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Infrastructure sector must collaborate more and boost digital investment

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The infrastructure sector needs to increase levels of collaboration and investment in data and digital, according to a new benchmarking report.

The Infrastructure Client Group’s (ICG) Data and Digital Benchmarking report measures the sector’s maturity. More than 1,000 people from asset owners and operators that are responsible for nearly a quarter of the UK government’s National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline took part in the survey.

The report highlights that investment in data and digital remains low, despite overwhelming consensus on the benefits. Organisations reported difficulties articulating these data-related benefits in purely monetary terms and blamed ineffective governance for poor data quality.

Using Mott MacDonald’s Smart Infrastructure Index, the report uncovers insufficient levels of regular collaboration within and across businesses, largely down to inaccessible language and a lack of overarching direction, creating a need to share best practice more thoroughly.

Just 24% of respondents said that language used to communicate digital initiatives is understood. Only 6% felt that lessons learnt are adequately shared. Data quality continues to be a blocker, with just 9% of respondents trusting data to make decisions.

On a more positive note, the report reveals that those developing digital technology are becoming increasingly aware of how people interact digitally and are making technology more accessible and user-friendly.

Digital in asset investment planning

According to the ICG, technology is changing to empower people to create and develop digital solutions with little to no understanding of how-to code. These improvements are simultaneously driving data and digital tool use in asset investment planning. Additionally, the sector is buying into value of data and digital, despite organisational structures sometimes stifling the potential benefits.

Although the report found that data analytics is having limited effect on detailing and describing past events, it accepted that better use of predictive analytics will transform how assets are monitored and maintained in the future.

Next steps for the ICG’s Digital Transformation Task Group (DTTG) include working closely with the Digital Twin Hub to accelerate the development of data-sharing infrastructure.

The DTTG will also focus on connected digital twins and AI more than the metaverse and robotics.

Socio-technical issue

Melissa Zanocco, head of programmes at the ICG, said: “The survey results demonstrate that digital transformation is a socio-technical issue with the need to concentrate on people, not just tech. We need collaboration between people as well as interoperability between systems. We need business models that create the right environment for quality data to get to the right people so better decisions can be made. Cyber-physical infrastructure, like connected digital twins and AI, underpinned by data-sharing infrastructure, are going to be a key area of focus for 2024.”    

Andy Moulds, head of strategic advisory at Mott MacDonald, added: “Our industry is not moving at the same rate as the technological changes and advances we are now trying to leverage. We have fantastic levels of knowledge and powerful technology at our disposal. The confluence of generative AI at scale, democratised data and information, and dedicated people can empower and support our industry in all areas that we have to address.” 

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