Making data standards more discoverable

Finding the right information in the right format at the right time heightens the need for data standards, says a recent report from the UK’s RED Foundation.

With the explosion in creation of data and the resulting challenges this poses for finding the right information in the right format at the right time, two recent UK reports have highlighted the need to improve discoverability.

The first was the CKTG’s metadata standard for discoverable construction knowledge, published in August 2020 (see Standardising discoverable construction knowledge). The latest is a report from the UK-based Real Estate Data Foundation, which explores the role of standards in the flow of data across real estate, and explores some of the standards available in the UK today, including a good many that are also internationally used.

RED Foundation

RED Foundation logoThe RED Foundation is an initiative set up to ensure the real estate sector benefits from an increased use of data, avoids some of the risks that this presents and is better placed to serve society. It looks to connect people, projects and initiatives around the topic of data in the built environment, and to raise the sector’s engagement with the ethical challenges that the use of data can present. Another foundation project is looking at compiling a directory of UK public data relating to real estate.

The foundation is supported by supported by the British Property Federation, Geovation, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institute of Residential Property Management, RICS, the Property Ombudsman, the University College of Estate Management and the UK PropTech Association. (In August 2020, the IET published a report on data – read: Engineers seek ‘Good data for the public good’.)

The report, The role of standards in enabling a data driven UK real estate market (downloadable here), was funded by the UCEM Harold Samuel Research Prize and produced by Dan Hughes of Alpha Property Insight.

The role of data standards

The report argues that in an increasingly digital and data-driven world, how the built environment adapts will be key for its success. The sector is seeing exponential growth in the data that is available, and greater emphasis on outcomes and on lifecycle views of decisions. The paper helps set the scene for a sector-wide discussion on what is available, what is needed and what people may need to do.

Hughes undertook a high-level review of what standards (interpreted in the broadest sense of the word) are available in the UK and which have an influence over creation, management or use of data. The report provides a visualisation of the many well-established standards, but highlights that they often tend to be focused on either a specific stage of the building lifecycle or job function. It argues: “As data is increasingly needed to inform decisions beyond the building stage or job function within which it was created, standards will need to facilitate data increasingly being used by an ever-wider variety of people.”

RED Foundation report data standards visualisation

The report also identified that awareness of all the standards available in the market was not high beyond the sector to which they were originally applied. This means that adoption and wider use of data is limited., and also leads to some overlapping or similar standards being created in isolation.

Headline findings

RED Foundation data standards report coverBeyond the flow of data, there are other challenges that the sector faces such as the discoverability of the standards available, and clarity about who is responsible for what. The report wonders how do we make sure that the flow of data works when the application of standards for collecting, managing and using data is often by very different parties.

The six key headlines from the report are summarised:

  1. Real estate has a well-established and robust set of standards about the creation, management and use of data.
  2. This often leads to an increased quality of data available in the sector.
  3. To truly realise the benefits of data in the future, data must be able to flow freely across the whole
    sector beyond the existing silos; standards have a key role to play in this.
  4. Existing standards need to be more valued and more easily discoverable to ensure wider adoption and to avoid reinventing wheels.
  5. The value and cost of standards and data needs to be recognised fairly, especially when the value might be recognised by a different party other than the one incurring the cost.
  6. It will become increasingly complex for a professional of the future to be able to have clarity or take responsibility for the data that they use and the standards that influence this data.

Next steps

The report recommends future steps in four areas:

  • Improve discoverability – industry and standard setting bodies should work together to improve the discoverability of standards relating to the creation, management and use of data. This should cover all aspects of the real estate sector.
  • Increase connectivity – standard setting bodies should explore ways of improving the connections between standards. For example, this might include a small number of agreed elements or items that are common to all standards moving forward.
  • Understand value – industry bodies and standard setting bodies should carry out a campaign to raise awareness of the value of standards across the real estate sector. This should include highlighting the cost of maintaining standards and governance.
  • The role of people – the whole real estate sector must come together to clarify the role of people in the use of standards. As the volume and variety of data used increases, who is responsible for ensuring that standards are applied correctly must be considered.

As well as the report, the RED Foundation has also published a spreadsheet of the data assembled during the report’s preparation (download here).

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