Aurora launches with new Scottish Road Works Register solution

Mention 2020 in five years’ time and it is rather unlikely that most people’s first thoughts will turn to a new software implementation, even if it is on a national scale. However, while we struggle to adjust to the new-normal, the utility companies and key infrastructure organisations on which we depend have maintained and repaired their current facilities throughout the pandemic and continued with a programme of upgrades and new capacity!

The Scottish Road Works Register, also known as The Register and SRWR, is one key infrastructure body that had to continue to function throughout 2020.

Scotland’s national computerised database system for the electronic transfer, retention and management of road works data is one of just a handful of truly national systems anywhere in the world. Symology’s Insight solution has been used in the provision of the SRWR since 2006 and, for its latest iteration of continuous improvement the Scottish Road Works Commissioner planned to introduce Symology’s all-new, map-based Aurora application to its 2,500 users on April 6th. The UK-wide lockdown put a stop to that but, working together, the Commissioner and Symology successfully went live with Aurora just three months’ later.

Introduction

The SRWR is the computerised database system for the electronic transfer, retention, and management of road works data in Scotland. It is owned and managed by the Office of the Scottish Road Works Commissioner and is one of a mere handful of nationwide systems anywhere in the world.

Originating as long ago as 1985 as a plant protection system, the SRWR is used by the roads authorities and utility companies, together with their contractors, as the principal tool to plan and coordinate works on Scottish roads and also acts as the data source when the performance of any of these works is assessed. All of these users log in to a single solution, whether they come from within the Commissioner’s office itself, one of the 33 road works authorities, or one of the 45 utility undertakers together with their sub-contractors. The SRWR also includes a record of Permissions and Consents, such as the placement of skips, erection of scaffolding, and major events and their associated diversion routes.

For the individual Scottish citizen, other interested organisations, and key stakeholders, it represents an accurate repository of information on past, current and future road works. This data can be accessed easily through a public-facing Web portal. The transparency of the SRWR is also demonstrated by their commitment to open data publishing, which enables third parties to utilise the data from the Register.

More than fifteen years of Insight from Symology

Although the original development of the Scottish Road Works Register was undertaken in-house, outsourcing started in 2000 through an internal buyout. This operated for five years until, in 2005, the SRWR chose Symology and the Insight Street Works and Asset Management software to become their solution provider. Since that original Insight implementation, the SRWR has tendered twice more for their business, in 2010 and 2017, and on both occasions Symology was the successful supplier.

According to Iain Ross, who is SRWR Manager for the Scottish Road Works Commissioner and has managed the contract for the SRWR since 2006, inertia or an unwillingness to change has played no part in the decision to stay with the one supplier.

A web-based approach

The collaborative approach developed since 2005 is illustrated by Iain’s open acknowledgement that some of the SRWR requirements included within the 2017 tender simply could not be delivered using the Insight technologies that had served them so successfully.

“We and our 2,500 users were comfortable with the functionality within Insight but, like Symology, recognised that a web-based solution with a mapping-based browser interface was the next evolutionary step. And, it would be beneficial that the Register and Vault also be available as a series of Mobile Apps to enable inspections to be recorded, works to be started and stopped, and the Vault data to be viewed all while in the field.

“As Symology had already started on the development of a wholly new software solution incorporating map driven capabilities, sophisticated co-ordination tools, role-based permissions, comprehensive reporting, and mobile functionality for all its clients, we signed up to rolling out the new solution when available.”

The entire team at SRWR was well aware of the pivotal role Insight was playing in Scotland’s road system and were keen to work alongside the Symology experts. According to Iain, “We have benefitted greatly from Symology’s collaborative involvement with our requirements over the years. The Commissioner and his office, members of the SRWR Steering Group and the SRWR System Assurance Team, made up of representatives from the Roads Authorities and Utilities Committee (RAUC(S)), all worked alongside the Symology development team. Our aim was to ensure that the evolution of the SRWR delivered a comprehensive solution for many years to come. This latest release of the SRWR, using Aurora, does just that.”

From the ground up

Aurora incorporates Insight’s vast functionality within a powerful map-driven interface, with defined symbology helping users to identify different levels of activity, whether it is minor works or road closures and associated diversion routes. Aurora also used its Gold Partner status to integrate true web mapping using ESRI technology. Not only does this expand upon the ESRI GIS offering, it provides clients with a mapping look-and-feel within Aurora that they are accustomed to in their everyday life. Google Street View integration also assists users with their coordination duties, alongside viewing historic, current, and future works.

