What’s the value of our data and could it be worth more?

The need for data sharing

by Dean Douglas | January 29, 2021 |  5 min read

The need for data sharing
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Data is said to be worth more than oil and is even more plentiful than the ‘black gold’ that dominated the business world of the 20thcentury1. We now live in an age of endless data whether that be personal data, financial data or GPS data, we are constantly generating and sharing data about ourselves. So much so that in the past two years we have created an awe-inspiring 90% of the world’s data2. However, until now that data has been generated, stored, and shared within closed groups and organisations that have taken ownership of that data. But now in an age of advanced data analytics, big data, machine learning, and digital twin, that have been brought about by advancements in computing technology, there is the potential to do more than ever before with the masses of data we hold. However, the siloed nature of the data that we have created is not indicative of this and in order to achieve these greater understandings this must be addressed.

The construction industry has long been plagued by its poor ability to structure its data and then a severe reluctance to share that data with other professions and organisations3. These issues are embedded into the culture of the industry and to date have shaped the development and implementation of new technologies and working processes. However, with recent developments in computer science have brought about the application of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, advanced data analytics and the creation of digital twins in the construction industry. All of which rely on drawing greater understanding of large and/or combined datasets. So if we are to realise the benefits of these technologies, then there is a real need to begin to understand how we can instigate change in the industry both in the culture of data sharing but also in the softwares and technologies we already use.

An area already being addressed by the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) is the development of an Information Management Framework (IMF) that seeks to overcome the barriers of data formatting, structure and also address the disparities in quality and completeness between datasets. Its proposed that as part of the Information Management Framework the following three areas must be developed4:

Foundation Data Model– An ontological model structure that is capable of defining the structure and relationships between digital twins, models, datasets, and the physical twins.

Reference Data Library–   The creation of taxonomies that pertain to the common language and descriptions used when describing digital twin elements and creation.

Integration Architecture– This is the protocols that will enable the sharing of data in a secure way, with ease of access and a means of validating and transforming incomplete datasets.

The development of the IMF once fully realised, should aid in bringing about an environment of data that promotes the ease of sharing datasets between relevant parties that is secure, quality assured and in a compatible format.

But perhaps a challenge even greater than the development of an IMF that spans professions, sectors, and industries, is tackling the current data sharing culture within the construction industry and wider built environment. Organisations have long seen open data sharing within the industry as encroaching on their competitive advantage and frivolously giving away hard-earned knowledge3. Which in turn has created a ‘closed mentality’ of data sharing in the built environment5. One organisation that is working to transform the way in which we view, and handle data is the Open Data Institute, who work with organisations to build open and trustworthy data ecosystems6. Through helping organisations to understand the value of their data both to themselves internally and how it could be used by others to gain further insights. Aiding organisations to enact sustainable behavioural change to the way they hold and use data, in turn creating a culture of open data within the industry. This is also an area being discussed by CDBB and the digital twin hub; exploring the pursuit of data transactions not as a monetary transaction but instead as mutually beneficial collaborations where parties with complementary or potentially insightful datasets can share information to receive further insights into their own data as a result7.

While these initiatives look at highlighting the value and alleviating the technical hurdles around more open data sharing. It is also crucial that we understand the cultural changes in the industry and organisations that open data will bring about, asking ourselves how can we structure ourselves and conduct operations to maximise the value being created. And this might mean rethinking long established processes, to incorporate collaboration across new disciplines. Incorporating, the likes of data scientists and computer scientists to provide new outlook and expertise in the use of data. Which in turn, will begin to spur the systemic changing of mindsets towards data sharing and worth.

Developing an understanding of how digital twin can integrate and enact change in the culture and environment of data sharing in the built environment will be key in the future development of digital twin within the industry. As the integration of various datasets has the ability to maximise the benefits of digital twin. That is why understanding information needs of digital twin and how this data can be collect and collated, is being investigated as part of the ongoing research being conducted at BIM Academy. Which looks at creating a framework for the creation of digital twins for road and rail infrastructure that can aid in their asset management.

If you would like to hear more about the research being carried out at BIM Academy, please contact [email protected].

  1. The Economist (2017) Regulating the internet giants – The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data, The Economist. Available at: https://www.economist.com/leaders/2017/05/06/the-worlds-most-valuable-resource-is-no-longer-oil-but-data (Accessed: 4 October 2020).
  2. Bulao, J. (2020) How Much Data Is Created Every Day in 2020?, techjury. Available at: https://techjury.net/blog/how-much-data-is-created-every-day/#gref (Accessed: 6 October 2020).
  3. Jallow, H. et al. (2019) ‘Strategies for knowledge management in the UK construction industry: Benefits and challenges’, in Proceedings of the European Conference on Knowledge Management, ECKM, pp. 550–555. doi: 10.34190/KM.19.079.
  4. Hetherington, J. and West, M. (2020) ‘The pathway towards an Information Management Framework – A “Commons” for Digital Built Britain’, p. 58. doi: 10.17863/CAM.52659.
  5. National Infrastructure Commission (2017) ‘Data for the public good’, National Infrastructure Commission, p. 76. Available at: https://www.nic.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Data-for-the-Public-Good-NIC-Report.pdf%0Ahttps://www.nic.org.uk/publications/data-public-good/.
  6. Open Data Institute (2014) About the ODI, org. Available at: https://theodi.org/about-the-odi/ (Accessed: 7 October 2020)
  7. cdbb: Digital Twin Hub (2020) DT Hub – Digital Twin Talks Series – Live Roundtable Event | Centre for Digital Built Britain, cdbb: Digital Twin Hub. Available at: https://www.cdbb.cam.ac.uk/events/dt-hub-digital-twin-talks-series-live-roundtable-event (Accessed: 25 August 2020).