Big data, small changes, big benefits

From the moment any construction project is conceived the data trail begins, so how do we need to change our behavior to make the  most of this rich stream of invaluable material? Dr. Claire Penny, a BIM expert at IBM suggests some strategic moves

When it comes to getting the most from your data, the business guru Stephen Covey provides the best advice with his mantra — ‘begin with the end in mind’. So, be bold and picture a future where data becomes a powerful enabler, connecter and all-round business tool. Particularly useful when applied to data in construction projects, Covey’s words resonate well through the entire lifecycle where even small amounts of behavior change can bring big benefits.


Today, the data ‘seeds’ for generating a digital asset are sown when intelligent 3D models are created during the earliest design stages. And behavior change needs to kick-in right here at this lifecycle stage where there should be a flow of information between operations  and maintenance, and the design teams. This information and data exchange will ensure that the building or infrastructure design, is delivered with consideration for the physical maintainability, along with operational and maintenance costs across its lifecycle — the term referred to as ‘soft landings.’


Construction data and information generated in the early phases is enabling the industry to drive innovation and new ways of working. We are witnessing significant behavior changes here with the rapid growth of collaborative working, on a scale never seen before, and not just with the immediate project team, but further afield too reaching out to a whole network of stakeholders working on the same large projects. Companies are growing in confidence that the technologies are available to enable them to work collaboratively, rapidly and securely.

At the same time, with chief financial officers (CFOs) seeking new ways to drive down the costs of their real estate portfolios, they too are looking to technology as a catalyst for behavior change. To right-size or freeze the footprint of their real estate portfolio, many are gaining visibility and data-driven insight into occupancy, operational costs and facility usage. To achieve this level of visibility, they are looking to move corporate real estate (CRE) away from personal productivity tools, enterprise resource planning and in-house solutions to rely on real-estate-specific software suites.


As the real estate portfolio is adapted to a new business environment and shifting demand for resources, CFOs are also looking for new sets of capabilities to emerge beyond traditional process management capabilities. These include analytics and decision support capabilities such as forecasting, modelling and project management, underpinned by an increasing availability, frequency and accuracy of CRE data.

Once again, this represents a clear opportunity for the reuse of data created during design and construction, and for this data to extend into the operate phase of an asset’s lifecycle. To be fully useful, data must be digital from the start of the process and constantly enhanced and updated as the asset lifecycle progresses, enabling a clear view of the total lifecycle costs. In turn, this will then drive efficiency and cost savings along with additional potential review streams across the supply chain.

Operate and maintain

The hunger for good quality data is true for the operations and maintenance teams too. They also require the right information to help them commission, operate and maintain the asset, and therefore provide a superior service to their clients. It is a tragedy that the all-important data generated during the design and construction stages is often not utilised in the operate and maintain phase. Another shift in behavior could save the huge effort (and expense) so often expended at this point to duplicate effort.

Once the building is up and running, the 3D models provide a bedrock for the Internet of Things (IoT) and can be utilized to visualize the asset and its behaviors, both in real time and historically. For example, heat maps can be presented in the 3D model, showing data from presence sensors highlighting the flow of movement through the building, identifying heavy traffic flow and areas that are underutilized. Temperature sensors can provide early warning signs of equipment that is operating outside the normal ranges. Data can be taken directly from equipment to enable condition-based maintenance, for example, by using real-time and historical data one large supermarket chain has unlocked the known value within their extensive and comprehensive refrigeration datasets to pinpoint where they had issues, and how best to address them using big data analytics. This information can then be displayed at the equipment level within the 3D model, making all maintenance teams, whether internal or external, aware of the exact location of the equipment and the problem that needs to  be fixed.

To the future…

Never before have asset operators had the capability to easily access data and display it in a format that is trusted and intuitive. All of this can be achieved with a fresh mind-set and some simple behavior change.

Together, these lifecycle phases are all generating big data. This provides a prime opportunity for asset owners to define and articulate their data strategy, to think beyond the familiar, crunch the numbers and look into the future to understand how this rapidly changing market place will affect their operating models.

Dr. Claire Penny is a Worldwide Solution Leader in IBM’s Internet of Things (IoT) business unit, with a focus on asset and facility management, building information modeling (BIM) and IoT.

IBM and AECOM have a long running partnership which includes combining our expertise in the Smarter Water solution to drive improved water management, and in creating the United Nations’ Disaster Resilience Scorecard.