Infrastructure is considered one of the basic and key elements of a country’s progress. It provides services to society and offers a place for learning and healing. It dispenses basic facilities like power and water and gives access to economic opportunities, education, and healthcare. Also, sustainable infrastructure brings us closer to nature and helps protect our natural world. However, how we currently develop our infrastructure has struggled to meet these lofty aspirations. Expensive production methods, timely-incompletion, and poorly performing projects decrease the infrastructure’s ability to be an optimal platform for human and natural flourishing. To address these problems, concerned authorities should incorporate emerging technologies into how infrastructure is approached today.
What is Infrastructure 4.0?
Forward-looking infrastructure that advantages technology and information to offer high-quality environmental, economic and social outcomes and work as a system within broader human and natural systems. To many, infrastructure is just a series of assets or services that improve people’s lives. However, it is not about only a hospital building, a road, one railway line, or a network of water pipes. Infrastructure is a system of systems that links the existing environment, the natural world and the human experience. If done properly, it has the potential to build a more sustainable, equitable and developed world and offers a platform that focuses on outcomes and helps the planet and its people thrive. Infrastructure 4.0 can bring resilience to critical utilities. Applying AI tools to bridges, roads, pipes, and transmission lines gives outdated and hard infrastructure new capabilities and a longer lifespan. According to a World Economic Forum report, technology adoption is an effective way to enhance the delivery and performance of infrastructure systems.
How can it help Build a Better Infrastructure Ecosystem?
To withstand the effects of rapid urbanisation, climate change, and sustainability regulations, our infrastructure desperately needs modernisation by using digital technologies. In this regard, Infrastructure 4.0 is all about incorporating digital technologies with physical assets to offer new ways of using data to optimise the use of resources needed to deliver outcomes. However, the transformation to Infrastructure 4.0 requires government, industry, and civil society to work collectively and form enterprises with a high degree of integration, where data flows freely with a strong focus on system-wide outcomes.
Therefore, experts have recommended some thematic areas where digital tools can be integrated to improve infrastructure development:
- Creating a new ecosystem
- Developing new business models
- Building skills and education
Creating New Ecosystem
Creating new ecosystems with a crucial element of technology adoption to provide an enabling environment within government, concerned authorities and private industry to foster greater collaboration and alignment. The world is considered a series of interconnected systems, and infrastructure is one of those systems. Creating an ecosystem connected with many others provides opportunities and support to help and flourish a society. Eventually, it transforms infrastructure into a service that combines the existing environment with the human world and the natural sphere. It makes infrastructure more critical to human success. Redesigning infrastructure with digital tools as one within a system of systems helps to improve how and why infrastructure projects are developed and reorient the progress of success towards how positive outcomes are achieved. Focusing on the interconnectedness of built, natural, and human systems leads to dynamic infrastructure to better serve people and integrate natural elements. It makes the ecosystem more resilient to climate change and other shocks. It also enables solutions to decarbonise the economy and is more economically significant in the long term. In this regard, governments and private industry must ensure proper consultation with communities, from industry officials to labourers, throughout the development process of any infrastructure system, especially when it involves adopting new technology. Also, government data strategies linked with national infrastructure plans must be in place at the local and regional levels to create a new ecosystem with technological transitions.
Developing New Business Models
Developing new business models involve a framework of infrastructure development as a source to improve economic, environmental and social outcomes. Technology is a significant enabler of these outcomes and can vastly improve them if utilised wisely. According to experts, innovations should not be selected only to integrate exciting technology into a project. It must be thoughtfully applied as an enabler of better outcomes with a defined role in delivering better results. Outcome-focused, collaborative delivery models that can manage complexity and enable seamless integration with existing systems are emerging. It also highlights the types of incentives which can be integrated to improve value capture to push project decision-makers to procure outcomes and promote full-life-cycle value. To ease concern over adoption, leveraging new technologies must be considered in terms of risk and uncertainty. It is important to emphasise the benefits technology produces to help attract attention from project developers, sponsors and financiers.
Building Skills and Education
Before the industry can fully embrace innovation on a large scale, it must understand how its workforce can change. In this regard, incorporating new technologies, skills and competencies of human capital is often more significant than the technology itself. The first step is to apply a forward-looking lens to understand the future requirements of a technologically enabled organisation, mostly with the assistance of partners in academia and concerned industry associations and certified organisations. These significant allies can help ensure that learning occurs at all career stages and that relevant accreditations and credentialing standardise employee training practices. This develops the space for companies to match their workforces with future needs. Academia should collaborate with the industry when developing programmes to guide graduating students into the field. It should encourage and inspire by emphasising the larger global impact of infrastructure development and collaborating with professional bodies to ensure that curricula are agile enough to remain relevant in an industry that fully embraces change.
The world is recovering from the pandemic, and the forthcoming infrastructure boom offers an opportunity to make critical improvements that will affect future generations. As the world is experiencing a new era of infrastructure development, these recommendations can serve as a roadmap for decision-makers to ensure that the infrastructure built is digitally advanced, focused on enhancing outcomes for the people and the environment and anchored within a system of systems. Using technology as an enabler, focusing on improving results for people and the planet, it is possible to ensure that infrastructure provides a way to link the built environment, the natural world and human lives in such a manner that allows all three to thrive.
This article is written by Radma Nouman. Radma is a Research Analyst at the Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies (IIPS).