No big data without small data

15/03/2018
Brian Fitzpatrick

The future of our infrastructure is digital, but just who is best placed to build the local authority capability to manage this revolution?

Who will look after the impact of decisions made by assets self-reporting their condition, and automatically informing investment priorities? Who is going to look out for the needs of our citizens as we enter the age of automated design, and algorithmic prioritisation?

Will we build that capability ourselves in our highway maintenance sector? Is that the right thing to do, or will we (whisper it quietly given the current environment) outsource this transformation? 

For many highway authorities, using the software tools and data management platforms that can best process, analyse, translate and turn highways data into meaningful information is an expensive and time-consuming process, and they don’t have enough resources now. 

The way data and information is collected and used in day-to-day maintenance activity is inefficient in the first place, and rooted in historical ‘analogue’ practice. For example inefficiencies arise from:

  • different proprietary information systems and platforms in use which don’t talk to each other
  • a lack of standardisation of paper and computer processes and tools
  • collecting the same condition data every year but only utilising a small percentage of it
  • a fragmented value chain around the delivery of services
  • poor information connectivity and flow, lots of activity duplication
  • relatively immature data architecture in local government
  • the consequential high cost of data collection and recollection
  • limited analysis (and time for analysis) of data, to turn data into information, and from that gain insight to improve services and enable innovation
  • little time for customer needs or priorities beyond making sure the road surface is fit.

It doesn’t have to be that way but currently for many authorities it just is.

Big data is the ability to connect and use all of the collected information ‘out there’ to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions, and thus make better decisions around infrastructure investment and operations. 

Big data is going to be increasingly relevant to the way we plan, invest in, and manage our highway networks going forward as the number of sensors capturing, processing and reporting information grows, exponentially, in the next few years. 

If local highway authorities already have at their disposal lots of other relevant data, rather than just the inventory and condition available to them, but don’t use that properly, then what is the point of being able to collect more data if we can’t use it? 

An additional concern is that although highways officers and service providers were among the early adopters of digital technology, they now face being left behind as the world moves on and huge corporations are heavily investing in a better understanding how data will be transmitted and harvested from the infrastructure and asset platforms that local authorities currently maintain, which will lead to a natural interest in them owning or managing those networks.    

I have no problem with who runs our networks, as long as they are managed properly and transparently. My concern is that by carrying on the way we are, highway authorities will miss out on the potential to intelligently plan for and utilise ‘Big data’ to the benefit of their local communities, and towns and cities. Or they will miss the right time to do it and we will all end up paying a hefty premium for a transformation to retro fit such capacity and capability.

Highways members, officers and infrastructure service providers need to stay in the game and not be potentially marginalised.  My question is, if you can’t do small data efficiently and effectively now, how do you think you’ll be able to do big data in the future? 

The revolution is coming, but getting it started in an equitable and transparent fashion, setting the ground rules for the way assets will be managed and our infrastructure maintained in the future, will need all of us, working together to define the way we want those decisions to be made. 

That means we need to generate a common data culture in local highway authorities, and among local authority officers and their suppliers, to not only ensure that customers are connected to the right outcomes, but also to fully realise the benefits of connecting and using all that latent information already around us, and we need to get used to working that way quickly.

In order to realise the best possible digital future in highway maintenance we need to design a better approach than the one we have now, and better connect the technology to the people who maintain, manage and monitor our networks and the people who use them. And we need to start doing it quickly.

Brian Fitzpatrick is principal advisor at Fitzpatrick Advisory.

