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The next couple of decades will see the emergence of a new reality, begun in the 20th Century.
A seamless combination of:

- physical and virtual
- analogue and digital
- powered by light and electricity.

One way or another, the 3D Digital World is being built around us. Ultimately, we will use it to conceive, plan, design, test, communicate and approve wholly in the digital world; using it to guide city design and all manufacture and construction in the real world; as well as for managing our water, energy, communications and transport networks; and for property finance and insurance, emergency management and disaster recovery; and for buying and selling both goods and services – getting better outcomes, more quickly, at less cost, with much less risk.  Just getting a painting or other quote off the model will save both tradespeople and customers time and money... no more traveling just to bid for work!

Children will wonder how it was possible to do anything in a purely physical world!

That’s the upside.

The downside is in the threats it poses to privacy, security and trust - if we get it wrong.

Like most new things, it is arriving as a mash-up of disparate 3D models and processes, as everyone tries out their own approach... which is as it should be.

The main impediment in developing a ‘Federated’[1. See notes at end] DBE is that everyone struggles to locate and share third party data due to a lack of clarity around who has what models, with what rights of access use and trade, and what liabilities they face in sharing it.  There is no set of common ground rules, or means of access.

Going on past performance, it will only get worse.  These models will soon become mired under new piecemeal laws, rules and regulations aimed at addressing emerging privacy, security and trust concerns; as well as separate terms and conditions for access, use and trade imposed differently by every government department and private organization across the country (like the fractured rail gauges of the 19th and 20th Centuries - only far worse in terms of inefficiency, cost and delay).

But it need not be...

It could evolve to become a new piece of Digital Infrastructure (the DBE): a seamless 'federated' Digital Twin of our Built and Legal Environment, accessible by a simple click based on our existing real-world rights...

​If we have the vision and act on it.


"The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision".

- Helen Keller

"In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision"

- Dalai Lama

Who will make it a reality if not you?

Australia brought the Torrens Title System to the world, and now stands poised to create the first Digital Built Environment incorporating property titles (and other legal and contractual boundaries)

all georeferenced to the global position and elevation grids.

This new infrastructure would provide the legal-spatial-temporal context for decision-making within the digital world, across all sectors of the economy.


It may take 20 years to realise the full vision (ten times faster than it has taken us to build the real world in Australia)... but only if we start today.


To date, all the focus has been on creating the models of the physical forms; but it is the laws, regulations and contract terms that provide the ‘property rights’ that allow us to access use and trade in the Digital World, as much as in the real world. It is these that ‘capture the value’.

The real world is messy enough.  We don’t want to add to the legal and process complications in the creation and use of the Digital World.


The DBE aims to keep the transition to the Digital World as simple as possible by embedding all legal, regulatory, administrative, statistical and contractual boundaries directly in the models to govern access, use and trade in the DBE, just as in the real world.

It takes nothing away from existing rights.

Instead it provides for a set of valuable new rights in a new piece of Infrastructure: the DBE. Whatever your rights in the real world, the same would apply in the DBE.

Fundamental to the DBE is development of a 3D geo-referenced Cadastre, which some Australian States are now working on.

This initiative grew out of the work to research the Road Map for 3D Queensland (see here: Part A which identified Billions of dollars of benefits for Queensland alone, and Part B which set out the Development Phase).

Following completion of the work, it became evident that Government would struggle to implement its recommendations without strong support from the private sector; but the private sector struggles to support ‘social initiatives’ that have ‘long run benefit’ for the economy (and ultimately their own business) – without support by government.

To overcome this Catch-22, a new National Workgroup was set up.  It now comprises over 90 representatives who have helped to prepare a Draft Governance Framework for the DBE

This paper sets out a Draft Framework based on the work of the Governance Sub-group, which is to be put before the whole Work Group on 26 February, 2019



Once completed, the DBE will link millions of individual Computer Models (each under the control of a separate Legal Entity) via a new Distributed DBE Digital Rights Management Ledger to form a:


“Federated, Authorised, Certified, Geo-referenced, Secure 3D Computer Model of all Relevant Features of the Natural and Built Environment (inside and out, above and below ground), embedded with all Legal, Administrative, Statistical and Contractual Boundaries - on all Scales required for Decision-making”.


