The Long Read: Upgrading the Scottish Road Works Register

07/07/2021
Stuart Marshall

Stuart Marshall (pictured), sales and marketing manager at Symology, celebrates the first anniversary of a major upgrade to the Scottish Road Works Register, also known as ‘The Register’ or SRWR - the computerised database system for the electronic transfer, retention, and management of road works data in Scotland.

The SRWR is owned and managed by the Office of the Scottish Road Works Commissioner and, as with Street Manager in England, is one of a mere handful of nationwide road works systems in the world.

Funding for the SRWR is collected from the undertakers and roads authorities who use it. This is done through legislation, specifically the Prescribed Fees and Amounts regulations. The fee element of the funding is based on the number of notices recorded, more notices lead to a higher fee, and the amount element is based on the number of council areas an undertaker has apparatus in.

Symology’s Insight solution has been used in the provision of the SRWR since 2006 and the Scottish Road Works Commissioner planned to introduce Symology’s all-new, map-based Aurora application to its 2,500 users in April 2020.

The UK-wide lockdown put a stop to that but, working together, the Commissioner and Symology successfully went live with Aurora just three months later.

Introduction

Originating in 1985 as a plant protection system, the SRWR is used by the roads authorities and utility companies, together with their contractors, as the principal tool to plan and co-ordinate works on Scottish roads. It also acts as the data source when the performance of any of these works is assessed.

All users log in to a single solution, whether they come from within the Commissioner’s office itself, one of the 33 road works authorities or one of the 85 undertakers active in Scotland together with their subcontractors.

Pic cap: The Aurora system on screen and below with its various functionalities including (bottom) Google Streetview

The SRWR also includes a record of Permissions and Consents, such as the placement of skips, erection of scaffolding, and major events and their associated diversion routes.

For the individual Scottish citizen, other interested organisations, and key stakeholders, it represents an accurate repository of information on past, current and future road works.

This data can be accessed easily through a public-facing web portal. The SRWR is committed to open data publishing, which enables third parties to utilise the data.

More than fifteen years of Insight from Symology

Although the original development of the SRWR was undertaken in house, outsourcing started in 2000 through an internal buyout.

This operated for five years until, in 2005, the SRWR chose Symology and the Insight Street Works and Asset Management software to become their solution provider.

Since then, SRWR has tendered twice more in 2010 and 2017, and on both occasions Symology was the successful supplier.

Iain Ross, who is SRWR Manager for the Scottish Road Works Commissioner and has managed the contract for the SRWR since 2006, said: 'Through a programme of continuous improvement, Insight has continued to not only meet our road works co-ordination needs but also to support our developing goals and aspirations for the entire road network in Scotland.

‘Whether it has been functionality improvements, update roll-outs, or new development programmes, Symology’s collaborative approach has ensured Insight has grown with us.

'One example of this collaboration is the Community Apparatus Data Vault (Vault), which allows any user to view underground apparatus when creating and assessing works on the network to identify the impact and any special processes that would need to be followed.'

A web-based, collaborative approach

The collaborative approach between Symology and the Scottish Road Works Commissioner, developed since 2005, is illustrated by the open acknowledgement of the difficulties included within the 2017 tender.

'We and our 2,500 users were comfortable with the functionality within Insight but, like Symology, recognised that a web-based solution with a mapping-based browser interface was the next evolutionary step. And, it would be beneficial that the Register and Vault also be available as a series of Mobile Apps to enable inspections to be recorded, works to be started and stopped, and the Vault data to be viewed all while in the field.

'As Symology had already started on the development of a wholly new software solution incorporating map driven capabilities, sophisticated co-ordination tools, role-based permissions, comprehensive reporting, and mobile functionality for all its clients, we signed up to rolling out the new solution when available.'

Mr Ross added: 'The Commissioner and his office, members of the SRWR Steering Group and the SRWR System Assurance Team, made up of representatives from the Roads Authorities and Utilities Committee (RAUC(S)), all worked alongside the Symology development team. Our aim was to ensure that the evolution of the SRWR delivered a comprehensive solution for many years to come. This latest release of the SRWR, using Aurora, does just that.'

 

From the ground up

Aurora incorporates Insight’s vast functionality within a powerful map-driven interface, with defined symbols helping users to identify different levels of activity, whether it is minor works or road closures and associated diversion routes.

The Aurora system was a direct replacement for Insight and has zero-client footprint, meaning end users didn’t need to install software to use it. The map-driven interface focused on an organisation’s area of interest allows users to find and record notices faster. The customisable grids with highlighting, sorting, grouping and export facilities made it easier for end users to streamline their access to data.

Aurora also used its Gold Partner status to integrate true web mapping using ESRI technology. Not only does this expand upon the ESRI GIS offering, but it also provides clients with a mapping look-and-feel within Aurora that they are accustomed to in their everyday life.

Google Street View integration also assists users with their co-ordination duties, alongside viewing historic, current, and future works.