Highways jobs

Senior Structures Engineer

Kent County Council
£33,678 per annum
We are looking to recruit a Senior Structures Engineer to provide engineering support for maintenance of highway structures, liaising and... Kent
Recruiter: Kent County Council

Contracts and Strategy Manager

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£42684 - £45585 per annum
The Directorate of Communities & Environment prides itself on the service it provides to the residents of Royal Greenwich. We are looking to recruit s England, London, Greenwich
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Regeneration Delivery Manager - Heritage Action Zone

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£42684 - £45585 per annum
(Fixed Term Opportunity until March 2024)Woolwich town is undergoing a period of intensive regeneration with huge investment in new housing, transport England, London, Woolwich
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Senior Local Engineer

Birmingham City Council
£27,741 - £34,728
The Senior Local Engineer role is to provide technical service at senior level to Local Engineering teams Birmingham, West Midlands
Recruiter: Birmingham City Council

Traffic & Transportation Engineer

Conwy County Borough Council
£41,881 - £44,863 per annum
You should have a degree or diploma in civil engineering or other relevant discipline, and extensive experience in... North Wales
Recruiter: Conwy County Borough Council

Principal Development Co-ordinator

Gloucestershire County Council
£33,799.00 - £38,813.00 + 12% MRS
Leading on the review of Major Development Proposals. Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Recruiter: Gloucestershire County Council

Highways Development Management (HDM) Manager

Gloucestershire County Council
£53,445.00 - £58,008.00 + MRS
To oversee all aspects of Highways Development Management from pre application discussions to road adoption. Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Recruiter: Gloucestershire County Council

Principal Development Engineer

Gloucestershire County Council
£33,799.00 - £38,813.00 + 12% MRS
You will be responsible for undertaking design audit of third party developer works under Section 38 and 278 of the Highways Act 1980. Gloucester, Gloucestershire
Recruiter: Gloucestershire County Council

Director of Environment

Southwark London Borough Council
Up to £136,000
A fairer future for all A fairer future for all Southwark, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Southwark London Borough Council

Director of Public Health

Southwark London Borough Council
Up to £136,000
A fairer future for all Southwark, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Southwark London Borough Council

Parks Development Officer

Kirklees Metropolitan Council
£26,999 - £29,636 per annum
You will work with community groups, organisations, ward members, residents and colleagues in order to... Kirklees, West Yorkshire
Recruiter: Kirklees Metropolitan Council

Head of Infrastructure & Facilities

East Riding of Yorkshire Council
circa 100k
We are seeking a Head of Infrastructure & Facilities to lead the strategic management of the service in a unique and exciting opportunity for a... Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire
Recruiter: East Riding of Yorkshire Council

Senior Professional and Technical Officer – Project Manager

Bristol City Council
£32,910 - £34,728
We are seeking to appoint a Project Manager, to work in the Transport Service, to help support the delivery of the above plans. Bristol
Recruiter: Bristol City Council

Policy Advisor – The Independent Commission on Civil Aviation Noise (ICCAN)

Department for Transport
£37,803
Look to the sky for a great career opportunity Woking, Surrey
Recruiter: Department for Transport

Skilled Road Worker (TRR)

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£26,025 - £31,536 depending on knowledge, skills and experience
Do you want to be part of a supportive team and use an innovative method of working on the highway? London (Greater)
Recruiter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Executive Officer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£26,025 - £34,479 depending on skills
Are you looking for an opportunity within a friendly and supporting team? London (Greater)
Recruiter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Assistant Director of Transport & Sustainability

Royal Borough of Greenwich
£93,098 - £102,841
This dynamic role will see you provide strategic leadership to our transport strategy Greenwich, London (Greater)
Recruiter: Royal Borough of Greenwich

Highways Customer Communications Officer

North Yorkshire County Council
£27,741 to £30,451
We are looking for a strong communicator to join our Highways Team in Boroughbridge.   Boroughbridge, York
Recruiter: North Yorkshire County Council

Street Cleaning Operative / Driver

Barnet London Borough Council
Competitive Salary
We are looking for hard working, motivated, reliable people to join our team. Barnet (City/Town), London (Greater)
Recruiter: Barnet London Borough Council

Senior Network Support Engineer

The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council
£36,600 - £49,600 per annum
We are looking for an experienced Senior Networks Support Engineer to provide up to date... Kensington and Chelsea, London (Greater)
Recruiter: The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Council

Highways on Fridays

Register now!

Latest Issue

latest magazine issue
  • Shell celebrates 100 years of bitumen
  • Why we need to be more strategic about safety
  • Major reforms aim to close cycling gap
View the latest issue

Latest Video