Supplementing the built environment with an additional dimension of data comes with the challenge of creating an interface between the physical and the digital.

conrad davies

Conrad Davies

The multi-layered structure of interests in real estate between the owner and the end user is a further challenge, and installed digital systems in a building may be controlled by third parties.

Standardisation and interoperability across systems cannot be assumed and are not yet seen as necessary. Consequently, data can end up siloed, its uses constrained and the full digital picture sliced into fragments.

Data can enhance the operational efficiency of a building, improve its sustainability, monitor the safety of its occupants, underpin valuable services for tenants and users and feed into design improvements for future builds. Increasingly, investors and developers need a data strategy to shape a consistent and coherent approach. What data should buildings collect? Who controls it? Will it be shared for free? Who can access it? What uses can it be put to?

Data strategy and governance are not just issues for the IT team; some aspects are operational but many have a legal angle. Data privacy compliance is important, but there are many more categories of data than personal data and more to data strategy and governance than GDPR compliance.


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The launch point for releasing the value in data is an understanding of what data the business holds and what rights and obligations attach to it. The matrix of legal rights and obligations around a dataset might come from regulation, from the contracts or licences under which it was obtained, or from intellectual property rights. Digital data also needs to be protected in terms of information security – again, this is partly an operational issue for the IT specialists, but contractual protections and procedures such as supply chain cybersecurity audits are powerful risk management tools.

As our post-pandemic use of the built environment evolves, data can help drive better-informed investment and management decisions, more flexible, sustainable spaces and an enriched experience for users of the space.

Conrad Davies is head of urban dynamics at Osborne Clarke