As an industry we also need to recognise that focusing on just building and construction related information won’t give us the in-depth insights we need to improve asset performance. Other data sets will be needed to give us a true picture of how and why things occur. Occupant behaviour is one such data set that will help us to determine how end users interact with an asset and the impact this has on its operations/lifecycle. However, tracking data such as occupant behaviours would place the industry right at the heart of the wider debate around personal data collection and privacy. After all, it is not hard to see why people might be uncomfortable with companies tracking their movements or monitoring how they are using a space. A 2017 survey by the Open Data Institute found that 34% of respondents would never feel comfortable sharing data about themselves with an organisation and that attitudes to data sharing vary markedly between the generations. However on the upside, the research also determined that most people would be happier to share their data if it was going to be used for the greater good. This would suggest that the construction industry would need to find a way to give occupants the ability to opt out of or limit data collection to meet their own comfort levels. In addition companies should also take the time to demonstrate the value that the collection of data will provide to the user i.e. the provision of a better office space to work in, easier wayfinding around a resort or a faster more comfortable commute.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal made headline news when it was discovered that millions of Facebook profiles had been taken without permission and used to target US voters during the 2016 election. Although it would be unlikely that building data would be used to target specific groups, it does have a value to others beyond the initial collector and client/end user. The ability to analyse data at a neighbourhood, city or building type level (e.g. schools, hospitals, grade A offices) would allow us to identify trends and lessons learned, which could be fed back into the design and construction process; creating better buildings that deliver improved outcomes. It would also allow city governments and estate owners to monitor overall asset performance and create and track the effectiveness of policies to address issues such as energy usage, biodiversity and sustainability.
However, the sharing of data poses a number of challenges that we would need to address, such as establishing who would own the information gathered. This could prove difficult as it raises a number of questions that would need to be answered e.g. does FM data belong to the FM team who operates the building or the client and what happens to any data obtained when a contract comes to an end?. We would also need to consider whether the data collected should be open source for everyone to use freely or come at a cost. It is even possible that some data would be free and other more valuable data sets would have to be paid for. All these challenges would need to be resolved as part of the development of a framework for data collection in the industry.
While it’s inevitable the construction industry will be impacted by data scandals and legislation to protect individuals, it does not mean that we should shy away from embracing data collection and usage. Instead, we need to work together to create a data framework that provides us with a strong foundation for data collection, analysis and sharing in the future. Getting it right now will make certain that we all adopt a robust, secure, trusted and transparent approach, which protects the rights of individuals and corporations and addresses many of the issues which have arisen in the past.
The UK construction and property industry can take a lead in this process, setting a standard for others to follow. Will we rise to the challenge?
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