The Increasing Importance of Big Data in the Building Sector

Nick Natsoulis
3 Minutes Read
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    Construction and energy are often regarded as traditional industries, with business models that change slowly over time. However, modern information technologies are bringing innovation and disruption to all sectors, including construction and energy. Suddenly, developers have access to huge data volumes about the construction process and building energy usage. All this information can be overwhelming, but also a valuable asset if managed properly.

    Building projects start generating data even before their construction, and the following are some examples:

    • Modern construction equipment includes onboard GPS and telematics. These systems produce continuous data about equipment location and movement.

    • Project sites are often equipped with weather stations, to track conditions that are unsuitable for construction work. Sudden gusts of wind are particularly dangerous.

    • The design and approval process of a building also produces plenty of data.

    • With eventual modifications and upgrades, the building gradually becomes different from the approved design.

    • Once in operation, a building experiences variable occupancy depending on its purpose and schedule. In addition, utility bills provide a snapshot of how the property uses electricity, gas and water.

    This data has always existed, but it was invisible before the adoption of modern communication technologies. As more devices and building systems are equipped with Internet connectivity, data can be gathered continuously.

    Communication technologies also make data much more accessible. Instead of handling complex databases, or even physical files in the case of older projects, technology allows the retrieval of key data within seconds.

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    Using Data During Design and Construction

    There are significant benefits when development companies adopt data management as one of their business processes:

    • Abundant and detailed data allows better decisions during project planning and design.

    • The management of materials and man-hours has been one of the main challenges in construction, but the task can be simplified greatly with big data.

    • Another significant benefit is accurate budgeting, which reduces financial risk.

    Increase use of connected equipment also improves visibility of the construction process. Project managers can only visit construction sites one at a time, but they can use computers or mobile devices to track simultaneous data from multiple locations.


    Design tools have also evolved to indicate project data more effectively. For example, conventional 2D drawings have evolved into complex building models that include material properties and equipment specifications.

    • These smart models allow simultaneous work from multiple design teams, and conflicting specifications can be detected immediately.

    • Design conflicts are more likely with the conventional approach, where teams work separately on 2D drawings. For example, equipment location conflicts that remain undetected until the construction phase can lead to expensive modifications.

    Big data allows the analysis of factors that were previously very difficult to manage, if not impossible. For example, weather risks in construction can be mitigated with smart monitoring devices, and historic data can be used to predict a project’s impact on local traffic.

    Historic data from previous projects can be used to manage subsequent ones more effectively. As a construction company gathers a large database, it can estimate the cost and time requirements of activities more accurately.

    Using Big Data to Manage Existing Buildings More Effectively

    Buildings have many “vital signs” that can be monitored and recorded, and property managers can use them to take better decisions. Utility bills are an excellent example, since they automatically produce a record of resource consumption. This data can be processed further by a smart platform, obtaining less evident metrics such as carbon emissions and seasonal variation in the use of certain resources.

    Smart data is very valuable when selecting and designing building upgrades. For example, data from occupants can be used to identify the most critical upgrades, and utility bills can be used to prioritize equipment replacements. Data can also be used to determine which upgrades bring little or no benefit, freeing up their budget to be used elsewhere.

    Building data is also a very effective maintenance tool, since it can indicate anomalies when performance issues are still small and easy to fix. Proactive maintenance is much more effective than corrective maintenance, bringing less disruption and expenses.

    The building models produced by modern design software become useful management tools after project completion. Unlike 2D drawings, digital building models are dynamic documents that can be updated to reflect actual building conditions. They are very useful when planning and designing upgrades, and can be used to keep track of conditions that require maintenance.


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    Tags : smart buildings building data big data internet of things

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