It is business critical for organisations to have a building data strategy across the whole of their property portfolio

Simon Parsons

The emergence of themes such as “big data” and “the internet of things”, alongside the ever more sophisticated use of smartphones and their associated apps, has highlighted the value of exploiting joined-up information in our everyday lives.

However, as real estate or building professionals, we often fall woefully short of the level of data consolidation and leverage that we expect as private consumers.

From property to portfolio

At the level of a single property, the industry has traditionally operated in a very siloed way, with sets of data being confined to individual organisations and/or construction phases. Examples include each player in the supply chain producing their own construction and as-built drawings. The growing understanding and implementation of BIM-based principles is making a major contribution to breaking down these barriers and achieving a much higher level of data interoperability during the design and construction phases. Indeed, an increasing number of projects - with encouragement from the UK Government Soft Landings initiative - is leveraging this initial investment in BIM to quietly revolutionise the operational phase, which itself accounts for the lion’s share of the overall cost of a building.

However, even these advances typically remain very much at the level of a single building or site, with just a small number of more advanced users looking - and able - to collate and benchmark BIM data across their projects: for example to make better design and material selection decisions on the basis of the in-use performance of earlier designs.

Owners, corporate occupiers and investment managers have a need to aggregate building-related data across a whole property portfolio

At the other end of the scale, owners, corporate occupiers and investment managers have a very regular and business-critical need to aggregate building-related data across a whole property portfolio. This is often a painful task, with the requirement to extract data from many different systems or sources, at different levels of granularity, quality, periodicity and formats. A huge amount of effort is expended in many organisations to manually collate, analyse and act on data in spreadsheets, but which could in theory be made available in the appropriate form at the touch of a button.

The need for a property data strategy

For this ideal to have any realistic chance of becoming reality, an organisational-level data strategy is required. This should cover such issues as:

• data models
• data dictionaries
• master data systems definitions
• the processes to manage origination, validation, storage, analysis, reporting and use
• IT systems, together with their maintenance and security
• data and information governance.

All of these factors should be considered across the whole asset lifecycle, and across the whole portfolio of assets being owned / occupied / managed by the organisation.

A portfolio-level approach

At RealFoundations, we take a very structured approach to understanding our clients’ property information-related needs. First, we start off with a “functional model” that maps out the processes to be performed - independently of the organisational structure. We then consider within an “information model” the data flows associated with these processes: where data is sourced, transformed and ultimately “consumed” to deliver a tangible business outcome. This in turn helps to define the “application stack” of technology capability required to deliver it. Once this has all been defined, the actual selection of specific technology solutions can be made in a very rational and structured way, based on a thoroughly documented - yet easily understood - summary of business needs and operational requirements.

Enterprise-level BIM?

Applying this same approach to data management within the building industry on the back of the BIM bandwagon provides the scope to understand how to build operational systems and processes horizontally across the supply chain at an enterprise level, rather than just at a building level.

Simon Parsons is a director at the RealFoundations London office