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Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) underpin digital transformation in the built environment, beyond project delivery and across the contract line. Digital representations of the physical built environment are integral to the functioning of the UK. Some of these digital representations, such as schools and hospitals, are essential in delivering public services. Others, such as the road network and flood defences, support economic, environmental, and societal activities.

The need for client-side data leadership

Whilst there have been significant investments in digital and technology, there also needs to be investment in data and information initiatives from a client-side perspective. For example, that improve data standardisation and quality. Whilst many organisations have a Chief Digital Officer and/or Chief Technology Officer, only some organisations have a Chief Data Officer. There is a need for executive leadership to unlock data, establishing client-side data governance policies and procedures and enacting upon these to compile and use that data for decision-making. 1Spatial have experienced digital transformation initiatives across the built environment that are often led only by digital or more frequently technology, as opposed to starting with the outcomes and/or efficiencies needed, and the data foundations needed to achieve the required outcomes.

Data quality and data interoperability go together

The Government and Industry Interoperability Group (GIIG), aims to help organisations deliver, and benefit from, interoperable data and information for digital transformation in the built environment. Interoperability cannot be possible unless the data assets are of an agreed quality and standard before being integrated into a larger system or shared for wider consumption. The Government Construction Playbook and Transforming Infrastructure Performance Roadmap to 2030 also set out the need for an interoperable and digital mechanism for the secure exchange and assurance of data and information by client-side organisations, to enable digital transformation in the built environment.

Challenges with data and information from suppliers

Many suppliers contribute data and information about the built environment throughout its lifecycle. Where data and information are being used for digital transformation of critical built environment aspects - such as road networks, airports, flood defences or power stations - challenges may arise when data and information needs to be integrated from multiple suppliers.

Read more about challenges and opportunities of data in the supply chain.

Discrepancies in data formats, currency and granularity can lead to varying levels of accuracy, quality, and consistency.

To create strong data foundations that allow client-side organisations to have confidence in their built environment data and information, a Data Requirements Library (DRL) is key. A DRL documents the terminology and categories used to classify and describe assets. It also documents the specific data attributes that are used to describe the properties of each asset type and its element types. A DRL can then be used to ensure standardisation and data quality from suppliers via data acceptance and assurance (verification). Rather than resorting to manual processes, organisations can establish automated data verification regimes to identify and rectify errors according to a set of predefined criteria or rules, when accepting data across the contract line and into operational systems.

Defining standards and structures

Client-side organisations with large amounts of legacy data and information, are especially prone to this challenge. Defined standards and structures can significantly improve data and information quality, completeness, and reliability. By applying data and information governance principles, smarter information assurance becomes a continuous process rather than an event and ensures the integrity, interoperability, availability, and compliance of built environment information. These processes are critical in the wider use of built environment digital representations and developing a strategy to create and maintain strong data foundations will ultimately benefit the wider digital transformation in the built environment.

Read more about using standards in data management

Case study: The Environment agency

The Environment Agency (EA) is one of the central government early adopters for developing client-side data foundations for digital transformation in the built environment. With responsibility for protection and enhancement of the environment across England, Flood and Coastal Risk Management deals with approximately half of the EA’s annual expenditure to build, maintain and operate flood defences, maintain rivers, and provide effective flood warnings to communities. Data and information about its extensive flood and coastal defence assets is as important as the physical assets themselves. Robust data and information assurance across the contract line is required to ensure the Agency’s information is useable for operational purposes. With most of the EA’s data and information about the built environment commissioned from suppliers, it needed digital transformation for the acceptance and assurance of data and information coming from project delivery and across the contract line. The “Data store, Rules and Visualisation” (DRV) service is a key data foundation component of the EA’s digital transformation journey and turning project files into data and information.

Authored by Matt White, Head of Built Environment, 1Spatial

Case Study

Delivering reliable digital data and information management for EA's physical flood and coastal defence assets

“1Spatial’s 1Integrate technology and Safe Software’s FME Server technology provides robust asset data and information assurance capabilities, to enable our strategic objectives and further digital transformation. The automated geoCOBie data assurance processes for collecting, collating, analysing, and sharing data appropriately on asset performance provides us with the insight we need to improve productivity and deliver benefits to society.” Karen Alford Flood and Coastal Risk Manager, Environment Agency