Where each object and boundary in the model links back to all information about it, and


Where your Rights of Access, Use and Trade in the model (and related data) mirror your rights in the real objects (and data) that the model represents.


Ultimately, each object in the DBE will include a photo-realistic image of it, underpinned by other data such as Raster, Point Cloud, GPR, GIS, BIM, or other representation, as well as simulation tools, that will enable the DBE model (and related data) to be used for all decision-making about the real world.



  • Better Outcomes, through better understanding, due to better data, visualization & simulation

  • More Quickly,

  • At Less Cost

  • With Less Risk



  • By engaging Key Stakeholders and Citizens to more easily Envision What's Possible: More Livable and Productive Cities that Simply Work for Everyone, while Protecting the Environment and Bio-diversity; and

  • By providing a 'Secure and Trustworthy 3D Workspace' to facilitate each phase of the Property Cycle through Planning, Surveying, Design, Costing, Finance and Insurance, Pre-fabrication, Construction and Risk Management, Logistics and Installation, Landscaping, Painting, Furnishing and Decorating, to Asset and Facility Management, Leasing, Sale and Decommission, as well as for Emergency Services, and for the Management of our Energy, Water, Waste, Telecommunications and Transport grids; and

  • By providing 'Secure and Trustworthy Federated Platform(s)' that will allow users to confidently buy and sell the materials, goods and services that create the built environment, as well as all the plant, equipment, furnishings, decorations and devices that are housed in it.


The DBE Governance Framework identifies the Roles of Key Stakeholders and outlines their principle Rights in the DBE - similar to the governance framework applying to real Property.


The Governance Framework is required to provide a common legal basis for sharing data about the real-world, based on our real-world rights in the property that each model represents, so as to:

  • Protect Privacy

  • Maintain Security

  • Provide Trust

  • Respect Rights

  • Reduce Time & Cost to Collect Data

  • Simplify Transactions

  • Make it Easier to Meet Responsibilities, Reducing Risk.



These will include Asset Owners and Regulators, Data Creators, Data Certifiers, Data Holders, Data Modelers, Data Users, and any DBE Governing Body.


These roles will be taken by Private Owners, Developers, Local, State and Federal Departments and Authorities, Utilities and Infrastructure Owners and Operators, Service Providers (eg. Surveyors, Architects, Engineers, Financiers and Insurers, Builders and Subcontractors, Asset and Facility Managers, Real Estate Agents, ultimately even manufacturers supplying models of their devices for integration into the DBE, etc.).


Technology Providers will also have key roles in providing Hardware (eg Drones, Lidar and Photogrammetry, etc) and Software (eg GIS, BIM, etc)


Solicitors will also be required to write smart contracts for execution within the DBE, as well as the usual contracts governing real-world rights, that will also apply to the DBE.



It is intended to create new rights in the DBE.


These rights would be available only as and when any model is created by or lodged with an Authorised DBE Model Holder.

The framework is not intended to restrict existing rights in any way.


Submission of models to the DBE would be voluntary.  It is expected that owners will lodge their models subject to the DBE Governance Framework for the benefits and protections it affords.


It is of course likely that, at some point, Governments may choose to make participation compulsory for certain purposes (eg Planning and Building Approval), or as a requirement placed on their own Departments and Statutory Authorities.



Rights in the DBE Digital Object to mirror (as far a possible) the Rights in the Real Object that it represents, such as ownership, access, use and transfer rights.


So for example, a property sold in the real world would require the owner to transfer ownership rights in its DBE model to the purchaser. In this example, despite the sale, a tenant leasing part of the premises would be able to continue to access their part of the DBE model, as of right as a tenant. A member of the public would be able to continue to access the parts of the model that they can access in the real world.



To give effect to the Basic Principle, every DBE model (and related data) would need to be sectioned so that each part can be accessed according to the rights boundaries that are embedded in it.

These boundaries would include the Cadastre, Easements, Common Law Rights of Way, Leases, Administration, Planning, Statistical and other Legal and Contractual boundaries.

It will mean that, in time, every law, regulation and contract will need to geo-reference the boundaries within which it is enforceable.


So for example, with this in place, the digital twin of an electrical switchboard will have a boundary that limits access to qualified electricians or engineers. Or Similarly, the model of any structure within an historical overlay will be automatically linked to the terms of the overlay because the geo-references for the structure fall (or partly fall) within the boundaries of the overlay.


