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An integrated framework for managing American infrastructure

Infrastructure organizations in American cities face several big system-wide challenges. How can they decarbonize their operations and become more resilient against extreme weather events, all while providing reliable services and better social outcomes for citizens?

Meeting these types of challenge will require them to transform the way their whole systems function.

It won’t be enough that individual assets or parts of the system are performing well: Infrastructure systems will need to become more integrated, responsive, and connected, so that every part is geared toward achieving the desired outcomes.

Digital technology can be a key enabler for this transformation, but the right management, governance, processes, and communications also need to be put in place to make the most of the information and analysis that digitalization can provide.

There is no shortage of standards and practices governing how individual parts of infrastructure systems should work. The last decade has seen many of these produced, including some that recognize the cyber-physical nature of modern infrastructure (e.g., digital twins).

But what has been lacking is a framework for how the whole thing should fit together. Organizations need to know how management, operational, engineering, and information systems ought to interact to create a high-performing whole.

Urban Infrastructure Systems in the Digital Age

This is the thinking behind “Urban Infrastructure Systems in the Digital Age,” a two-year program funded by the United Engineering Foundation and delivered by the New York Academy of Sciences, with thought leadership and support from Mott MacDonald.

The program has delivered and published the first iteration of a common framework across engineering disciplines — the Infrastructure Architecture Framework.

This codifies standards and practices for aligning business strategy, enterprise architecture, and engineering to deliver more sustainable and resilient outcomes from civil infrastructure systems.

It provides an enterprise system model that connects all the relevant standards and practices. The work has involved representatives of major engineering associations, and professionals representing all major geographical regions and levels of maturity in civil infrastructure.

Too often, infrastructure is managed through a siloed, project-centric lens, which creates a disconnect between the existing enterprise and what is being delivered through projects. Not only does this mean that projects often do not deliver to their full potential, it also makes it especially difficult to implement new practices and innovation.

Integrating four domains

To remedy this, the research program looked at the possibility of integrating four main domains: asset management, systems engineering, enterprise architecture, and information management. It drilled into the business models, capabilities, and functions necessary for these domains to work together fully to create efficient infrastructure lifecycle management.

The framework described in the paper (and illustrated through extensive diagrams) uses an enterprise architecture approach that has been deployed effectively to manage the complexity of other socio-technical systems such as e-commerce, aviation, and defense. It uses examples from the water, energy, and transportation sectors to show how the model can be applied to civil infrastructure.

Guiding principles

“Guiding principles” include treating data as a public good (something that must be shared between infrastructure owners, stakeholders, and the public), managing information to maximize value from infrastructure, and recognizing the fundamental requirement that infrastructure systems should provide sustainable and resilient outcomes for people and planet.

The paper recommends that an infrastructure leadership group be established, with representatives from multiple leading organizations across infrastructure sectors, to work together across institutional boundaries on transformative common goals.

This could be modeled on the UK’s Infrastructure Client Group. Established in 2010, it has demonstrated the value of effective collaboration between government and industry in the development and exchange of best practices and delivery improvements.

As the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act injects much-needed investment into our infrastructure and we seek to “Build Back Better,” it’s vital that we seize the opportunity to strengthen infrastructure resilience, accelerate next-generation technologies, and provide the foundation for a net-zero emissions economy by 2050. A transformation towards a systems approach, enabled by digitalization, represents our best chance of doing that.

Michael Salvato

Mott MacDonald asset management lead

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