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Big data


Lila Tachtsi
20 Mar 2017

Data is valuable, it’s the new currency. In many sectors, including transport, it becomes invaluable when it is gathered, analysed and transformed into operational and business intelligence. And now there is a great potential for doing so in real-time, offering even bigger opportunities for the travel experience. It’s how we use data that will inform and influence the design of our future cities.

We have released a white paper that considers how we can use insights from big data to influence strategic decision-making and user behaviour.

As well as adding extra network capacity and delivering a better customer experience, big data presents an incredible opportunity to influence people’s behaviour, offering travellers with smarter and more sustainable transport choices.

For example, in a world of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), we can gather data that will inform us about the condition of the transport network, traveller and vehicle behaviour, usage peaks and troughs, the design and operation of towns and cities, and social trends. The maximum value of collaborative CAVs will only be possible with shared ownership and better planned urban networks.

Atkins is currently expanding its use of big data to include mobile phone data, GPS data and a wide range of maintained data assets and connected sensors. This helps us to plan and design future services, quickly address any issues on the network, inform customers of disruptions, travel updates and much more. This is just the tip of what is possible.  We have a growing portfolio of big data insight projects based on more generic and well-maintained data sources, and built on data analytics platforms that can automate common analysis, which enables substantial productivity and quality improvements. 

Using big data insight, we will be able to encourage and incentivise users of the transport system to move closer to their workplace and popular facilities, as well as to more sustainable transport and urban environments. Contemporary planning will help ensure we have the right travel alternatives in the right place and at the right time, making these long term choices attractive.

So what do we need to do now?

  • We need to increase the ‘velocity’ of traditional data analytics from what might be several weeks to a matter of minutes, with big data enabling new forms of algorithms and models to be trained and applied on accelerated computer systems.
  • We need to find a way to ensure data can be shared seamlessly across systems and sectors so we can maximise the benefits of big data for society as a whole.
  • We need to show the general public the benefits that sharing data can have so public opinion can shift and we can better improve people’s lives and journeys through having access to the bigger picture.

By capturing data and applying scenario planning, we can chart our route towards a more connected, automated and data-driven future, and a better passenger experience for us all.

To read the full study click here. To find out more about intelligent mobility from Atkins, visit our hub and join our LinkedIn group.

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UK & Europe, Group, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World,

Hilary Carter
07 Nov 2016

We often use or hear the term big data but perhaps are not fully aware of what this means. Mobile data is a form of big data and EE, with over 31m customers, generates billions of rows of data every day from their 2, 3 and 4G networks. As devices become more and more ubiquitous so too does the ability to understand behaviours, trends and patterns at a much larger scale and with greater detail than ever before.

Furthermore, as richer data sources become available and our understanding of how to engineer it we are able to gain greater in-depth knowledge of movements on our highways and rail networks, with greater detail than manual traffic counts and roadside interviews ever could.  This provides intelligence on the UK’s mobility.

Atkins is looking at how innovation can change the way we safely provide services on one of the busiest motorways in Europe – the M25. Currently, Connect Plus and Connect Plus Services are required to monitor journey times on 20 sections of the M25 and radial routes to London.

Between 2003 and 2008, 11 road workers were killed and 104 were seriously injured whilst working on UK roads. As a result, Highways England in an effort to provide a ‘safe and serviceable network’ worked with Atkins & EE – utilising Mobile Data Insights. This replaced the need for manual surveys which were time-consuming, provided limited information and posed a very real threat to health and safety.

This traditional approach to data collection is doomed to stagnation. Data Insights provide more accurate information to support operational and long term planning. Insights are derived by combining the network activity of the biggest mobile network in the UK and Atkins’ experience of modelling and capturing of transport and people movements.

The Atkins/EE collaboration supplies journey time data analysis as an independent metric, using anonymised and aggregated mobile phone data to derive the average journey time.

Crucially, this approach to mobile data analysis provides a safer and more accurate alternative, at a lower cost. Not only it is more efficient in terms of time and resources but it also provides an opportunity for new connections to be made.

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UK & Europe,

Harshal Desai
08 Sep 2016

But sadly, in 2012 Kodak announced it would stop making digital cameras. After 125 years in business, they were unable to fully leverage their own precious creation to its full potential—lacking the ability to fully integrate their invention with the rest of the world. The winners in this battle were able to liberate our photos from separate devices, and allow us to share our masterpieces (and a few selfies) with the world at the click of a button.

