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Helping Northumbrian Water create the first underground utilities map

Innovative Northumbrian Water and Ordnance Survey create the first North East Underground Infrastructure Hub, with estimated savings of around £1million.

Northumbrian Water provides water and wastewater services to just under 4.4 million people and prides itself on being one of the most innovative companies in the utilities sector.

Ordnance Survey was the perfect transformation partner to make the North East Underground Infrastructure Hub (NEUIH) a reality. Their expertise in integrating, visualising and making spatial data accessible and secure is second to none.

Clive Surman-Wells, Operational Solutions Manager

Each year it hosts a five day Innovation Festival where it challenges the status quo thinking.

At the 2018 Festival, it asked Ordnance Survey, Britain’s National Mapping Agency, to create the first combined underground infrastructure map detailing Water, Wastewater, Gas, Electricity, Telecoms and other underground services and datasets so that planners and excavation teams could know exactly what was where.

This combined map is the first step towards creating a North East Underground Infrastructure Hub (NEUIH) to reap significant operational and health and safety benefits in utilities, local government and for citizens.

What were the challenges?

  • Defining precisely what was required to make NEUIH a reality.
  • Developing a data sharing agreement that all parties – Northumbrian Water, Northern Gas Networks, Northern Power Grid, Openreach, Durham County Council, Newcastle and Sunderland City Councils, Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute, British Geological Survey and Ordnance Survey – could agree to beforehand.
  • Building the business case from a perspective of utility companies, national and local government and from customer/ citizen point of view too. This was done using a full PESTLE analysis.
  • Combining the data sharing principles of 11 commercial and public sector stakeholders into a single agreement.
  • Allowing access to the variety of different data layers through an easy to use API.
  • Design of customised front ends on desktop and mobile devices to allow planners and field engineers quick access to integrated underground and above ground data.

What was the solution?

  • All parties developed a draft data sharing agreement that would form the foundation for the pilot of the NEUIH.
  • A template to bring out the business benefits of sharing data for utilities and local authorities was developed and shared amongst the parties.
  • All parties agreed that the data sharing architecture selected by Ordnance Survey avoided the need to introduce a separate data access portal but to link the existing business systems to the Hub. At the festival true interoperability was demonstrated with three different GIS systems consuming the combined underground data. The data could be ingested into GIS systems with internet access, regardless of format.
  • Ordnance Survey created a web interface to enable excavation teams in the field to access the data relevant to them via a mobile device.

What was the outcome?

The NEUIH will:

  • Reduce the need for trial holes with their associated costs and inefficiencies.
  • Reduce customer disruption by minimising street works duration with utilities working together more efficiently.
  • Facilitate the rapid sharing of plans across the construction value chain and asset lifecycle management, increasing planning and development efficiencies and reducing Capex and Opex.
  • Contribute to a reduction in utility strikes keeping field crews safe and reduce risks/costs to both the utility and society. (Every £1 in direct cost in utility strikes relates to £29 indirect costs. Source: Birmingham University). Fewer strikes will also reduce insurance costs.
  • Improve data quality by making it easier for utilities to tell each other when they find inaccuracies in the map.
  • Northumbrian Water Group estimated savings of approximately £1m from a fully integrated system. These savings will come from a combination of reduced back office effort to produce safe working maps and plans, reduced costs associated with utility strikes and avoidance of abandoned jobs due to lack of information.

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