Mirroring our rights and sectioning our models based on legal and contractual boundaries will greatly simplify data sharing compared with the current situation.  It will mean that if you know your rights in the real world, you will be able to rely on the same rights in the DBE.

It will also mean that you will automatically have access to all the laws, regulations and contracts that have boundaries that encompass or intersect the modeled property.


Compare this with the current situation, where each party has to:

a) consider the terms of access, use and trade in their dealings with every other party sharing data; as well as differing Local, State and Federal Laws and Regulations that may apply to any model (depending on where it is created, where it is lodged and where it is used) - all of which may also differ from each party's basic property rights - leading to the inability to access data, and/or to delays, errors and risks in using it, all adding to cost; and


b) search all sorts of registers and regulatory bodies to discover what rights, responsibilities and restrictions apply to a property.



Often in the course of modelling a specific property, neighbouring properties and assets are also captured to provide context.  These may include adjacent roads and infrastructure, as well as above and below ground services


When such a composite model is lodged in the DBE, the rights in each part would revert to the owners of the property that the part represents.

This will speed up and reduce the cost of data collection as each asset owner would not need to create their own model from scratch.  For example, this could be of major benefit to owners of underground services, as each time a trench is opened, all the services in the trench can be captured for the benefit of all the service owners, regardless of which entity opened the trench.

Creating the business processes to facilitate this will be one of the major challenges!


Just as we spend our own money to construct a building that is then subject to the laws governing access, use and trade in real property. So, even though we spend our own money creating a DBE model, once submitted to the DBE it becomes permanent (ie cannot be deleted or changed, as it reflects the real world at the time of submission). It also remains forever subject to the laws governing the DBE.


Any changes in the real world would be reflected in the DBE as a new version.


The previous version would be retained for historical purposes.



The aim is to make no change in the real world before it has been approved in the DBE, by whichever parties need to approve it. This may be the owner, or lessee, or facility manager, etc; depending on the nature of the change, and the authority granted to them.  In other cases, such as a major renovation, it may also require council and other approvals.


As well, all changes in the real world will need to be captured after they have been made, to ensure the DBE remains in sync with the real world.


While this may sound impossible, it is becoming more common for principals to request delivery of both the real-world object and its ‘as-built’ model to ensure conformance with the design intent.


As this becomes usual practice, it can be leveraged to ensure the DBE remains current. In fact, even small changes that are not first made in the DBE model can be captured in this way. This will be further facilitated by applications now being designed to run on your smartphone.

Withholding payment until both the object and its model are delivered to spec will be the quickest and simplest way to achieve compliance!



As canvassed under 'Basic Requirements', in time, all Laws, Regulations and Contract Terms should be available via the DBE – proposed, current and past - in a form that is ‘machine readable’.  As AI develops, this will enable most regulations to be correctly interpreted in real-time, to ensure compliance as changes to the real world are being proposed.


This will require the boundaries that limit the extent of any law, or regulation or contract term, as well as any statistical boundary to be geo-referenced.  This would have to be a requirement placed upon the Authority Responsible for administering the relevant law, regulation, contract term or statistical region. So, for example, the boundaries of an historical or environmental overlay could be geo-referenced so that any property falling within the boundary would be automatically linked to the relevant legislation via its DBE model.  It could also be linked according to the nature of the occupancy, say a 'liquor store'.


The aim would be to ensure that all relevant documents impacting a person's rights, responsibilities and restrictions related to property in the real world are linked to the related part of the DBE model for immediate authorised access.



The governance framework is not intended to dictate standards, software or hardware or commercial terms.


Standards will be crucial to facilitate sharing of data across organizations and applications.  It is recognized that the necessary standards are essentially global. For this reason, it is not intended to develop unique standards for the DBE.


Instead, the DBE will rely on standards that have been developed, and are being developed, by such bodies as buildingSMART and A-Spec in Australia, with representatives of both organizations participating in the DBE National Workgroup.  These organizations are liaising with other Australian standards bodies and with international bodies, such as OGC.


If it becomes apparent that the DBE requires a unique standard, the intention is to put the request to the appropriate National and International bodies to have it developed.


Until all data sets are standardised (if ever), it is expected that the market will provide continuously improving translation tools, most likely aided by Artificial Intelligence.

