When utility companies undertake roadworks, each excavation requires compliant traffic management plans which must be approved by local authorities. This process is typically resource-intensive and expensive, and disruptive to residents of the local area.
NGN approached the EIC to find an innovator with a solution to help them create efficiencies in their traffic management processes while reducing the disruption created by roadworks. They identified 1Spatial as the preferred partner for the project, using smart signing, lighting, and guarding (SLG). So far, the project has been a big success, and is currently being trialled with Leeds City Council.
We sat down with John Hartshorn, Business Development Manager at 1Spatial, and Shannon Telfer, Innovation Manager at Northern Gas Networks to tell us more.
Tell me a bit about the project
Shannon: As a utility business, we have to ensure that our traffic management (TM) plans facilitate safe street works, whilst keeping the traffic flowing as freely as possible. Currently the design and production of plans is a largely manual process. This is time consuming, costly, and often disjointed across utility organisations, resulting in prolonged and regular disruptions to customers. Smart SLG automates the production of TM plans in compliance with Health and Safety regulations. One of our site managers asked if there was a more efficient way of creating traffic management plans, so we went to the EIC to put out a ‘call for innovation’.
John: Smart SLG is all about using information technology to automate an otherwise labour-intensive job – the drawing up of Traffic Management Plans in line with the “red book”, aka the Safety at Street Works and Road Works - A Code of Practice. We encode rules about what equipment there should be and where it should be for different road layouts in the code. What can take hours or days to draw in a CAD application is automatically done in seconds in the software solution we have built for NGN.
John, why did you choose to join the EIC online innovation community and respond to this call?
John: The idea of investigating the feasibility of using software to automate the production of Traffic Management Plans was a perfect challenge for us. Solving complex location-based data problems and then automating the associated business processes that use that data is our specialism. 1Spatial’s “rules engine” technology allows us to encode the logic governing how signing, lighting, and guarding must be laid out, meaning we can automate the process of generating traffic management plans.
As a software company, we are always innovating. To have a project driven by client-side innovators with real problems to solve and a drive to solve them has been very refreshing and it has further inspired our own innovators to share and discuss ideas with clients. Being part of the EIC’s innovation community means being able to connect more directly with those seeking innovative solutions to what can be complex problems. I’d recommend other businesses to get involved as it’s exciting to be able to meet and collaborate with innovation teams in the various utility companies, connected through EIC.
How does using data impact traffic management for the better?
John: For anyone producing Traffic Management Plans, there is a significant cost in both time and money to assess the road layout, draft a Traffic Management Plan, have it reviewed, potentially have it amended, and get it finally approved by a highways authority. Plans are currently produced as CAD drawings with very little automation. If you can automate something, even partly, it means you can do something quicker and with less effort and cost, and make it a consistent, easily repeatable process. Our solution takes road layout data and automates the production of Traffic Management Plans within the referential context of a map, making the process faster, cheaper, and consistent.
How will the project impact local residents?
Shannon: One of the most exciting things about this innovation is the ability to make our schemes even more customer-focused. By building in key information, we can design schemes which are much less disruptive and more sensitive to local issues, putting customers first. For example, Smart SLG helps us recognise the customers and business our works will affect so we can notify them with a letter as soon as the TM plan has been created and agreed. This will help our Customer Care officers (CCOs) engage with our customers before the works have begun.
John: As the application evolves functionally, it will contribute societal benefits by enabling companies such as NGN to more easily consider different traffic management plans for their street works. This means that they will be able to assess which layouts reduce traffic congestion which, in turn, reduces both pollution and the time lost by people queueing to get past.
What could be achieved if projects like this were rolled out across the country?
John: Automating business processes using data and software makes organisations far more efficient and productive. Not only do they save money and get things done quicker, they can improve aspects of society by doing so. In this case, it’s all about reducing the impact of street works on society. If we rolled this out across the country, then we would get a much larger positive impact on society that is also consistent across all geographical areas.
Shannon: This innovation has potential to totally transform the street works process in the UK. It can automate a fully compliant street work plan, identify customers impacted, and produce communications to these customers in under 60 seconds. It has the flexibility to adapt to changing legislation and become a multi-agency solution.
John: The project sought to assess the feasibility (or not!) of automating an otherwise manual drawing process. It proved that it is possible. We are just coming to the end of a second phase of the project that has taken the prototype we built and made it potentially deployable for operational use by NGN. There are further road layouts for which we can build rules that govern the layout of signing, lighting, and guarding for those roads, and there is integration with other elements of street works management, such as permitting, that can be done.
Shannon: We are currently testing Smart SLG in Leeds. After testing we will be able to playback the efficiencies for our internal and external stakeholders, then we can plan how the future of Smart SLG will look here at Northern Gas Networks. It would be great if we could roll this across the country. Northern Gas Networks aren’t the only utility who needs TM plans - all utilities could use this system.
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