Well wasn’t I brave last week! Having bought my Virgin train ticket to Birmingham, I finally found the courage to tick the e-ticket box allowing me to travel paper ticketless all the way and back with nothing but an iPhone to clutch.

No big deal really. For me anyway. In fact, I can’t believe that I have never done it before given how long the service has been available – although the latest m-ticket upgrade is certainly rather good.

Yet, it seems, it is a big deal for the UK’s railways. Having been issuing passengers with paper tickets for centuries, the move towards the digital age and the use of e-tickets remains remarkably slow compared to other transport sectors.

This must change. Along with every part of UK infrastructure design, delivery and maintenance and operation, its future customer focused success will depend on a rapid and all-encompassing transition towards a digital and data enabled future.

As the recently revamped Construction Leadership Council, led by Crossrail chair Andrew Wolstenholme, explains in its new strategy, transformation of the sector depends on:

  • Digital focus – delivering better, more certain outcomes by embracing digital techniques.
  • Manufacturing focus – improving productivity, quality and safety by increasing the use of off-site manufacturing and logistics.
  • Smart focus – using technology to drive whole life asset performance.

The engineering profession, in particular, the digitally enabled geospatial sector, will be at the heart of this transformation. And as such, this year looks set to be a critical one in terms of setting out the stall for – to borrow a phrase – a new Digital Built Britain underpinned by the National Infrastructure Commission’s latest vision for total nationwide 5G coverage.

For a start, construction of the High Speed 2 project is slated to kick off this year. It is the first step of two decades of work to upgrade rail capacity, modernise the nation’s north-south connections and so rebalance the economy.

This project is set to push at the digital boundaries by designing and constructing assets with a digital future in mind. It will embed Building Information Modelling (BIM), smart assets, remote and automated asset management and be designed from day one with a ticketless customer experience in mind. The project will be the shop window for the kind of geospatial innovations that we can expect to see at May’s Geo Business event in London.

Then there’s the long-awaited decision on Heathrow expansion. Set to kick off this year, it is another project that will challenge the engineering and surveying sectors’ ability to deliver new levels of efficiency, collaboration and innovation. At the heart of meeting this challenge will be digital technology, linked to a new generation of prefabricated, smart infrastructure that minimises disruption and cost during construction then meets the needs of customers long into the future.

Meanwhile Highways England will look to accelerate delivery of the government’s £11.4bn Road Investment Strategy, again seeking to embed data and information management into its customer focused portfolio of major upgrades, targeted improvements and maintenance activities. While concrete, steel and asphalt will certainly play a role, the future for road users is clearly digital.

Then there’s Network Rail’s plans for a digital railway; EDF’s plans to get Hinkley Point nuclear power station out of the ground; and Thames Tideway Tunnel challenge to bore 75m below the river and reengage the capital with its river.

It’s going to be a big year! It’s going to be a challenging year. Across the entire infrastructure supply chain businesses and individuals must think harder and act faster to embrace and capitalise on the opportunities that a digitally enabled future offers.

As pioneers of digital engineering and data management, the geospatial sector is in the box seat. So book your e-ticket today – 2017 is going to be the moment to step up.

The transition towards a new digitally enabled infrastructure future will be a key theme at the GEO Business event in London’s Business Design Centre 23-24 May. Incorporating an international exhibition, a cutting edge conference, commercial workshops, a careers event and various social and networking events, the show is not to be missed. Registration is now open at:


This article was written by independent editorial expert and journalist Antony Oliver, who regularly contributes industry content for GEObuzz. Find Antony on Twitter @_Antonyoliver_

GEO Business 2017, 23 – 24 May 2017, Business Design Centre, London UK

The geospatial event for everyone involved in the gathering, storing, processing and delivery of geospatial information. Incorporating an international trade exhibition, a cutting edge conference and a programme of live commercial workshops sessions, featuring the technology and services used by those working with spatial data.

Click here to register


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