Analyse enough data from the right source and you can find unusual and effective solutions to big problems – and sometimes ways around ones you didn’t know you had.
Think about staff rosters at hospitals. Wouldn’t it be great if medical staff knew in advance when people would turn up at the doors with a particular illness?
They could ensure the right people with the best equipment and drugs are there at the right times to make sure everyone gets treated quickly.
Studying patterns in the past helps determine, for example, when seasonal illnesses will peak. That helps decisions on when to have staff on deck.
Until recently it has been difficult to predict the sudden spread of a contagious illness. Google and others have found, however, that what people search for can be a leading indicator of outbreaks of flu. Aggregated Google search data estimates flu activity – you can see it here.
That’s just one example of how data analysis can change the world. And of course so-called big data is now a multi-billion dollar business all about finding advantage in deep, often neglected, mountains of data.
One promising Australian vein of information is that contained within software developed in Victoria to help create homes with better energy efficiency.
This data source has the potential to change the building industry, making it more efficient and perhaps bring down the cost of buying a new house or renovating an old one.
The FirstRate5 software was developed by the state government in Victoria to help and encourage the design of houses with a better energy rating. It was all about saving power and conservation of resources.
Over the years, the software changed and so did the local building regulations across Australia. States and territories now insist on a five or six star rating when homes are built.
About 12 months ago, delivery of the software changed from an old-world ‘buy a disk and install’ to a download for free. Payment comes when a fee is charged for an energy rating certificate, $20 for a new home and $10 for a renovation.
About 97% of all new homes built in Victoria, and about 40% across Australia, have a certificate generated by the software. It underpins energy efficiency regulations.
There are now 2,600 registered users of the software with about 59,000 certificates being generated over 12 months.
This is where the big data opportunity is hidden: To get the energy rating certificate, details of the design and construction materials are entered into the software, and the information is uploaded to the cloud.
Aggregated, and with geographical information, the data could reveal where and when in the next 12 months concrete, timber, steel and other building materials will be needed.
This is very valuable information for a building or a building supply company, not to mention trucking companies, casual hire firms and even the local pie shop which might start baking a few more pies if it knows construction crews will be in the area for a few months.
Erika Bartak, a consultant who creates energy ratings for architects, uses the software for a mixture of new houses and renovations.
She’s built a business on the back of the software. Depending on the complexity, she charges $600 to $800 per house.
The materials needed for each project end up in the software. Background calculations could create totals for materials needed for floor or wall spaces.
“I use the software to help give them an overview of how the house is working and maybe give some construction options,” she says.
“It’s a standardised tool and there’s a generic construction library – floors, walls, roof. And you can manipulate that and test for different changes.
“It’s a good comparative tool for comparing a lightweight house to a brick house and simple changes such as double glazing from single glazing windows.”
A project, when ready, is uploaded to FirstRate5’s cloud-based server where the rating is calculated, and a certificate is issued for planning approvals.
Sustainability Victoria, which owns the software, says there’s significant opportunity to commercialise the data as long as privacy concerns are met.
“The thermal performance assessment is required as part of the building permit process, so building material data is being collected for each new build and major renovation that is entered for assessment,” it says. “This data has potential to be provided to the manufacturers and distributors of these products (subject to privacy considerations) as it provides a strong indication of the nature and location of future demand for the products.”