From Smart Buildings to Smart Cities, Mapping Digital DNA

This article was written by Paul Doherty, AIA

If Big, Infinite Data is a key for cities evolving into Smart Cities, then a question arises as to the hierarchy of data prioritization. In other words, where does a city start?

Two points of entry can assist a city in answering this question. One point of entry is how some cities see the market driving the need for access to certain types of data. Incident reporting, energy usage and analysis, transportation information are all areas that citizens see immediate value. Other cities position the new data-centric tools like social media to assist with better communicating with their citizens. This reactive approach is highly effective when implemented correctly, with many examples from all over the world as best practices and in certain cases, lessons learned.

The second point of entry is in the proactive approach of identifying and managing your city’s digital DNA. The building blocks to effectively and efficiently use city data will ultimately reside in a city’s ability to repurpose its existing data and documents associated with the ‘Built Environment’, which is the authenticated digital DNA of all cities.

‘Built Environment’ data is already captured by cities in various formats and processes; Building Departments, Engineering Departments, Land Departments, Planning Departments, Tax Departments, Postal Services… they all collect and manage vast amounts of data that when viewed as a whole, create the virtual representation of your physical city. The accuracy, authentication and integration of this city data is the key to a proactive approach to entering a path to becoming a Smart City.

A path to enabling your city’s digital DNA comes from the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and the data captured by Smart Buildings. BIM and Smart Buildings provide the digital DNA that, when put into the context of a neighborhood, district and city, provides a city relevant, authenticated data. Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) firms that look beyond the individual building project and begin to position for capturing value (and alternative revenues) at the data transaction level in a Smart City environment will capture greater market share and open up more new opportunities for growth than their competition.

This revaluation of digital DNA dwarfs any previous notion of the value given to ‘Built Environment’ data.

Think of your city as a network, with each building acting as a server. Each building has data, like BIM for design & construction and Smart Building data in the form of Facility Management & Building Automation. When this individual building data is connected to the City Network, potentially through an Open Data policy, interesting things begin to happen. The captured AEC data that a city already possesses becomes the digital DNA of Smart Cities.

‘Built Environment’ professionals, specifically in the AEC market, are the authors of this digital DNA and should consider their data creation work not just for the project at hand, but in the context of an operating city. New business models are emerging for insightful AEC firms who are emulating other business and revenue models from other industries.

A model that is gaining traction is from the music industry. Like writing a hit song and retaining the publishing rights to that song, AEC firms are adopting a strategy of moving away from just being compensated for the “one-off” use of their data to deliver an individual building. Now, they also are retaining the rights to their implemented data, so when used for Smart City solutions, compensation continues in the form of access rights. This recurring revenue model allows AEC firms to retain publishing rights to their own data, even as it is used by others, and to enjoy a continuous revenue stream.

A co-founder of the AEC Hackathon, the author is president & CEO of the digit group inc. and a senior fellow on the Design Futures Council.