LQM is a specialist environmental consultancy based in Nottingham (UK) with an international reputation for assessing and managing the risks posed to human health and the environment by contaminants in soil. Increasingly this is being done within a context of sustainable development and specifically sustainable brownfield regeneration.

We provide consultancy, peer review and expert witness services, contract research and training courses on all aspects of the management of land contamination to problem holders, developers and local government.

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Where are you and your company on the digital journey ? (May 2019)

The world is going digital.  Recent conferences at East Land Quality Form, NICOLE and Brownfield Briefing have all highlighted increasing use of digital tools to analyse and display our data.

LQM have been interested to know where land contamination practitioners – both consultants and regulators – are on the journey to digital transformation to speed organisations and individuals progress on the journey.  We ran a quick survey questionnaire back in April of the Contaminated Land Strategies JISCMail group to see whereabouts one of the go-to places for contaminated land advice amongst practitioners was on the digital journey, with a reasonable snap-shot comprising a 5% response rate. The survey will remain open for the time being so if you wish to add your responses please contribute, so we can update this blog in the future and see how the journey is going. Below are some of the highlights and insights of where we are to date.

Unsurprisingly there was a high reliance on the use of spreadsheet tools with 95% using these to evaluate site investigation data, whilst <5% use efficient scripting approaches such as R and Python. Although, the importance of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and data(base) management systems such as HoleBase SI and gINT is clear with more than 60% using these tools.

High reliance on spreadsheets … currently low use of scripting tools

Despite the AGS data format first edition being published way back in 1992 it is surprising that the majority of respondents (63%) do not use it in any (38%) or on only some (25%) projects, with only 15% using it on all of their projects.

Low use of AGS data format as the default project format

Few practitioners thought Data Science or GIS tools were of no benefit to our data analysis but there are some limiting factors with such as a lack of training (64%) and expense of (proprietary) software licences (35%). It would seem a lack of availability and/or awareness of the suite of open source GIS and data science tools could be impeding our digital journey. Surprisingly, time limitations on projects was also perceived as being a significant factor among respondents (58%). Perhaps this is related to the lack of training or awareness of how such tools, with some upfront time investment, can improve reproducibility, efficiency and savings in the future. So perhaps we are being delayed by a perception barrier, brought about by unwise short-term decision making.

Lack of training and time limitations holding back the digital journey?

But when asked directly to judge the level of increase in your productivity that data science or GIS upskilling would have, 53% of respondents thought it would be substantial (2 or 3 times) if not essential for fear of employees (and employers) being left behind. The vast majority (93%) accepted that productivity could be increased.

Upskilling is the future

Traditional face-to-face (f2f) training courses for upskilling in the use of Data Science and GIS tools ranks highly but the increasing viability of online training facilities, coupled with the need to decrease employee downtime and costs, make a blend of online and f2f the top-ranking training method (44%), closely followed by online recorded & tutorials (42%). The overwhelming majority of respondents (80%) thought some form of training had an important a role to play in the digital journey.

Blend of online and face-to-face training is preferred

A similar majority (75%) showed an interest in training, some for general interest, but not unsurprisingly (given the sampled sub-population) most respondents (53%) thought the training should be focused on tasks relating to contaminated land and brownfields. With only 2% of respondents expressing a lack of interest in training (those with a high level of existing skills) it is clear there is an understanding that Data Science and GIS tools are important ways to improving our productivity.

At the same time there is acceptance that there is also the need for the investment of time in the laying down of tracks to facilitate our productivity journey and overcome barriers such as a lack of awareness, perception of difficulty or expense, especially for the small and medium-sized enterprises.

Many thanks for all those who have so far participated in the survey which forms the basis of this blog. We intend to update this blog to see how the digital journey is going (as interest dictates), you can contribute via the survey link.

For more details about LQM’s current Data Science and GIS activities/training (June 2019) courses below or contact us:

QGIS 1: Building a QGIS project – the road to data visualisation (20th June 2019)

QGIS 2: Solving & Visualising Contaminated Land Problems using QGIS (26th June 2019)

QGIS 3: Creating Efficient Workflows for Contaminated Land Problems using QGIS (27th June 2019)