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Chancellor hails super software as improving UK infrastructure

Philip hammond

Chancellor Phillip Hammond has highlighted an £8M software system as an example of how technology can improve the UK’s infrastructure resilience.

DAFNI, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, was praised by the chancellor as he commissioned a study to identify how resilient UK infrastructure is now and what must change to improve it as well as minimise cascade failures.

DAFNI, having been developed over four years in an Oxfordshire laboratory by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, uses its advanced computing to collate infrastructure data from multiple sources, map and model it and use advanced visualisations to demonstrate and explore scenarios.

In his letter commissioning the study, Hammond said: “The development of the Data and Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI) provides a particular opportunity to undertake an in-depth analysis of resilience, working with key stakeholders.”

Speaking of how data on infrastructure is stored, DAFNI project leader Sam Chorlton added: “So there are two general approaches. One is that you do not do anything to the data and you store it as files. People then access that data and they put it into how they want to handle it.

“The other option is to go down the route of trying to shoe-horn that data into a single format, and that can work well because it means it will have to be accessed through one mechanism. But when you try to sledgehammer data into a certain format you end up getting impacts where you either reduce data quality, you reduce performance with which you can access the data, or you just lose the ability to ask the questions in the right manner.

“What we are doing is going down the route of using a multi-model database which means you store the data in the format that is right for that data. So that might be a relational database or even a graph database. What you then do is you spend all your time working on this logic engine and what that does is it interprets your request and then makes that accord to the databases on your behalf.”

Chorlton added: “If [DAFNI] becomes successful it means that huge task of data processing is essentially taken away from the users and that means they can spend their time focussing on what their primary skillset is, which is the modelling. They are not there as data engineers.”

The study commissioned by Hammond will, according to the chancellor, seek to develop an understanding of public expectations and response to the potential loss of infrastructure services and review alternative options and contingency planning, for example, in the light of technological advances such as cyber threats, and behavioural changes.

In addition, Hammond has called for the scope of the study to include an undertaking of pilot analysis of infrastructure systems to improve resilience inform investment decisions through, for example, “stress tests” of sectors, geographical areas or companies.

The study should, according to Hammond, also set out to make recommendations to the Government on the resilience of economic infrastructure, how best to assess resilience, sharing of good practice and data collection or analysis to inform the next National Infrastructure Assessment.

The final study is provisionally set to be published by spring 2020.

News of the chancellor commissioning the study has come following this year’s budget pledging a £28.8bn strategic roads investment package and £770M to improve transport infrastructure in cities.

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