Unsupported browser

For a better experience, please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Round table: Quality over quantity

The quantity of data generated by major infrastructure and commercial projects is vast, but what are the challenges of managing that data and how can the industry use that data to become more efficient?

In early October GE, in association with Mabey, hosted a round table debate to discuss the issues and challenges o fmanaging the huge amount of data generated by instrumentation and monitoring on major infrastructure and commercial projects. Is there anyway in which technology could improve and can new ways to create and manage data be created? Can the industry become more efficient with effective data management?

“It’s often from a defensive position that we start monitoring. It’s making sure that we are not damaging any third-party assets and making sure we can prove it,” said Campbell Reith partner Liz Brown, when asked what the industry is actually collecting data for.

Mott MacDonald project director Rob Talby agreed: “That is exactly right. It is still about making sure an asset behaves in a way we would expect, but I think the primary reason is defensive, to make sure we are carrying out work so that it is not affecting others. It is why we do zones of influence calculations. Our clients want to protect themselves from spurious claims from third parties that say we are causing damage and we now have the data to prove we aren’t.”

But Arup director Asim Gaba believes that obtaining the data on building foundations and case history data on monitoring the performance of structures and systems, especially inbuilt up areas remains as difficult as ever and this is not improving. 

“The problem we frequently find is that we can’t get hold of the reliable information we want. In an urban situation we want to understand the performance of real structures and systems in similar circumstances to the matter at hand. We can’t obtain that information, it is really difficult.

“There remains a tendency for that information not to be made available which is counter intuitive. We have bigger and bigger databases to store information, but people are very protective about sharing their information,” Gaba added.

Wentworth House Partnership director Tim Lohmann, said the industry might be looking at the issue in the wrong way. “We are worrying that we might be damaging people’sassets on the basis of what we know now. But the joy of instrumentation is that it is getting cheaper and we have huge amounts of data being produced, so why don’t we produce more data and use the intelligence engines out there to interpret and understand it?

“We could use the world as an experiment. It is like a workshop and behaves how it behaves. If we could calibrate our design to the data and the information derived from that data, then we have a huge win.”

There remains a tendency for that information not to be made available which is counter intuitive. We have bigger and bigger databases to store information, but people are very protective about sharing their information

But how can the industry alter its way of thinking and begin to work together for the greater good.

“That is the biggest challenge we face as industry,” argued JIG Consulting Engineers director David Taberner. “Everybody gets caught up in their interest or commercial position, but it is for the greater good and advancement of the industry.”

“There are tens of thousands of excavations that happen throughout the year, but how do we use the information we have to advance the industry as a whole? I struggle to see how we can do that at the moment, when it is coming from a defensive position, rather than a pioneering one.”

Hewson Consulting Engineers associate director Paul Perry argued that monitoring, had in fact, become too procedural.

“We are engineers, and this is vital to engineering,” he said. “We are monitoring to be proactive and take reactive action, not to create reams of data just to protect people’s contractual position. We need to know what we are going to do with the information, analyse it, coordinate it with the actual site detail and progress, and I find very few people do.”

There was consensus around the table that persuading a client that monitoring is important and worth the initial investment is still an uphill battle.

CGL director Mark Creighton used the example of a commercial building project. “If you have a £100Mc ommercial building project in London, you probably wouldn’t spend more than £100,000 on monitoring, and that is an expensive monitoring programme,” he explained. “It is still a very small percentage of the total contract value, but it is the last thing on the commercial manager’s procurement package list.”

Data is the new crude oil, and information is the refined oil

Mace Group director of engineering Gordon Deuce agreed but argued that because baseline monitoring is the first thing that a quantity surveyor buys. “It’s the chance for the quantity surveyor to flex their muscles and show how much money they can save the client,” he said.

“The quantity surveyor shouldn’t be specifying. The engineer needs to specify, otherwise why are we monitoring?”

Gaba argued that it is not that the wrong people are specifying, but that the people making the decision on whether to spend the money to implement monitoring fail to understand the issues that must be tackled. “It comes back to procurement and what stage of the project it is,” he said.

“In the early stages of most projects, money is tight and the value of spending it on early bas elineinstrumentation and monitoring is not obvious to those making the spending decisions.

“It is often said that site and ground investigation is not affordable for the same reasons. They look at the numbers, and find they are a significant part if not bigger than the pot of money they have for the stage of the project they are at. They don’t fully understand or appreciate the benefits of early baseline monitoring.”

It is up the engineer to tell the software developers what we want on a dashboard and tell them what kind of tool we need

Could a central repository to store the data help the industry become more joined up? Many attendees said they thought it could, but it would need ownership and management, to be useable baseline data for future projects.

Taberner said that if the industry looks at the model of online retailing, the industry could monetise the data. “Imagine being able to log in and just buy the data you need. As an advancement of where we are now, that would be Utopia.”

“Data is the new crude oil, and information is the refined oil,” added Deuce.

Vinci Construction UK design manager Jeremy Carter agreed: “It is not about the data, but what you do with it. Most of the intelligence is from how you process the data and we get confidence from that.”

But is the raw data from monitoring enough? Do we need more relevant data from other sources to make sense of the data and enable it to be usable and meaningful?

Talby agreed and said that software already available that did gather other types of relevant data: “It is up the engineer to tell the software developers what we want on a dashboard and tell them what kind of tool we need,” he argued.

“These systems can easily record the weather, CCTV cameras and so on. We then need to ask ourselves what else can be added in.”

“It’s an algorithm we need as the data set gets larger and larger,” suggested Brown. “I want to be able to gather the data that I need for a particular circumstance, that might not match the circumstances for what is stored. That is when the raw data becomes invaluable.”

Mabey engineering director Dave Holland asked: “Do we really need the digital advances that are happening now, for what we use the information for?

“We are missing an industry standard on how the information is gathered and how it is presented, so it is easier to collate and actually use.”

The group concluded that a standard or guidance was needed to ensure the right monitoring data is being collected and the way it is stored, shared and used becomes more uniform.

Around the table:

Liz Brown, partner, Campbell Reith
Jeremy Carter, design manager, Vinci Construction UK
Mark Creighton, director,
Gordon Deuce, director of engineering, Mace Group
Asim Gaba, director, Arup
Dave Holland, engineering director, Mabey
John Horton, business development manager, Mabey
Tim Lohmann, director, Wentworth House Partnership
Rob Millard, director, Swanton Consulting
Aris Nikolarakos, project engineer – monitoring, Mabey
Ponciano Perez Lupi, project manager, Thames Tideway Tunnel – Central Section, Ferrovial Agroman
Paul Perry, associate director, Hewson Consulting Engineers
Claire Smith, editor, Ground Engineering
David Taberner, director, JIG Consulting Engineers
Rob Talby, project director, Mott MacDonald

In association with 

Mabey  group  Logo 01

Mabey group Logo 01

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.