It is intended that the provision of data, and the hardware and software that is used to create, share and model the DBE, will be entirely a matter for each user, upon whatever commercial terms the parties agree.


For users to trust any DBE model, all certifications will need to be done in the DBE model. These certifications will have to be completed and locked by the people responsible for certifying both plans and all elements of the built environment


For example, cadastral boundaries would need to be certified by a qualified surveyor, while the fire services would require certification by the engineer who designed them, and any other approving authority.


It will also require the ability for any person relying on a model to lock it so, that for example, an Insurer may note and lock a model to confirm the state of the property they are insuring.  The same for a financier.

Any changes to the model would need to be lodged as a new version.


The Meta Data will need to provide sufficient information for each user to assess if it is ‘fit for purpose’.


It is also anticipated that any user, who wishes to rely on any certification, will need to have it checked and re-certified for their purposes.  While this will incur time and cost, it is expected to be much less than current processes which essentially require re-capture of the data concerned.


With the DBE in place, it should only be necessary for anyone re-certifying the data to check for changes, for their Professional Indemnity to kick in.



To protect privacy, maintain security and promote trust, it is intended that every entity wishing to use the DBE must do so via a real person who must have their own (ideally) 'self-sovereign' identity with specified role(s) and permissions.  This is necessary for each party working within the DBE to know that every other (virtual) party is who they purport to be, and have the rights they claim.


While this goal may have been unreachable just a few years ago, there is now a massive effort across the world to develop ‘self-sovereign identities’ for many reasons unrelated to the DBE.



The DBE Framework will need to specify the requirements for any model to be fully compliant. These could include: unique identifier, category of object, scale and dimensions, with every relevant feature delineated as a separate object within the model, as well as all legal, contractual and administrative boundaries, all geo-referenced in 3D with all required approvals and certifications; and with Metadata including the hardware and software used to create the model, as well as dates and times and people responsible for its creation, etc.


However, in the first instance, it is preferable to collect any models, regardless of the quality - so long as it is clear from the metadata what’s captured, and hence what's missing.  This could include simple 3D imagery used for the sale of a property that has no objects delineated and no other data attached. At least it would provide a visual snapshot of the property at a point in time.


Once lodged, no Authorised Model could be changed or deleted.  Any change would have to be recorded as a new version.


The system should allow any person with an interest in a specific area, structure or asset to capture current and more detailed imagery and data and provide it for inclusion within the Authorised DBE Model on whatever terms may be agreed with the Authorised Model Owner.  


With the right processes in place, the data can be continuously improved as users update the data for specific purposes.



It is expected that, over time, each object in the DBE (ultimately down to each part in a piece of equipment) will become the placeholder for any data related to it: what it is, what it is made of, when it was made, who made it, what it cost, where it was purchased, who controls it, who finances it, who insurers it, who maintains it, its warranty, maintenance history and operating instructions, etc.,  as well as its dynamic properties as parameters that allow simulation of its performance.



The initial creator of a dataset that is made accessible for use by others may not have any obligation or incentive to maintain the currency of the data.  For example an engineer who creates a model for a client has no interest in the model once the job is complete, yet the model may be of great value to the owner (once the owner develops the capability to use it).  More importantly, the model may contain elements (such as services beyond the owners boundary) that would be of benefit to the service owner and operator. Varying ages of data can limit the usefulness of the integrated dataset.


It is important to ensure that those entities controlling the DBE data (as far as possible) are those with a vested interest in keeping it current.


With this requirement in mind, the Framework needs to identify categories of entities responsible for determining which (if any) dataset is the Authorised DBE Model of any particular asset or feature of the natural world.


For example, the State for State Imagery, the City for the City Model, each Authority/Company responsible for Infrastructure and Services to be responsible for their own models. In the case of all privately owned property, the responsible entity would be the owner. Responsibility could be delegated under the framework to an operator, or other party, under contract.


Under the proposal for Reversionary Rights, each entity identified as the Authorised DBE Model owner would be entitled to take control of the data that represents their assets - once lodged in the DBE.



These may include Federal and State Government Departments and Authorities, and the larger Councils and Utilities, as well as major Private Owners, who agree to hold the models of their own assets and areas of responsibility subject to the DBE Framework.