Many entities are facing a similar dilemma with their antiquated methods of storing and using data. Their data (like those photos taken with the first digital cameras) sits in redundant locations, unshared, incomplete—its potential limited. For example, many entities maintain some form of GIS data for inventorying their stormwater infrastructure but they do not take full advantage of the data. Often, their data is developed, stored, and used with a single objective in mind. In fact, sometimes, multiple databases are created for the same stormwater infrastructure to serve separate functions, rather than finding ways to combine the datasets. This results in neither database being able to reveal the full picture. In limiting data requirements and database structure to solely meet a specific policy or project need, they miss out on being able to fully leverage that data for decision making and other functions, such as capital improvement planning, asset management, hydraulic analysis, etc. They will also miss out on inexpensively collecting additional key data that can expand decision-making capabilities in the future.

This siloed approach to data collection and database management is doomed to stagnation. But what is holding us back from making sure our valuable data can serve us well in the future? Why are we falling short when it comes to database planning to make sure we have options, flexibility, and adaptability in the future?

When we collect and digitize data with multiple end-purposes in mind—whether it is floodplain data, information about a city’s transportation system, elevations of a subsurface utility, or soil characteristics from a geotechnical boring—we open up a million possibilities to better understand past problems and predict future outcomes to better serve our communities and our residents’ well-being. We can save vast amounts of time and resources and make connections that we wouldn’t have been able to make otherwise. And when that data can be shared, repurposed, updated, and integrated with other systems, it can offer us an even more complete picture of our world. At its best, you might imagine a complete model of a city, where all of the infrastructure and landscape is visualized in 3D and you can zoom into any desired component—a model that allows you to gather updated data and test various scenarios—this is what a liberated database looks like. This is what it looks like when a database comes alive.

The good news is that this type of database doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition and is not out of reach for most cities. With some simple planning and visioning activities, we have an opportunity to further leverage our existing data and refine business processes to enhance the usability and functionality of the data. We can create relational geo-databases that can be used for multiple functions rather than a single objective. We can create “living” databases that are adaptable for multiple foreseeable functions that help maximize value from public expenditures to better manage our infrastructure, improve water quality, streamline transportation, and safeguard vulnerable communities, amongst many other possibilities.

So what is needed to create this kind of living database that can thrive and respond to its organization’s demands? First, you must recognize the problem and how much it is costing you in terms of lack of insight and usability. Next, it’s a matter of taking small steps in the right direction consistently and joining forces with the right players. It is important to work across agency lines and collaborate with different entities and stakeholders.

Through past experience, we’ve found that an internal champion, passionate about the cause, who helps push for this data-based future is critical to a project’s success. Further, with implementation or use of any new technology or system, the process is most effective when those who will be using the system also take primary ownership since they will be the ones putting it to use. This sense of ownership evolves when users, managers, and developers of the system collaborate and work together at the beginning of the process to define intended uses of the system in context with day-to-day operations, procedures and future needs. This should not be a process undertaken by a single department, but rather it should engage multiple departments and parts of the organization to co-create their living database. This is truly how cities realize significant ROI through their data.

With the right stakeholders engaged in the process, the next step is to conduct visioning exercises—outlining user needs and mapping out existing workflows and business process. It’s important to get clear understanding of the data you have (as well what data you don’t have) and what it can be used for. Take some time to imagine all of the possible future applications and potential end products. While there is no way to know exactly what an organization’s future needs will be, by the end of this process, you will have a solid list of possibilities that can be built into the system. Even without having the desired data in hand, by keeping these future needs in mind, specifications can be developed for the minimum systems requirements you’ll need once you do get there. From these basic requirements, it’s possible to start very lean and build an increasingly robust system as you go—incorporating your existing data into the new database.

At a minimum, the living database should provide a snap-shot of the current state of the data, be able to easily incorporate regular updates as new data is collected or available. It should have the ability to maintain and recognize inherent relationships between different types of information stored. It should provide the analytics necessary to support informed decision-making. Ultimately, it should save time and money by serving multiple purposes for multiple users.

An important point to remember is that any database, no matter how many bells and whistles it may have, is no better than the data it contains. The data is the star, just as the subject of any photo is its star. And doesn’t our data deserve better? At Atkins, we’ve helped our clients develop numerous databases and understand the potential value of data and the types of information needed to support complex decision-making. We also recognize that in collaborating with multiple stakeholders, we can offer our clients complete solutions that solve multiple data and decision needs well into the future. It’s never too late to give our data the living database that it deserves.

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North America,

Anne Kemp
09 Dec 2015

I recently helped to edit a new report, the Association of Geographic Information (AGI) Foresight Report 2020, and what came across over and over again was how crucial one community will be in helping us understand, analyse and manage this huge influx of data: the geospatial community.

