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DUConnect #6: Unlocking The Value of Digital Ground Information

What can happen when insufficient geotechnical information is available? How can recent advancements in technology enable the sharing of data within projects and across projects within organisations or even entire regions? And what challenges remain to be resolved towards establishing region-wide connected data environments where government organisations and private companies openly share geotechnical information with each other? In the sixth session of Digital Underground Connect, Associate Professor Harry Tan Siew Ann (NUS Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering) and Dr. Roger Chandler (Bentley Systems) shared their observations and experiences from past and ongoing projects and a vision for the future.

A video replay of the webinar can be accessed here.


Site unknowns and impact on geotechnical modelling challenges

First up to present was Professor Harry Tan Siew Ann. In his presentation, Professor Tan, described two concrete cases in the past - the development of a new underground MRT station near an apartment complex and the development of Samsung Hub in Singapore - as examples. Through these cases, he underlined the importance of having access to sufficient and reliable ground information or, conversely, what are the possible consequences of not having it.

Professor Tan convincingly argued that reliable information, together with better and more extensive and continuous testing prior to and during the development, is a necessity to enable better planning and execution of works, for example by being able to model more accurately the ground conditions and propose the appropriate design. This will eventually result in a higher chance of the project delivering on time and within budget, and increased safety of the constructed buildings and infrastructure.

The slides presented by Prof. Tan can be downloaded here.


Opportunities enabled by cloud-based geotechnical information management

If a lack of geotechnical information can have serious consequences, then how can technology help to overcome this problem? In his presentation, Dr. Roger Chandler shared his vision on how cloud computing technology, where both the data and the computing power exist in a virtual space away from a computer or office, can help. Cloud computing can help enable a fully connected data environment that offers benefits for organisations on different levels.

For projects, a connected data environment can connect various workflows that are historically disconnected. This enables all involved stakeholders to access the same data which is updated in realtime. For organisations or companies, a central database can facilitate information queries across projects and standardisation that will lead to efficiency gains. And making data available on a regional scale can benefit government organisations and private companies alike, as they all build their buildings and infrastructures on the same shared space - the ground. Dr Chandler also noted that the cloud, as an open and extensible platform, fosters innovation by allowing others to develop new things, such as desktop applications, field data collection systems, project management systems, augmented reality applications, and connections with IoT devices.

The slides presented by Dr. Chandler can be downloaded here.


Overcoming data sharing challenges for geotechnical information

In a discussion led by Jakub Wachocki (Bentley Systems), speakers shared their views on overcoming challenges towards making geotechnical information to potential beneficiaries. Participants from the audience shared that they perceive issues such as regulations, processing costs, liability, and overly protective mindsets of data owners as key obstacles

A leading role for government organisations

Both speakers shared their observations that, currently, data sharing happens mostly within single organisations or companies. However, more and more local government-led initiatives are taking off - including Singapore's efforts to bring together all geotechnical information in the GeM2S platform - that successfully demonstrate the benefits of data sharing. This is evidenced, for example, by researchers being able to access and use data that would otherwise take years for them to collect.

Encouraging data sharing by private companies

For private companies to share their data to others, it will be essential that they realise the benefits of doing so. Data sharing should ultimately establish a win-win situation, in which companies that share their data simultaneously reap the benefits by accessing data from others. Both panelists agreed that an authoritative approach by the government would initially be needed to make all stakeholders realise the value before they come fully on board.

Ensuring quality of available data

How do we ensure that the available data is of sufficient quality? Although it is possible to provide extensive metadata along with geotechnical information to give an indication of its quality an reliability, both speakers emphasised that the availability of data should, in no case, exempt the users of that data from conducting proper site investigations before commencing work. Nonetheless, it is expected that those investigations will be designed better with sufficient background information available.

We thank the speakers and the participants for their contributions. Geotechnical information is an important aspect of the underground, and lessons learned can be translated to other types of underground data such as underground utility assets.

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