We take a look at the importance of data before turning to technology and workflow


Source: shutterstock.com

Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission stated that “data is now as important to infrastructure as steel or concrete”. In this article as part of the Building Academy course on Digital Construction, we continue to investigate the four principle aspects of a digital strategy. While in the last article we focused on digital skills, here we concentrate on data, before looking at technology and workflow. At the end of the article, you should have a better understanding of the importance of data to your business, the need to assess the quality of your data, how to leverage your data to add value to your business and those of your clients, as well as complying with the legal requirement to provide a golden thread of information.

Before we proceed, a word of caution. If this was easy, it would already have been done. We can talk about moving towards a digital future and the importance of data; however, you probably already know the future is going to be digital, and you also appreciate that the quality of your data is less than perfect. A digital strategy needs to recognise this and outline how the quality of data can be improved to support the delivery of the benefits of better information management. The final article in the series will focus on managing this change process, however, data can and should be integral to inspiring change and driving a culture of continuous improvement

Returning to Sir John Armitt, he was talking as Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission at the launch of the UK’s Data and Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI). Whilst the DAFNI platform may not be relevant to you, the principles they are adopting will be. DAFNI is looking at the quality of the data they collect and process, then how and where that data is used. The aim is to improve the decision-making that, in their case, improves the nation’s infrastructure. In the first article, you were encouraged to articulate your purpose. Hence, you should have formulated an appreciation of what you need your data for and started to consider how it supports achieving your purpose. To reiterate Sir John’s comment, data is now of equal importance to your business as the physical components used; it is about helping you to make better decisions in delivering better quality, safer and a more sustainable built environment.

A good starting point for assessing data quality is the UK government’s data quality framework. This reinforces the importance of data within all organisations and sets out principles for managing data quality. It provides a clear process for managing data setting out a logical lifecycle and highlighting valuable potential data quality problems. Moreover, it describes six dimensions to measure data quality, namely, completeness, uniqueness, consistency, timeliness, validity, and accuracy.

Two other aspects of data that are integral to a digital strategy are openness and security. The Open Data Institute offers guidance on creating an open, trustworthy data ecosystem by improving data literacy and assurance to derive better value. At the same time as recognising the benefits of open data, it is imperative that systems are protected from unauthorised access, modification, or deletion. The National Cyber Security Centre gives guidance on how organisations can protect themselves in cyberspace.

As we have moved into the digital age an often-cited quote is that “data is the new oil”. Whether it is, or not, the point is that data has a value that should be recognised and managed accordingly. Whilst the value of oil comes in part from its scarcity, the value in data comes from the ability to generate insights that drive improvement. To realise this value, a company needs to have confidence in the quality of the data received and generated, with appropriate processes in place to verify and validate the integrity of the data. Hence, a key aspect of a digital strategy is to articulate how data is currently managed, specifically in terms of complying with legalisation, how it is used to monitor work in progress, as well as generating those insights that highlight opportunities for improvement.

All businesses appreciate the need to compile annual accounts in accordance with relevant financial regulations. Hence, businesses have personnel dedicated to the management of financial data and to ensure that robust processes and procedures are maintained. The failure to comply with these regulations can have severe consequences for the directors of the business and the business itself. Whilst the consequences of managing non-financial data might not be as severe as imprisonment, the challenge is to adopt similar rigour deployed in managing that financial data. In construction, this rigour will be required to demonstrate compliance with the Building Safety Act. This places the requirement to ensure a golden thread of information is maintained for a building in order that the building and people are kept safe now and in the future.

The Building Regulations Advisory Committee has produced a set of golden thread principles, detailing the requirements for those responsible for the building’s safety. The principles include important characteristics that any company should use to assess the integrity of its own data, namely: it is accurate and can be trusted; there is a single source of truth; it is understandable and consistent; it is simple to access whilst being secure; there are clear processes to manage accountability; it is maintained in a format that can be used in the future. These principles align with the dimensions stated in the Data Quality Framework.

This article in the Building Academy Digital Construction course has sought to highlight the importance of data as part of a digital strategy. As previously stated, the purpose of moving towards a digital future is more than just technology it is about delivering a better quality, safer and more sustainable built environment. This can only be done if the data is effectively managed and there is assurance over the quality of that data.

There are examples all around us like smart energy meters or smart fitness watches that provide us with data and enable us to make better decisions; I suggest this demonstrates what is possible when data is managed more effectively. However, whilst most companies know the importance of data, they also know the quality of their data is poor; hence it is vital to have robust processes that enable verification and validation. And this is what will be covered in the next article on workflow, along with an appreciation of how standards will support the journey towards digital.

Until next time, keep working hard, be happy and have fun.