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What is a Data Standard?

Chris Lees, OSCRE International, and Dan Rossiter, BSI

Standards (common and repeated use, rules, guidelines or characteristics) are like Oxygen; vital to our survival, but unnoticed until there is an issue. A CEBR report concluded that standards positively contribute to the UK economy by “enhancing organizational efficiency, boosting trade and facilitating innovation”. As such, standards such as these ensure the quality of food and medical devices, protect consumers, and even control how information is structured.

Of these tens of thousands of standards, there is a specific subset referred to as “data standards”. Data standards specify how data is structured and recorded. For example:

  • Financial Sector: Have several standards to standardize their information including ISO 13616, which specifies international bank account numbers (IBAN); and

  • Energy Sector: Have standards like ISO 15926 which enables interoperability between project stakeholders, and CFHIOS for handover data within the oil and gas industry.

In adopting these data standards, organizations have benefited from faster transactions, less time spent on configuring and reformatting data, as well as less errors within the datasets themselves. It is these same benefits that can also be realized within the real estate industry.

While the real estate industry is structurally different from many of these sectors, there are some data standards which are closer to home. Data standards such as buildingSMART’s IFC which enables interoperability between project stakeholders, and NBIM’s COBie for handover data within the built environment sector. In addition, OSCRE have produced an Industry Data Model™ which supports real estate asset life cycle management. Adoption of these data standards could improve productivity as well as the value of assets they are applied to.

M-Sparc Case Study

M-Sparc is an office/lab building constructed by Willmott Dixon. Required to meet a 15% occupancy rate prior to handover, Willmott's employed data standards and the use of VR to engage with potential tenants. As a result, they achieved a 37% occupation rate prior to handover. Read full case study here.


While there is evidence to support the adoption of data standards, no dominant supplier, difficulties in discovering what data standards are available, and the distributed nature of the supply chain make proliferation difficult. As such the only way to achieve industry-wide change is through industry consensus (bottom up) or regulatory requirements (top down). Currently we are seeing both within the real estate industry with regulatory reform relating to building safety asking for a digital record (referred to as the Golden Thread) for higher-risk buildings as well as organizations such as NIMA (formerly the UK BIM Alliance) and The RED Foundation promoting the adoption of data standards within the built environment sector and the real estate industry respectively.

So then, how do you get on the ladder and begin your data standards journey? To help, The RED Foundation are developing a data standards catalogue to help you determine which standards are right for you and your organization to realize these productivity benefits as well as prepare for changes within the regulatory landscape. In doing so, your organization can become the best and final version of itself.

To find out more about the RED Foundation's Data Standards Steering Group and the work we do, or to get involved, please contact our chair, Chris Lees, at

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