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The digital transformation of infrastructure
New digital technologies, such as acoustic monitoring sensors on the Sydney Metro, are transforming the speed and quality of data and improving asset performance.
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We can improve infrastructure with ISO 19650

What must the infrastructure industry do to maximise the opportunities presented by digital to enhance the delivery and performance of assets? Getting the basics of information management right is an essential starting point and ISO 19650 might just be the answer for governments and industry, writes Derek Murray.

The need to work remotely and differently during the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology across the infrastructure sector. This was a movement already well underway, catalysed by more accessible and affordable computing power and unsurpassed digital connectivity.

This has brought forward opportunities for organisations to transform the way they manage information in an industry, on the whole, still to reap the benefits of disruption brought by the digital revolution.

We often find that the real excitement with digital innovation in infrastructure happens at project level – innovation is created through new ways of analysing and visualising the data produced at each phase.

Industry experts are called in to develop incredible configurations of software and other technologies tailored to the project for automation of design- and construction-related information tasks across multiple processes, including project controls and management. As a result, project stakeholders can make more informed decisions and deliver projects more efficiently.

These project-level endeavours, however, often come with limitations: they do not translate to the next project, are difficult to upscale in standard ways, and rarely evolve the information generated into the bigger prize of benefiting asset operation and future adaptation.

Overcoming these challenges to optimise information management will be fundamental to the digital transformation of infrastructure.

Improving information management using BIM

Since the launch in late 2018 of ISO 19650 – the international standard for managing information over the whole lifecycle of a built asset using building information modelling (BIM) – we have seen organisations worldwide grasp the opportunities to improve information management in the context of BIM.

But we are only at the beginning. How can asset owners best understand the opportunities and implement them cost-effectively across their own organisations and with the supply chain?

Let’s agree that information technology itself will continue to be available and, fundamentally, it works well. Cloud services, digital tools, machine learning techniques, sensors, and the communications technology that enable them all, are here to stay and will continue to improve at pace.

These technologies can transform the speed and quality of data, supporting a shift from reactive to predictive maintenance and driving better performance of built assets. A good example would be the acoustic monitoring sensors installed in the tunnels of the Sydney Metro – these ‘digital ears’ listen out for the distinctive sounds made by defective trains, make an automatic diagnosis and alert maintenance teams. The outcomes are more reliable services and improved passenger safety.

A pressing challenge for asset owners and the supply chain is how to best select and deploy from myriad, rapidly developing technologies. They must provide real value, through connecting information to clearly support actual asset performance and, at scale, being able to standardise and integrate aspects of communication and collaboration of information.

This will allow us to direct the real innovation and industry effort where it matters most – in creating and adapting genuinely great infrastructure that is safe in operation and addresses real world issues such as accessibility, urban resilience and net-zero. Now that would be smart.

But let’s also agree that information management approaches need not be complicated. The basics involve naming ‘things’ consistently, knowing the status of those things and ensuring those things have sufficient detail for their intended, and stated, purpose. How sharing all this takes place does introduce complexity, but the technology exists to help us with that.

ISO 19650 provides the approach for organisations to get these basics right, and so much more, including how information needs are defined at different organisation levels, through different phases of an asset lifecycle, and how to enable the supply chain to do it consistently.

Adding value to asset management

Up until now, globally, BIM has predominantly been perceived and deployed as 3D modelling to unlock efficiencies in the design and delivery process. It is only recently that there has been increasing focus on BIM’s value as a process that allows management of asset information – designs, documents, data – that can realise further efficiencies in performance, maintenance, renewal and eventual decommissioning, reducing whole-life costs of infrastructure.

This builds on significant project-level consideration and implementation of PAS 1192, the predecessor standard to ISO 19650. The advancement of ISO 19650 provides the opportunity to progress beyond the geometry-focused application of BIM to BIM-enabled processes that represent a step change in information management by improving productivity and adding value throughout the whole asset lifecycle.

There are numerous national programmes underway around the world to align existing programmes to ISO 19650 and production of associated national annexes. It’s an ideal time for all actors in the supply chain to combine their domain expertise with digital and embed the information management aspects of BIM into their processes to drive faster, greener project delivery and better operational performance.

This will pave the way for digital twins – realistic digital representations of a physical asset or system. By visualising and analysing data collected via sensors to the asset or system in real time, digital twins enable improved insights that support better decisions, leading to better outcomes in the physical world.

The private sector can contribute to this by supporting working groups and pilot projects, and by training teams in the different ways of working to ensure processes are familiar and that there is effective collaboration with stakeholders.

Investing in new, information-centric and outcome-focused ways of working will give the industry the foundation to grow and be prosperous. The return on that investment will also be more resilient and more sustainable buildings and infrastructure, and better outcomes for clients, end-users and local communities.

  • In this views piece, Sean Kearney, principal consultant in Mott MacDonald’s information advisory team, discusses how mastering information management using BIM will prove a valuable stepping stone towards the goal of digital twinning.
  • You can read more about integrating information and technology to enhance the delivery and whole-life performance of infrastructure in the Mott MacDonald white paper ‘New Dimensions to Delivery’ available here.
  • This article first appeared on pbctoday

Derek Murray

Digital advisory leader, Asia Pacific

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