Highways UK 2017 Starts in



8/9 November, NEC, Birmingham




Integrating technology solutions into an ageing infrastructure

Technology is changing the world but too often we start with the solution without fully considering the outcome we are trying to achieve, says James Bulleid, Technology Director for Costain's Infrastructure division.

James Bulleid

James Bulleid

Technology Director - Infrastructure, Costain

Friday 1 September 2017

Technology is changing the world we live in.... how many times have you heard that said recently? I don't know about you, but I think by now we are all very aware that this is the case!

I'm interested in how people respond to technology changes: they tend either to embrace them or run for the hills. Let's assume we are in the camp that wants to embrace this type of change. If this is the case, we are faced with a strange conundrum - it seems to be difficult to procure a technology solution and feel fully satisfied with the outcome.

Therein lies the problem though: more often than not we start with the solution itself without fully considering the outcome that we are trying to achieve. This is not too dissimilar to rushing out and buying the latest two seater sports car when the objective is to transport a family of five safely from A to B - perhaps some of us can relate to this.

I write about this light-heartedly, but it is a significant challenge for our industry. We can take the analogy further - in our situation we are often trying to drive the latest sports car down an ancient uneven cobbled road. In other words, we are trying to integrate the latest technology solutions into an ageing infrastructure and with a wide range of legacy systems. For these reasons I'm not convinced that there is such a thing as a 'plug and play' technology solution. 

To realise the full potential of technology we need to do three things: begin by defining the outcome; consider carefully the possibilities and complexities of integrating new technology into existing infrastructure; work as one team across all disciplines.

At Costain, we find that beginning by working with our clients to define the outcome for their customers that we are trying to achieve provides an excellent focus for any technology project and is a huge help with key decisions. Secondly, we are passionate about a 'bottom up' approach to technology integration - in other words, we have a rich knowledge of how the end device (hardware) functions and we follow the integration from the end device back to the core systems.  Thirdly, we bring multiple skillsets together. Technology solutions don't have to be defined by "technologists". We bring all relevant disciplines from civil engineers, mechanical engineers, ecologists etc. and 'technologists' together to produce solutions that work.

Highways UK is always an excellent opportunity for industry to come together and discuss burning issues. This year Costain is delighted to be supporting the Intelligent Infrastructure Hub and very pleased to say that the competition is based entirely on client outcomes.  

Several challenges have been set by various national and local authorities incuding Highways England, Birmingham City Council, Transport for the North, Transport Scotland, England's Economic Heartland and The Air Quality Taskforce. The hub provides industry with an opportunity to propose technology solutions to these challenges, with winners chosen by each authority in a live judging session at the show. The challenges range from air quality to safety to optimising vehicle flow, so there is something for everyone to get their teeth into.

Click here for more information on the Intelligent Infrastructure Hub

James Bulleid is technology director for Costain's infrastructure division