When is innovation, useful innovation?

When Ordnance Survey puts the focus on infrastructure, it does so with a national perspective. In conversations at the recent OS Infrastructure Event, I picked up a common thread of interest (It was a great event, by the way). The thinking was this: the challenge, for many businesses, is in making the transition from ‘you’re handling innovation that’s revolutionary,’ to ‘do you also do innovation that’s really useful?’

If I’m asked to describe ‘what’s the difference, why choose emapsite’, I think that’s the answer. We believe in the kind of innovation that’s really useful – lateral thinking, solving big problems with simple solutions. It’s not catchy, but it is worth unpacking.

Sometimes it’s the application of a simple solution that makes the massive difference to a business’s operations. It’s about identifying the location challenge – often a project in itself – and then finding the best way to overcome it. 

That may be ‘find the right data to provide the best insights, but to do so, consider other sources of data from the norm’. Or it might be, ‘find a way to use the data we have, really use it, with contractors who are out in the field and need it most’. Or it might be ‘we know there’s a problem and we think the environment isn’t helping … how do we tackle this on the ground?’ At heart, simple problems. All of which benefit from innovative solutions. Here’s one (we prepared earlier, as they say):

We work with a well-known gas and electricity transporter, which came to us with a large-scale but familiar challenge: there’s a pressing health and safety concern for utility firms that are connecting new developments. In addition to the health and safety aspect, this challenge speaks to wasted resources; efficiency; and customer satisfaction too – all of which combine to make it a priority for their business.

Post Grenfell, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has tightened its oversight on multi-occupancy multi-storey buildings. This is sensible and a much-needed shift in the legislative focus on developing infrastructure – where many problems exist in a ‘yet to be mapped’ world and because our infrastructure is evolving at such a pace, there’s a costly vacuum (for a given period of time) of mapped information for utility providers.

Identifying multi-storey buildings under construction is a challenge in itself. In theory, earth observation (EO) using satellite data could determine new development under construction as it happens but it would be harder to determine building type or height and multi-occupancy as characteristics.  OS has the richest, most up to date detailed mapping for Great Britain. It makes up to 20,000 changes each day but even this cannot cope with the fast-changing infrastructure and developing world. The addressing lifecycle of new developments is a complicated and non-uniform process across GB but the OS AddressBase data sets do show planned, under construction and occupied attributes as well as multi occupancy – but this too, suffers from inconsistencies across local authorities and a lag in real world currency.


Using our experience and familiarity with utilities’ operations, we unpicked the problem in a way that surfaced actual needs, and an innovative solution. The challenge wasn’t identifying the unknown, necessarily. It was more a question of speeding up the process: accessing the right information, as soon as it did change, thereby reducing the size of the unmapped pipeline projects and satisfying the reporting headache with HSE.

With the information we provide, the distributors’ teams can automatically determine when sites were last surveyed, heights of buildings and where specifically multi-occupancy properties are planned, under construction or now in an occupied state. This information flow is critical to unlocking the unknown and ensuring compliance to health and safety regulation. We built a web service that pushes these changes for 000s of sites dynamically to the customers’ business process allowing them to cascade jobs such as connection notices and the associated reporting to HSE and ensure compliance with tightening regulations.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, we’re proud to play a part in helping clients like this to adopt innovative spatial thinking that will solve real world problems.

What’s your challenge?

Daniel Slater, Director of Sales at emapsite.com 

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