Covid implications and the next big trends for data collection – what are we seeing?

Delmec's Head of Innovation & Engineering, Damien Kelly, provides insights from across the industry

Damien Kelly, Delmec

Read this article to learn:

  • How global lockdowns have impacted data collection and to what extent this has driven innovation
  • Changes in the type of data that clients want to see and the factors driving this change
  • Delmec's long term plans for remote monitoring and data gathering post COVID
  • Integration challenges and the requirement for standardisation
  • Where AI/ML are delivering tangible results
  • The next big trends in data collection and utilisation

Necessity is the mother of invention and the COVID-19 pandemic has uprooted traditional ways of working, driving a change in the way that the tower industry collects and uses data. In this interview we speak to Delmec’s Head of Innovation and Engineering to discuss some of the challenges and changes that have been seen during this period, exploring the emerging trends in the sector that will continue in a post-pandemic world.

 

TowerXchange: To what extent have the global lockdowns associated with the pandemic impacted the ability to carry out site inspections/ surveys and gather data from sites. Have you seen accelerated innovation to address some of the challenges that have been presented during this period?

Damien Kelly, Head of Engineering and Innovation, Delmec: COVID has definitely impacted how we work, although we’ve been able to work around a lot of the restrictions that have faced us over the last year or so. Obviously, travelling to other countries was one of the first issues we faced. Around March 2020, we were faced with challenges when flights started to be grounded and borders started to close. Even where our teams didn’t need to travel to other countries, local regional restrictions made it very difficult for us to get to site. We needed to adopt safe working protocols immediately within the company, as our first priority was to make sure our teams were safe while working.

A lot of our work, both with existing and new clients, consists of surveying sites to carry out a full assessment [structural, conditional, etc]. As our clients rely on us to visit and inspect these sites, we needed to adapt to the new way of working and still provide the same level of detail as before. Additionally, in a lot of locations we act as a “governance” partner for some of our clients to inspect sites post works which entails other contractors, etc to also be present on site. This in itself can be difficult when adopting these safe working protocols.

We were in a fortunate position to have a strong innovation culture in Delmec which we could rely on to lessen the impact of these new restrictions. As we don’t use “pen and paper” on site, our app helped us provide the same quality to our clients regardless of COVID. We found that we could rely on our app to communicate with our teams, or where we needed to work with trusted local partners, we could guide the teams in real-time while on site. Where our usual teams couldn’t travel, this element made sure we can guide these local partners to ensure the exact detail is captured.

Over the past year, we’ve focused on further developments to the app. We’ve linked a lot of our processes to our TiMS App which allows us to respond quicker and has increased the accuracy of the data we capture. This has led to the team reviewing a mixture of “Drone and TiMS App”. We are currently reviewing potential partners to incorporate drones into our services to further improve other areas such as digital twin, active equipment data management and even our analysis services. The past year has made us a lot more innovative, with the full team focused on bringing new ideas to the table.

 

TowerXchange: Do you feel that clients have leaned more heavily on data since COVID? How has this impacted Delmec’s ability to provide “clever solutions”?

Damien Kelly, Head of Engineering and Innovation, Delmec: Definitely, I think our clients now see the importance of having accurate data as their ability to be present on site has been hampered. Over the past year, we’ve seen an increase in requests from clients to create processes around managing data and how they can benefit from accurate data on site. We’re currently working on very interesting projects for managing equipment requests and also on boarding new portfolios, which is very much in our sweet spot. We’ve been promoting this for a long time so its great to see an increased uptake in these projects.

In terms of providing solutions, it had a positive impact. We always try to provide the most efficient solution for our clients, which can vary depending on location, long term requirements, ability, etc. Obviously, we tend to rely on data to develop these solutions and when this data doesn’t exist, or isn’t accurate, it hampers us slightly. So, when we have accurate data, this gives us a wide range to work from. One of our long-standing clients has recently acquired a new portfolio and we have been contracted to visit the full portfolio to gather a lot of data. By undertaking this process, our client will not only benefit from the mass amount of data on their new portfolio, but will allow our team to utilise the data to provide these “clever solutions”. We’ve seen that clients are now more open to this approach as they can see the long terms benefits of this.

 

TowerXchange: Are your clients changing with regards the data they want to see? If so, what do you think is driving this change?

Damien Kelly, Head of Engineering and Innovation, Delmec: We’ve seen a lot of new requests from clients, but there’s also a willingness to take our lead with data captured. It very much depends on the overall objective to the project/inspection, but there’s an element of “verifying” certain points while on site. There’s no doubt there’s efficiencies for combing scopes while a team is on site, to eliminate the added costs of sending teams back to site not to mention the restrictions. We work with an approach to try eliminate site visits as much as possible, to verify vital information such as equipment while teams are attending sites for maintenance, installations, etc.

