28 JUN 2021


A new report from Arup and the Open Data Institute (ODI) has highlighted how outdated methods of data sharing within the built environment are holding back innovation, from smart cities to energy efficient buildings.

The report is calling for the adoption of Data Infrastructure for Market Openness – an Open Banking-style method of data sharing. The report argues that doing so would move the built environment beyond bilateral data sharing agreements, enabling data to be effectively deployed in tackling the challenges facing the built world, particularly the journey to becoming net zero.

Arup and the ODI are urging the industry to move beyond the current default model for sharing data that they say slows the process down. They warn that data infrastructure needs to be maintained and upgraded just as physical infrastructure does. The report outlines three different approaches to improving data sharing:

  • Establishment of global or national trusts: that pool data from multiple organisations to pursue shared goals, allowing data to be aggregated and analysed. For example, in the agricultural sector, Digital Earth Africa (originally the Africa Regional Data Cube) harnesses open data from satellite imagery to help Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Tanzania address issues relating to agriculture, food security, deforestation, urbanisation, water access and more.
  • Coordinating decentralised publishing initiatives: industry-wide collaborations that involve organisations publishing or sharing data using open standards. Examples of these initiatives include Open Banking, OpenActive and OpenContracting – they define a standard model for accessing, using and sharing specific types of data across an industry.
  • Data sharing agreements: which are the current default but can still play their part – in particular data sharing with researchers and start-ups as part of open-innovation models. An example of this was the EU-funded Data Pitch challenge programme which used data sharing agreements between organisations to tackle challenges such as future-proofing supply chains, smart manufacturing and new approaches to reducing traffic congestion.

In the UK, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is consulting on plans to mandate a minimum ‘B’ energy efficiency rating on commercial properties by 2030, requiring the modernisation of one-million buildings. Arup and the ODI argue that promoting better sharing data could hugely accelerate this transformation. For example, smart buildings that can share their operational performance will allow other buildings to make significant changes to reduce their CO2 footprint.

In the report, Exploring new approaches for sharing data in the built environment, the authors note that data collected from urban infrastructure including traffic lights, bridges and office buildings is not being utilised to its full potential. The process of cleansing and refining data so it is useful is currently being taken on by individual companies which makes it prohibitively expensive. There are still very few global examples of high intelligence infrastructure assets which both collect data and correlate it with external data sources to make sophisticated predictions, bringing increased efficiency and resilience.

Volker Buscher, chief data officer at Arup, said: “Millions of exabytes of useful data are being stored and not refined, used or shared. The cost of unlocking value is currently disproportionally high for data processing, hindering investment. Embracing new ways of sharing data will not only increase industry-wide collaboration, but it will lead to more innovation in solving the world’s biggest challenges in the long-term, particularly reaching Net Zero”.

Stuart Coleman, ODI director, said: “Data has a critical role to play in helping us tackle the most significant social, environmental and economic challenges of our time. Working on these challenges requires sharing data not just within organisations, but also between partners and across sectors. This requires investment in the data infrastructure that can help us to use data well. This report with Arup is aimed at bringing this issue into focus for the built environment so we can move to better data sharing.”   

The authors of the report predict that the economic potential of creating value from this data could be in the same magnitude as that of the Open Banking initiative. This stimulated innovation in the banking sector added value to customers and service providers and, according to Allied Market Research’s 2019 report on the Open Banking Market Outlook, is now being replicated worldwide at a market value of $43bn by 2026.


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