Engineers wants data assets included in city deals

A report from the Institution of Civil Engineers points to the need to align infrastructure investments with digital transformation

The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has added its voice to those calling for a closer alignment of government and ‘built environment’ data, with a report emphasising the need to make better use of data in building new infrastructure.

State of the Nation 2017: Digital Transformation calls for an increased emphasis on digital in infrastructure deals, including an effort to improve the quality and availability of relevant data.

Report cover illustration - silhuoette of buildingsThis comes shortly after the publication of a report by the University of Reading highlighting the contribution that the building property industries could make to the development smart places.

The ICE report points to the fact that productivity in the UK currently lags behind the average for G7 countries by 18% – attributed partly to shortcomings in the national infrastructure – but says this could be improved partly through successful digital transformation efforts.

Better use of smart technology, data and analytics would help to improve national performance, and the built environment has begun to find new potential from data in disruptive technologies such as the internet of things, artificial intelligence and connected and autonomous vehicles.

Changing reality

“We must adopt new integrated digital approaches to managing and operating existing assets and building future infrastructure,” the report says. “We often think of infrastructure as fixed networks and assets, but the reality of this is changing.

“We must think about not only the physical asset, but also its digital twin – all the associated data and the information that this can reveal. If we truly consider infrastructure as a service, then making this mental shift is essential.”

One of its prime recommendations is that city deals and devolution agreements should include investment targeted at improving the quality of data assets and enabling their owners and operators in their area to map interdependency risks.

Other measures aimed at future proofing the infrastructure would be to place a strong emphasis on security, and the National Infrastructure Commission setting out a strategy to align energy and digital infrastructure policy.

The ICE also places a responsibility on itself, saying that along with other professional bodies it should work with the Government Digital Strategy to ensure people have the right skills.

Other recommendations are:

  • Infrastructure projects should act as incubators for skills and innovation.
  • Clients should mandate data interoperability standards through a programme or project group as part of the procurement process.
  • The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy should make digital transformation a priority in the Infrastructure Pillar of the Modern Industrial Strategy.
  • Much of the £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund should be targeted at digital transformation of construction and infrastructure.

The publication reflects a rising perception that public authorities need to work more closely with the construction sector, and to develop a proper framework for data sharing, to push forward the smart places.

One of the key features of the University of Reading report is that the real estate and construction sectors hold big data and are using it internally, and that it could be used by public authorities in developing smart cities. But little progress has been made and there are obstacles in the way, especially around the business value of the data.