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Business-wide use of geographic information

  • We have a single source of data so that everyone will be looking at the same up-to-date information and making reliable, sound and consistent business decisions based on the best available data.

    Maurice Smith, Systems Adviser, Severn Trent Water

In brief


Create a single source of quality geographic data in order to ensure accuracy, consistency and speed of access.


Implement OS MasterMap® (Topography, Integrated Transport Network™ ‘ITN’ and Address Layer 2) and associated Ordnance Survey products such as Land-Form PROFILE®, 1:10 000 Scale Raster, Boundary-Line™ and Code-Point®.


  • Sixteen hundred users can easily view and print complex geographic information.
  • Street-level maps delivered to users within 3–4 seconds.
  • Everyone is using the same reliable and consistent information.
  • Regular map updates are easy to manage.

Return on investment

The Central Spatial Respository of managed data that is stored once and used many times in different applications supports the strategic direction of the company: to achieve the highest standards and the lowest charges through simple processes and the use of enabling technology. Ordnance Survey data enables Severn Trent Water® to meet the performance-assessment targets set by Ofwat and places the company in a better position to comply with future legislation.

A reliable reservoir of data

Imagine the amount of water needed to fill 1 000 Olympic-sized swimming pools and you will have some idea of how much drinking water Severn Trent Water (STW) delivers to its customers every day. Serving the heart of the UK, Severn Trent Water is responsible for water supply, sewage treatment and river protection in an area of more than 21 000 square kilometres that stretches from the Bristol Channel to the Humber and from mid-Wales to the East Midlands. This territory includes Birmingham and 10 other industrial cities, all of which have huge demands for water. Ordnance Survey data is enabling the company to manage its responsibilities more effectively.

Keeping track of all pipework is a challenge

Until the late 1990s, STW relied on paper plans and standalone computers to record the location of its underground assets: the pipes, and sewers that carry drinking waste water, and the valves that help regulate flows. For historic reasons, these plans were held across various sites. Keeping this number of drawings accurate and up to date was a major drain on the company’s resources and so, in 1999, STW embarked on a four-year project to establish an Underground Asset Data Management System (UADMS) for water mains and sewers.

The paper plans from 10 different records offices were digitised and, together with sewer data from another mapping system, were brought together in one place for the first time.

However, the data could not be interrogated, annotated or updated by the wider business community; nor was the system an easily scalable solution. Any changes or user additions were both technically involved and costly, as new software licences had to be purchased. The UADMS application was therefore loaded onto several strategically placed servers so that users could view data when necessary. Over a 10-year period, the number of users grew from 10 to 120.

By 2006 STW was ready to make the next step. Maurice Smith explains: ‘Our original project, which utilised OS Land-Line® data, did not allow us to analyse map data in different ways because the data was not “intelligent”. It was basically just a set of lines. We decided, therefore, to take advantage of the intelligence of OS MasterMap and create a new system that would not only expand the user base dramatically and put maps on everyone’s desktop but also facilitate the analysis of business data in conjunction with OS MasterMap layers.’

Putting everything in one place

To do this, STW created the Central Spatial Repository (CSR), built on an Oracle® Spatial database. All the data in the UADMS environment was transferred into the CSR along with businessmaintained data such as DMAs (district metered areas) and historic repair and maintenance job details, for example, points of leakages. UADMS still exists as the database of infrastructure assets with a dedicated team of technicians constantly updating business information, and every 24 hours the UADMS data is copied to CSR.

GISSTviewer (the application for viewing GIS in Severn Trent) provides a user-friendly front end that runs in Microsoft® Internet Explorer® for Windows®. GISSTanalyser provides ‘all the tools in the GIS box’ for unconstrained access so that professional users can extract and analyse data from the CSR.

When OS MasterMap was loaded into the CSR Severn Trent was able to select the most relevant data to deliver to users. ‘One of the advantages of OS MasterMap is its layer structure and rich attribution, which allows a pick-and-mix approach,’ explains Maurice Smith. ‘We were able to be selective with features to view yet retain the same look and feel for general users.

This selective approach enabled our IT developers to produce a very satisfactory level of system performance right across the company.’

A street-level map in three seconds

Sixteen hundred users can now view and print complex geographic information easily and quickly. It takes just 3–4 seconds to bring up a street-level map. ‘So many people in Severn Trent want to look at a water main in relation to the road, for example, and this enables everyone to do so,’ says Steve Allen, GIS Manager. ‘The system is so easy to use that we expect more people will want it, and we are in a position to provide access to more users. The CSR can service numerous concurrent requests and so the whole system is easily expandable.

