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Water, Water, Everywhere… Nor a Drop Amiss

Water, Water, Everywhere… Nor a Drop Amiss

By Dan Culli, GIS Consultant at Locana

In this recent article in Civil + Structural Engineer Magazine, my colleague Mike Housby wrote about how managers of large capital projects are swimming in data that has the potential to help them make better, faster decisions. But there is a problem: there are several obstacles to making that data truly consumable and actionable. He quoted the famous line from Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner to describe the conundrum: “Water, water, everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.” So much data. Too few insights. It’s a problem that every project manager I know can relate to.

Mike didn’t just diagnose the problem, though. He mapped out how organizations responsible for these large capital projects can tap into the potential of that data by using enterprise GIS and location intelligence. That technology and the best practices he discussed are a gamechanger for managing large construction projects in ways that keep them moving forward, simplify management of all the moving parts, and make it more likely for these massive projects to stay on time and on budget. One of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects is a great example of that: The Thames Estuary 2100 flood risk management project, based in London.

Referred to most often as TEAM2100, the UK Environment Agency’s Thames Estuary Asset Management 2100 Programme is the first step in a nearly century-long plan to manage tidal flood risk for the UK’s most important and famous river. TEAM2100 encompasses the tidal Thames estuary and associated flood plains from west London downstream to the North Sea, protecting over 1.4 million people and £321 billion pounds worth of property from tidal flooding. The asset system comprises more than 4000 flood defense assets, including 350 kilometers of walls and embankments, the iconic Thames Barrier and several other tidal barriers, 290 outfalls, 348 frontage gates, and just over 100 pumping stations, each with hundreds if not thousands of related data components. The volume of data related to the programme is enormous. But no one is quoting Coleridge’s “Nor a drop to drink” line when it comes to turning that ocean of data – or in this case, a massive river of data – into “drinkable” insights. Location intelligence has been a critical tool for management of the TEAM2100 programme. 

I have been directly involved in the TEAM2100 integrated delivery team for several years working with its lead partners, the Environment Agency (EA) and Jacobs, who are responsible for overall management of the Thames Estuary work. In that role, I have promoted location intelligence as a critical tool to enable project success. Jacobs knew how complex project controls and data management would be for orchestrating such a large initiative, and they made an important decision to use Enterprise GIS and location intelligence to address that challenge. Jacobs leveraged its geospatial partner Locana to develop an enterprise GIS platform that connected data sets and computing systems so that project managers were able to easily utilize data analytics and data visualization to successfully execute programme functions. 

Early in the project, TEAM2100 experienced an onslaught of data, which included large amounts of legacy information, infrastructure assessments, and newly-generated information from the new projects. Data management quickly became difficult using a collection of spreadsheets, databases, engineering drawings, and software. In addition, the size and scope of the program, with many projects going on at any time, meant deploying disparate systems that lacked complete integration. This led to data issues, including redundancy, latency, incompleteness, and low confidence. Project leaders at the EA, Jacobs, and Locana recognized the potential to use location as a critical factor for solving these challenges. Enterprise GIS provides a natural integration point for multiple systems, enabling users to consume data from different sources for analysis and visualization in one platform. And pulling asset data and related information into a location-based format—a map—would make it easy for stakeholders to find and view the necessary information. 

From program inception, Locana developed the enterprise GIS platform known as Estuary Eye (E.E.). The platform was designed using ArcGIS software from Esri, including Esri’s Web AppBuilder for web applications and Survey123 and Field Maps for mobile capabilities. The solution integrates multiple systems, including Oracle’s P6 and Bentley’s ProjectWise engineering software, into a seamless web-based GIS solution, providing a single source of truth for users across the programme. E.E. breaks down silos between data sets, computing systems, and, vitally, people that are so common with large capital projects. The result is not only a more unified overall view of the programme through data, but the ability to derive actionable insights that were previously unavailable. 

Asset management is an area where the impact of E.E. has been dramatic. Through the insights that E.E. produces, TEAM2100 is able to more effectively manage the full life cycle of thousands of assets across the massive geographic area of the Thames Estuary. E.E. uses location intelligence to deliver over 400 users a rich array of up-to-date data that is used for every aspect of asset management, including planning, scheduling, construction, operation, and maintenance. E.E. holds over eight terabytes of information accessible through 400 map layers, including over 200,000 photos, survey data and elevation profiles, georeferenced drone video, and more. In addition, the platform contains open-source technology for viewing large LiDAR datasets using a web browser. 

TEAM2100 is using the system across all aspects of asset management, including analyzing assets within their geographic context, how they interface with neighboring assets, what they are made of, their condition, and whether opportunities exist to take advantage of a single site visit versus going back to the site repeatedly. Teams go to an area with mobile GIS applications built on Esri’s Survey123 and Field Maps to capture information about the assets. The data is then submitted from the field and instantly viewable in E.E. by engineers or analysts in other locations. 

A great example of the impact of E.E. is how TEAM2100’s staff can perform analysis that provides predictive maintenance and reduces the need to respond to asset failures. The location intelligence produced by the system helps accelerate construction projects by quickly providing engineers with topographic survey data from various sources and time periods. They can perform visual inspections using a wealth of geotagged photos and georeferenced videos, as well as record asset defects in the office and from the site. 

Ease of access was a key guiding principle for TEAM2100’s E.E. system. The data and insights from E.E. are available through a single GIS viewer that can be accessed easily by a range of devices, including mobile devices in the field. That puts the power of the system into the hands of TEAM2100’s team and its construction partners wherever they are working. This empowers workers at every level of the project. At the tactical level, users can find information for their day-to-day work in an hour instead of days or weeks removing one of the most frustrating causes of delays. In addition, the richness and immediate accessibility of the information often means they can proceed with their workflow without requiring a site visit. That saves the time and expenses and makes their jobs safer. At the macro level, senior leadership is able to leverage the insights from E.E. to do more effective long-term asset programming and forecasting, filtering data as needed to plan 18 and 24 months out. They can view variables such as where current projects exist and where future assignments will occur. The GIS also provides a longer term look at the asset system, where information on management of the defenses out to 40+ years is available via a series of StoryMaps.

No two capital projects are the same, but the data challenges and project management complexity I’ve discussed above are universal. TEAM2100’s years-long use of Enterprise GIS and location intelligence on one of the UK’s largest infrastructure projects provides a blueprint for how other organizations can tap into their oceans—or rivers—of data as well.

About the Author:

Dan Culli is a GIS Consultant at Locana, an international leader in spatial technology. Based in London, Mr. Culli is a highly qualified GIS professional, geospatial analyst and geographer with solid experience in enterprise GIS, spatial data analysis and management, business analysis, remote sensing, and policy analysis and development. He has served in multiple levels of government and the private sector in both the UK and the US across a variety of application areas including AEC, urban issues, and agriculture.