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CSIC Future Technologies Workshop explored the Art of the Possible around BIG DATA

CSIC’s Big Data event, which was part of an ongoing series on Future Technologies, explored the theme of big data in the context of smart infrastructure and construction
When Sep 10, 2015
from 12:00 AM to 07:00 PM
Where Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge
Contact Name
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Big data is increasingly a topic for discussion at conferences and symposia, but the ways in which data can be harvested and used to inform and improve infrastructure planning and projects is a new and confusing area for many.

CSIC’s Future Technologies Workshop, which is part of an ongoing series, explored the theme of big data in the context of smart infrastructure and construction, aiming to de-bunk many myths and explore the Art of the Possible. The event, held at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM) on 10 September 2015, attracted 50 professionals and academics from more than 30 organisations.

The one-day workshop featured a series of presentations from CSIC associates and Industry Partners and a pair of discussion workshops to encourage delegates to identify and interrogate the main opportunities and challenges offered by big data. The event also provided an opportunity for delegates to begin to un-pick the overarching need for standardisation and guidance in this area.

CSIC works closely with many organisations at the forefront of their specific areas of expertise and these collaborations produce a range of innovative technologies that shape some of the UK’s most critical assets, including our highways, energy, train and tube systems. CSIC’s Future Technologies Workshop was an opportunity for our Industry Partners to share knowledge about the work they have been involved in, examine their experiences and provide examples of how big data - or, at least, very complex data - can be used to improve infrastructure design, planning and functionality.

Senior Research Associate, Dr Philip Woodall, from the University of Cambridge, set the scene by describing what we understand by the term big data in the context of this workshop, describing the Five Vs’ that define it:  volume, variety, velocity, veracity and value, plus some of the recent history around data generation and management.

Over the past few years, there has been significant growth in the generation of data and its use, making available almost unimaginably large amounts of useful data - even though the ways in which data can be used are still in relative infancy. To make data usable, considerable amount of pre-processing needs to be completed before the information can be processed and interpreted.  As much as 80 per cent of a project’s time can be taken up with the pre-processing of data.  Data then needs to be synthesised and made applicable before it can be used as the basis for effective decision-making.

See presentation slides here.


Dr Krishna Kumar, Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, described part of CSIC’s work which involved taking a variety of data feeds and pulling together critical information about the action of engineering works on various structural assets at London Bridge station.

See presentation slides here.


Director and Technical Chair for Asset Management at Atkins, Dr Navil Shetty, outlined the importance of data in planning for the build and maintenance of infrastructure and how critical the choices made in prioritising interventions are following several decades of global under-investment in infrastructure.

Navil explained that, to enable effective asset management, it is vital to coordinate information-flow for disparate assets across organisational boundaries, which is why BIM developments are so important.  In an age where Internet of Things is becoming a reality, the future should be in the use of big data to help optimise and prioritise infrastructural developments, and that this information should be available throughout the life-cycle of an asset. Navil described the holistic approach taken by Atkins in supporting the planning of HS2, in optimising Network Rail’s operations and driving efficiencies for a number  of companies, including Scottish Power.

See presentation slides here.  


Big data article image 2Monitoring Operations Manager at Soldate, Matthieu Bourdon, set out some strategies for data management and, in particular, use of data to manage risk. On complex projects, such as Crossrail, the aim is to provide a management system that takes account of a hugely complex set of elements. The challenge is posed by the fact that data is routinely captured by a range of different types of sensing and monitoring tools, from sub-surface to space, all with differing parameters. Soldata has addressed this by providing an interface that synthesises these feeds, screens out false-positives and provides managers with the information they need to make swift and informed decisions. The ongoing challenge is to keep pace with the latest types of sensing technologies and to ensure these can be embedded within the systems as new toolsets are developed. 

See presentation slides here.


Big data article image 3Simon Gregory, Strategy Director at Hortonworks, presented some of the approaches taken by his team in providing integrated data management and handling systems - in their case largely based on an open-source platform, Hadoop. What Hortonworks offers is a synthesis of different projects in a single platform set up to provide valuable information, again, to assist decision-making, and supporting organisations with BIM. Their work is not limited to construction projects; instead they also specialise in risk management and threat mitigation in critical government networks and public infrastructure.

Hortonworks has also delivered impressive multi-sourced data handling and reporting tools now used in agronomy, with one example used in Simon’s presentation of the knitting together of soil sensor data with historical yield information, weather information and satellite imagery to identify planting and cropping recipes that are accurate to the square meter, providing farmers with the information they need to effectively maximise yields and profit. 

See presentation slides here.


Big data article image 4The use of personal data, standards around data security and how best to use crowd-sourced data was covered by Dr Olga Feldmann, Chief Transport Modeler at Transport for London (TfL), where the aim is to enhance the customer experience and keep the city moving. TfL’s challenge was to find ways of using travellers’ Oyster Card data and the recording of journey information to enable acute crowd-management issues to be dealt with as well as supporting planning maintenance and CAPEX developments. 

By using the ‘gold dust’ of traveller data - measuring where and when people get in and out of tube trains and buses - TfL can better manage congestion by, for example, providing additional services. Strategic demand modeling also enables TfL to place useful information in the hands of its customers; by providing information about times of peak congestion, travellers were able to plan their journeys to avoid this period, thereby smoothing out peaks of demand. The health of London’s transport networks are critical to the city and TfL works closely with CSIC, the University of Cambridge and other research organisations to optimise how data can be used to actively improve how our public infrastructure functions. 

See presentation slides here.


Matters turned distinctly space-age when Maria De Ferago, Director of Earth Observation Logic at Telespazio VEGA ,described some of her work which involves data bounced off satellites, including the Cosmo SkyMed satellite, for use in a number of applications.  Because this frequently captures radar data – which can be taken in the dark and in poor weather – Telepspazio can provide highly accurate data tracking for subsidence, landslides and seismic changes. There have recently been dramatic improvements in the resolution and granularity of radar monitoring (the range of imaging data exceeds that available from in situ instrumentation) making it ideal for the monitoring of linear assets such as rail networks and roads, water management and buildings. Satellite data is the only way to accurately monitor very large areas and is unique in its ability to use historical data, making it a natural choice for larger-scale infrastructure projects.

See presentation slides here.


Big data article image 5At CSIC’s Future Technologies Workshops organisations are invited to demonstrate the tools and technologies of interest to our delegates. Simon Kaufman, from Assetscape, ( demonstrated a brand new 3-D inspection modeling interface for use by asset managers, and Alex Wong, from Redbite Solutions, ( showed delegates  a series of items previously instrumented at the IfM venue and the work underway there. 

Big data article image 6The event saw delegates split into groups to tackle a variety of pressing big data questions and the output of this exercise will be compiled and distributed shortly.

We look forward to welcoming many of you to CSIC’s next Future Technologies Workshop at the end of the calendar year. 

For further details, and to enquire about the next CSIC Future Technologies Workshop, contact me, Sandy Yatteau, Partner Liaison at CSIC at or call me on 01223 765924 


For further information regarding events please contact: , Programme Administrator

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