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Will International Standardization Make Data Flow in the Built Environment?

Some see standards as hindrances to development; others think the opposite is true. A Finnish strategy project argues that complying with international digital standards would both improve productivity and open up new business opportunities for built environment stakeholders.

In early 2018, the Finnish Ministry of the Environment launched a project to devise a national strategy for comprehensive implementation of international standards in built environment information management. It was part of the government’s KIRA-digi digitalization project.

The so-called RASTI project was set out to create a vision for 2030 and a road map on how to reach it. The ministry chose a team of industry experts to carry out the project. The project is now completed, and its report is available in Finnish at rastiprojekti.com.

The Challenge

Real estate and construction industries would benefit from an uninterrupted flow of information between organizations and across life cycle processes. The friction-free flow would boost productivity, improve process and service quality, and empower users of the built environment.

Interoperability requires agreements between the sender and receiver of data. That’s where standards come into play. Without common standards, it’s difficult or impossible to automate processes. When data is not machine-readable by default, humans must interpret, edit, and augment it manually to make it useful.

There’s no shortage of information management standards. In fact, there are around 150 in use already in the real estate and construction industries. Some of them overlap and some of them are local.

What prevents data flow in the construction sector

Real estate technologies are inherently global. Building owners and investor expect to use the same digital tools and data formats wherever the asset is. Likewise, digital construction solutions are not bound to a certain market, even if the information follows local practices and regulations.

“If the situation is not fully clear, the organizations may create solutions of their own. Having many different sets of standards makes it more difficult for the organizations to work together, which is then reflected as weaker productivity. Following international standards would also improve the opportunities of Finnish companies on the international markets,” said Teemu Lehtinen, chief digital officer of the KIRA-digi project.

The Potential

In their 2018 report on construction, World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting state: “Within a decade, full-scale digitization could help the industry escape its decades-long stagnation and generate an estimated 12-20% in annual cost savings, equal to between $1 trillion and $1.7 trillion, according to our estimates.”

It is debatable how much the potential of digitalization depends on successful use of standards. The RASTI project estimated that direct savings from better flow of information in 2030 would total around EUR 300 million in Finland alone. The total effect of digitalization would be billions of euros.

The benefits derive from four main sources:

  • Construction productivity picks up and the quality of operations improves when the right information is at the right time at the right place and is machine-readable
  • The use of resources becomes more efficient as redundant information management tasks can be eliminated and logistics optimized
  • The level of services rises when all the necessary information is at the participants’ disposal
  • Citizen and user involvement become easier with open data and interoperable services
RASTI: Main built environment processes

What are the Standards RASTI Talks About?

RASTI focused on information standards for buildings, infrastructure, and geolocations. There are open and closed standards, “official” and industry standards, and global and local ones.

The development of data-related standards can be divided into three categories:

1) Structures and methods: Open BIM data exchange standards, e.g., building IFC, geospatial data GML, CityGML, InfraGML, and InfraModel.

2) Classifications and operational environments: Dictionaries for various fields in the built environment—building, infrastructure, operations and maintenance, etc.

3) Instances or activities: Individual properties of a data component. The format, presentation requirements, and the way data is stored must be normalized so that information can be used for automated data exchange.

The Vision and the Road Map

The RASTI team developed a vision of a future where data sharing in the built environment is based on international open standards. According to the vision, in 2030, well-defined and regulated data flows comprehensively across the life cycle of the built environment. Information services and systems are interoperable and support industry’s operations comprehensively.

The RASTI road map outlines the steps that will take Finland to the vision by 2030. The road map is very ambitious but attainable, provided there’s industry-wide commitment. The availability of open data from the government and cities in standardized formats is an essential prerequisite for success.

The RASTI Road Map 2018-2030

Several Finnish organizations take part in international standardization efforts undertaken by ISO the global level and CEN at the European level. As one of the first steps, RASTI proposes the establishment of a national body to coordinate information management standardization in the industry.

The results of RASTI serve the overall harmonization efforts to digitalize the Finnish built environment. Similar programs are taking place in Sweden, UK, and Germany, to name a few.

Mobility and other urban data will converge with data of the built environment. Therefore, in the near future, we’re going to need horizontal and cross-industry standards. RASTI will, hopefully, be the flywheel that keeps the industry rolling toward an openly interoperable future.

Visit rastiprojekti.com for more information.

About the author

Aarni Heiskanen

Aarni Heiskanen, Construction Innovation Agent, Partner at AE Partners, a content marketing firm for the AEC industry

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