‘Our strategy is to host the data centrally and enable self-service. The most important thing is that we have a single source of data so that everyone will be looking at the same up-to-date information and making reliable, sound and consistent business decisions based on the best available data. There is no chance of anyone referring to a file on a local server that is old or out of date.’

GISSTviewer and GISSTanalyser are used across asset management, billing and customer contact. Says Maurice Smith: ‘Operations teams can easily identify the site of mains and sewers in relation to new developments or in terms of asset improvement programmes. Likewise, design engineers can refer to the CSR when preparing designs for new mains.’

This business-wide use of geographic information supports accuracy in more ways than one. Maurice Smith explains that for various reasons, such as the widening of a road, for example, the company’s own data positioning may become incorrect. ‘When operatives in the field find a pipe to be in a different place to the one they expected it to be in, they tell the Records Management Centre which amends the appropriate data in UADMS and feeds this into CSR via the daily update. With all data users committed to reporting inaccuracies, we have a robust system of continuous improvement.’

OS MasterMap change-only updates are also sent to STW every two months and entered directly into the CSR. This procedure has become an automatic and reliable change-control process. Because they are change-only updates rather than a complete set of new map data, installing them is a simple and speedy matter.

Steve Allen adds: ‘The beauty of OS data is that we can serve it up in different ways. For example, for users in our Customer Operations Service Centre (COSC) we have included all shop names from Address Layer 2 but suppressed other information, for example, cartographic numbering, which is not relevant. In the main viewer we include house numbers and the ability to view all the data in Address Layer 2 as attributes. In this way we can create labels which have real meaning for the user.’

COSC users also have a smaller window so that they can view other information on screen. ‘The data in OS MasterMap is invaluable as one of the first things to do with callers is verify from their location that they are actually a Severn Trent Water customer. The process of viewing Ordnance Survey data in order to confirm a customer is embedded into the scripts that operators follow. They can identify pipe and sewer locations, the service being delivered and the size of the customer site, all whilst they are on the telephone.’

For utilities such as STW, it is important to be able to identify separate billing entities at one location. Steve Allen comments: ‘Address Layer 2 allows us to do this as it can show more than one set of data for a particular location. It will, for example, identify a shop and the two dwellings above. We will also be able to highlight properties associated with unpaid bills and quickly see on the map which particular areas we need to target. We certainly intend to use Address Layer 2 more widely.’

OS MasterMap Address Layer 2 benefits from having multi-occupancies without a postal address (MOWPA). These contain residential premises that fall outside the Royal Mail’s definition of a ‘delivery point’; that is mail is addressed to them but the postman can’t ordinarily access a letter box. That could mean flats within a house where the postman can only get to the house front door.

Fats, oils and greases in sewers cause problems in underground channels in the same way in which cholesterol can cause blockages in the arteries of the human body. When fat hardens it can reduce the carrying capacity of a sewer and this increases the cost of maintenance. Severn Trent is conducting a sample survey to see if there is a link between the sites of restaurants and the location of drains blocked by grease. It is using Points of Interest data supplied by Ordnance Survey to help analyse the problem, specifically the eating and drinking classification.

Steve Allen expects that Points of Interest will also be deployed far more widely as users recognise its value. ‘When a member of the public reports a leak to our customer service centre, the caller will almost certainly not have the postcode but will be able to describe where the leak is in relation to a landmark such as a church or bus stop.’

Return on investment

‘Having web-based map access across the business ties in with our goal of achieving the highest standards and the lowest possible charges, with technology as a key enabler,’ says Maurice Smith. ‘Putting all our critical information in a single place means that we always have accurate data which is constantly online for the business user to access and is continually being updated. This allows us to operate efficiently and effectively. Our aim now is to continue improving the value of our data by putting more business datasets into the CSR.’

Steve Allen concludes: ‘OS data is a significant enabler for Severn Trent Water in meeting the performance assessment targets set by Ofwat and places us in a better position to comply with future legislation. For example, the rewriting of the code of practice for keeping records means that by 2011 water companies will be required to improve the positional accuracy of underground assets from 300 to 100 mm. This will demand the use of GPS surveying coupled with a reliable method of continually updating information. That is all now in place.’

The products used

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