Furthermore, SRWR Mobile Apps are implemented, enabling operatives in the field to record their inspections, starts, and stops and check details of underground apparatus. Programmable Aurora Dashboards help users manage routine activities, such as managing works through the lifecycle or tracking inspections throughout the year or display high level management information. In this way, the dashboards take Insight’s huge enquiries capabilities a step further by providing a quick visual snapshot of operational data in a different format. At the top level they provide a visual representation of the status of works and inspections on the entire network, whilst allowing users to quickly drill down to the detailed records for progression or further investigation.

Aurora uses Microsoft Azure to ensure it is always available, scalable, and secure and the relationship with Microsoft is a natural fit for Symology given its position as a leading provider of cloud solutions to Local Government. Microsoft Cloud enables Symology to provide their solution in a scalable and secure fashion, as well as providing a platform for future development of the solution around Data & AI and other areas of innovation.

Going live

The SRWR Aurora Go-Live was originally planned for Monday, 6th April 2020 and delayed as the full implications of the UK-wide lockdown for Covid-19 became clear. In fact, the Insight SRWR was suspended on Friday, 10th July 2020, and the migration to Aurora carried out by Symology over the weekend. The Insight to Aurora transition included the migration of historic data, the updating of existing mobile apps, updating of the Community Apparatus Vault data and directing Aurora data to the Road Works Web Portal, roadworksscotland.org.

In the event, SRWR users could begin logging in ahead of schedule on Sunday, 12th July, when the first notices were raised. The SRWR Aurora solution officially went live on Monday, 13th July 2020.

Iain praises the efforts of both Symology and the SRWR users in the smooth transition. “The implementation of any new solution necessarily includes a number of unknowns for users, but we knew Symology had previous experience of executing national solutions and their team worked closely with the Office of the Scottish Road Works Commissioner and RAUC(S) representatives to ensure a smooth and successful transition.

“But it is also a tribute to all our users, the majority of whom were working from home. They had been utilising the e-learning tools provided by Symology through the Aurora Academy to familiarise themselves with the new features since the beginning of 2020. SRWR users also had access to a training version of the Register, allowing them to try out scenarios alongside their daily operations to ensure a smooth transition from Insight to Aurora. These e-learning facilities have proven invaluable in ensuring that thousands of users received the necessary training for the new SRWR Aurora solution not only in the preparation for the Go-Live but also in follow-up sessions.

Moving forward

The Aurora solution takes multi-organisation use even further using tailored spatial areas and role-based permissions to allow organisations to cooperate and share their data with other organisations without sacrificing data integrity. For the SRWR it enables easy cooperation with hundreds of users from many different organisations. This is complemented by the integration of Google Street View, the SRWR Mobile Apps, and the user-programmable Dashboards, which in the case of the SRWR is already appreciated.

“The ability of the Dashboards to show us the big picture is invaluable,” says Iain. “The Commissioner and the road works community can easily view the single source of the truth across the Scottish network at any one time. Meanwhile, the SRWR Mobile Apps, which operated with Insight, enable road works to be easily handled. Whether recording inspections or simply recording what time you started and finished a job, it makes it easier for everyone to comply with the strict timescales for recording such information.”

The value of the Mobile Apps is demonstrated by the increase already seen in the number of Utility own inspections. This enables Works Promoters to inspect their own works to identify defects early in order to rectify them prior to them being reported by members of the public or being identified by the Authorities. This will further increase the quality of work carried out on the Scottish Network.

The implementation of any new system is likely to raise issues, perhaps especially with advanced users that have tailored the previous system to do things it was not necessarily designed for. However, users of the new SRWR system have commented on how quickly Symology has been able to make enhancements to the solution and how easy Aurora is to use. Furthermore, users have commented on the flexibility of the reporting facilities, including the use of Saved Views, filtering, sorting, sequencing, and grouping from within Aurora and the simplicity of exporting data and producing reports.

In Summary

This experience is summed up by Angus Carmichael, the Scottish Road Works Commissioner who oversaw the Aurora introduction as one of his final acts before retiring on 27th September 2020. “I am delighted with Symology’s recent upgrade to the Scottish Road Works Register. Throughout the last two years, Symology has worked closely with representatives of the road works community in Scotland and my office to ensure the new register provides the functionality required. There were a few difficulties associated with the reporting functionality, but Symology have been diligent in their efforts to resolve these issues. I am happy to say that the new system is bedding in well and is a great improvement.”

Whilst the Aurora solution has only been live in Scotland since July 2020, Scottish users have already been putting forward ideas of how Aurora can be developed. Symology is also keen to build on the success of the implementation of Aurora in Scotland by implementing Aurora across the rest of its customer base, making it Symology’s flagship solution both for Street Works and Asset Management. As the same solution is used by all Symology customers, these enhancements will not only benefit the SRWR but all Aurora users.