It is expected that Commercial Organizations will also be set up under the DBE Framework to hold models on a fee for service basis for smaller councils, utilities and private owners.  Under this arrangement, fees would be payable whenever the models and data are accessed for commercial purposes.


It is intended that any Commercial Authorised Data Holders should have no rights in the data they manage.  They would hold the data in trust for the whole community in general, and for the current owner in particular.


The DBE Model Holders would only have rights to the cash flow generated by the fees for ‘holding the data’ securely and for ensuring only Authorised Persons were given access. These ‘data holding’ rights would have value depending on the net present value of the future fee income.


If any Commercial Authorised Data Holder was to go bankrupt, its DBE Models and Data would need to temporarily revert to State/Council/DBE Governing Body/Trustee in Bankruptcy (as considered appropriate), until the ‘data holding’ rights could be on-sold by the Trustee in Bankruptcy to another Commercial Authorised Data Holder, with all rights of access to the data remaining unchanged, and without loss of service.


Given the importance of the DBE as National Infrastructure, Authorised Model Holders should be required to demonstrate that they have the financial and technical capability and systems to comply with the requirements of the DBE Governance Framework. This should include, for example, that they have the capability to constantly curate the models and data to ensure they can be read, as software and systems change over time.  This may include keeping versions of old software to run the data, or having in place processes to update all data to remain readable by the latest software.


Subject to evolution of the required technology, it may also be a requirement that the data are held in a distributed form that makes it immune from loss, destruction or change (by having multiples copies stored in multiple places).


It would also be a requirement that the data is held subject only to Australian law.



As the DBE will become fully embedded in the planning and operation of our cities, regional centres, urban areas and mining and infrastructure operations, as well as our power, gas, water, chemical, waste, telecommunications and transport networks, it will be vital that the models and data are held either on sovereign soil or in distributed databases that cannot be frozen or controlled by entities beyond the reach of Sovereign Law.  In the case of Australia where the DBE is currently being designed, the applicable law would be Australian law.  However, the design of the DBE can be applied to any country, where that country's law would prevail in relation to any model that represents land and property within the country concerned.



This ledger needs to be designed to ensure access, use and trade in each DBE model is based on each person’s rights in the property that the model represents.  This may be based on block chain or other cryptographic software. It will need to interface with all existing registries and regulatory bodies, including PEXA (National Electronic Property Exchange), and similar, as well as with all Authorised Users.  It is expected that this will occur via APIs.



Ideally, under the DBE, a single (not necessarily uniform) data set would to be declared to represent the State for all State Planning purposes - in the absence of a more detailed City Model.


Each City may also have its own City Model that would sit within the State Model, but at a more detailed scale. Such City Model would then be used for both State and City Planning within its borders.


These models would in time incorporate all relevant above-ground natural and built features, as well as the geology and hydrology and man-made structures below ground, at all scales required for planning and building approval.


These Base Models could then be used to hold the cadastre and all other legal, statistical and administrative boundaries, and all addresses (at the street level) - with appropriate metadata to indicate confidence level for both physical and legal attributes.


Any new subdivision would then simply require an new scan of the development site to be uploaded by the surveyor with the boundaries marked in it (linked to all the details required at law to formalise the subdivision) - so all parties could see the proposal as soon as it is lodged, and then as soon as it is approved - in the DBE.


Naming of streets and all addressing could also be created directly in the Base Model(s) as soon as a decision is made.


​The approved 3D model of the site could then be used to guide earthworks, with ‘as-built’ scans taken of open trenches containing underground services, with a final scan of the completed subdivision being uploaded to ensure compliance, and to provide the base for future works.


For this to happen, all approval, certification and other business processes would need to be modified to operate natively in 3D. (Bell Helicopters has just recently demonstrated how this can be done by designing, testing and approving a new helicopter using 3D modelling and VR in six months, instead of the six years required using traditional 2D processes. The improved outcomes, lower cost, and greatly increased speed in this case heralds a much faster change to how we work than may have been previously thought possible)

Each building and piece of infrastructure, as it is designed and then built, would then sit within its respective State and City Models. Again, with the relevant boundaries, including at this level lease and contractual boundaries, and addressing added to the model (down to room level).


The different models would not need to be held in a ‘central repository’. Instead, any Authorised Person would be able to access the different data sets they require via the DBE Ledger, using their own API and modelling software to see an integrated 3D model of the area and features they were interested in.



