How data can stop waste
James Farrell is the Commercial manager at SMARTWaste. He spoke at the Major Infrastructure Resource Optimisation Group (MI-ROG) in 2016; a group including a range of infrastructure clients with one common purpose: “to avoid wasting valuable resources and to work with supply chains to embed this approach throughout operations”.
This article presents a synopsis of what he wrote about the experience.
 How can MI-ROG achieve this purpose?
To understand why, we first need to understand what happens with environmental data at present.
 What happens now?
In essence, we have the old cliché of organisations working in silos. Typically, clients will have a piece of software or spreadsheet that they require contractors to manually provide data for. The contractor then has to provide the same data in different formats to different clients. Double handling, human errors and misinterpretations all result in effort and focus being wasted on data collection, rather using the information to achieve change.
To move the effort from data collection to interpreting and using this information, we need to implement a consistent and collaborative approach.
 What is a common data environment?
Simply put, it is a digital location where data is collated. It is a round-table approach to data, rather than information being passed up and down the industry hierarchy. It is the principle that underpins building information modelling (BIM).
However, with BIM it is project orientated. To optimise resources across an entire sector, we need to know where all the resources are. Therefore, a common data environment is needed across the entirety of infrastructure sector.
 What would a common data environment achieve?
- Data would only be entered, or ideally automatically created once, and then represented where required.
- Standardising data forms clearly tells industry what is required, whilst also creating a strong audit trail.
- Standardisation facilitates automation, especially for analytics and reporting.
These three points ensure the focus remains on strategy and implementation, not on data collection and interpretation.
 Is this even possible?
Often data is available to be shared within online platforms, yet the awareness is not there to take advantage of this and optimise resources between organisations. For example, within SMARTWaste there have been 11,794 infrastructure projects recorded with nearly a billion tonnes and 45 million m3 of waste since 2004.
Either the adoption of one platform for a sector, or agreement of a common data format for environmental data across industry to allow data to be shared easily between platforms, would facilitate the creation of a common data environment
Open data is data that anyone can access, use or share under a licence. It is an incredibly effective way of driving innovation. You are not restricting yourselves to your organisation or even your sector; you are empowering anyone to improve on what has gone before.
Once a common data environment is created for infrastructure, embracing open data principles (as done very successfully by Transport for London) would drive innovation and help to align infrastructure with the circular economy principles. One future opportunity to drive reuse between infrastructure organisations would be feeding waste data to the in-development LOOP platform, therefore driving a market for these materials.
 The future
Implementing a common data environment across infrastructure would enable resource optimisation across the sector. It would ensure efficient collaboration between organisations and move the focus from environmental data collection, to using that information to achieve measurable change. An open data policy would facilitate technical innovation, and continuous resource optimisation.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Big data.
- BRE Buzz articles on Designing Buildings Wiki.
- BRE SMARTwaste.
- Circular economy.
- Improving construction and demolition waste data.
- Landfill tax.
- Making the most of big data.
- Open data.
- Recyclable construction materials.
- Site Waste Management Plan.
- Waste Management Plan for England.
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