From reactive, to proactive…to predictive?

11/04/2018
Dominic Browne

The success of local authorities in bringing down the pothole backlog by almost 23% to £9.31bn in this year’s ALARM survey seemed to catch many off-guard but it is not surprising that better asset management is starting to show dividends.

Dominic Browne looks at Brent London Borough Council’s work with technology company Yotta, which serves as a case study for the targeted solutions many councils now employ to such success while also pointing to a potential future move from reactive to proactive and on to predictive maintenance.

Brent Council has been able to use Yotta’s Horizons visualised asset management software together with data collected during highway inspections to develop a risk-based approach to inform highways maintenance programmes and efficiently repair defects.

The process has been a success in helping the councils blitz potholes and where possible move from reactive to proactive maintenance. However the system is currently being adapted to see if it can go even further and possibly lead to a more predictive maintenance regime.

Through asset and condition data capture, the council is using the Horizons software platform to provide it with operational insights for patching maintenance programmes, helping it focus on the most dangerous ‘pothole hotspots’ and tailor road repairs according to where on the network the defect is.

Brent can analyse where the density and risk associated with potholes is highest and prioritise the most effective repair locations, working with third party contractors to deploy injection patching processes on side streets and local routes, more traditional patching on main roads and using more long-term programmed resurfacing schemes where appropriate too.

The decision to use Horizons for this work follows the signing of a four-year contract, including an annual consultancy package, between the two organisations in October 2016.

As a result, the authority boasts that it was able to accelerate the speed and efficiency of the pothole patching process in addition to quickly cutting the backlog of unfilled potholes and receiving positive feedback from council members.

‘Previously, we tended to rely on our own observations when identifying priority locations for patching programmes,’ says Jonathan Westell, highways contracts and delivery manager, highways and infrastructure service, Brent Council.

‘With this new approach, we can use information that we already have about unfilled potholes, in a new way: to direct patching crews effectively to fix the largest number of potholes we can in the shortest possible time, efficiently giving us the fastest possible return on our network maintenance investment.’

Yotta and Brent Council are now assessing the potential to drill down into the data stored in Horizons to gauge ‘the predictors of potholes occurring’, and are considering what other data sets could be brought into the process to make it still more efficient.

Julian Collins, principal consultant, infrastructure asset management at Yotta, tells Highways that Brent and Yotta have developed what is essentially a ‘risk score for a certain area’ but are starting to take this a step forward to manage risks down the line as different problems hit the network.

The pair are considering how best to use pavement management surveys to bring in more data that could be a ‘precursor to potholes’ to ensure more efficient planning of both of repairs and inspections. This could include information on utility road openings, signs of fretting, chipping loss, cracking, and any signs of standing water on the road and water ingress such as failed drainage.

Mr Collins accepts that a predictive asset management system could take a year or two to develop and would have to be tested against the financial capabilities and treatment options of local authorities to see if it truly can create more efficient long-term asset management. However it is clear there is potential there that both Yotta and Brent are keen to explore.

‘It is not a fully developed approach that we are currently offering to clients but there is a strong appetite for it and there is untapped benefit and value there,’ he says.

He adds that just as the current approach Brent is taking has helped target high priority repair areas, a more predictive system could help develop more refined risk-based monitoring. So where an area was marked as showing precursors of pothole formation the local authority might put it down for an increase inspection routine and in this way cut off legal claims before they form too.

Alloy goes mobile 

Yotta has announced the launch of a mobile version of Alloy, its next-generation connected asset management platform.

Alloy Mobile supports all Alloy modules including Asset Core, which sits at the heart of the system and enables the creation of custom assets. Now available to users in the form of an app, Alloy Mobile is fully integrated with the main Alloy platform, which was launched in 2017.

Designed from the outset as an enterprise-level cloud solution, Alloy allows users to achieve connectivity between assets, people and organisations - providing server-based mapping and Mesh functionality that embraces sensor-connected assets.

'With Alloy Mobile, we were looking for a way to make it easier for council staff working out in the field to quickly take advantage of all the benefits of Alloy,' says Manish Jethwa, chief product and technology officer, at Yotta.

'Partly, it’s about ease of use. Field workers can simply open the app on their phones and immediately receive a list of work that has been assigned to them for that day while being able to quickly and easily submit updates as they complete their identified jobs.

'As we did with the main Alloy platform, Alloy Mobile has been designed from the ground up so the two can be fully integrated. You can do work on your own account in the web-based Alloy system and you immediately see that populate on the mobile solution and vice versa.

'Another key benefit of Alloy Mobile is that users can continue to work offline when no mobile connectivity is available. All changes made are immediately synchronised the next time they go back online.'

Alloy Mobile is currently available on Android mobile devices, with support for the iOS operating system coming soon.

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