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How Big Data Helps Shape the Built Environment


Land was the raw material of the agricultural age, iron was the raw material of the industrial age, and it is said that data is the raw material of the information age. Data really is the new oil, and some 90% of the world’s data has been created over the last two years alone. Every minute of the day, 204 million emails are sent, 2.4 million pieces of content are posted on Facebook, 72 hours of video are posted on YouTube, and 216,000 new photos are posted on Instagram. In 2015 this added up to 5.6 trillion gigabytes of data. The catchall phrase for this deluge of information is big data.

Utilizing Big Data Analytics for Commercial Real Estate

The real power of big data lies in our ability to use it to generate powerful insights, to enable automation, and to empower data-driven decision making. We now have computers and processes that can analyse big data in what is approaching real-time so we can make decisions based on it. Big data analytics helps companies and institutions gain insights to improve their products, services, and solutions.

In commercial real estate, big data analytics helps us understand how the built environment operates, how users interact with space, and how space and infrastructure respond to use. When we get comprehensive data on the use of space, buildings, land, energy, and water, we have evidence on which to base decisions. The data, when analysed, can reveal gaps and patterns into which solutions can be inserted.

How are visitors and customers using space? How are employees using space? How is space responding to use in areas of interaction, lighting, heating, cooling, maintenance, wear and tear? Big data can deliver these insights, as well as provide real-time recommendations to deal with problems.

Four Ways Big Data is Shaping the Built Environment

  • Sensors in employees’ tags record their movements and interactions within the office environment. This is used by HR departments to reconfigure office space to get optimal levels of interaction. Sensors can also communicate the availability of parking spaces and detect when waste bins are full and need emptying.
  • Retailers can track customer preferences through predictive purchasing patterns based on data collected from social media, web pages and mobile phone use. Proximity locators such as Wi-Fi allow retailers to send personalised offers to customers as they walk by the store.
  • Building information management systems control access to doors and lifts as well as monitor the lighting, heating, cooling, security, water, waste, and users of a building by managing big data.
  • In the logistics sector, big data is used to optimise the route the product takes for optimal delivery by combining data on GPS (location), radio frequency tags (motion) and current traffic conditions.

Asset Management and Big Data

At Cushman & Wakefield, we have seen how useful big data is in terms of asset management. Using the Envizi software platform, our Sustainability Solutions team recently reviewed the smart meter interval data for a client with multiple sites. Our aim was to achieve operational cost savings by recognising anomalies in energy consumption patterns.

Envizi’s smart meters enable consumption data to be reviewed in 15-minute intervals, thereby allowing near ‘real time’ assessment of energy consumption profiles. Data from the smart meter revealed the energy consumption patterns of lighting, HVAC, and general power on a daily profile chart at a site level. Necessary adjustments to timers led to a 33% reduction in consumption (kWh) and a 16% reduction in monthly energy costs during a time when energy cost ($/kWh) increased 26%.

What’s Next

In recent years we’ve seen an exponential increase in the power and affordability of computing technology, a trend which has enabled the big data revolution. But we’re really just at the beginning. As trends powered by big data such as artificial intelligence and predictive analytics continue to grow, so too will the volume of applications within commercial real estate and the built environment at large.

This article originally appeared on Cushman & Wakefield Australia’s Futurology series.

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