Becoming a digital first geological survey


Written by Professor Katherine Royse, BGS Chief Digital Officer, BGS Keyworth

The British Geological Survey (BGS) was established in 1835 and is the oldest geological survey in the world. Our focus is on research to understand the subsurface and how the ground beneath our feet affects our daily lives.  BGS has been collecting data on the subsurface from its very beginnings. Today BGS is a data-rich organisation with over 400 datasets in its care, including environmental monitoring data, digital databases, physical collections (borehole core, rocks, minerals and fossils), records and archives. 

BGS refreshed its science strategy in 2018 and it highlighted that data science and data infrastructure are fundamental to our future research. Embracing new technology across the BGS was viewed as being crucial in gaining new insights from our scientific data. This paved the way for BGS to appoint its first Chief Digital Officer in 2019. 

My first job was to develop a digital strategy for BGS that addressed both its scientific and business transformational needs. Part of this was to bring the digital estate together so it could operate as a one-stop-shop for all BGS digital needs; being seen as an enabler rather than barrier to transformation and innovation. 

If BGS is to become a Digital First organisation our digital transformation would need to focus on linking people, data, equipment and technology,  not only to make new inferences about the world around us, but to enable us to run our business operations more efficiently. Investing in technology is only a small part of our transformational journey. BGS needs to embrace a whole new culture, changing how we solve problems and interact with our partners. A key role that we have invested in is a cultural and skills lead to help focus on the people aspects of digital transformation across BGS, acting as a link between different specialisms and professionals across the organisation. A significant challenge we are currently working on is about re-envisioning the workplace.  By 2025 we will need to offer a virtual working environment that enables our researchers to work anywhere in the world as if they were in the office. 

Technology is changing how scientist carry out research today and this is also changing how we ingest, store and deliver data to the large numbers of data users that our data centre supports.  To this end, we have set up a Digital Lab containing, data scientists, statisticians, user experience and virtual reality specialists to help us develop new data streaming services, improve our users digital experience, including looking for new insights from our data, and data tailored for impact and solutions to solve many of the challenges we are facing today such as net-zero and climate change. 

We have a long way to go but we have made a fantastic start along our transformational journey. 

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