Highways England to become ‘intelligent client’
Highways England is poised to become an “intelligent client” bringing improvements in safety, efficiency and cost reductions to the maintenance of its road network.
Speaking at the Bentley Infrastructure conference, Highways England head of asset management for the East Midlands Simon Came said the transformation would allow it to collect previously lost data and store it to better plan, maintain, and highlight trends and gain more control over its network.
To maintain the roads in England, it is divided into 14 areas, each being let to a contractor which is responsible for carrying out work in that area.
Under the old system, any data gained by the contractor, for example bore hole logs, would not be handed over to Highways England. Instead only a record of the finished asset would be given. Additionally, if information was handed over, it was held on many different, often incompatible systems meaning it could not be compared or interrogated between the areas.
In the new system, contractors will now be required to input any data collected into a new UK wide, single common database platform.
Came said the model was not new and design build finance operator (DBFO) contracts had been collecting data for years to streamline the design and maintenance of its assets. But this was the first time Highways England had been able to do it.
“The problem for Highways England and road authorities is that we’ve got such a mish mash of old and new and there are roads where we don’t understand the inventory of it, so it’s been really hard to understand what we own,” he said.
“The legacy data is spread though a myriad of contractors and consultants and people only hand over what they’re contractually obliged to.
“However, we want that intelligence.”
Benefits of the system, he said, would include being able to compare data trends between the different areas and using this to predict failures, improve its maintenance schedule and free up money to spend on other vital schemes.
Came said the cleaning of drainage gullies was a good example of where being able to collect the data would provide benefit.
“When a contractor goes out to carry out work on a gully they record whether it was full or not,” said Came. “Now using sensors and recording the data, we can track which sections fill up more quickly and which don’t so we don’t go out to clean them unnecessarily. We can also predict when they’re about to fill up and empty them before it starts to flood.”
The move will also mean it has the ability to think about whole life costing he said, to see which materials were performing well or badly on the road network.
Another way in which the new system could be used would be to track and compare the performance of contractors throughout the country allowing Highways England to see which companies were the most efficient.
The system is being tested in area seven in the East Midlands and will be compatible with the existing reporting tool for contracts which are still within their five year cycle.