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Digital Transformation

Evolution 4.0: The future of building operation

Rob Jackson is Chief Growth Officer at Asite. He spoke to Andrew Knight, RICS Global Data and Tech Lead about the International Building Operation Standards, the retrofit challenge, common misconceptions about digital twins, and the major trends forecast for industry over the next ten years.

5 April 2022

This interview took place as part of the RICS Tech partner programme series. Find out more here

Andrew Knight: Rather than go straight into the bits and bytes, I’d like to start with the human input. Can you tell me a bit about Asite as an organisation?

Rob Jackson: Asite is a technology platform that has been servicing the built environment for over 20 years. It was born out of London’s tech city, but it’s now a global tech services company. We’ve always had the approach with our platform whereby we seek to connect stakeholders across the entire lifecycle of a built asset.

AK: I want to focus on the International Building Operating Standards (IBOS), which RICS recently released. IBOS looks at the operational cycle of building performance – making sure that real estate not only delivers on cost management and sustainability but puts people at the centre. What’s your sense of the need for IBOS, and how will it affect stakeholders across the asset lifecycle?

RJ: I don’t think IBOS could have come at a more opportune time. COVID has really shifted the way people think about the workplace and what they want from the workplace. Asset owners want to understand what sort of environment and workplace they need to create to maintain staff engagement, create efficiencies and retain employees. We’ve also read and heard a lot about sustainability. Following COP26, governments are really starting to commit to net zero, which means there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way we think about building and managing our assets. We know that around 40% of carbon emissions come from our sector. About a quarter of that comes from the construction phase, leaving three quarters coming from the operational phase. We know that around 75% of assets we see today will still be operational in 2050, and yet 75% of those assets are energy inefficient. Clearly a lot needs to be done between now and 2050.

AK: I was speaking to asset managers in the City of London recently. They’ve certainly woken up to the challenges around ensuring they are attractive from a regulatory perspective: ensuring they can report on their assets and rent them out. There is also recognition of potential future restrictions on the ability to rent, and the danger of stranded assets – assets that effectively will lose huge amounts of value. You mention the long tail of assets that are already there, how do we deal with those assets that haven’t necessarily been built to high-level building codes?

Standards are critical for technology, and I think they are probably not adopted widely enough across the sector.

Rob Jackson
Chief Growth Officer, Asite

RJ: This is causing a huge challenge for asset owners, and increasing standards are evident in the investment community as well as in regulation. For me the challenge lies with the data on those assets. We can’t think about retrofitting before we understand a building’s utilisation and its components. Data is needed about the physical asset itself, but also about how it’s being used. We’re seeing a proliferation of tools and technologies for data collection: sensors that can be fitted easily which connect back to data centres. We’re getting to the point where there’s almost too much data – FMI [1] estimates that roughly 96% of data acquired from construction and asset operation goes unused. This is where technology companies such as Asite come in. Technology that can take that data, structure it and classify it in a way that has meaningful value, allowing stakeholders to make informed decisions. IBOS is critical because it provides guidance concerning what to measure, how to measure and how to report in a consistent way, so that you can benchmark and compare like for like.

AK: If you’ve got an international portfolio, you need to understand the measurement that underpins so many building metrics in terms of utilisation, waste performance, and energy performance. Other standards such as the International Property Measurement Standards (IPMS) for floor plate measurement are essential.

Another point I’d like to discuss is digital twins. People can perhaps be put off by the concept, thinking it needs to be incredibly sophisticated, when actually it can be more prosaic, using a sensible amount of data which is visualised. What’s your view on digital twins?

The irony is that the technology is somewhat ahead of the market. It is ready for the market to adopt, but that requires behaviour change to be more collaborative.

Andrew Knight
Global Data and Tech Lead, RICS

RJ: I do think there’s a misconception about digital twins. I think the terminology is interpreted in different ways, but the role of the digital twin will be absolutely pivotal to building management in the future. That can be collecting data on existing older buildings and building a digital model or carrying through BIM models from design and construction to operation. The concept is a three-dimensional replica of the physical asset. With sensor data, other user metrics and the Internet of Things, you can build another layer of data on top of the digital twin, connecting the 3D replica to real time data, and start to make decisions using it.

Standards are critical for technology, and I think they are probably not adopted widely enough across the sector. So many metrics rely on expressing a number as a function of the space of a building. If you can’t consistently measure and report the space or size of the building, everything you are laying on top of the measurement is meaningless. We’re seeing stakeholders understand that they need to look at buildings from a lifecycle perspective, not just the component delivery parts and operational parts. We need to look at the suit of standards that work together: IPMS, IBOS, as well as the International Cost Measurement Standards, which includes carbon measurement across the lifecycle.

AK: What do you think the main trends are going to be over the next five to ten years, when it comes to building and managing assets?

RJ: I think there will be two big shifts that will also require mindset shifts. The first of those is looking at assets from a lifecycle perspective. We are already starting to see recognition of this, with designers engaging facility managers at the concept stage to ensure assets are designed appropriately for use.

The second of those is collaboration. For far too long the construction of an asset has been fragmented, contentious in approach and therefore inefficient. Industry reports rank our sector as being one of the poorest in terms of driving productivity increases. However, in many parts of the world there is a drive towards collaborative delivery: both among those delivering and managing assets, and among technology companies. We’re seeing a shift away from point management technologies designed to deal with a particular task, towards a common data environment, where there is one source of truth. It’s a significant shift because it means we need to move towards open data sharing.

AK: The irony is that the technology is somewhat ahead of the market. It is ready for the market to adopt, but that requires behaviour change to be more collaborative. I suppose the broader point is that the sector needs to mature: to understand the huge benefits in sharing data and getting data in similar formats so that it can flow in a governed, secure way.