Optimising Highways Infrastructure – A Route Map for Councils

  • 19th November 2018 at 3:22PM
  • Written by Julian Collins, Principal Consultant Infrastructure Asset Management at Yotta
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The terms optimisation and highways infrastructure asset management have not always been closely linked. The highways sector has often been wary of change. In the not so distant past, when the UK’s roads were less crowded and technological development more slow-moving, the industry could take its time in mulling over groundbreaking new approaches and pioneering new solutions.

Advances like polymer-modified bitumen or the development of analytical pavement design took years to be accepted. It was considered sensible to insist on multiple examples of successful implementation before establishing new developments as standard best practice.

Today, this slow rate of change is no longer acceptable within the industry. A combination of factors are coming together to drive transformation across the sector. Funding for local roads remains tight while traffic volumes are growing, factors which taken together are helping drive innovation.

At the same time, data volumes continue to rise. Indeed, worldwide Big Data market revenues for software and services are projected to increase from $42B in 2018 to $103B in 2027, attaining a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 10.48% according to research company, Wikibon. Moreover, data growth rates are likely to ramp up still further as processing power accelerates and digitally savvy millennials increasingly dominate the workforce.

These are developments that the highways sector needs to act on if it is to optimise its approach to infrastructure asset management. Fortunately, we are seeing real evidence that the councils understand the challenges and are acting to tackle them by leveraging the latest asset management software coming on stream.

One of the most significant developments is the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) – and linked to that the ongoing rise we are seeing in both the number and range of connected devices in use today. To fully optimise their approach to asset management, councils need to start leveraging solutions that allow them to take advantage of this new connected infrastructure and deliver greater connectivity between assets, people and organisations.

We are already seeing examples of councils doing this today. Using connected asset management platforms, like our own Alloy software for example, to link up with sensors on the lights and switch them on and off as and when required, also allows councils to quickly identify any defects in their street lighting stock. Internet connected sensors mounted on street lights can also pick up a raft of additional data from the field – even down to monitoring carbon dioxide levels in the vicinity of those street lights, thereby helping control pollution levels.

Councils are also starting to use IoT- connected sensors to track the depth of water in their highway drainage gulleys in real time. It is an approach that allows them to proactively monitor the level of capacity in their system and how close they are getting to meeting it. This in turn enables them to quickly put cleansing in place or identify any maintenance that might be required to increase capacity.

Looking to the future, other applications for IoT-based sensors could include remote monitoring of traffic, with results pulled into a central asset management system like Alloy to provide insight into the demands on the network and therefore the likely future deterioration of carriageways. Sensors for flood prevention and control offer other great future opportunities also. Depth sensors could, for example, be placed on areas of riverbanks prone to flooding and cameras could even be used to detect when a section of road is covered in water – and then automatically flag up a trigger that instantly shuts down the affected lane.

By using connected asset management to build further on the capability that the IoT network makes possible, councils are effectively generating large volumes of new data. But this presents them with challenges as well as opportunities. Councils in the new age of connected asset management are frequently data rich but they still often struggle to use that data to proactively inform their decision-making.

Within many authorities, we have seen examples of a disconnect between internal departments and teams – and by extension a potential overlap in terms of benefit that is not being fully tapped into.  In the context of highways, therefore, it is important that departments have a working culture in place where they are both willing to share data internally but also more widely with the public to build community engagement.

Yet, while these kinds of business challenges will inevitably remain in the new IoT-dominated world, there is no doubting the huge potential of connected asset management as evidenced by the success achieved already by Alloy. Connected asset management is the latest evolution of the infrastructure asset management landscape. It is all about councils rising to the challenges presented by the new Internet of Things dominated world and turning them into opportunities.  In a sense then, it is about optimising the asset management approach.

Connected asset management is here already. With the number of connected devices growing all the time and the number of infrastructure assets we see with sensors placed on them – from bridges to street lights – increasing also, connected asset management platforms seem certain to have a bright future ahead of them, with a whole raft of exciting new innovations beginning to emerge. As we move into the future then, we are entering a new age of connectivity, and, as such, it seems certain that the terms optimisation and highways infrastructure asset management will be increasingly closely linked.