GUEST ARTICLE: Information Management is still so misunderstood – and it matters

  • 2 Jun 2020

With data – and its importance – growing significantly, poor Information Management can have far-reaching implications. This guest articles sees Shahida Rajabdeen, Associate Director at Faithful+Gould and Martin Geach, Head of Service Line at Atkins, explain why good IM is so important for the built environment. 

“So, you’ve got a major asset. You’re coming to the next phase of strategic business planning, and you’re relying on data to help you make the right decisions.

Should your asset be upgraded, refurbished, replaced? Should you increase its maintenance checks? A lot of money (and reputation) is resting on these choices, and you’re the one ultimately responsible for making sure it’s well spent.

But there’s a problem. The data you’re using isn’t reliable. You feel uneasy about it, because you suspect that it’s lacking accuracy, it’s not trustworthy, and the suspicion alone makes your decision a nightmare. 

Problems like this, where data is improperly gathered, disseminated or stored can be solved through Information Management (IM).

But IM is misunderstood, and the misconceptions surrounding IM (is it just BIM? 3D modelling? Boring old document management?) obscure a practical, multifaceted discipline that can have an enormous impact upon the bottom line. 

Data disciples

Data and its enormous growth has been one of the biggest success stories in global business. It’s a familiar narrative: thanks to digital technologies, companies are getting access to vast data sets, revealing untapped cost efficiencies, customer preferences, and market insights. By mining these data sets, their understanding of their customers, markets and products grows, yielding bigger profits. 

Big decisions – say, around asset life-cycles – must be backed up with data-based information. Yet if this information isn’t properly maintained, channelled, processed, or presented, it can lead to bad choices.

Even if the information is good, mistrust alone can scupper confidence, forcing companies to unnecessarily re-evaluate their own data, often at high cost. 

Data is neither infallible nor pure. Like any resource, it needs careful management. That’s what IM is about.

Information Managers work with organisations and their asset systems, to understand the data set’s requirements, ensuring that the supply chain is reporting that data in the right way, in the right frequency, to the right people.

In turn, this increases trust, improves communication, and reduces costs. All organisations must wake up to the reality of managing more data, keeping it healthy, and getting the most out of the money spent on it.

Birthing the digital twin

It’s not just about saving money. Or about preventing arguments about who is responsible for managing the data. Strong Information Management provides the foundations for vast, transformative digital innovations.

For example, digital twins have inspired a great deal of excitement, but without IM they will always be out of reach. The first rung on the ladder towards a digital twin is the technical data standard.

It’s the way the client can inform the supply chain and potentially other asset owners about how they communicate. Data reports lacking the context of ownership, systems connections or end use-cases will never communicate, so how can we ever get to a fully responsive and communicative digital twin without getting standards in place at the organisations at hand? 

Without standards there’s no understanding, no format for extracting data from an individual asset. Traditionally, the technical standard is seen as boring bread-and-butter formality, stuck on a shelf and barely acknowledged.

Good Information Management unlocks the potential of technical standards, making them dynamic, valuable and meaningful.

We should all be contributing to them, updating them, maintaining them better, rethinking their purpose, so that they’re not a stale old document but a living manifestation of our aspirations. And with excellent technical standards, we create the framework upon which a digital twin is built. 

Trust, truth, and transformation

Ultimately, Information Management is about trust. The built environment is all about constructing or replenishing to draw out the lifecycle of buildings, so the investment decision is driven by data that demonstrates what can be done and what can be optimised.

That’s why the data is so important. There isn’t any scenario out there in the world that’s not supported by a data set.

In a future based on interoperable software agreements, infinite connectivity and APIs, more and more organisations are realising that they want to be there: in a place where their information is properly sourced, maintained and managed, capable of being the building block to a better future.

And so that, when your major asset arrives at the next stage of its strategic planning, you’ll be confident that your relevant, reliable data can help you make the right decisions for the future.

Better for you, better for your customers – and a massive relief for those misunderstood Information Managers.”  

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