A panoramic photograph of Malham Cove in North Yorkshire.

Thinking BIM at ODILeeds

A summary of the talk I gave at #tbim2016 on 2016-06-01 in Leeds, UK.

Hi I'm Tom. I write software. I run a small company called imactivate in Leeds and I'm an associate at ODILeeds.

But, just to confuse you all, I live in Birmingham.

I used to be a scientist. I've written a few well-cited papers and some very well-used software. I have a PhD in the computational biology of the malaria parasite if you want to read it.

ODILeeds is a node of the Open Data Institute in London. There are other nodes all over the world but we are one of just two pioneer nodes. ODILeeds doesn't get paid by the ODI, in fact we pay them (a very small amount). It's worth it because we get access to great opportunities as a result.

We rely on our sponsors, the work we do, the events we host, and the training we deliver, to exist. We're open about what we do and how we do it. I get paid for delivering projects through ODILeeds. I get paid more for delivering projects with imactivate outside of ODILeeds. I am here to sell you both.

There are lots of great reasons to be open with your data. The one I'm going to focus on in my examples today is that it improves communication.

Communication is really hard, and most organisations are constantly talking about how to improve communication. So in every example I give I'll show how open data improved communication or reduced the need for it completely.

The census tells us where people live and what type of jobs they do. It tells us where people work and in what type of jobs. Bus companies run buses that connect people and jobs, or at least they should. But how well does that happen? How would we know?

Because both datasets are open we built a tool, with the help of Nesta and the ODI, that shows how well every bus route in the UK connects people with jobs they might want. It can be used by a single citizen campaigning about bus routes to a city council planning cuts or expansions to services.

We know when our bins are collected. Until recently we got letters that we lost or stuck on the fridge and looked at the day after we forgot to put our bin out. There is a problem in communication between the company that collects our bins, the council we task with running the service, and us — the service user.

We've worked with Leeds City Council to make the whole bin collection timetable in Leeds opendata. Beyond seeing when your bin will be collected you can see when every bin in the city will be collected. On top of that we've built an app on Android and iOS that reminds you the night before your collection is due.

But don't get distracted by the app, the real power here is that Leeds City Council didn't build it, I did. And other people have built their own apps including Leeds' own Hebe media. You can receive your communications in new ways — a bin reminder while you're reading about Leeds United. Or a reminder that you should put your bin out when you check the day's weather in the morning.

Since we're thinking about building information modelling I'm going to focus on this example.

Earlier this year Leeds City Council started releasing electricity use data, at 30-minute resolution, for over 200 buildings that they manage in the city. It's a huge dataset that was largely unused. We worked with them to build a tool that displays graphs and shows trends in electricty use for every building.

The data that's held about each building is accessible to everyone in the building. There's no longer a need for communication between an energy department and a building manager to make this happen. Self-service has replaced that.

So we were talking about this at ODILeeds and we thought, "wouldn't it be great if we knew when each building was in use?". A few weeks later Leeds City Council released data on how many computers in each building were logged in and logged off every hour. And because the data was open we could add it to our tool without communicating with anyone or asking anyone's permission.

No emails, no meetings, no away days, no phone calls, no nothing. We just did it and the energy department, building management department, and IT department at Leeds City Council never had to even talk to each other.

This approach is providing more value to far more people than a chain of emails would ever have done. We produce another even simpler version of this tool for schools. Open data lets us communicate the same thing in lots of different ways.

I'll speed up now and give a lot more example. Let's talk about them later.

How much of Leeds is covered in parking. What could we build on it instead? What about Manchester or Sheffield? We built a tool to help.

Extend that question to council homes, public parks, brownfield land, and where we're going to build the 70,000 homes that Leeds needs in the 16 years.

Open data can help because by putting all the information in one place, without having to ask each department of data owner for permission, we can give better information to people. We can involve more people in making better, more informed, decisions.

Leeds City Council share this vision and their newest planning consultation tool — although far from perfect — is a massive step in the right direction to doing this.

Last but not least I want to talk about empty homes in Leeds. Are there are a lot? Are there just a few? Has the number gone up? Is it coming down?

People talk about empty homes a lot. It's mentioned at almost every planning consultation. It affects every building that is or isn't built in this city.

Leeds has the best open data on empty homes in the UK. It's largely thanks to the award-winning Leeds Empties service who've asked for it and a Leeds City Council who've been happy to see it released.

You can see a map of where the empty homes are in Leeds, and how that number has changed since 2008.

Thanks everyone who came and everyone who didn't but read this. There's lots more data to play with at Leeds Data Mill. My favourite is probably this one on Housing Land Supply.

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