The project at-a-glance
- Creation of a mobile application and web-based platform
- Develop technology to streamline data capture for multiple surveys
- Use app to securely capture thousands of geolocated data-points, supported by imagery
- Utilise resulting to data to facilitate production of detailed reports so that this insight can be applied to support future construction projects
Employing over 900 people, it comprises seven divisions: VolkerRail Major Projects, plus six specialist businesses: design, metro and rail projects, piling, plant, power, and signalling. A division of VolkerWessels UK, VolkerRail is one of the UK’s leading multi-disciplinary railway infrastructure contractors.
By 2020, it had delivered contracts valued at over £1 billion across the UK’s national rail network, including work on main, branch and light rail networks, freight lines, depots, sidings and private industrial locations. It is experienced in permanent way renewals, maintenance and track construction, overhead line electrification, HV and LV power distribution and signalling – all supported by an extensive fleet of plant equipment.
In 2018, VolkerWessels began a digital transformation programme, “Tomorrow Now”, led by a newly appointed chief digital officer. Looking to improve information efficiency and reduce time and cost waste due to historic reliance on email and paper-based production and storage systems, the Microsoft Office 365 suite was introduced as a core business platform in March 2019.
The launch was timely, with the communication and collaboration tool Microsoft Teams helping the business overcome many of the constraints created by the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020 onwards. By September 2020, use of the suite had extended to 90% of employees, and VolkerRail was able to deliver all its projects on schedule.
Introduction of Office 365 was a key early stage in the VolkerWessels programme. With a slogan of “Powered by Data, Driven by People”, this has three strands – people, processes, and technologies – and the initial stages involved engaging with company people to identify what barriers were preventing people from working efficiently. Employees were encouraged to challenge existing processes and tools. Special interest groups were created to focus on potential improvement areas including 4D planning, artificial intelligence, better collection and management of site data, and improved analytics and reporting, including through use of MS PowerBI.
Broadening use of mobile applications involves practical testing of new technologies and connectivity onsite. The “Tomorrow Now” programme therefore has a clear process for piloting processes and technologies, whether internally developed or third-party applications, so that they can successfully form part of ‘business as usual’. Managed by a digital steering group, testing and evaluation against defined success criteria (functionality, affordability, ease of use, etc) typically takes three months, with successful technologies then progressing to wider roll-out.
For VolkerRail, key factors in successful deployment of site-based applications include: robust data collection, data connectivity between sites and offices (via Office 365), availability of real-time progress data, reductions in paper and travel requirements, and ease of bottom-up adoption.
A VolkerRail team led by Ed Arnold needed an information capture and progressive assurance tool to help it manage site-based activities on a project for Chiltern Railways, covering a section of the line between London Marylebone station and north Oxfordshire. On a pilot project to capture survey information relating to train protection and warning systems (TPWS), cable routes, signal wiring and access points, it selected a mobile application, eviFile.
eviFile specialists worked with VolkerRail to digitise its existing survey proformas and support various field data collection scenarios within the configurable eviFile mobile application (Apple iOS or Android) and its web-based data management and reporting platform. eviFile conducted workshops with VolkerRail managers, engineers and site workers to ensure that its solution met their needs, applying an agile development methodology, and creating prototypes for review and refinement in line with feedback received. User training and helpdesk support could then be provided to back roll-out of the developed mobile solution. Data export and import processes were also specified to ensure compatibility of information between eviFile and VolkerRail’s existing systems.
The eviFile solution can capture manually entered text information, plus photographs and video. All field-captured data is also encrypted in a tamper-proof form, automatically time- and date-stamped, along with its geolocation, and can also be ‘tagged’ with additional metadata to help filter searches still further. Being cloud-hosted (on Amazon Web Services, AWS), it can be accessed by any authorised user 24/7, and incorporates powerful but intuitive search capabilities – vital when users need to access records and evidence rapidly.
The eviFile platform was also configured to provide various real-time custom reports. These allow authorised users to monitor overall survey progress and also to drill down to review the status of individual data collection processes. Reports are also exportable to third-party business project management, business intelligence and presentation tools such as VolkerRail’s Primavera P6 and PowerBI systems, as well as conventional PDF and Excel reporting.
Information captured using eviFile was used by VolkerRail to prepare its GRIP4-8 price and programme, for asset condition reports, safety plans, access and compound strategies and preparation of a constructability report. Anticipated future use includes use and expansion of the survey data for installation tracking, quality assurance, virtual snagging and hand-back. VolkerRail is also planning to integrate eviFile with its Asite ‘common data environment’ (CDE).
- Higher levels of data consistency and quality
- Progressive completion of evidence files, leading to more reliable data capture and storage of evidence
- Auditable, secure time, date and location-stamped and tamper-proof compliance information for management and insurance purposes
- Improved control over data access
- Richer, more accurate, real-time data about Chiltern rail asset conditions and VolkerRail survey progress — meaning better-informed decision-making, and helping drive continuous improvement
- Faster, ‘leaner’ information capture, collation and handover
- Improved reporting and information presentation
- Detailed survey data capture to support future construction/installation activities, plus progressive assurance of ongoing works, integrated with a CDE
Tamper-proof compliance information
Secure time, date and location-stamped
Faster, ‘leaner’ information capture, collation and handover
Data consistency and quality
Higher levels of data consistency and quality