College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities

Clemson researcher using data to find the secret of more efficient government buildings


A Clemson University faculty member is helping a group of agencies within the U.S. government find a better way to track data and extract business intelligence from federal facilities.

Vivek Sharma, Assistant Professor in the Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and Management, is part of a team of public and private researchers working to build a “data warehouse” of information about federal facilities. His work, the Federal Facilities Data Analytics Research and Applications Program (FF-DARAP), will leverage state-of-the-art technology and systems to vastly increase the amount of capital project information available to the sponsors and other organizations who submit data.

Clemson is collaborating with the Construction Industry Institute (CII), the University of Texas at Austin, along with six U.S. federal and Canadian provincial agencies to fund the research and development needed to create a first-of-its-kind capital projects data warehouse. Each of the six agencies has funded the research for $100,000 per year for three years, bringing total funding for the project to $1.8 million.

“We’re developing the world’s most advanced data warehouse with the capability of engaging artificial intelligence and machine learning to get meaningful information,” Sharma said. “The idea is to be able to find common ground among these agencies to compare their data on cost and schedule and make decisions based on that.”

 The warehouse will be housed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin and built by a team of programmers. The core team is Deborah DeGezelle (CII), Robert Wible (CII), Stephen Mulva (CII), and Vivek Sharma (Clemson).

The idea is to be able to find common ground among these agencies to compare their data on cost and schedule and make decisions based on that.”

Vivek Sharma, Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and MAnagement

The data warehouse will be based on a similar model that Sharma helped produce for the healthcare sector. “Dr. Sharma has extensive experience in performance benchmarking, having obtained his Ph.D.  from the University of Texas, working as a grad student for CII in the Healthcare Facilities benchmarking and the 10-10 program,” said Deborah DeGezelle, the Manager of Information Services at CII. “Vivek brings this expertise and invaluable experience to the team.”

“I will oversee the Clemson-based FF-DARAP laboratory as it will interface with the federal agencies to figure out what data they are capturing, how it will calculate in the metric scores, and I create that framework and send it to the programmers at UT Austin and the project management team,” Sharma explained.

“Dr. Sharma participates in a consortium of faculty across multiple universities engaged in improving overall maintenance and performance of large federal facilities and private healthcare facilities,” said Elysse Newman, Associate Dean of Research and Academic Affairs for the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. “His work has broad implications in analytics-based healthcare research and impacts the delivery, economics and performance-life of our healthcare facilities.”

Helping Taxpayers

According to Sharma, the project’s end goals are the improvement of building processes by the federal government and the efficient use of taxpayers’ money.

“A very important part of this exercise is estimate validation,” he said.

“Government agencies invest millions in delivery of facilities and their maintenance over their life cycle,” DeGezelle said. “The FF-DARAP program uses a research-based, benchmarking assessment framework to help participants target areas for improved cost, schedule and quality outcomes, which translates into savings to the taxpayers.”

The data warehouse is being designed to store, organize, and analyze data from every stage of a facility’s life: from initial planning, budgeting, construction and operations. It will include information on new facilities under construction as well as buildings that have been in use for decades.

Sharma says that one of the challenges in building the database is in trying to find categories of information that are shared by facilities ranging from museums to nuclear processing plants. The key to the project’s success is the ability to create profiles for facilities based on similar projects.

“The way we design the system is that you’re able to compare your project with your peers through a set of relevant, aggregated data for use as external benchmarks and performance assessment comparison targets. No one would see raw data,” he said.

The project is currently in year two of a three-year process, Sharma said. During year one, researchers created a framework for the lifecycle phases of facilities. This year, the team will create operational metrics to determine facilities’ performance. The final stage involves applying artificial intelligence to the data to find patterns of best practices.

“What gets measured gets improved,” Sharma observed.

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