So what is geospatial? In the simplest terms, geospatial specialists gather, display and manipulate information that has a location attached to it, from an address or coordinates from a GPS. However, there is far more to geospatial than just creating maps. For geospatial practitioners, it’s always been about data, what you do with it and what outcomes you can provide.

We need to sift through a huge amount of noise now to find the information we need to make good decisions, and the geospatial community can help us do it. Geospatial analysis can help us to visualise patterns of information, create better understanding and dialogue, and make more informed decisions.

The AGI Foresight Report 2020 looks at the big issues for our industry, not only big data but things like smart cities, UAVs and BIM. With over 60 papers, I’d suggest as a starter you check out the papers from Robert Eliot at the National Physical Laboratory on Big Data and the Internet of Things (p103), Jim Plume of UNSW Australia & Building SMART on Integrating Digitally-Enabled Environment - The Internet of Places (p207) and Mark King at Leica Geosystems on SIM Cities - why BIM and GIS fit together (p157). And of course the papers from my other Atkins colleagues:

  • Jérôme Chamfray, BIM manager, David Wright, practice director & Simon Miles, principal geotechnical consultant, BIM for the sub-surface challenges (p73)
  • Geoff Darch, principle consultant, Big data in future proofing cities (p95)
  • Barry Hall (principle GIS consultant) To CAD or not to CAD? That is the question (p129)

Sadly in reading all of these great papers, it became clear to me that while the idea of “location” is more widely used than ever (mostly thanks to mobile devices), the term “geospatial” is still pretty niche. Hopefully the report can go some way towards changing this, and helping us recognise the important role the geospatial industry can play in our future. With over 2,100 downloads in the first fortnight since its release, I think we’re well on our way…

You can read the full AGI Foresight Report 2020 here.  

References: IBM and Forbes

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Asia Pacific, Group, Middle East & Africa, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

Prof Dr Uwe Krueger
11 Sep 2015

How can we embrace technology – not for technology’s sake – but for the real benefit of our customers, our own companies and the communities we serve? Atkins’ CEO Uwe Krueger provides a perspective from the ENR Global Construction Summit in New York.

The nature of the construction industry is changing rapidly, driven by tougher market and trading conditions and by demands from clients for better value and more innovation. There are higher expectations from funding institutions for cost efficiency and project certainty. There is also political pressure, as governments seek better value for money.

We are also facing rapid growth in both population and urbanisation, creating an enormous infrastructure funding gap, but the challenge is not funding: financial institutions are willing to invest if they can see a clear investment case and cash stream – and a stable political and tax environment.

The challenge is matching capital to suitable, financeable projects.

What can the infrastructure industry do to attract investment into the sector? It has to improve and not be afraid to innovate.

For the investment community, risk is a key consideration. The technology used by our sector can play a critical role in identifying, and mitigating, risk and make a huge change in the pace of progress.

Risk can be mitigated, in part, by increasing certainty around project input costs (which reflect complexity of design and construction and engineering delivery risk). Innovative technology, in the form of digital engineering, can make a big difference.

Digital engineering in essence is the automation of all or parts of the life cycle of a built asset. With digital engineering and building information modelling (BIM), value creation can be mapped through the design, construction, operation, maintenance and renovation phases of any project.

The use of big data analysis can help our clients make better informed decisions, resulting in greater resilience in our infrastructure. More effective safety and security measures can be implemented based on the complete picture offered by digital engineering. Even productivity can be improved, as new tools – like BIM – enable project managers to improve efficiencies by collating all project information into one digital location.

New, advanced materials and production methods are being added to the mix: additive fabrication such as 3D printing processes are now being increasingly used in the construction industry to speed the building process.

From Crossrail to the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street station in the UK, digital modelling is at the heart of these projects. Cities must prepare for the coming technologies that will fundamentally change how people move and interact with their surroundings. We are only at the starting point to comprehend how smart phones and other intelligent personal devices will interact with infrastructure in the future.

So, which technologies and approaches should we apply? There are some important considerations:

Pace: we need to attract a new generation of technology savvy youngsters to our industry, to keep up with this evolving digital landscape.

Compromise: the available technologies, even in combination, don’t provide a “one-size fits all” solution – we need a trial and error approach. It is all about quantifying risk and the certainty of delivery for our clients.

Adaptation: the notion of “best practice” is shifting with each new tool – we need to get much more agile in the way we embrace technology.

If we, as an industry, take these opportunities seriously, we have the chance for a period of technology driven growth. We have the privilege to shape the environment where people live and work tomorrow, to attract the right people and to create the future with them.

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Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, Rest of World, UK & Europe,

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