Transforming Infrastructure and Lives for the Future
Digitized approaches are giving new life to centuries-old assets like the Scottish canals
When the Scottish canals were built 250 years ago, they became essential infrastructure for the industrial revolution and helped make Glasgow a hub for industry in Europe. In the centuries that followed, trains, automobiles, and other innovations in transportation and communications replaced the canals. By the 1960s, they had become eyesores and dumping grounds for trash—blights on the areas they passed through, as well as flood and health risks. Catherine Topley, CEO of Scottish Canals, shares the work they’ve done to clean up and modernize the canals, making them centers for recreation and unlocking new opportunities for development, investment, and growth. This includes creating digital twins of the canals that integrate real-time data from sensors with forecasted weather data, enabling them to predict flooding and adjust water levels. As a result, health outcomes for residents who live along the canals have begun to improve, with mortality rates down by 3% annually and the risk of chronic health diseases down by nearly 15%. The canals were originally a catalyst for the first industrial revolution. Now, Topley and her teams are using the tools of the fourth industrial revolution to create infrastructure that can serve us for the next 250 years.
About the speaker
Catherine Topley is chief executive officer of Scottish Canals, a non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government established to maximize the social, economic, and environmental benefits of its 250-year-old canal network. An expert in transformational change, corporate strategy and growing public value, Catherine was director of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Prison Service before joining Scottish Canals. She is currently a member of Scottish Governments’ Digital Change Programme Board and a charitable trustee for both Sight Scotland and Veterans Scotland.
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