Civic digital twin comment piece
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Digitisation – time to take the step towards a single truth

We all know when it comes to the journey towards digitisation that the built environment could be described as a relatively late adopter. With the ever increasing numbers of organisations involved in developments, huge amounts of data and sometimes conflicting agendas, we all recognise that the scope for error, duplication or partial analysis is enormous. Given this, surely it’s time we embrace the opportunities to take digital opportunities seriously and move towards a single source of the truth.

So, what’s possible?

Full digitisation of new-build planning (and development and operation) processes is in reach and would solve many of the issues we face. It would mean a centralised, online structured database providing a single source of the truth for a scheme, fully automated and linked to analysis from all those contributors, applying a common language.  There would be no more reconciliations or version control, just accurate, timely insights, analytics and benchmark data. And the benefits are tangible – better, faster analysis means informed decisions can be made more quickly. Better benchmarked performance data means more certainty and less risk. Taking time and risk out of the process reduces cost.

We know this won’t happen overnight, but digital innovations are emerging across the built environment at an increasingly rapid speed, including at the intersection of the built environment and the carbon reduction agenda.

What’s available for us to use?

  • C-Path is one such example, an easy-to-use online platform that enables the rapid planning of large-scale domestic retrofit projects by structuring and automating multiple property level datasets to calculate the cost, energy saving, carbon reduction and employment impacts of an extensive range of retrofit measures
  • Others are emerging, including platforms offering standardised planning data such as Landstack, digitising the property search and land decision such as Searchland or easily managing the construction management process such as Fonn

A huge opportunity exists for the built environment industry, with its multitude of stakeholders, landowners, communities and agencies, to work with emerging platforms to apply their proven development processes and technological building blocks (database structures, automation coding and dataset cleansing, embedded business logic, whole platform architecture) to more and more aspects of the sector. Manchester is just one example of a city where, through the Climate Change Partnership, it is looking at how it can create a platform for communication and collaboration on the progress to Net Zero so it can really understand how to fulfil the ambition to be a zero carbon city by 2038.

Our industry needs to embrace automated databases, hosting and visualising a building energy intensity baseline for our city’s buildings across various building typologies. This will showcase the work of leaders in the industry who are exhibiting best practice and leadership in their projects’ construction and performance, with the aim of bolstering a market for more highly performing buildings. It will create momentum within the sector by rewarding leaders with exposure, and incentivising those lagging behind to catch up, as well as creating a valuable evidence base.

And where next?

It could be moving towards an end-to-end encrypted digital twin or ‘logbook’ for every new building. Or a platform-based market for structuring and securing building contractors, funders, multi-use utility contracts, or all of the above or something we haven’t even fully conceived of yet. One thing can be stated for sure – it will be characterised by open-source data, an increasing appreciation of the benefits of collaboration and one single version of the truth.

Stephen O’Malley is founding director of Civic Engineers; Gareth Robertson is director of Via Analytics

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