How Svevia connects roads, risk, and refuse through the cloud

Case Study
Aug 16, 20237 mins
CIOCloud ManagementData Management

Just like large parts of the construction industry, digitization has come relatively late to Swedish civil engineering company Svevia. But here, CIO Maria Wester details how a cloud-based digital infrastructure has been built for the entire company, kickstarting several innovation projects.

road ahead future
Credit: Thinkstock

Nearly 15 years ago, the then Vägverket Produktion was incorporated so road maintenance on Sweden’s national road network could be put on the competitive open market. Today, state-owned Svevia is the country’s largest company in the operation and maintenance of roads and bridges, and manages over 50% of the road network yet, just like in the construction industry, it’s been relatively late to digitization. But today, Svevia is driving cross-sector digitization projects where new technology for increased safety for road workers and users is tested.

“When I came in three years ago, it was with the task of digitizing the company,” says Svevia CIO Maria Wester. “In order to do that, a digital transformation was required, and when it comes to information provision, there wasn’t much, so we put in place basic platforms to handle data, and developed a cloud architecture for infrastructure and applications.”

Over the course of a year, 150 applications were then moved over to Microsoft’s cloud and SaaS services, which has enabled scalability and an up-to-date environment with APIs connected to the applications.

“It’s important to get access to data in order to digitize an entire company,” she says. “Often a business area, a service, or a product is digitized but not the entire company. We wanted to create an information supply for the entire company, though.”

Enabling that flow of data and access to it was no small feat considering in addition to the division that manages the operation and maintenance of roads, Divison Drift, there’s also the Industry Division for aggregate operations with gravel pits, asphalt production, and thermoplastic line marking, as well as the Construction Division, which conducts small and large construction projects in areas such as land, road, bridge, tunnel, and wind power.

Multiple layers

The platform is built in several layers, from the technology layer over the data layer and integration layer, to the application layer and the service layer, where the functions for data analysis are located. Finally, there’s a presentation layer to reach the world outside Svevia in order to exchange data with customers.

With the right data available and Microsoft’s Power platform, the aim is to proactively issue reports and decision support on an ongoing basis, and provide the power to digitize all parts of the company.

Svevia is very decentralized, comprised of three divisions and subsidiaries, around 100 fixed offices, and over 100 project offices for the largest projects around the country. And workplace offices open and close continuously based on where major assignments are located.

“We’re operationally very efficient,” she says. “We want to quickly go from idea to delivery so we can streamline our processes.”

Svevia, however, doesn’t work completely agile and still has a waterfall structure in large projects, but in the field of digitization—and innovation in particular—iterative working methods are a must.

“Waterfall projects may seem easier to understand from an overall point of view, but if it’s about ongoing innovation together with a customer to bring out new effects and benefits, then we need to be iterative even in complex projects,” she says. “At the same time, we have to have committed stakeholders in the business. It can be a challenge because we always focus on our core business. But we do our best to achieve the right deliveries together.”

Taking out the trash

Division Drift has been key to disruptively digitize Svevia’s remit with the help of the internet of things (IoT), data collection, and data analysis. One such project is about emptying the large, partly underground garbage bins found at rest areas alongside Sweden’s roads. Traditionally, they’ve been emptied according to a schedule; some have been emptied on Tuesdays and Fridays, and others on Wednesdays and Mondays, for example.

But now, routes are optimized according to the filling levels in the vessels, which are owned by the Swedish Transport Administration, yet Svevia is responsible for emptying them through a number of subcontractors around the country.

“We put sensors in the vessels, and with the measurement data we receive, we can see how full they are and plan the routes accordingly,” says Andreas Bäckström, a business developer at Division Drift.

Since the route optimization came into place, fewer emptyings are required, he notes. This leads to environmental benefits and fewer transports.

Digital alerts

Another project deals with slow-moving vehicles, something that increases the risk of accidents on the roads.

By using GPS positioning data from the maintenance vehicles required by road authorities, digital warnings can be sent out instead of just using it to follow up on remedial issues, and to investigate compensation cases in the event of inadequate anti-slip control in accidents, for example.

In the project, system supplier BM System, which Svevia works with, is involved as well as Scania and Combitech. The same data can also be used to pay drivers for how they drive, and monitor production capacity.

A third area to be optimized is the salting of roads during the winter. In some areas, they’re testing the use of roadside sensors, weather data, and data from vehicles. By creating a digital twin of the road surface, dynamic routes for plow and salt trucks can be developed. They then receive suggestions for customized routes every hour from the route optimization system.

“This is fairly young technology and we’re at the forefront of the world,” says Bäckström. “But our trials have shown that a lower salt consumption of 15 to 25% is possible to achieve.”

Not for experiments

For a company like Svevia, there’s no room for experimentation, underlines Wester.

“We need to know that what we get is used in a good way within the organization, and that we can create an implementation and management organization for disruptive solutions,” she says.

In order to succeed in this, it’s necessary to think about what the introduction of new technology would look like—the architecture and whether there’s data or not.

“Integration cost, quality-assured data costs, and storing data and knowing how to clean it also costs money,” she says. “One must always understand the cost versus the effect.”

The importance of collaboration

Both she and Bäckström emphasize the importance of cooperation, even with competitors when it comes to areas such as traffic safety and sustainability.

When the industry advances seriously and new technology can be effectively implemented is when cooperation around new standards, production methods and technology becomes the main focus instead of competition being allowed to be an obstacle.

These are also areas where Svevia chooses to participate and take a lead, often by running innovation projects with the industry, which can, for example, be financed through grant projects from the Swedish Transport Administration or the strategic innovation program, InfraSweden2030.

“Quite a lot with us is governed by [laws governing public procurement] and focus on the lowest price,” says Wester. “In many cases, it’s also what controls the innovation, and in the best case, efficiency also leads to better things for the environment. But if profitability levels become too small in the industry, the focus on digitization and the power of innovation is affected in favor of a revenue focus. With the right incentives and cooperation, however, safer roads, the environment for road users, and the sustainability perspective can be at the center of digitization in the company, which benefits all citizens.”