Helping to unlock the potential of data for Highways England

By Gabriella Howson, Delivery Manager

It’s easy to see why road infrastructure is so important to Britain. It makes a crucial contribution to our economic development and growth. It enables complex logistics and distribution networks, and stimulates economic development. It creates an integral social bridge too, bridging social distance, enabling relationships, and creating employment.

For Highways England, ‘connecting the country through better journeys’ is an ongoing mission. Before the current situation unfolded, we kicked off a project with Highways England as part of a multi-year initiative to realise their Information Vision and Strategy. This initiative seeks to ensure that the Strategic Road Network – the 4,500 miles of motorways and major A-roads at the heart of England’s road system – is ‘future ready’, whatever may emerge. Unlocking the potential of its data is a fundamental aspect of that vision.

The Challenge

Like most big organisations with lots of moving parts (in normal times, over four million journeys are made across the network), Highways England has data everywhere.

This data has been amassed over the years, is created constantly, and is complex. It is stored across various tools and systems across the organisation, so it can be difficult to connect data together for reflective analysis and predictive data science. However, data is seen as essential to decision making. It helps Highways England keep the roads and infrastructure running and people safe.

One example is in collecting and providing a wide range of data on both expected and unplanned conditions across its network, and then making it available over a range of channels, from on-road signals and signs, through email, websites and social media and via external data feeds.

For Highways England to realise its data ambitions, lots of other moving parts need to act together to act as one; Enterprise Architecture, Data Governance, Data Valuation and Condition, Protection, Information Security, Data Science and Data Architecture.

BJSS won the opportunity to tackle some foundational challenges in the data architecture space, and provide some key enabling technologies and services that over time will help drive the overall initiative forward.

We were tasked with:

  • Developing an Ontology of data held within Highways England (in simple terms, a map of data entities and relationships) – essential for making sure that data can be discovered and that it ‘speaks the same language’ when linked together.
  • Designing and building a cloud-based data architecture platform – essential for creating a new home for data within Highways England that makes it accessible for all.
  • Designing a Service around the platform – essential for ensuring that the new platform can land within the business and meet the needs of users.

In five months, we successfully achieved this, working collaboratively with users and stakeholders within Highways England, and alongside other partners building different data capabilities.

Here’s a little bit about what BJSS delivered:

The Ontology

We designed and developed the ontology with over 20 Highways England stakeholders from across the business. In five months, we mapped over 80% of the data entities held within Highways England, established the relationships between them, and produced a Proof of Value visualisation tool to make exploring the ontology as easy as possible.

For the first time, people internal and external to Highways England can understand what data entities exist, how they are used across the organisation, and crucially, how they could be mapped to different data sources. This enables connectivity across datasets – essential for unlocking the potential value of data in the future – and will allow the ontology to function as the logical underpinning of future Digital Twin initiatives.

The Platform

We designed and built a cloud-native data architecture platform, using Azure and Databricks services, that is fully owned by Highways England. When in production, this will allow other suppliers to build data pipelines and deliver data projects in this single platform.

To achieve this, we worked closely with Highways England governance, architecture and security teams to meet their standards, ensuring that the platform is fit for enterprise adoption. We did this using Agile delivery processes, with over 395 code releases in four months. We are now looking to on-board increasingly large quantities of Highways England data in a secure central place so it is available to inform decision making.

The Service

To ensure the platform meets the needs of users and seamlessly integrates into the operational business, we designed two services to support the platform: an adoption service that supports projects onboarding data into it, and an operational service that supports the running of the platform and ensures users can discover and access data. We collaborated and ran workshops with key user groups within the business, and joined up with the other data initiative suppliers in order to build out a holistic understanding of the landscape the service will operate in.

Where we do go from here?

The next step will be to productionise the platform and land it within the business alongside the other pieces of the initiative. It’s early days, but the signs are already there that it has a bright future in supporting Highways England to make better data driven decisions, which in turn will help connect the country through better journeys, whatever comes our way.

The work that BJSS delivered to Highways England is just a small snapshot of our data capability. By combining data architecture, engineering and data science with design thinking, we deliver end-to-end data solutions, driven by the needs of the business and the users of data. Our teams are also renowned for rapidly developing the algorithms and technology required to productionise leading edge data science solutions. Read more about the capability by visiting bjss.com/data