How can we extract value from Big Data asks SNC-Lavalin

Posted On: 
6th April 2018

Dr Anne Kemp from SNC-Lavalin assesses the business potential of Big Data and the ability it provides companies to get insight into how their assets are performing.


Big data has become a somewhat maligned term. We have been using large quantities of data for many years. What’s changed is the amount of raw data at our fingertips, and the speed at which it is being created. It’s estimated that more than 20 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, which will result in millions of terabytes of new data being created every year. This data isn’t just coming from mobile phones and computers, but the likes of smart meters and household appliances, and even shipping containers are being connected to the internet. Innovative technology like autonomous vehicles and drones means the amount of data being created is only set to grow.

From a business perspective, this raw data has enormous potential. “The age of big data is upon us, and it is upon our clients,” says Dr Navil Shetty, a leader in Digital Asset Management within SNC-Lavalin’s Engineering, Design and Project Management business. However, using this data intelligently to extract value isn’t yet the norm. “It is something that has only really developed in the law few years. Our clients are aware that they have this data, and some are on a journey to understand how they can use it. However, only a few have put in place systems to capture and analyse that data systematically and derive actionable insights.”

Primarily, this is due to the complexity of the data. Conventional software packages and databases are incapable of handling the variety of data being captured. This has resulted in the need for new technology, which is capable of understanding and processing big data, often in real time. Finding individuals who can design and maintain new processes is another obstacle with big data. “While companies are increasingly aware that they have data available, and that it can help inform decisions, many are struggling to know how to use it,” says Dave Kelly, Senior Project Manager in SNC-Lavalin’s Engineering, Design and Project Management business. The solution is to engage with data scientists and data engineers, very possibly from outside of the industry. “You need people with specialised skillsets to help them make good business decisions,” he adds.

Skilled individuals are imperative to our ability to present clients with data that is accurate, consistent and reliable, as problems arise when data is incorrectly interpreted. This very quickly introduces suspicion and can cause issues with our contracts. To counter this we have standards in place, both as a business and within the UK, and these standards are being introduced on an international level.

By providing businesses with a reliable method of understanding their data, we can offer a detailed insight into how their assets are performing. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated algorithms, this can then be utilised to predict future behaviour, such as when components need replacing. The ability to forecast a problem with railway signals so the issue can be addressed before the signalling actually fails, for example, can have huge benefits to operations and passenger experience. “Digital Asset Management of any critical infrastructure can lead to savings of up to 30% in maintenance and operation costs,” adds Shetty.