How to make a success out of the ‘internet of infrastructure’
Alex Gilbert, Managing Director of Amey Consulting believes asking ‘why’ is the key to better infrastructure solutions.
Infrastructure professionals know what they are doing. But ask them why they are doing it and you will usually find a lot less certainty.
It is a situation that permeates the entire infrastructure conversation in the UK. Not asking or understanding the vital “why” question continues to undermine our ability to connect with customers, build the right assets, and focus on the wider economic and social impact that infrastructure investment can achieve.
Fortunately, a revolution is upon us, putting a vast number of connected digital technologies, tools and techniques at our finger tips to help drill into this critical question. This new, highly connected, Internet of Infrastructure, stands ready to transform the way we plan, deliver and operate the assets around us.
In our increasingly customer focused world, these new tools will certainly help to maximise the efficiency of existing operations. But more significantly, they will also enable us to understand the impact that infrastructure has on users and better predict what services and what investment will be needed in the future.
This is particularly important as the UK seeks to rebalance its economy by devolving powers and responsibilities for public assets away from central government towards regional administrations. Connected technologies and the exploitation of data can substantially change the “terms of engagement” in the debate about how much to invest, in what sort of infrastructure, where and for what purpose.
Understanding the impact of this data is the critical challenge for built environment professionals as we seek to embrace the why.
According to work carried out by Digital Built Britain, a government-backed industry-led group driving forward construction’s digital transformation, the UK’s capex spend on infrastructure in 2016 was £89bn compared to £122bn invested in opex spending to keep those assets running.
Clearly there is a massive role for digital technologies, including BIM, remote condition monitoring, asset analytics systems and other data tools, to radically boost the on-going woeful productivity and improve the efficiency of construction delivery. And to be fair, we are making huge progress in this respect. Amey’s recent work developing a long-term asset management strategy for Heathrow Airport demonstrated how the use of modern analytics tools can ensure complex asset systems are delivered in time for the customer demand they are designed to serve.
However, it is the third figure highlighted by Digital Built Britain team – the £597bn invested by the public sector in 2016 in the services that utilise and benefit from the UK infrastructure that must be address if we are to generate real value from our infrastructure.
The reality is that when it comes to established built environment such as seen across the UK, the old is the new, new. Every local authority and devolved administration needs to ensure that they are extracting best value from every asset across its whole life – that means thinking beyond simply building cheaper or maintaining faster.
Connectivity, automation, sensors, smart technologies combined with the integration of design, construction, maintenance and operation offer massive opportunities to boost infrastructure performance and outcomes across the whole life of assets. Which asset owner wouldn’t want that?
But it will also provide huge benefits to the users – to the regions and communities that rely on the vital transport, water, electricity or communications infrastructure. That makes this new internet of infrastructure less of a technological opportunity and more a socioeconomic one – the opportunity to create and effectively maintain infrastructure that drives local economies.
In short, the internet of infrastructure brings assets closer to both their managers and users. As a result, the vital role of infrastructure in driving growth, liveability and sustainability should become much clearer to everyone.