Data can relieve Britain’s infrastructure pressures – here’s how

Britain’s infrastructure is creaking at the seams. In transport, its rail network is facing huge pressures, especially in urban areas where high population density is responsible for an exponential rise in journeys.

Airports are almost full to capacity as demand for air travel increases. And on the roads, traffic is rising dramatically, with cities including London experiencing record levels of congestion.

Telecoms firms are under pressure to cope with the convergence of voice and data, as we demand faster broadband connections for work and leisure, from streaming TV programmes, gaming and shopping to making calls and holding videoconferences.

And mobile firms are having to reshape their business models as we use our smart phones to access the internet, view apps, listen to music, take photos or play games.

Even water and energy companies are dealing with change: an increase in domestic water consumption has coincided with changing rainfall patterns and regional variations, whilst energy firms need to respond to calls for price cuts, in line with falling oil and gas prices.

Adding to the problem is the fact that public sector investment in infrastructure is forecast to fall from the rate of 3.2% of GDP in 2010, to only 1.45 in 2020. In the US, France and Germany, the picture is similar, particularly when it comes to transport.

A study has found that across the UK, the US, France and Germany, road users spend 36 hours in gridlock every year in metropolitan areas. That’s the equivalent of two days and a night going absolutely nowhere. This isn’t just annoying for travellers – it has an impact on productivity and even on tourism in some areas.

> See also: 5 ways to ensure the success of smart city projects

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, if you’ll excuse the obvious pun. The Economist says a small budget isn’t necessarily a bad thing – small investments such as improving traffic lights can make a difference. What matters is the intelligence and effectiveness of the investment. And the answer lies, as it so often does, in data.

Transport for London (TfL) has turned to data to transform London’s infrastructure. Pressures on the network are huge: on the Tube alone, the organisation is responsible for transporting 1.3 billion passengers a year.

And on the bus network, TfL manages a fleet of more than 8,700 buses which operate on around 700 different routes across London, creating around 2.4 billion passenger journeys every year.

How does it cope? It uses a vast, powerful and precise asset management platform, which collates all the information on TfL’s digital and physical assets such as bus shelters and bus stops, to deliver accurate, consistent management information in real-time.

Mobile and telecoms companies, too, are also using data and the insight it generates to help relieve the pressure on their networks and to enhance, build and grow their infrastructure to give their clients a better experience. Mobile firms are using location intelligence tools to help them establish the quality of signal in different areas, for example.

The data can help them develop insights such as identifying areas where people live, work and spend leisure time; they can pinpoint areas where signal is of low strength and network improvements may be required; and they can use data to drive decisions around capacity planning, service optimisation and pinpoint the best locations for cell towers, small cells and wifi based on real performance. BT uses location intelligence across its organisation.

One critical area in which BT uses location intelligence solutions is in the management of its extensive networks of services. Planned and unplanned service outages can be pinpointed and mapped, and service engineers can map cabling and duct work precisely for a customer call and even map the best route to follow to get there.

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As smart cities become more common, we should see the pressure on our infrastructure alleviated even further. Again, data has a key part to play here. These digitally connected cities generate invaluable data, which is fed into data management systems and distributed to drive informed, effective planning decisions fueling improved public services.

As different organisations and agencies across the city share and integrate this data, citizens will really see the benefit of the smart city, from cost-effective, sustainable infrastructure and cleaner environments to energy-efficient homes, better water supplies and waste management to safer neighbourhoods.

By 2025 there are expected to be 88 smart cities across the world: 32 across Asia-Pacific, 31 across Europe and 25 across the Americas.

Increasingly, our digital world is powering our physical world, enabling change and driving transformation. And the foundation for this world? It’s data.

Sourced from Marc Hobell, Director, GIS and Location Intelligence, Pitney Bowes Software

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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