Rethinking the future of infrastructure

Now is the right time for an evolution in our industry. A clear leadership vision that promotes innovation, collaboration and faster adoption of emerging technologies across all lifecycle stages will help bring a sustainable, resilient and inclusive transformation to infrastructure.

However, many critical projects are taking too long and costing far too much money to meet demand and deliver value. Delays and budget blowouts are common, and this has a significant economic impact, not only on the companies driving the sector, but also on every stakeholder and the broader economy and communities.

COVID-19 has forced organisations to make swift decisions and implement immediate changes to enable hundreds of millions of workers to transform where and how they work. Implementing new technologies that might have previously taken many months or years to roll out were accelerated into robust and effective solutions, sometimes within days.

It is this purposeful, driven mindset that will serve us all well as we create a sustainable future of infrastructure.

Moving from a project-centric to an asset-centric mindset

This shift in mindset can be further used to our advantage by moving from a project-centric to an asset-centric approach that is innovative, responsive and fuelled by data driven decisions.

We need to take a systems-view of the infrastructure environment instead of a project view or a business/department view. For example, railways are now taking a place-based approach to understanding how infrastructure interfaces with our cities and regions as people move from point A to point B.

“We need to be collaborative across different sectors, within our places, our cities but also be collaborative across the whole of infrastructure lifecycle.” - Nicola Belcher, Director of Rail Assets, Projects and Compliance from the Victorian Department of Transport

In the past, we thought about projects. For a bright future of infrastructure, we need to think about assets that last a lifetime.

“95% of the world’s infrastructure assets are already built. We need to stop thinking about things as projects that start and stop, and think about whole of life, that’s where the value is, that’s where the challenge is.” - Graeme Henderson, Global Leader Infrastructure 4.0, GHD Digital

The role of technology

“The infrastructure industry is amongst the least digitalised. A 2017 McKinsey report highlighted that with the low track record of technology adoption and major productivity challenges, the industry is a prime target for disruption.” – Kumar Parakala, President, GHD Digital

A systems-driven approach requires an understanding of workflows and critical data that connect through the life of a project into the operational phase. It’s critical to map the relevant technologies available at each stage to accelerate efficiency.

While the level of data may seem initially overwhelming, the key is understanding the technology available at each stage and ensuring that it is suitable. With a smarter approach, technology lessons from both within and across other sectors can deliver an uplift in productivity, especially when coupled with curiosity and continuous learning.

“We pride ourselves as being creative problem solvers, but we also have to be creative problem thinkers. It's the ability to keep learning, and it's the ability to stay curious and look at allied sectors and build on those ideas to solve the critical problems in our sector.” - Dr. Bronwyn Evans, CEO, Engineers Australia

Collaboration is key

To deliver the full potential of the future of infrastructure, it is essential for all industry stakeholders to work together with a focus on innovation.

Collaboration is key, not only across different sectors where lessons learned in one can be applied to the future of another, but across the different stages of infrastructure lifecycles.

Many industries have become productive, both through mass automation and by tailoring responses to problems and opportunities. There is a real opportunity to adopt collaborative thinking into industries. The flow of capability from one industry to the other connects various technologies and people’s level of thinking.

It will be critical to overcome any aversion to change and siloed approval processes. The complexity of interaction with regulatory authorities needs addressing, and consistency encouraged for delivery mechanisms.

While industry regulation is important for safety and quality, we need to ensure this is agile, and flexible, and open to the adoption of technology to increase efficiency and productivity.

“We need to be quick adopters and be thinking about appropriate policies and regulation, and how we build in flexibility with these things such that technology can be an enabler rather than a barrier. We need to have the regulators and the policymakers aligned with those introducing new technology from the inception phase and through to the development of the innovation.” - Nicola Belcher.

By embracing technology, shifting our mindset from project-centric to asset-centric and working collaboratively, the possibility of greater productivity with faster, cheaper and less disruptive solutions is real.

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