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Understanding Data as vital infrastructure – what are the benefits?
7 October 2020
The benefits of regular data sharing are attractive to both the public and private sector — including cost savings for providers and reduction of disruption to Londoners on the road network and in their homes. Greater openness, transparency and sharing of relevant city and infrastructure datasets will be essential in unlocking and accelerating energy and decarbonisation projects across London, enabled by greater visibility of energy flows and status of network infrastructure. Digital tools also enable the delivery of housing and Mayoral priorities.
A major benefit the GLA can provide is convening data across providers, generating additional value and insight through aggregation. For example, greater availability and visibility of geospatial information complemented by other datasets (such as EV infrastructure location & usage information, local renewable generation, existing capacity and utilisation, planned capacity etc.) will be increasingly valuable for local area energy planning and new developments.
On a national scale the benefits of data sharing are being seen. MHCLG’s recently published Planning White Paper has a big focus on data, saying use of data and digital tools can ‘help local authorities engage with strategic cross-boundary issues and use data-driven insights to assess local infrastructure needs to help decide what infrastructure is needed and where it should be located’
The GLA Infrastructure team manages two digital projects which clearly demonstrate the benefits of data as infrastructure, deliver numerous public good benefits, while saving costs to its contributors. These projects are the London Infrastructure Mapping Application (IMA) and London’s Underground Asset Register (LUAR).
The IMA is a browser-based GIS tool that serves as a central register for data on growth in London and on asset capacity and future infrastructure investment – enabling infrastructure providers, local authorities, and the GLA to work together to coordinate streetworks and invest in infrastructure ahead of demand. Among other information, the IMA hosts data on location, timescales, scope and nature of future infrastructure investment in London, contributed by local authorities and infrastructure providers. The IMA also integrates information from the London Development Database. The IMA has been used to create lists of potential ‘dig once’ opportunities both boroughs and across TfL’s strategic road network that form the basis for discussion among work promoters. At the same time, the IMA has helped inform the business plans of infrastructure providers and provided evidence to substantiate investment requirements to support sustainable local growth. Beyond the IMA’s core use cases, there are also wider applications for infrastructure-related data sharing, including around waste, parking, and connectivity.
LUAR is a pilot project to map existing underground assets in up to fifteen London boroughs. Data is sourced from 20+ infrastructure providers and local authorities. LUAR is one of two pilots funded by the Cabinet Office’s Geospatial Commission as part of NUAR (National Underground Asset Register), which intends to create a national operational version of the service in future. This data supports with strike avoidance and improved project and data exchange efficiency. Beyond emergency works, the NUAR Hub brings obvious and immediate time, cost, and effort efficiencies to the end- to-end asset data journey. Planners are able to get an instant view of asset data, allowing them to plan upcoming works more effectively, without having to wait days or weeks for information from other providers, which is especially beneficial for Local Authorities who are then able to co-ordinate works to reduce road closures and other disruption in the borough. Excavators are able to get an immediate, combined view of all assets in a works area, which users have indicated is far more convenient to work with than multiple PDFs or paper maps.
There is an appetite in the infrastructure sector for regular sharing of high-quality data.Tools such as the IMA are used by GLA teams to support infrastructure providers in efficient asset management, investment, and operations. The development of new tools like LUAR came at the request of utilities who see a need for improved data sharing to avoid costly mistakes on site, or in the case of the IMA, repetitive road resurfacing.
Data as vital infrastructure – what is London’s future vision and what needs to change to get us there?
The current approach of voluntary data sharing has limitations and challenges, including: poor data quality; difficulty ensuring data accuracy; high costs of processing and preparing data for sharing for both GLA and organisations; lack of data custodianship in organisations; reluctance to share data due to commercial sensitivities; a reluctance to share imperfect or incomplete data; security concerns, and perceived regulatory barriers. We have also found different attitudes toward data sharing, depending on the sector.
We believe greater sharing of infrastructure data will create huge benefits for the public good and needs concerted action to enable change.While we have high-level support from organisations, progress in this space will be slow unless we can integrate data sharing requirements into clear business practices.A combination of approaches may be required – with a mixture of ‘top down’ directives and a continued ‘bottom up’ approach of changing cultures by bringing parties together.
A significant incentive for infrastructure providers to better manage and share data is to see others in the industry doing so. We have found that sharing knowledge and best practice throughout the sector has encouraged utilities to plan their investment and business processes around better data management and data sharing. Demonstrating the real-life benefits of sharing has led to more sharing.
We welcome working with businesses on how we can collectively move towards using data as vital infrastructure, whether it’s allocating resource to data teams to create, maintain and share data, ensuring centralised data custodianship, or preparing digitalisation strategies which plan how their businesses are set up to tackle people’s data needs. This will ensure Londoners, businesses and local authorities can maximise the benefits of data as infrastructure.