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DUConnect #5: A National Underground Asset Register for the UK

Following sessions focusing on underground utility data capture, digital workflows for data management, and the benefits of reliable data for underground construction, the fifth overall and second all-virtual session of Digital Underground Connect zoomed in on the topic of data sharing. We were honoured and happy to welcome Holger Kessler of the Geospatial Commission and Carsten Rönsdorf of Ordnance Survey to share about the progress they have made working on the National Underground Asset Registry (NUAR) project in the United Kingdom.

A video replay of the webinar can be accessed here.


UK National Underground Asset Register - outcomes and data sharing approach

NUAR is a project that consists of two pilots taking place in London (led by the Greater London Authority) and the Northeast of England (led by Ordnance Survey). The objective of the project is to prove that sharing data for the purpose of utility strike avoidance and increasing the efficiency of projects and the exchange of data make sense, is possible, and provides benefits to all involved. To that end, the project would need to demonstrate that sharing challenges such as security, legal aspects (e.g. liabilities and licensing) and commercial sensitivity of data can be overcome in a feasible manner. The project is now in its final phase and is universally considered a tremendous success.

In his story, Holger shared that a key factor to this success was the engagement and positive contribution of nearly all necessary stakeholders, which includes many infrastructure providers and local authorities.

Over the course of the project, a prototype digital data sharing platform was developed by Ordnance Survey. One of the main functions of the platform is to provide access to subsurface utility data and the ability to report observations from the field back to the data custodians. A role based access model was developed which would allow certain users to query only a limited area at a time in order to mitigate security and commercial risks while maintaining a sensible degree of openness. The platform also provided the ability for users of the data in the field to report observations on inaccurate data upon verification.

Carsten shared the principles that guided the development of the sharing platform. Based on these principles, a Hybrid Hub system architecture was designed that supports both on-platform data storage and the forwarding of data requests to asset owners to retrieve data in real time. The platform data model was based on the open MUDDI standard which is under development in an Open Geospatial Consortium Standards Working Group. MUDDI is a conceptual data model that aims to connect a variety of underground information in a single model.

The pilots are considered extremely successful and were well received. The Geospatial Commission has recently released a project update with lessons learnt. Other use cases, such as the coordination of street works, are still under review by Project Iceberg and may be addressed later. Reflecting on the project, Holger and Carsten shared some valuable insights to the audience. Here are the ones that stood out:

  • The value of trust building and stakeholder engagement cannot be overstated. Involving stakeholders, if done properly and in an open manner, is, as shared aptly by Holger, a full-time job.

  • Clear and consistent use cases help to create stakeholder support and avoid scope creep.

  • The leadership demonstrated by the Northumbrian Water Group as an innovation-minded utility provider, bringing together people from their own organisation and others to develop a case for the technical feasibility and ability to overcome data sharing challenges, was a vital starting point for the process to start and, ultimately, succeed.

  • Adopting agile development practices helped the team to incorporate feedback, reflect, and change their course during the project.


Data sharing, data quality, and liability

In the concluding interactive discussion session, the speakers were joined by Dr Victor Khoo of the Singapore Land Authority.

The discussion session centred around questions regarding data sharing challenges, data quality, and liability. In the meantime, the audience provided their ideas and comments through polls and a lively chat.

Data quality

Although the primary focus of project and platform is indeed data sharing, Holger and Carsten expressed their hope that the establishment of such a platform would lead to a vibrant and involved user community that cares greatly about data quality and that this will eventually lead to a gradual improvement of data quality over time. The observation reporting system that is part of the platform is expected to support this. However, it remains to be seen how this will develop over time and whether or not additional regulation will be required.


Related to data quality is the matter of liability, for example in the event where inaccurate data leads to a utility strike. Holger and Carsten indicated that, at this moment in time, liabilities remain the same. However, this may change over time and, once again, regulation may needs to be introduced or changed in order to make data custodians carry some of the liability and, in response, improve the quality of their data.

The value of knowledge exchange

Having listened to an inspiring story from the UK, Victor commented that, regardless of the different specifics of each state, city, or city-state, international exchange of insights is essential to advance the knowledge of a global community and enable them to implement long-term, sustainable strategies towards more reliable information of the underground.

The session was closed with final statements from Holger and Carsten recommending everyone to communicate openly to one another and to not only share the successes of their projects, but also the failures. The DUConnect team takes this to heart and thanks the speakers for their insightful contributions.


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