Technology is an integral part of human history its evolution and its future. From the development of rudimentary tools to the exploration of space it is a journey that has defined the human race. Our ability to transition to a sustainable future will be fundamentally impacted by future technologies in whatever form that may take. Utilising and contributing to the development of the latest theories and methodologies I have spent over fifteen years exploring how technology in multiple sectors is facilitating a sustainability transition. This has ranged from global systemic change to localised systems and environments. Theories such as socio technical transitions, strategic niche management and complex adaptive systems have emerged as effective mechanisms for understanding the role of technology in society.
The surveying profession is both being profoundly impacted by technology advancements and is centrally placed to implement and catalyse these technological innovations. Here I highlight some of those technologies that are impacting on the built environment and society as a whole
Blockchain is a digital process for recording data in a way that allows every participant access to the same information.
It is a database of information made of blocks chained together in a way so that they cannot be tampered with and so is a secure way of recording transactions from peer to peer without using a third party. The transfer creates a ledger which is open-sourced and cannot be tampered with.
Blockchain was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 for use in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as its public transaction ledger. The invention of the blockchain for bitcoin made it the first digital currency to solve the double spending problem without the need of a trusted authority or central server.
Big data, a term that has become popular since 2011, is used to describe the exponential growth and availability of data, both structured and unstructured, which governments, societies and businesses can tap in to and so improve our lives.
Big data has the potential to provide unprecedented insight and improved decision-making for everyday tasks. Gartner defines big data as “high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making”. In a 2011 study, the McKinsey Institute found that sectors such as real estate, construction and urban planning stand to benefit significantly from the use of big data technology. Theoretically, the built environment sector can tap into this technology to catapult itself into a highly efficient, quality centred and bullish sector. It remains to be seen how the sector overcomes systemic barriers to embracing this technology to its advantage.
Big data technology can be tapped to enhance the design, construction, operation and maintenance of our built environment and could be deployed in our sector under the following major scenarios:
Using data to inform design by understanding the built environment and its users better, especially at the concept stage itself when level of detail available is low.
For modelling, simulation and analysis during the design, construction and operation processes at the building, precinct and city level to put forth optimal economic, social, and environmental alternatives.
To better understand and capture end-user (and other stakeholders’) expectations and requirements and enhance value generation in the development process and also data-driven analysis on value propositions for these stakeholders.
To allow the built environment sector to better predict influences of external factors such as economic shifts, competition, policy, climate change, and other complex issues on their work and profession by using big data at urban and regional scale.
Helping regulators create data-driven participatory processes for policy development, modification and implementation to better construct and maintain the fabric of the built environment.
Building Information Modelling
Building Information Modelling (BIM) is a very broad term that describes the process of creating and managing a digital model of a building or other facility such as a bridge, highway, tunnel and so on.
There are a number of 'levels of maturity' of BIM:
Level 0 describes unmanaged CAD (Computer Aided Design).
Level 1 describes managed CAD in 2D or 3D.
Level 2 involves developing building information in a collaborative 3D environment with data attached, but created in separate discipline models.
Level 3 has yet to be defined in detail, but it is thought that it will include a single, collaborative, online, project model including construction sequencing, cost and lifecycle management information.
In the UK, the Government Construction Strategy published in May 2011, stated that the '...Government will require fully collaborative 3D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016'. This represents a minimum requirement for level 2 BIM on centrally-procured public projects from April 2016.
The processes necessary to achieve level 2 BIM are set out in:
PAS 1192-2 Specification for information management for the capital/delivery phase of construction projects using Building Information Modelling.
PAS 1192-3 Specification for information management for the operational phase of construction projects using building information modelling.
These Publicly-Available Specifications are supported by a number of protocols, standards and tools:
CIC BIM Protocol. This establishes specific obligations, liabilities and limitations on the use of building information models and can be adopted by clients to mandate particular working practices. It can be incorporated into appointments or contracts by a model enabling amendment.
Uniclass2015. A classification system that can be used to organise information throughout all aspects of the design and construction process.
Industry Foundation Classes (IFC). The standard data format facilitating interoperability between different software systems.
COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange). A spreadsheet data format for the publication of a subset of building model information focused on delivering building information (rather than geometric modelling), such as; equipment lists, product data sheets, warranties, spare parts lists, preventive maintenance schedules and so on. COBie presents information in a more accessible format, so that it is easier to use and re-purpose. This is essential to support operations, maintenance and asset management once the built asset is in service.
BIM Toolkit. Developed by NBS, and offering a Digital Plan of Work to help define roles and responsibilities for preparing information and a verification tool to identify correctly classified objects and confirm that required data is present in the model.