New data and technology advancements in the infrastructure design industry have the potential to revolutionize how finance and banking professionals screen opportunities for impact investments. Whereas gleaning project insight from the design process was once impractical or impossible, the investment community can now access a treasure trove of information on these project opportunities, including their costs, benefits and risks. Tapping into today’s technologies and the abundance of open data can drastically improve the ability of cities, designers and financing partners to build the right projects and build the projects right.

 Figure 1 Building Information Modeling

Figure 1 Building Information Modeling

The design industry is rapidly moving from the practice of drawing lines and circles to an intelligent, model-based design process called Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM is about visualizing and simulating how projects will look and perform before they’re built. It supercharges stakeholder outreach to mitigate investments risks related to delay and political uncertainty, and its wealth of data can be leveraged to calculate a project’s business case and risk-adjusted value. 

Figure 2: BIM Converts San Francisco Data into 3D

Figure 2: BIM Converts San Francisco Data into 3D

Building the right project begins with understanding a city’s existing conditions, needs, and opportunities. Many cities support this practice by providing open data that planners can use to recreate digital maps of the built environment. With BIM, however, this same data can be converted into an interactive three-dimensional model for a much stronger understanding of the existing conditions.

Figure 3: Analyzing Opportunities for Energy Retrofits. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver

Figure 3: Analyzing Opportunities for Energy Retrofits. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver

Modeling open city data also means it’s easier to identify needs and opportunities. By bringing in other types of geospatial information such as building age, planners can fly through neighborhoods to locate candidates for energy retrofits. This same discovery process can be applied widely ─ from seeing where better transit is needed, to finding space for new rain gardens. The ability to model existing conditions and use them as the basis for analysis is helping planners and non-technical stakeholders unearth valuable new insights about their cities.

Figure 4: Simulating Construction

Figure 4: Simulating Construction

For engineers and bankers, building the project correctly means maximizing  social and environmental impacts, reducing risks and ensuring it can be financed. With BIM, purpose-built infrastructure design tools are coupled with a variety of simulation capabilities to assess and optimize these factors. For example, designing a road can involve analyzing its impacts on storm water runoff, traffic congestion and the cost of materials. Once the design is complete, construction processes can be simulated to reveal any potential clashes or issues that could pose a risk to an investor’s return.

This design process reveals more insight into projects than ever before. However, this is just the beginning of a new era; soon BIM will be able to translate all this disparate project cost, risk, and performance information into a comprehensive business case that quantifies social, environmental and economic returns. The more engineers know about what they’re building and how to build it, the more likely the project will come in on time, under budget and perform as expected. And the more the banking community knows about project value and risk, the more likely they will participate in financing.

Brian Young is a Sustainable Infrastructure Program Manager at Autodesk Inc.