Opinion

Delivering a smart post-Brexit Britain depends on the power of data

Data and analytics are the new bricks and mortar needed to build the smart, post-Brexit Britain envisaged in the government’s industrial strategy, argues Jacobs Buildings and Infrastructure Europe senior vice president and general manager Donald Morrison.

As we move into the strategy’s second year, the time has come for broader, more aligned thinking on how we as a nation plan our vital infrastructure holistically; not just project by project.

Data-enabled intelligence reveals better ways to achieve inclusive growth, boost productivity, inspire innovation and develop a more well-rounded and skilled workforce. Our starting point must always be “is there a better way to meet the challenges set out in the Industrial Strategy?” 

We believe improving the social purpose of data and analytics will be at the heart of this.

Gathering data to tell us about society’s changing preferences and behaviours has never been more vital to building cities and towns of the future, as well as the infrastructure Britain so badly needs. 

Analysing infrastructure dynamics and usage patterns in real time provides the basis for informed decision-making, grounded more deeply in facts than politics.

There’s no point in leaping into construction until we truly understand how people are living their lives now – and what we can do to improve their lives in the future.

This is central to our approach at Jacobs, a global professional and technical services firm which has its deepest, historic roots here in the United Kingdom. We won’t approach any job without putting data central to the mission to effectively meet the most crucial demands of our population.

Two examples where this is already happening: 

  • Along the Thames Estuary, we are piloting a new generation of specialised drones to monitor flood defences in much greater, up-to-the-moment detail, yet at a lower cost. By assessing the impacts of constant river and shoreline changes on London’s flood defences, the Thames Estuary Asset Management 2100 (TEAM2100) programme is better able to protect 1.3 million people and £275 billion worth of property from tidal flooding. 
  • Digital data gathering built into the brand new Queensferry Crossing in Scotland allows Transport Scotland to continuously monitor impacts of weather and traffic – to proactively manage maintenance and adjust traffic flows to improve mobility, safety and reliability.

These are just two ways in which digital intelligence supports human ingenuity to help improve our quality of life. 

The industrial strategy sets out four Grand Challenges – Artificial Intelligence and Data Economy; Clean Growth; the Ageing of Society; and the Future of Mobility – to be addressed in order to position the UK at the forefront of next-generation industry.

We agree. However, we also believe in the power of data which, if harnessed successfully, will not only enable delivery of the Strategy, but will transform the way our economy and society work for the better.

Donald Morrison is the Buildings and Infrastructure Europe senior vice president and general manager at Jacobs.