Every day we leave a data trail by using our phones, credit cards, rail passes and loyalty cards. If captured and analysed this data could deliver huge economic, environmental and social benefits. 

By 2020, Forbes magazine estimates that the average person will generate 1.7MB of data per second or 146.8GB a day – more than the storage capacity of the biggest iPhone Apple currently produces. 

It is not just humans that are producing data, either. Vast quantities of the stuff is generated by buildings, transport and infrastructure and we now have the ability to capture other types of data through the use of sensors. However, having all this is useless unless we can do something of value with it. 

Reports estimate that only 0.5% of all data created today is ever analysed or used and yet there is huge potential to use this information to produce economic, environmental and social benefits, for local and national governments, corporations and individuals.
Schemes such as Chicago’s Array of Things project are exploring how layers of data can be used to improve efficiency and liveability. The city is setting up sensors which will collect data on the environment and infrastructure. 
Other cities are also adopting this approach. Barcelona now has a city OS, which captures and processes data from a variety of sources. The data is analysed and used to test how the city would respond to certain scenarios. 
Google recently introduced a new app that allows users to see how busy a venue is at any given time, preventing people having to wait in long lines. The system, which uses Wi-Fi identification data from people’s phones to estimate how many people are in a location, can also be used by companies to learn how long visitors spend in a venue and where they go. 
With so much data available, there is the danger that we could become overloaded with information and unable to identify what is valuable and what isn’t. 

To prevent this, a clear process for data collection must be established, which begins by establishing the challenges. The type of data needed to answer the query must be identified, along with how it can be obtained. Then the data can be collected, shared and analysed. 
For example, a local authority might install temperature sensors to warn them when there is a drop in temperature, so they know when to grit the streets. It could also use the data to alert social care teams to check on elderly people and share it with schools in case there is a need to close facilities. 
With 99.5% of data still to be used, the possibilities of the big data world are huge. However there is still one major barrier that remains, and that is our ability to share. All too often we want to hold on to our data rather than make it available for others to use. 

Whilst there is always going to be commercially sensitive or personal data that should not be made available in the public domain, there is a lot of information that does not fall into these categories, that could be used in a positive way. 

Within the construction industry we create vast amounts of data, which could be used beyond the scope of our immediate projects. Most of the Building Information Modelling (BIM) models we create are embedded with multiple layers of information relating to the design, construction and operation of buildings.

Imagine if we could use the models as vehicles for capturing and storing additional complementary layers of social, activity-based, environmental and economic data, to create smart environments. 

We could use the models to create a virtual city map, where each building is represented by its own model. This map could be used by city planners to make decisions, or to track environmental performance and by residents to navigate around the city. 

After London’s first ever Digital Construction Week, it has never been a better time for the construction industry to explore how we can support our clients to realise the possibilities of a data-driven digital world and generate positive outcomes for everyone. With so much to gain, the question is what is stopping us? 

About the author

Stephanie Whittaker

Senior Marketing Communications Manager for BAM Design

Stephanie Whittaker is the senior marketing communications manager for BAM Design. She is also the leader of ENCORD’s Foresighting work group which aims to provide construction industry leaders with the insight and knowledge they need to develop business strategies for the medium to long term.  

Stephanie has spent more than 15 years in the construction industry, working for Arup, Capita Symonds and Halcrow before joining BAM in 2013. During this time she has worked on a variety of projects with a particular focus on creating resilient communities, high performing buildings, sustainable corporate strategies, building information modelling and energy.    

Most recently she has developed an interest in smart cities and how this approach can be used to have a positive impact on the wider city agenda and residents’ lives.

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