Data and technology will be key enablers of the enhanced performance of our built environment

The United Nations estimates that the built environment contributes to 40 per cent of global energy use. Our infrastructure will therefore need to perform more efficiently to respond to the climate crisis we face; it will need to become more affordable and more effective in how it delivers services to improve outcomes to support our society and growth.

The performance of our infrastructure (from schools and housing, to health centres and public sector buildings) can be defined in many ways across its lifespan. How well it is constructed and the social benefits this delivers; how well it is used and maintained; the carbon footprint it generates and the amount of energy it consumes when operational.

What we also know, is that digital data and technologies will be a key enabler to achieve this enhanced performance of our infrastructure across its lifecycle. A report by Ernst & Young, “Digital Twin; The age of Aquarius in construction and real estate”, published in May 2021, estimated that “digital real estate” can derive a 35 per cent improvement in building maintenance and operational efficiency and could deliver a 50 per cent improvement in sustainability and resilience.

Today, the public sector in Scotland has an opportunity to embrace these digital approaches and be a catalyst for change in a move towards the digital estate. Work is underway across Scotland’s built environment to explore the value and opportunity of increasing the use of digital technologies in our public sector estates to deliver game-changing improvements.

Infrastructure expert, the Scottish Futures Trust, has facilitated this discussion through a national Digital Estate & Infrastructure Group to share learning across public sector organisations. The foundation for the digital estate is information management, and we are becoming better at how we collect, manage and leverage the data we hold on our estate to deliver data led decisions.

Another report by KMPG, “The value of Information Management in the Construction & Infrastructure Sector”, said that for every £1 invested in information management, £6.90 to £7.40 would be saved in direct costs associated with construction. Once the foundations of information management that embed open data standards are in place, this will provide the ideal conditions for technologies to thrive and deliver new insights and advancements.

We are also seeing the growth of digital twinning technologies. A “digital twin” as defined by Cambridge Digital Built Britain, is “a realistic digital representation of something physical, what distinguishes a digital twin from any other digital model is its connection to the physical twin.”In practice, we are seeing the growth of new sensors being deployed in buildings to supplement digital models of our assets. These sensors provide real time collection of data and insight commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).

CENSIS, the centre of excellence for IoT based in Glasgow, continues to collaborate and look to explore the opportunities of IoT within our built environment. Scottish-based technology and consultancy firm IES in partnership with Glasgow Life, showcased the value of digital twinning technology on the Riverside Museum.

Through improved information management and senor technology, this delivered a 26 per cent reduction in gas consumption, an 18 per cent reduction in electricity consumption and the payback was achieved in six months through £52,000 in annual savings. How we scale this approach will be a key enable to deliver an estate that can meet our budgetary and net zero needs.

The other key themes for the digital estate are the people and process factors. This new capability derived from the information and technologies is only as effective as the people and processes available to leverage it. The importance of investment in skills, training and alignment to national standards and processes, will create a sustainable approach to the digital estate.

To unlock the opportunity of the digital estate will require improved data requirements, processes and leadership within a co-ordinated system of innovation and collaboration. There must be a focus on ensuring solutions are safe, secure, scalable and sustainable to deliver their value now, but also maintain and improve on those benefits into the future to support a digitally enabled sustainable net zero built environment.

Partner Content produced in Association with Scottish Futures Trust