Big data in the design industry

Cyber crime customer dataOver the last few years we’ve heard the term “big data” bandied about as a development that will change the economy. It is easy to see why. We are living in an era where the processing power of everyday devices is enormous. A cell phone often has as much raw processing power as a laptop and the ability to generate and transmit incredible amounts of data.

The “internet of things (IoT)” is another development that has contributed to the generation of enormous amounts of data. The IoT is a system of interrelated computing devices that have the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human or direct computer interaction. It is now the case that almost all of the facilities that are the physical manifestations of the design services that architects and engineers work in (at least in the US) are located in an environment where data is able to always flow. That flow of data is why we are seeing increased interest in big data applications and solutions in the A&E field.

In addition to generating and transmitting tremendous amounts of data, the development of cloud computing means that we have the ability to effectively process big data. Cloud computing means that remote-located computer servers can store, manage, and process all received data at incredible speeds. The availability of cloud computing means that there is access to huge amounts of computing power at a reasonable price on an as-needed basis.

Specific to the A&E world, big data can come from a number of sources. There is data from internal computer systems that are used in the planning, design, and procurement phases. Facility users themselves can generate useful data since they are most often tethered to a cell phone that generates and transmits data. The facility can have IoT embedded sensors that can provide real-time information that relates to crucial physical conditions such as light, temperature, and other conditions. Geo-spatial data generated from mobile devices and RFID sensors are also another source of data. And vision-based sensing technology can generate constant data streams that can be used in the design and construction phases.

The increased digitization of information and big data can produce significant value for certain project participants, especially the owner. The current design tools that A&E firms use typically don’t use big data as a tool set. Collecting big data or obtaining access to a data repository is a huge challenge in the industry because the raw data often exists in separate silos. Current project delivery models don’t support the design profession in accessing the information. Even if the raw data was available, design and construction firms typically don’t have the skill set to perform big data analyses to identify potential correlations. In future blog posts, we will look at some proposed solutions that leverage big data and how A&E firms can develop strategies to meaningfully take part in this brave new digitized world.

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