By Lisa Stanley
Among the top reasons that organizations undertake digital transformation is to have greater access, consistency, and confidence in the data that drives decisions to gain or maintain a competitive position. It’s understandable that businesses would want to keep initiatives that improve business processes, enhance customer service, or spur innovation close to the vest. Ironically, though, one of the most important elements of digital transformation for companies — harnessing the power of data collected across the organization – requires facilities management (FM) leaders to closely collaborate with internal business partners (including finance, human resources and asset managers) and external business partners (software developers, service providers and consultants). For FM leaders, it means engaging with owners, occupiers, service providers, and industry groups to develop and implement data standards — rules that govern the collection, management, and exchange of data so users can be assured they are basing decisions on timely, consistent and accurate information across platforms. Data standards create a strong foundation for effective data governance practices.
There is not one set of data standards that has been established to meet the needs of the entire real estate industry. Instead, many separate standards initiatives have been launched and adopted that address various aspects of real estate. These initiatives have opened doors for industry groups to collaborate on the development of data standards that can also be implemented with other standards that address the entire asset lifecycle. This ability to exchange data across disparate platforms internally and with external business partners enables data integration — combining data from various sources to create a unified view.
Organizations must be prepared to invest time, training, and financial resources to address the challenges of data integration across platforms and to extend existing standards where needed to meet the changing needs of the industry.
Benefits Of Collaborating On Data Standards
Collaborating with stakeholders to establish real estate data standards will advance innovation and advance the industry, while providing the individual stakeholders with:
- Greater transparency, consistency, and integrity of data across platforms and with business partners
- The ability to incorporate related functional standards into an overall data strategy
- The foundation to build their own digital ecosystem, an information-enabled network of collaborative internal and external business partners who use technology to connect strategies, business functions, competencies, and actions
- New insights to support and inform their internal digital transformation strategy, as well as maximize the value of emerging technologies like machine learning and distributed digital ledgers that they might be considering
- Streamlined processes to satisfy an increasing array of regulatory reporting requirements
Sector-wide data standards are necessary to enable the efficient exchange of data across different platforms that don’t “speak the same language.” Without it, organizations, business partners and even entire sectors are left with terabytes of siloed data that can be difficult to access, synthesize, and utilize to improve decision making and outcomes. For example, downstream facilities teams in construction and facilities operations functions have historically collected data that upstream colleagues could utilize if the format could communicate with their existing systems, and vice versa. As environmental concerns receive greater attention, these aspects of the development process can be shared prior to development handover to inform FM decisions and provide more value for the corporate occupier that translates to a better occupier experience and increased value of the asset for investors.
This kind of collaboration requires a focus on common ground, a data strategy to map priorities, and the action steps to get there. To improve data exchange during the construction process, the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) developed Crosswalk®, an application programming interface (API) that converts MasterFormat® asset data into UniFormat® and OmniClass® parameter data. Crosswalk® is the digital engine for the architecture, engineering, and construction communities — driving plans, protocols, and performance across the lifecycle of a construction project. The API enables efficient data transfer across standards and phases of development, while greatly reducing the risk of errors and data loss.
OSCRE has extended the Industry Data Model (IDM) and integrated CSI’s standards for construction and facilities management into the overall IDM. This leverages CSI’s Crosswalk® technology to integrate the two disciplines by ensuring effective inclusion of two key steps in the asset lifecycle — FM and construction — two connected disciplines that have struggled to connect in the past when it comes to data integration.
The Role Of FM Leaders To Create Data Standards
FM leaders can be catalysts for change. They serve as the critical link between workplace and workforce data. The last 18 months has brought the opportunity for FMs to earn the elusive “seat at the table,” by providing valuable insight based on data they collect about how employees interact with their workspaces in real-time, especially in a time of heightened concern for personal safety.
Key pain points that can be cited in soliciting this feedback include:
- An inability to use “big data” tools on existing data
- Poor and inconsistent data quality
- Uncertainty in identifying the problem we’re trying to solve (as identified in a use case)
- Allocation of financial and human capital including training resources to gain support for the change needed to move forward
Confirming The Process And Priorities
Once developed, use cases should be detailed in a prospectus that explains the intent behind each element of the project, as well as an overall roadmap for development. This document can then be used to communicate upcoming milestones in the project, guide participants through the standards development process, and recruit other relevant stakeholders to join the project.
This process was utilized in OSCRE’s work with the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT) to develop data standards for social housing in the United Kingdom. This approach saved a significant amount of time and helped project participants quickly identify related concepts to fill gaps and build consensus.
This collaborative approach was initiated more than four years ago, when HACT started the search to identify an organization that could partner with them in the standards development process. They needed an organization that had the technical expertise and track record for standards development and could navigate the challenges associated with workgroups of volunteers. These individuals served as subject matter experts in the various projects that included development handover, planned maintenance, reactive repairs, customer feedback, and complaints, while OSCRE managed the project and provided the technical expertise. Over 100 organizations actively participated in this multi-year project, with an additional two standards projects underway at this time. While the focus of the initiative was for implementation in social housing (approximately 20% of the total housing sector in the UK), these topics can also be applied in other sectors. OSCRE has included these HACT Housing Data Standards in the OSCRE IDM as well.
Identifying principal partners that will provide subject matter experts, funding, and perspective is a critical step in the journey. Gaining industry partner commitment and participation will get easier as the pace of progress increases. Once they engage in the process, stakeholders often take a more active role, and making progress on this initiative becomes a high priority. These data-related changes can result in new efficiencies and reveal insights that help validate the time and effort being invested. This positive collaborative spirit may even spill over into other elements of digital transformation, highlighting additional areas where collaboration focused on technology solutions can unlock organizational and sector-wide benefits.
The recognition of achievements and milestones participants enjoy within their own organization and with other FM leaders is an important motivator. This communication about the status and progress of the initiative is part of a larger step of creating a narrative which:
- Restates and contextualizes the value-driven impact of the data standards on the business
- Leads to participation in education and training programs to develop and support new capabilities
- Provides new opportunities for career advancement as skill levels increase
Education and training are crucial, as initiatives such as this often uncover a critical need for increasing digital competencies and skills across the sector, a need that the parties can address with ongoing education and training. These enhanced skill sets are not currently found in great supply but carry a premium value for recruitment and retention of the workforce. OSCRE has developed a variety of education and training programs to enable FMs to upskill their knowledge of data governance practices to build a successful data strategy for their organization.
A Vision For The Future
Becoming data-driven means improving data integration along the entire supply chain, across the asset lifecycle, and in real estate portfolios. A collaborative approach is required to bring owners, occupiers, investors, and their external business partners to the table, investing time and expertise that includes perspective from both the business and IT. As the world continues to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also enables the industry to become better prepared for the next unforeseen crisis. The need for speed in decision-making during a crisis is critical for both the short-term response and the longer-term effect on business operations.
FM leaders must become change leaders committed to exploring new approaches to integrating their data as part of their organization’s broader digital transformation efforts. Exploring new approaches to integrate data, building new skills within teams, and finding new ways to use technology to empower team members and the entire organization is a top priority. This includes industry-level collaboration to commit time, expertise, and financial resources to the development of data standards that are implemented by software developers, service providers, consultants and the client base they serve. FMs have earned a seat at the table — and collaboration will be key to keeping it.
Stanley is CEO of OSCRE International, a corporate member-based non-profit organization focused on development and implementation of real estate data standards and effective data governance practice for the entire asset lifecycle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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