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Revisited: Is data the new currency?

As Invennt prepare to lead a roundtable with the Institution of Civil Engineers about the transformative potential of data, Ben Pritchard revisits the question he posed last November, “Is data the new currency?”

Data is transforming industries at pace. Can construction keep up?

Last November, I sought to answer the question, “Is data the new currency?”in a blog ahead of  Constructing Excellence’s Annual Conference. In the wake of a series of high profile scandals and the subsequent explosion in column inches devoted to big data and its misuse, I have decided to revisit my original blog.

In that blog I posed the question, if currency is how we create and exchange economic value, are moving into an era where data has enough economic value to be considered a form of currency?

With GDPR, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica dominating the headlines today, that couldn’t be more current. But what, if anything, do these scandals mean for the construction industry, and will GDPR halt the march to sharing data and its potential monetisation?

Almost everything we do in our industry creates data. Environmental performance, operating costs, foot traffic, employee wellbeing and BIM to name just a few. IOT sensors, 4D programmes, and all sorts of tech are constantly collecting new data, but do we appreciate the value of the data being generated and in light of recent events, should we pause for thought?

Our roundtable with the ICE will focus on how data could be the untapped goldmine for productivity. Sky’s approach to marginal gains is still one of the more famous examples where consideration to every aspect of the race, the material, the people and the tools are considered with vast amounts of data looked through for every potential gain.

In my original blog I mentioned a speaker from IBM who explained that system inefficiency was costing the building and transport infrastructure sector £12.5Bn. Imagine what we as an industry could do if we unlocked even a fraction of this. Especially when you consider that the risks are smaller than recent events might lead you to think.

To put it into context, the vast majority of the data generated by social networks and online retailers is personal and sensitive, whereas most of the data generated by construction is impersonal and anonymous. This bypasses many of the risks and exempts construction from many of the more onerous aspects of new regulations.

But we still need to consider the risks associated with personal or sensitive data as there are opportunistic people who are prepared to improperly obtain and exploit this data for their own ends. So, we need to be cautious, but we shouldn’t let this caution get in the way of monetising anonymous data where the risks are small or non-existent.

With this in mind, we must be bold when it comes to utilising our data and extracting the value, economic of otherwise found within our data.

In my original blog I used the example of a dataset that can provide an underpinned cost and programme for Crossrail 2. The government would find immense value in this, but how do we assign economic value to this data?

The answer to that question is simple. You create a marketplace. Once you have a marketplace, you have supply and demand which serves as a price discovery mechanism and once you have a price discovery mechanism you can determine the value of the data.

But where does open data fit in? The idea of giving away data to enhance its value might be counterintuitive, but datasets have great opportunity to generate value through further examination and the addition of context, knowledge and application.

Open data providers enable data aggregators to manipulate the data and create functional applications that provide a service for others. TFL have several examples where the release of traffic and infrastructure data have created new apps to maximise people’s ability and efficiency in utilising public transport within London. As captured in a recent article from the Guardian, an estimate from TFL puts the savings at more than £130m per annum.

So we can easily measure the economic benefit caused by the provision and sharing of data, but could we put a value directly on the data itself? If TFL tried to sell the data would anyone be interested and would any of the apps, some of which you probably have on your phone have been created?

Is data a new currency? I believe that with the right infrastructure it certainly could be. But whatever happens, data is essential to improving construction and generating new forms of revenue for the industry.  I know it will be difficult, but I have faith that the industry has what it takes to rise to the occasion.

Ben Pritchard

Ben joined invennt from Magnox Ltd where as a Framework manager in the Nuclear Decommissioning sector he led the procurement and commercial management of a range of frameworks and projects covering demolition, new construction, refurbishment and retrieval, processing and conditioning of waste.

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