Sophisticated planning is the key to keeping up with exponential future infrastructure demands. By Steve Birdsall

Infrastructure is the cornerstone of economic growth, with road, rail, ports, airports and telecommunications being key channels for trade and productivity. Utilities such as water, electricity and telecommunications are critical for the development of countries, and the quality of the infrastructure can be the difference between the success or failure of a country and its economy. The existence of a good level of infrastructure services helps determine the success through diversifying production, expanding trade, coping with population growth, reducing poverty and improving environmental conditions.

According to the Institution of Civil Engineers the world currently invests approximately $3.1 trillion per year across transportation, power, water, social infrastructure and telecommunications industries worldwide. This is expected to increase astronomically to $94 trillion by 2040 to accommodate the growing global population. Ensuring that utilities are supplied to rural and urban developments across the UK is vitally important and the way in which these large-scale projects are planned and maintained is of utmost importance to the populations that will depend on them and for the utilities companies performing the work.

Poor utilities infrastructure is cited as the most common cause of delay in construction projects across the UK, particularly on larger projects where multiple connections may be required or where the existing infrastructure may need to be extended or reinforced. Developers will need to ensure that existing site information is obtained, and surveys are carried out to determine the position, extent and capacity of existing services. Any new infrastructure designs and provisions will need to be agreed with the provider as well as the appropriate testing, inspection, certification and connection plans. All of this adds to the expected timeframe set out for the work.

The costs associated with utilities expansions and maintenance are often significant in terms of the initial capital costs of installation and ongoing expenditure during operations and maintenance, slowing progress as utility providers struggle to balance their business cases to remain on program and profitable while making such a huge investment.

Detailed information brings time and cost constraints
Taking all of this into consideration, utility providers need to ensure that they have all the information necessary to efficiently plan for maintenance works – accurate, high-quality data is absolutely crucial to the understanding and advancement of critical infrastructure assets.

In order to fully comprehend the tools, equipment and timeframe required to supply or repair existing utility infrastructure, a number of factors need to be considered. Being able to identify and calculate the previous and current condition of the road and footway infrastructure in HD quality allows utility providers and contractors to have an accurate measurement of the project requirements and validation of the completed works. Having in-depth knowledge and data before and after the work has been carried out can take the subjectivity out of the project, improving the quality of contractor performance and providing validation information in the event of a subsequent claim without the need for a site survey.

Prior knowledge of the working environment is crucial to advancing infrastructures
The preparation for planned maintenance usually requires costly visits to the roadside in order to survey the area and have a strong understanding of the environment and critical infrastructure assets present. It would be impossible to plan any construction or maintenance work without this.

Having detailed knowledge of the working environment and existing infrastructure is key to the effective planning and budgeting of maintenance and upgrade projects on the highway network in the utilities sector. Extensive understanding of the area, such as the surface type and carriageway width can mitigate health and safety risks and reduce costs through negating the need for site surveys, improving efficiency and reducing disruptions and variations through increased information at the specification stages of a scheme.

Cutting time and costs but still achieving the necessary results
To save on the time and costs associated with construction works today, utility providers need to look at solutions that give planners and engineers the ability to explore any part of the network and its environment, without labour intensive roadside visits. With 341,497 km of high-detailed roadscape data available from almost two billion high resolution images of road, roadscape and asset information, a complete and precise view of the highway network is possible, without ever leaving the office.

With a highway surveying and mapping solution, utility providers have the capability to make cost-effective and informed decisions when planning out projects on roads. Engineers and planners are able to use digital processes and advanced data-science techniques to gain insights into the condition of roads and roadscapes, identify surface types and accurate location of utility assets, as well as the ability to measure – ensuring accurate budgeting, planning design and delivery. All of which allows utility providers to get it right first time, every time.

This robust data and reporting can aid on-site inductions and briefings, mitigate health and safety risks and reduce costs through negating the need for on-site surveys. Access to this data helps utility providers to plan the network cost-effectively and pre-warns them of any potential problems, providing significant savings for them through improving installation times, reducing variations and minimising disruption to roads at the same time.

Staying ahead of increasing demands of the future
With so many of today’s decisions being led by data, accuracy, quality and innovation are vital components to transform the understanding of critical infrastructure assets and how best to advance networks in order to keep up with the ever-growing demands being placed upon them.

Utility providers are not able to completely future proof their networks, as it is impossible to know for certain how the environment will change in the next decade and beyond. But selecting a solution that provides an in-depth knowledge whilst saving on cost and time implications is crucial to adapt to the changes in demands.

There are many options for utility providers to consider when preparing for planned construction and maintenance work, but as the pressure is only going to rise with the ever-increasing demands, they need to take advantage of the solutions that are simple, precise and high-quality and that will help them to do their jobs efficiently and cost-effectively.

Steve Birdsall is CEO at Gaist, a multi-award-winning highway surveying and mobile mapping company that uses digital processes and advanced data-science techniques to provide deep insights about the condition of roads and roadscape to public and private sectors across the world. Gaist provides innovative and accurate highway condition surveys and inspections that allows its customers to make cost-effective and informed decisions. Its unique infrastructure databank already covers over 341,500 kilometres of the UK’s roads and pathways, using over a billion high definition images to map every classified road in the country.

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