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Infrastructure 4.0
Digital technology and the digitalisation of infrastructure provide us with the tools to create better outcomes for society.
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A new model for infrastructure

The transformation to Infrastructure 4.0 will require enterprises to be formed with a high degree of integration, where data flows freely and there is a strong focus on system-wide outcomes.

Our civil infrastructure is made up of many individual facilities and systems – power stations, water treatment plants, train station and lines, hospitals and schools – which are often designed, built and operated more or less independently. But when in use, these assets are not discrete: they are all highly connected and interdependent. Functioning infrastructure is effectively composed of systems that are themselves connected and interdependent. Taken together, this system of systems provides services that people rely on, determining the quality of people’s lives; indeed, the system of systems profoundly influences society as a whole, the environment and the economy. Infrastructure can be used to create better outcomes for them all – ranging in impact from better service to resilience, social inclusion and sustainability - which is arguably the ultimate outcome.

Whatever outcome we’re seeking, we have to think ‘system’

Digital technology and the digitalisation of infrastructure provide us with the tools and the opportunity to do just that. As the World Economic Forum outlined in its paper ‘Infrastructure 4.0 - achieving better outcomes with technology and systems thinking’, technology has the potential to be the enabler of high-quality, outcome-focused infrastructure systems; but only if infrastructure is developed and managed in a different, more holistic way.

Infrastructure 4.0 is about integrating digital technologies with physical assets to provide new ways of generating, integrating and using data to optimize the use of resources needed to deliver outcomes. It enables information to be shared more easily and made meaningful to a wider range of people, from infrastructure professionals to citizens, government and investors. And it enables more collaborative ways of working. All of which makes for better decisions, greater efficiency, improved service and increased value – from both existing and new infrastructure.

But realising the promise of Infrastructure 4.0 calls for different ways of working, achieved through supply chain reorganisation. The client and all others involved in managing or delivering infrastructure need to come together in a collaborative ‘enterprise’ aligned on a common goal.

How should an enterprise work? Let’s take a city-wide rail system as an example.

  • Enterprise leadership defines the most important outcomes the rail system must achieve - for example, to minimise customer journey time, journey disruption and energy use. The enterprise resolves to orient the whole rail network, and the smaller systems within it, towards these requirements. This is systems engineering.
  • Trains, rail stations, tracks, signals and all other assets in the system are designed to optimise these outcomes, using 4D/5D (typically 3D plus time, cost, energy, carbon or other dimensions) digital tools that provide an accurate simulation of how the system will function. Useful information is generated, stored, collated and accessed throughout the asset’s lifecycle. This is digital engineering.
  • Live data from trains, stations, signals and the wider transport network is used to inform operational decisions. Data on performance across the network is used to inform passengers of any delays and provide travel advice. This is digital operations.
  • The performance data is also used to decide which trains, stations and tracks need improving, replacing, upgrading or maintaining, and when this needs to take place, in support of the desired outcomes. This is digital asset management.
  • Different data generated or gathered to support operations, asset management and engineering is beneficial to all three functions. Digital models developed to support different activities can be federated and data shared to create new models. Data is constantly updated, and can be viewed, analysed and mined for insight by people working across the various functions. This is a digital twin.

Several factors are critical to the success of an enterprise

For an enterprise to work it must be integrated, with seamless collaboration between multidisciplinary teams that bring together the necessary skills. Data needs to flow across the enterprise, end to end, bottom to top and over time. Enterprise integration releases value that under usual infrastructure industry commercial relationships, gets locked up in organisational silos. That value can take the form of expertise and experience, proprietary technologies and innovation. Integration reduces the waste from disjointed processes, missed opportunities, poorly co-ordinated and misinformed decisions, and misalignment with the enterprise mission. When setting up an enterprise, the client or project/programme sponsor needs to adopt commercial arrangements that align all parties with their desired outcomes and objectives, and incentivises all enterprise members to work as a team to achieve them.

Standards are important, helping enterprises to function efficiently and ensuring that they can contribute to larger systems such as national digital twins. International standards provide a useful framework for managing different parts of an infrastructure enterprise: ISO 9000 (quality management), 55000 (asset management), 19650 (BIM), and 15288 (systems).​

Governance is critical for holding different members of an enterprise accountable and driving continuous improvement. As infrastructure becomes more complex, governance systems require improvement.​

Enterprise working is already being used around the world to deliver complex infrastructure. One example is the state of New South Wales in Australia, which has developed a smart infrastructure framework with digital standards covering each level of the systems hierarchy. Digital and physical assets are designed and delivered in parallel and there is a state-wide network of digital twins. The convergence of the digital technologies with physical assets is leading to fundamental changes in civil infrastructure lifecycle management. In New South Wales, a necessary hierarchy is apparent, with outcomes and objectives set for projects, programmes and business systems, and teams aligned and incentivised accordingly.

Enterprise management, digital information and integration are at the heart of new transformational business models that recognize infrastructure as complex socio-technical systems with intelligent assets and smart infrastructure. By engaging with clients at a strategic level, advisory teams can assist clients in improving their business outcomes by identifying and developing key areas in their enterprise management systems, including process, information and technology. The development of digital enterprises will support digital transformation and lead to smarter, more sustainable infrastructure.

Recognising infrastructure as a system of systems, and designing and managing it as such, requires us to build new knowledge and capability. Infrastructure 4.0 provides the means to do so.

Michael Salvato

Vice president for infrastructure advisory services and principal for asset management, Mott MacDonald

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