Furthermore, SRWR Mobile Apps enable operatives in the field to record their inspections, starts and stops and check details of underground apparatus. Programmable Aurora dashboards help users manage routine activities, such as managing works through the lifecycle or tracking inspections throughout the year.

In this way, the dashboards take Insight’s huge enquiries capabilities a step further by providing a quick visual snapshot of operational data in a different format.

At the top level, they provide a visual representation of the status of works and inspections on the entire network, while allowing users to quickly drill down to the detailed records for progression or further investigation.

Aurora uses Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Cloud enables Symology to provide the solution in a scalable and secure fashion, as well as providing a platform for future development of the solution around data and AI and other areas of innovation.

Going live

The Insight SRWR was suspended on Friday 10 July 2020, and the migration to Aurora carried out by Symology over the weekend.

The Insight to Aurora transition included the migration of historic data, the updating of existing mobile apps, updating of the Community Apparatus Vault data and directing Aurora data to the Road Works Web Portal, roadworksscotland.org.

In the event, SRWR users could begin logging in ahead of schedule on 12 July, when the first notices were raised. The SRWR Aurora solution officially went live on 13 July 2020.

Mr Ross said: 'The implementation of any new solution necessarily includes a number of unknowns for users, but we knew Symology had previous experience of executing national solutions and their team worked closely with the Office of the Scottish Road Works Commissioner and RAUC(S) representatives to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

'But it is also a tribute to all our users, the majority of whom were working from home. They had been utilising the e-learning tools provided by Symology through the Aurora Academy to familiarise themselves with the new features since the beginning of 2020.

‘SRWR users also had access to a training version of the Register. These e-learning facilities have proven invaluable in ensuring that thousands of users received the necessary training for the new SRWR Aurora solution not only in the preparation for the Go-Live but also in follow-up sessions.'

As part of the implementation of the new SRWR, Symology migrated the vast majority of data from Insight; including all notices, fixed penalty notices, inspections, directions, plant information requests, damages, traffic light applications; any attached objects; data held in the Vault; and all organisations, operational districts and users. Approximately 1.25 million records were migrated.

After the launch of the system there were some negative issues around the extracting of data from Aurora compared to the Insight system, with certain datasets no longer easy to extract.

Even taking this into consideration, the net benefit of the system taken as a whole is positive, with the time gained through usability improvements offsetting any negative elements.

The SRWR also provides a wealth of detailed data on road works, allowing all users to self-monitor their compliance with regulations and best practice, as well as providing the Scottish Road Works Commissioner with the data needed to assess performance of undertakers and roads authorities.

Roads authorities inspections are also recorded on the system which again allows reporting locally and nationally on compliance with safety and reinstatement requirements.

Moving forward

The Aurora solution uses tailored spatial areas and role-based permissions to allow organisations to co-operate and share their data with other organisations without sacrificing data integrity.

This is complemented by the integration of Google Street View, the SRWR Mobile Apps, and the user-programmable dashboards.

There are no lane rental or permit schemes operating in Scotland. Since data in Aurora is shared from both sides co-ordination is more efficient and as all works are recorded this also encourages co-operation between undertakers using information from the register.

The system automatically flags co-ordination conflicts, encouraging dialogue between undertakers and roads authorities. While this most commonly results in works being rescheduled to avoid the conflict, the potential for collaborative working under the same closures is highlighted to both parties.

'The ability of the dashboards to show us the big picture is invaluable,' said Mr Ross.

‘The Commissioner and the road works community can easily view the single source of the truth across the Scottish network at any one time. Meanwhile, the SRWR Mobile Apps, which operated with Insight, enable road works to be easily handled.

‘Whether recording inspections or simply recording what time you started and finished a job, it makes it easier for everyone to comply with the strict timescales for recording such information.’

The value of the mobile apps is demonstrated by the increase in the number of utility inspections, where works promoters inspected their works to identify defects early.

Angus Carmichael oversaw the Aurora introduction as one of his final acts as Scottish Road Works Commissioner before retiring in September 2020. He said: 'I am delighted with Symology’s recent upgrade to the Scottish Road Works Register. Throughout the last two years, Symology has worked closely with representatives of the road works community in Scotland and my office to ensure the new register provides the functionality required.

'There were a few difficulties associated with the reporting functionality, but Symology has been diligent in their efforts to resolve these issues. I am happy to say that the new system is bedding in well and is a great improvement.'

There are also several options available to users of external systems to interface with the SRWR. All noticing data on the SRWR is shared as open data.

Specifically; all data is extracted each night and made available for download. There is a web services API allowing interrogation and recording of records on the SRWR, and there are GIS WMS services allowing works to be plotted on a map.

Symology is also keen to build on the success of the implementation of Aurora in Scotland by implementing Aurora across the rest of its customer base, making it Symology’s flagship solution both for Street Works and Asset Management.

As the same solution is used by all Symology customers, these enhancements will not only benefit the SRWR but also all Aurora users.

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