that the information systems are in place to properly exploit that information – to maximise its value today and long into the future. 

In short, that means putting in place systems and technologies that will allow asset owners and operators to readily access the data that they need and connecting to data from multiple sources. It is data that, if used correctly, will support business decisions or activities across the whole life time of that asset or portfolio of assets. 

And while the Common Data Environment remains key to maintaining and keeping information safe and reliable, exploiting the potential of that data comes from the ability to connect it to other data sets.

The value comes from extracting and placing the right information at the fingertips of the people that need it, making them better informed and able to make better, more cost effective decisions. It is about creating an environment –  a new common data environment – that enables data to be shared across multiple platforms, allowing work to be done more efficiently and better outcomes to be created for occupants, users and the business they support.

At PCSG we have been driving forward the agenda to connect built asset data with 3rd party data sets for a while. Two years ago, following conversations with several of our clients, we initiated a research project in collaboration with Ordnance Survey and GroupBC. This work culminated last week with the unveiling of “GeoConnect+”, a new cloud-based platform which helps connect BIM information with geospatial data to help large asset owners and operators manage large, disparate estates better. 

The diagram below was used to frame the research

.Geoconnect-Research-&-Development-5 2

The starting point for the research was PCSG’s call to:

  • – geo-locate BIM information so, not only can you find out what assets, spaces, systems, components you have in your estate, but where they are;
  • – connect asset data to countless geospatial datasets via a common geo reference so you can understand ground conditions, surrounding natural and built environment constraints, boundaries and social-economic data about the local communities.
  • – securely share the BIM and geospatial data with many supply chain organisations.

The first objectives of the research were to deliver a platform which could connect to Ordnance Survey open data, OS mapping data, land and property data, flood, river and road network data to assess the value of having geospatial information displayed in the same system as the asset information. 

During the course of the research and during workshops with our clients it became apparent that connecting asset data with geospatial data wasn’t going to be enough for many clients and they articulated the business case to connect up other datasets, which is the focus of the research right now. 

These other data sets include performance data from IoT sensors and BMS systems, commercial data on cost and revenues from finance systems, occupancy data and usage from workplace management systems and maintenance activities from facilities management systems.

Early adopters of the new GeoConnect+ platform include Thames Water and contractor J T Mackley & Co Mackley. Both have seen improvement in the effectiveness of their existing Common Data Environment simply by being able to connect up once separated data sets from their in-house GIS and publicly available open datasets from Ordnance Survey.  

However, despite these advances shown in the GeoConnect+ research and the certain knowledge that the volume of data extracted across built environment assets is only set to grow, the reality is that there still needs to be significant technology advances when it comes to connecting up data sets and creating client value.

GeoConnect+ shows what is possible – but it is just the start. We must build on the successes of BIM level 2 adoption and make the most of the reliable information we now have about assets. Connecting asset data with the vast array of other data sets available and presenting it in a way that is easy to consume for built environment professionals is the way to optimise value and harness the true potential of data.

To find out more about GeoConnect+ and how PCSG can help you to extract more value from built environment data contact adrian.burgess@pcsg.co.uk.