Too much information

Are we at risk of drowning in the data lake? The seismic influence of digital technology means we now have the means to measure and collect data about the performance of almost everything we make buildings from, and everything that goes on inside them once they are in use.  Right now, components are being designed and installed with multiple data points to allow a wide range of information to be collected.  Whilst the ultimate objective of collecting this information is entirely noble – the development of buildings intelligent enough to adapt themselves constantly to our needs without our intervention –  the path to this ideal state still faces barriers.

Firstly, the sheer task of collecting and organising information in one place is not to be underestimated. The irritating lack of a common industrywide jack used by every smart phone manufacturer is a useful metaphor when scaled up and applied to the many proprietary systems that are installed and expected to work in a single integrated super system in modern buildings. The development of modern Building Management Systems has done much to encourage the adoption of open source technologies to allow individual, and often highly complex, components to work as part of a fully coordinated and integrated building system.

Our own involvement as property managers of The Edge in Amsterdam, an innovative office building which pushes the current limits of achieving fully intelligent buildings, shows how far it has been possible to come. However, challenges of language and translation remain as does the more complex issue of manufacturer’s concern to protect the IP they have developed for their own products.  Individual systems tend to lack interoperability and don’t have the facility that would allow them to be programmed centrally to optimise performance across the whole building.

The next step involves creating a digital architecture that is capable of translating every language, analysing every piece of data and drawing insightful conclusions, so that the building itself optimises its own performance, learning as it goes. The Internet of Things offers us the opportunity to create the most intelligent and responsive buildings ever. Right now, however, having the ability to join everything together into a single holistic system remains the main challenge. We are working with tech sector occupiers who have the perspective to see this as a software development challenge and something very much in their sights. As it’s a problem of harmonising and democratising the digital world, it’s the digital economy that will likely deliver a solution.

The benefits of solving it will be enormous for all of us; better buildings, more productive and healthier employees, lower running costs and improved energy performance. Imagine a building that adjusts its power use to mirror the fluctuations in energy prices, a building continually learning from how occupiers use it, and adapting intelligently to meet those needs more efficiently, a building where everything the user needs from controlling their immediate environment to accessing food, leisure, wellbeing and even meeting rooms are all accessible with a simple smartphone app. One day we will wonder how we ever managed to occupy buildings without these simple systems, but that’s not today.


data, digital technology, information, intelligent buildings, smart buildings, The Edge,
Neil Grey

Neil Grey

Senior Director

Building Consultancy – Project Management

+44(0) 20 7182 3267