The federated State, City and Building DBE models would comprise the ‘single point of truth’ at any time.  If there was any disagreement, between these models, this would need to be resolved as and when it was discovered to ensure there was a consistent representation at all scales.


Each model (State, City or Building) could comprise its own federated data that may have been generated at different times, at different scales, for different purposes.


If for any reason a more up to date or more accurate data set was required by any State, Local or Private party they would be able to create it for their own purposes and offer it to the relevant Authorised DBE Model Owner to be incorporated into the Authorised DBE Model on any terms agreed between the parties.


With these ‘Base Models’, and processes in place to keep them in sync, all parties would have the same view when making decisions at the State, City and Building levels.



The Governance Framework will promote legally binding decision-making in the DBE, based on:

  • All Parties being Uniquely and Securely Identified

  • The Roles and Permissions of each Party being correct

  • The Rights, Restrictions and Responsibilities attaching to each object in the real world being correctly reflected in its DBE counterpart, as certified by appropriate professionals and bodies.

  • All Data relating to a specific area/objects being available via direct links to the model object it relates to.  This would include all Certifications and Metadata, as well as links to all laws, regulations and contract terms, and all other information related to the area/object in question.


Ultimately, the DBE should be able to present any data an Authorised User may require by simply specifying an address, or geo-references , or object identifier, or even a semantic search (using AI).


If any parties require more detail in the DBE model, or need to have the data re-certified to cover the risk of error, a new model and/or data and/or check will need to be generated at the time and lodged as an update - so that a binding decision can be made.  This new data would provide a new base for future use.


The resources used to find, access, verify and consume data within the built environment, as well as the delays and mistakes incurred in the process, currently adds billions of dollars cost to the whole economy.

With the DBE in place, users will have a trusted 'platform' (or more likely federated platforms) to access data more quickly, more reliably, at less cost, and with much less risk than now.  This will provide a commercial benefit that more than justifies the DBE establishment and operating cost.


Participants will not be required to spend any more money creating, storing and using the models than they intend for their own purposes.  The DBE simply provides a way for model owners to share their models, and thus realize additional value, while providing wide-ranging social benefits.

The money required to oversee the Governance Framework and to compensate Data Holders, and all other participants, for their work in the system is expected to be derived on a 'fee for service' basis that is set in the competitive market.  Due to the technological nature of the DBE platform, these fees are expected to by much less than the fees and other costs, delays and errors currently incurred.


A permanent body needs to be established to oversee the development of the DBE.


It will need to comprise representatives from each of the key stakeholder groups: Federal, State and Local Governments, Statutory Authorities, Utilities, and the Associations representing Property Developers and Owners, Engineers, Architects, Surveyors, Construction Companies, Facility Managers, Real Estate, Finance and Insurance, as well as Technology Providers, and of course, the Legal Profession.

The purpose of the new DBLE Implementation body would be to:

1.       Promote the DBLE to key stakeholders in government and industry.

2.       Oversee development of the Governance Framework with all key stakeholders, and its ultimate translation into legislation.

3.       Develop a plan to implement the new Federated Platform to facilitate access, use and trade within the DBLE.

4.       Work with government, industry and technology providers to conduct pilots to better understand and counteract the inevitable problems to be faced in implementation of the Federated Platform

5.       Provide workshops and conferences to advance understanding of the DBLE as it evolves

6.       Provide ongoing advice to government regarding regulation of the DBLE



Three schematics have been prepared to reflect the intent and requirements, each in increasing detail.  They can be found here.


[1] ‘Federated’ means that the 3D models of individual buildings, utility networks and other infrastructure (owned and controlled by individual private and government entities) can be linked together via a new Federated Platform’ that manages the rights of access, use and trade in accord with the proposed Governance framework, to provide a seamless ‘digital twin’ of the natural, built and legal environment (inside and out, above and below ground) on all scales required for decision-making.

The Federated Platform itself is yet to be architected.  However, it is conceived to be owned and operated by a combination of government and private entities each of which would derive income from making it available. These could be individual road or rail authorities, major cities and utility providers each holding and managing the DBLE models of their own assets, as well as commercial entities set up to hold and manage access to DBLE models on behalf of a property owner on a fee for service basis.

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