Thanks to digital disruption, different technological solutions have become part of our daily lives. Whether your job involves installing and operating a state of the art scanner equipment, flying a drone or analysing visualizations mixing the real and the virtual world, you most certainly are working with some sort of digital information. Information, like any other asset known to scientific management, is inherently complex and needs a lot of effort in order to leverage fully. That is why, when people ask about the connection between technologies such as 3D printing, VR/AR, IoT or BIM, for us at coBuilder the most obvious and valuable answer is that all these new digital disciplines applied to the construction sector have one very central thing in common – the need for Better Information Management.
What do we mean by Better Information Management?
Think of your own company and your daily operations. How many of your colleagues use a naming convention when they share files with you? How much time do you spend searching for the latest version of that important attachment in your email? How many files do you have on your desktop? It is rarely that people apply even the simplest information management techniques like proper naming, version control or proper data storage and organisation to everyday tasks. While you might think that these little things have a small impact on the enterprise you work for, the truth is that if you scale these little inefficiencies to the size of even the smallest construction firm, you will get a lot of money lost. Better Information Management, of course, has a larger scope than managing the flow of everyday business information transactions, but it all comes down to this: in order to fully take advantage of the complex technologies of today, one really has to get the basics of information management in place to begin with.
What is information? What is data?
In the digital world every fact represented as text, number, image, video, sound etc. is data. Information is data in context – data that has a definition of meaning and is relevant for a specific use, data that has structure/format and a specific timeframe. So on the question of big data…If data however big its volume is (sensor data, visualization data, analytical data etc.) has no context – it is NOT information and has NO value to a business. In this sense, creating a context for data is a central first step to applying Better Information Management to the ‘raw product of the 21st century’.
How do we contextualize data at coBuilder?
coBuilder focus on the better information management of construction product data. If you search for a window in google you will get data for many different contexts – a window as a construction product, window as a screen in a software’s interface even data for things that resemble a window such as a curtain wall. If we want machines to operate correctly with abstract concepts such as the concept of a ‘window’ we have to do a great job at giving them the right context.
The context… of a window
Even if we establish that a window is a construction product with a certain definition, a window is defined as a different thing in the UK and, let’s say, in the US. So even when it comes to defining a concept, there is variance that has to be taken into account. What do we use as an anchor? Standards! coBuilder’s experts research a hierarchy of ISO, national and market standards in order to define a product concept for a specific use. Than in order to be unique and avoid the use of duplicates this ‘concept’ gets a special name and a unique identifier – a way for machines to understand that when we talk about a window, we mean it in a specific context. Then concepts get connected to other concepts. We define what a ‘u-value’ is according to the BS standard and attach it to the British context of the concept ‘window’. The total collection of concepts related to the concept of ‘window’ – construction product in the UK, make up the data structure (Product Data Template) that can be used for the digital representation of an actual construction product. This is how the data about a construction product becomes meaningful and useful for the construction industry (this is again very wide, as we create contexts that are useful for specific roles, in specific companies, in specific countries, in the construction industry). Now we are talking about information.
What about time?
Working with information, however, does not nearly mean we have achieved anything in the field of information management. Now information becomes the subject of a bigger question in management – the questions of process. A question that brings time to the table. Robust, repeatable and measurable processes that match the data life cycle with the life cycle of its use need to be put in place in order to actually utilise the information in order to create value. If we want to reach goals such as a ‘better information-based operation of built assets’, we need mechanisms in place to collect, validate and verify and deliver data according to specific requirements and according to different needs arising in different periods. Again, we ask what is the anchor.
The construction industry worldwide is moving towards a deeper level of standardization of all business processes across the built environment and there are many national and international initiatives to define best practices in information management for the construction sector. In the UK, the UK BIM Alliance has started an initiative to define the best information management practices in defining data requirements for the construction and management of assets. Worldwide, the Draft International Standard – ISO 19650-1 ‘Organization of information about construction works —Information management using building information modelling’ is developed as an essential document for the delivery of information to asset information models. Such standardization initiatives are essential for companies such as coBuilder creating IT solutions for any sector. They are the needed guidance that we all should capture and translate into our service/product offerings, because no matter if it is telemetry, IoT and machine learning that clients want – it is the underlying information management that truly affects the bottom line.