City-Insights potentially does more than ‘tell stories about places’ – as a mobile web tool, it could be used by construction and property professionals for a host of hyper-local internal and external communication purposes.
The recent COMIT* community day, as usual, welcomed some new members and a few guests. Among the former was City-Insights, a young (c. 2013) angel-backed startup based in The Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey in south-east London. After hearing founder Tim Gardom’s brief introduction to the company, I immediately wanted to know more and, after a brief conversation at the COMIT event, we had a follow-up meeting, including his colleagues Mike Gardom and Mohammed Rahman, in the ‘Almond’ building at the former Peek Frean factory last week.
City-Insights has created an HTML5-based toolset that works across all popular smartphones and tablets, along with a supporting cloud-based content management system (Tim said clients can learn to use the system “in anything from 25 minutes to four hours”; the company can also manage content for its clients, if they prefer). In Tim’s words, the mobile application “tells stories about places”.
Tim’s background is in heritage and museum-related projects, but the scope for City-Insights is much wider, and the business has identified property developer and contractor clients as targets for the solution. Essentially, City-Insights allows a customer to share interactive multi-media content specific to particular locations or contexts, and to update that content as the location develops. End-users might scan a QR code, use near-field communication (NFC), click a link, receive a text message or even just use their device to recognise an image; the result will be access to rich multi-media content relevant to the end-user’s location and information needs.
A developer might use the solution for local community engagement (it can be used for surveys too), or to explain features to potential buyers or tenants, while a contractor might use it to brief subcontractors, support handover documentation or streamline maintenance.
Example use cases included use by the King’s Cross Partnership and developer Argent at London’s King’s Cross area to create a digital heritage trail (KXplore – Update (17 August 2015) – launched), celebrating the area’s industrial past while also communicating rich background about its future development. Videos, photographs, audio files and interactive text-based data could all be accessed to share information about the past, present and future of specific structures, spaces or objects.
Update (27 August 2015) – City-Insights’ digital heritage trail at King’s Cross is launching over the bank holiday weekend as part of the Curious? Knowledge festival. Sales and business development director Mohammed told me: “We’re proud to have developed this with Argent and the King’s Cross Partnership and delighted that it’s going to be a permanent part of their offer to visitors.”
In collaboration with housing associations such as Octavia Housing and Family Mosaic, City Insights has explore new ways of delivering information about equipment and buildings to housing tenants and subcontractors.
Fit-out specialist Overbury has deployed the application to provide progress information for client visitors to ongoing developments. Material includes profiles of workers, video interviews, archive photographs, time-lapse imagery (reusing 4D BIM visualisations), and slider-controlled progress photographs – with content shareable by Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (and, yes, we talked about using LinkedIn too – particularly relevant to a professional audience well versed in use of that social media).
And – showing the toolset can be used equally for different phases of a development – Overbury is also planning to use it for handover support; for example, when a tenant or new owner starts to occupy a space, the tool can be used to provide online ‘how to’ information about installed equipment (potentially saving numerous face-to-face briefings).
The application’s mobile focus is timely:
- First, we increasingly prefer to access data on our mobile devices. According to Ofcom’s 2015 report on media use, two-thirds of UK adults now use smartphones (compared to 30% in 2010), with use in the 16-44 age group around 87%. Tablet use lags, at around 45% for the same age group, but adoption remains on an upward trend. Moreover, these devices are immediately familiar and simple to use, enabling both professional and lay (re)use of data and content.
- Second, many professionals in the built environment sector are increasingly focused on capturing and reusing data, particularly to support future occupation and use of built assets (‘soft landings’ was mentioned a few times). BIM has started to focus people’s minds beyond construction and handover, and – in the process – we are creating data that can be efficiently re-purposed for reuse by owners, occupiers, visitors, tourists, maintainers and others.
- I was also interested in the potential to capture location-specific stories that capture ‘social history’. City-Insights could be used to record photos, a video interview, or background information about someone working on a project that could later be viewed by historians or anyone interested in how an asset was delivered. We talked at length about how the platform might be used to tell stories associated with major projects; the London Bridge station redevelopment, Crossrail, HS2 and Thames Tideway are just some of the epic contemporary projects we might compare to Bazalgette’s London sewerage network, the Manchester Ship Canal or Scotland’s hydroelectric schemes; and we wandered off on tangents including QRpedia (post), the UCL Bartlett’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and Andy Hudson-Smith’s Tales of Things, too.
- City-Insights offers a 2015 alternative to tools I’ve previously seen, such as UK-based ResidentsHQ or Finland’s Howzee (post) that created hyper-local information services to manage the tenant/property management communications at the level of individual blocks. City-Insights potentially narrows that down to individual apartments, rooms and even items of equipment.
- The application potentially complements platforms such as StickyWorld (post; and, before that, YouCanPlan), which have used gaming engines, panoramic 3D photography, video and social media tools to enable interactive community consultation projects.
- As a PR professional, I can also see great potential in the platform to provide new mobile ways to communicate with a range of publics – investors, potential customers or tenants, employees, local residents, tourist visitors, suppliers, etc – regarding different aspects of built environment projects, from early planning stages through delivery to post-handover occupation and use. And, importantly, the PR team will be able to access analytics and measure how frequently the tool is used and what information is accessed, helping them judge the success of their place-centric story-telling.
[* Disclosure: I am a member of the COMIT steering group; Stickyworld is a past pwcom.co.uk client.]