3D models paint a thousand words

17th March 2022

Justin Fisher, Product Manager at Civica explores how robust data and modelling can make all the difference

We all want to feel safe and secure in our own homes. Safety is a crucial, up-front feature of the UK government’s White Paper for Social Housing, which promised a renewed drive to put residents back at the heart of building safety and go further to deliver real change to ensure residents are safe in their own homes. This would include a stricter regime for construction, day-to-day management and maintenance of higher-risk buildings, with residents having a stronger voice in the system.

But more than one year on, there’s still a huge issue of disrepairs within the social housing sector, with mainstream media focusing on the poor state of properties and unsatisfactory position tenants find themselves in. Already under immense pressure, housing associations are facing increased legal action from tenants looking for compensation for poor housing, with projected multi-million pound bills coming their way. At the same time, the Housing Ombudsman has seen a 139% increase in complaints in the last year. Solutions which look at the problem holistically are now needed more than ever.

A smarter tech approach

The good news is that data-driven digital technologies, and advances in systems such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and digital twins in social housing, are already making a big impact. BIM, overlaid with analytics from technologies such as AI and machine learning, can predict and forecast repairs better than solely relying on traditional methods.

In short, 3D models combined with robust, reliable, accessible data can help fix things at the right time in the right order. As we’ve discussed at a recent Civica social housing roundtable, digital twins – virtual representations of physical spaces – have been a key part of the digital journey for some time. They have huge potential to deliver savings, make homes safer and greener and improve the tenant experience.

That said, forming the digital twin requires thought and data prioritisation. It can be difficult when household items, such as a boiler, exist in multiple datasets: from the property’s energy profile to safety, servicing and void property records. It’s hard to mesh the data to represent the digital version as each dataset has a different lifespan, purpose and impact. Once reconciled, the results are substantial. Services exist to proactively manage the multiple instances to realise accurate, real-time information leading to better response times and increasing resident satisfaction.

Making the abstract real

Many current repairs diagnostic tools are abstract – so don’t resemble the individuality of someone’s home. So if a tenant contacts their housing association to report a fault, they won’t necessarily know how to accurately fix the issue. But 3D models overlaid with the latest data give a much clearer, quicker and accurate picture. The outcome is the resident will get a much better repair – completed ‘right first time’. This helps drive down costs as repairs teams can make fewer visits, streamline repairs and get around more properties. In boiler trials run by British Gas linked to its BoilerIQ service, it found that diagnostic software was 19 hours ahead of the tenant even reporting a problem – improving services and leaving less room for complaints.

3D modelling can also help organisations to run scenarios visually, not just in data records. For example, when fitting new doors, it can show residents what these could look like in their own property and get approval from the outset. It’s also a misconception that models need to be complex – they don’t. Often a quicker-to-load, low-fidelity model will be perfectly fine to illustrate a new feature or service.

Housing technology should always be as close to products people use in their everyday lives. The Rightmove app is a great example, loaded up with floorplans and property flythroughs for potential buyers. Housing bodies can also use floorplans as 3D models with layered data to show hotspots – such as asbestos assessments in properties can be colour coded in terms of risk – leading to better decision making.

Safer homes, stronger communities

Bringing all the data and advanced modelling techniques will result in speedier resolution to issues and repairs ‘right first time’. Data-driven digital solutions offer a practical solution to the issue of disrepairs, turning them into a proactive operation rather than a reactive one and increasing satisfaction levels. This will ultimately save money for the housing provider which means they can invest more in the wider community and neighbourhoods.

As Mark Weiser (often considered the ‘Godfather of the Internet of Things’) said: “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” Nowhere is this more apt than for social housing. This ‘invisible’ technology will help housing providers face an ever-growing number of challenges. Digital solutions will also allow housing providers adapt and map out the future to ensure residents are living in the best quality and safe homes.

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