I am a structural engineer, Arup Fellow and...
We’re in the middle of an information explosion. More data will be created and stored in the next 18 months than in the whole of history to date. And I believe this data will be most valuable if it’s shared openly (to the greatest extent possible – some data is private or commercially sensitive) and used effectively.
The Australian government has chosen to make all public data available for the common good, for free – with a service charge that is no more than the cost of providing it. You could argue this makes sense for public data, but what about data owned by private companies?
It looks as though Google has decided its future value is based entirely on the data it generates through its services, so it’s unlikely to give it away. But I think anyone owning data in this way needs to realise that it isn’t the data itself that’s valuable, it’s what you do with it that creates the value – the services that you provide with the data.
Take building information modelling (BIM), for example. It’s something the industry has created to help design and construct projects, but it’s potentially much more than this. BIM introduces the idea that for every physical asset there could be a virtual equivalent.
Shouldn’t a building that has its own digital definition be more valuable than one that doesn’t? It should be easier to manage, renovate or even demolish. All those things would be easier if you have what is, in effect, a full set of instructions for your asset. And these instructions should belong to the asset.
Take this further. Imagine a scenario where we effectively have three built environments – two virtual and one physical. The first virtual environment would be where you tried things out, experimented with different interventions – a test or development environment. The second virtual environment would run in parallel with, and be connected to, the real world, helping you optimise its performance in real time; receiving real time feedback data and providing real time instructions.
I think this would produce the best possible built environment. And to achieve it, you’d need data to be shared freely. You’d have to choose when you wanted companies to compete and when you wanted them to collaborate.
In this world, organisations like Arup would have to be what I call “increasingly porous”. We’d have to be more and more open to collaboration; we’d have to embrace ideas like crowd-sourcing to find value. And this will require sharing data.
As a step towards this, we’ve created the Arup Data Hub. When fully developed, everyone inside the firm will be able to see all the data for all the projects we’ve ever done – unless we have agreed not to of course. But in the future should we open this up to people outside the firm too?
Do you think this would help us make the world a better place by finding new ways to collaborate, or do you think we’d be giving away data that’s inherently valuable? I’d be interested to hear your views.