Information management of assets and risks: the new data protocol explained

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Data standards experts Chris Lees and Nick Nisbet, both members of the BRAC golden thread working group, have developed a new data protocol to help improve the management of risks in the design, construction and management of new homes in scope of the Building Safety Act – and buildings more widely. They explain the concept to Denise Chevin.

In a nutshell what is the new protocol aiming to do?

Our new protocol aims to provide a structure for managing digital information about built assets and risks, to get beyond narrative explanations of risks and into clear, explicit data.

The protocol provides practical guidance for those specifying the digital format of built asset data from concept, through the delivery/construction and occupation phases, to the end of occupation, and gives context for other stakeholders in the process. It is therefore applicable and relevant to a wide range of roles across all property industries and asset classes.

It’s set out in a new paper: Information, risk, and built asset management.

It sets out recommendations for how to structure the information to meet these demands – in a consistent, persistent, and shareable format.

What’s the problem the new protocol is aiming to solve?

The management of risk relating to the built environment is increasing in importance. This increase is driven by several factors, including safety, the environment and sustainability, social value, and governance (ESG). Risk information is needed for use in a growing number of regulatory frameworks, including environmental and safety, as well as a large selection of reporting frameworks.

If this risk is to be better managed, we feel there’s a need to turn comforting prose into hard-and-fast data that inescapably tracks risks and progress – whether good or bad.

What happens now?

Current practice relies heavily on the preparation and receipt of documents, and this is reflected on many of the existing standards and recommendations. This approach causes many issues across the built environment. In response to the many failings of this approach, the government (through the Building Safety Act) is giving priority to the provision of digital information for buildings in scope of the new more stringent regime. This is to improve transparency, accuracy, checking and accountability.

These requirements will initially not cover all buildings and the government has yet to set out details of what exactly they will be mandating with regard to digital information management.

Chris Lees’ credentials

Chris Lees is the technical director of OSCRE, the Open Standards Consortium for Real Estate, and chairs the Real Estate Data Foundation’s data standard steering group, whose purposes include the promotion of good practice in collaborative data standards development, and convergence and co-operation between data standards in the sector.

He is delivery lead for the HACT UK Housing Data Standards, chair of the Housing Asset Data Group, and is an independent consultant on data management, analytics, and workplace occupancy.

Is your new protocol aimed at new or existing buildings? 

It is aimed at all buildings, and accommodates the fact that there will be more detailed information available about new builds compared to the existing stock. Industry may choose to implement the approach to ensure they are managing their information effectively to any built asset

How does the new protocol work?

To effectively manage risks, we believe that they need to be properly linked to other information. What we are talking about here is creating a web of information about built assets and risks that can be ‘navigated’ to quickly find any relevant information – much like the worldwide web started to do in the 1990s. Once the information is linked together in such a web, both people and machines can quickly find information and present it to the right people at the right time.

So instead of documents being the sole vehicle for the exchange of information, the management of the risk and asset information requires that the manageable entities (as described in section 3) should be represented as named objects with their relationships and attributes. The role of documents within information management is then clarified into two distinct purposes. First, documents may be generated on demand as presentations from the asset and risk information. Second, documents may be held electronically and as physical records to act as evidence, supporting and validating the information as necessary.

How did the collaboration between you come about? 

We’ve been collaborating for more than 18 months to explore how existing standards could be applied, as well as low-tech documentation to describe this web of information in a consistent way for all stakeholders in buildings and throughout the whole construction and operational phases. We realised that the detail of the standards exists, but often it is the context and structure at a higher level that people need to understand in order to take advantage of having digital information.

How would building owners go about implementing it?

For new builds, the key is getting the various specifications of information requirement – and in particular the asset information requirement and project information requirements – right: in short, specify the structure and format you want – either one of the existing standard data formats or your own tabular format that follow the same structures laid out in the paper.

The specification must ensure that the organisational needs for information can be met and that they in turn meet any regulatory or reporting requirements that apply for the organisation, and in doing so represent the data in a way it can be easily presented to all of the relevant stakeholders and shared in the supply chain and elsewhere as needed.

Nick Nisbet’s credentials

Nick Nisbet has been involved in the development of BIM and asset information models since 1976. He co-authored The business case for BIM, submitted to the Department for Business in 2009 and worked with the UK Government BIM Task Group from 2010-2014.

He is an independent consultant active in the development of buildingSMART, ISO, CEN and BSI standards. He leads the buildingSMART Regulatory Room and is vice-chair of buildingSMART UKI. He is co-lead of the CDBB DCOM research network on digital compliance and the technical author of ISO 19650-4 and ISO 12911.

For existing buildings, the challenge is twofold: first, adapting your digital information and the systems that hold it to follow the same formats, as would be required for new builds. In addition, the existing stock will then need to be reviewed and in some cases surveyed to collect enough information to meet the organisation requirements, starting with the priority risks. Again, however, the key is that once this investment has been made, it is protected and preserved by storing the information in a shareable structure and format.

Does it dovetail with existing standards – and how?

Yes, this was fundamental to the way we approached the question: let’s not reinvent the wheel and instead examine whether the existing work that has been done is fit for purpose. There were some gaps but overwhelmingly the existing structures and data standards measured up well to the job.

What would you like to see happen next?

We wrote this paper to help answer questions we were being asked by people in organisations preparing themselves for the Building Safety Act. However, the principles here are not specific to the Act or even just safety-related risks – they apply just as much to other kinds of risks like environmental or financial risks, and can be used for most building asset classes.

We hope that the paper will provide immediate help to organisations addressing these challenges now, and also be a more useful resource to organisations longer term that want to digitalise their risk management processes.

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