GIS set to play starring role on future infrastructure projects

Geoff Waite, associate director of Atkins.

There are so many examples of where GIS has added real value to projects, without project teams even realising it, says Geoff Waite, associate director of Atkins.

I used to call GIS (Geographic Information Systems) the infrastructure sector’s ‘best kept secret’. But I can’t really say that anymore. GIS are now incorporated in almost every infrastructure project, from nuclear to transport to buildings and renewable energy, in the UK and around the world. 

Below are just four of the times GIS has made a difference to infrastructure. 

Improving M25 journey times using data analysis:

GIS was the backbone of this fantastic project with EE to improve traffic on the M25. Bringing together an innovative team of data scientists, geospatial experts and transport modelling specialists, this partnership provided a holistic approach to solve a complex spatial issue. Spatial software was used to process Big Data from various sources allowing spatial analysis to integrate with statistical algorithms to understand near real-time traffic flow. 

Using data innovatively to save 3,900 days of road disruption: 

Our GIS team paired up with our innovation team to help Thames Water look at new ways of using their data to reduce costs and disruption through a project called ThamesConnect. Our guiding principle was that better data sharing would help Thames Water provide a better service for customers and deliver real Totex efficiencies. By combining the data of two major programmes of work, we found that Thames Water could create over £7.7m in efficiencies and avoid 3,900 days of disruption to their customers.

Improved survey efficiency and safety using drones: 

The technology we use to collect data is just as important as the technology we use to analyse and understand it. Last year, Atkins won a Brownfield Briefing Award for the ‘Best use of digital technology’ for our drone work with National Grid. This project showcased the power of drones, as we were able to map eight sites in five days;  traditionally this would have taken around six weeks and involved working at height. Drones are providing us new and safer ways to map sites and collect data, so much so that Atkins continues to invest in drone technology, recently acquiring our own top spec drone the DJI M600 Pro.    

Award winning asset management in transportation:

ORBIS (Offering Rail Better Information Services) is Network Rail’s transformation programme to improve their approach to acquiring, storing and using asset information. We created the geospatial front-end that brought all of the asset information together in a way that was easy to access and use for the thousands of people who work for Network Rail and their supply chain. This was a fundamental enabler for ORBIS as it allowed everyone to access the same information, wherever they were in the country. The fact that it has won numerous industry digital and innovation awards is a testament to the role GIS played. 

These examples show the important role GIS plays in digital transformation. If we want a more digital future, we need to start with data – and GIS is where that expertise lies. I have no doubt we will see GIS play more of a role, perhaps even a starring one, on infrastructure projects in future. 

Geoff Waite is associate director of Atkins, part of the SNC-Lavalin Group.