Aside from the standard information, we’ve seen a major push to capture power information but also data that will benefit future applications. Whether it’s the commercial viability of the site for upgrades, but also the future potential of incorporating renewable energies on the sites or position it for newer technologies. This creates interesting challenges for our teams to forecast what our clients may need. Our innovation process develops these new initiatives as we try to pride ourselves on forecasting these new trends.

There are a number of factors driving this, cost is obviously a major one. Especially for new portfolios, our clients want to get a view of the requirements for each site to provide the commercial impacts for upgrading the portfolio. Energy is another important point and will become a more prevalent factor when newer technologies are introduced.

 

TowerXchange: What are the long terms plans for Delmec with regards remote monitoring and gathering data post COVID?

Damien Kelly, Head of Engineering and Innovation, Delmec: Long term, we want to be in a position where we can capture as much data as possible, in a short period of time. As mentioned, we are currently developing our TiMS App to optimise our site visits but also integrate these systems to benefit the processes further in the chain. I.e. data evaluation, analysis, etc. Our roadmap includes the introduction of drone technology which will dramatically reduce our time on site, but also integrate with our digital twin. We aim to provide a platform where our clients are equipped with a full inventory of their assets, with a detailed digital twin backed up by a team of experienced engineers that can manage the portfolio on behalf on the tower owner.

In terms of remote monitoring, we are currently working through a number of different options. Again, with COVID and the need to automate operations as much as possible, remote monitoring will provide real time data on a portfolio. With our overall goal to provide “clever solutions”, adding these factors to gather data will benefit how we provide these solutions.

 

TowerXchange: With such diverse sets of platforms in use by towercos, with some companies themselves sometimes storing data in two separate locations, do you think there are still major challenges in integrating data and systems which are hampering the industry? Is there are a requirement for more standardisation in the handling of data and what can help drive this?

Damien Kelly, Head of Engineering and Innovation, Delmec: There’s still challenges when using multiple systems. As we have our own system that we capture data on and provide the output to our clients, we frequently have to work with other systems. Depending on the requirements, there are times where we need to build APIs between the two systems but we also have instances where we need to align the data for an upload to a different system. Obviously, creating an API allows both systems to align and always be updated for any subsequent changes to a site.

We have a project currently where we manage all equipment requests for a client which allows them to trust that the data is captured and kept up to date, but also have the peace of mind knowing that we have a team reviewing each change to highlight any issues, or risks. However, we do have projects where the second system is not equipped to store data in a certain manner. This can lead to difficulties in aligning the data. Our system was developed from an asset management tool, focusing on the structural element of a site. We have since developed TiMS in line with full inventory management. When we develop API’s with our clients, we can then ensure that the data is up to date and thus propose solutions based on accurate information. Storing data in multiple systems without a robust process for maintaining them, can hamper their business and lead to unwarranted cost. We do see a requirement to standardise this. We always try to promote the capturing and storing of certain information, but we found that giving our clients an understanding of the benefits helps drive this.

 

TowerXchange: Automation and machine learning are hot topics in the industry, with companies very keen to understand what their peers have been doing that they can learn from. Can you share some of the areas where you’re seeing clients achieve tangible results in the use of AI/ML?

Damien Kelly, Head of Engineering and Innovation, Delmec: We see a lot of AI being utilised in the drone space. However, there are a number of different applications that focus on contracts, energy and preventative maintenance but site inspection/digital twins is where we’re seeing a lot of benefits. Drones are being employed to capture a full suite of information on site, with current technologies able to replicate the entire site, capture corrosive areas and identify the equipment on a structure. We’re seeing this technology more in the North American and European space, but it is being adopted globally. There’s no doubt this will craft the future of data capturing, although the pricing challenges are still present in Africa and Asia when compared to typical audit teams. Its only a matter of time before this is solved and we will see an increased uptake of this technology.

 

TowerXchange: What do you see as the next big trends that the industry in regards to the better collection and utilisation of data?

Damien Kelly, Head of Engineering and Innovation, Delmec: To focus on the previous question, the introduction of AI and remote monitoring will carve out the way data is collected on site, but more importantly how this data is used. The uptake of this technology will inherently be restricted by pricing, which will stagger the introduction for different regions. The technology itself will dramatically reduce on site presence, but we feel that AI will become incredibly important as the technology advances.

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