How IoT Can Drive a Smarter Approach to Managing Highway Assets  

by Chris Dyer, Head of Consultancy, Infrastructure Asset Management, Yotta.


The world is rapidly moving forwards, with advancements in technology raising the expectations for what can be achieved for us all. In the highways arena, the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) has led to the emergence of connected asset management. Councils across the UK increasingly appreciate the importance of harnessing data to shape their strategic approach and they increasingly understand the need to make investment decisions based on up-to-date and accurate information.

Laying down the Ground Rules

Together with the Department for Transport (DfT), the new Code of Practice from the UK Roads Liaison Group’s (UKRLG) drive to make long-term, risk-based plans, means that councils need high-quality intelligence in order to make better-informed investment decisions about their highways networks. In most cases, authorities will need to review their data management practices and look at ways of accessing greater volumes of reliable, accurate, accessible and timely data.

It’s a challenging task of course. Historically, it’s been almost impossible for local authorities to know what state their assets are in at any given point. Surveying the condition of roads, although critically important, can be expensive and councils therefore often do not undertake it as frequently as they might. As such, they rarely have access to the latest relevant data when it comes to making important decisions about asset maintenance and management.

That’s why councils are keeping a close eye on all the latest developments with the Internet of Things and thinking about ways in which they could leverage IoT to their own advantage. Many started the ball rolling a few years ago by placing sensors on street lights. Utilising data or communication networks, they focus on getting these assets to self-report to new central management systems (CMSs) installed at their headquarters.

It’s an approach that has the potential to turn asset maintenance and management into a more proactive process for the councils. An alert can be sent over the network to the CMS when a bulb blows, providing the council with an immediate update on the situation rather than having to wait for a monthly inspection or rely on a member of the public to report the problem. The result is that the council can be more energy-efficient and provide a better service.

New Asset Management Model Comes of Age

The above approach is also in a sense a precursor to what we at Yotta like to call connected asset management, a methodology, using data which can be leveraged to enhance highway infrastructure asset management. This new model involves linking all IoT-enabled devices and data from across networks, which allows councils to gain an enriched understanding and control of their assets in real-time, enabling enhanced service delivery.

This could be done within an individual asset class or type. Take the topical issue of flooding. Many of the problems at council level involve the build-up of silt in drainage gullies. Today, most councils pay a contractor once or twice a year to go out and empty the gulley pots. It’s expensive and it’s difficult for councils to assess the quality of the work done.

The use of connected devices has the potential to save councils significant sums while also improving public safety. With a sensor placed in each drainage pot tracking the level of silt build up, councils can immediately target gullies that need attention rather than having to wait for annual checks. This saves money and helps mitigate the impact of flooding by enabling problematic drains to be seen instantly and the whole drainage estate to be maintained in better condition.

Another budding use of sensors, which is likely to grow in popularity, is on bridges where the devices can track small movements and alert the authorities in real-time of potential structural capacity issues without the need for a physical inspection. Again, not only is the maintenance cost reduced but the risk of safety issues is significantly lessened at the same time.

This model also helps councils move towards a more holistic method of working with their infrastructure assets. Also, in line with this, the greatest benefits of the approach are derived when different asset classes are effectively harnessed to work in tandem.

Indeed, with connected asset management, authorities can ensure the whole of their infrastructure is working together. They can look at the impact structures have on drainage, carriageways have on structures or trees have on footways, for example. That information can help councils decide where they spend money. They can ask questions like: what performance do we want from our carriageways, street lights or drainage systems, or where does that money need to be directed to deliver that performance effectively? It’s essentially a switch to a multi-asset modelling approach which provides councils with greater insight into where they can most profitably prioritise their investment.

Scoping out the Data

Given this move to connected asset management, what kinds of data can councils use to support the model? It is crucial that they maintain an asset register and manage it at a componentised level within each asset class. It is equally key to see how each asset class impacts on and interacts with each other. This means evaluating inspections and schedules across assets such as street lighting, drainage and street works and seeing how they impact on each other. It means examining defects and works orders in a similar way; seeing how they interact across asset class and ensuring that documents, photographs and links are stored in way that is accessible and usable.

Councils should also have a full asset history, so they can draw on the richness of the information they have collected. Ultimately, the added insight that this approach delivers will enable authorities to better plan their maintenance and reduce reactive spend.

Technology is now becoming available, which allows councils to pursue a true connected asset management approach and help ensure they are making optimum use of data in line with the latest code of practice, across their infrastructure stock. Such technology can now also deliver multi-asset modelling and cross-asset prioritisation.

Councils will better understand where best to invest money across the network and the likely impact on their infrastructure. The ability to interact with their infrastructure through sensors in the road and obtain live feeds of all the latest information to optimise maintenance programmes for drainage gullies, or achieve better insight into the performance of their carriageways and footways is powerful indeed.

Connected asset management also enables councils to connect with people across stakeholder organisations and feed relevant information through. It’s also about connected outcomes. Councils can define their strategic goals and then focus on meeting them through the technology.

In today’s highways arena, data should be maintained as an asset. If it is reliable, accurate, accessible and complete, it’s a hugely valuable resource. However, that value is further enhanced by a connected asset management approach, enabling data to be seamlessly collected from across the network, integrated with other data sets and brought to bear in real-time in order to make faster and more accurate highways maintenance and management decisions.

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