Monday, June 17, 2024

How a digital-first approach improves infrastructure performance and longevity

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Providing robust and effective infrastructure is a core responsibility for governments, and each year billions of dollars are spent building assets ranging from schools and hospitals to transport services and utilities.

Government’s role in infrastructure continues long after the asset is built however, and whether infrastructure is operated by government or a third party, the objective is always to maximise the return it can deliver.

We often think of infrastructure as physical assets, but today’s digital era infrastructure is a rich source of information that can improve its performance and longevity, reduce operating costs, and provide critical information to better inform future investments.

All too often however that data is underappreciated and underutilised.

Third party operators are naturally biased towards working with only the data which relates to the duration of their contract. Even when the will to better capture and analyse data exists, both third parties and government agencies can lack the systems and skills to do so effectively. While data technologies have been embraced for some aspects of infrastructure development, such as the creation of digital twins that mirror physical assets, for a limited set of assets and for a minor part of asset lifecycle such as ‘maintenance’ rather than the entire lifecycle of an asset from planning through to commissioning and from operations to refurbishment. The result is that vital insights into infrastructure performance remain undiscovered – insights that could lead to performance improvements whose value can run into the millions of dollars.

What is needed is a new approach to collecting and managing infrastructure data – one that emphasises the creation of a bi-directional networked operating model where the flow of data benefits all parties over the asset’s lifetime.

Creating the smart data infrastructure networks

Precedents for such networked models already exist in the private sector, such as in automotive supply chains, where manufacturers have implemented data networks that allow suppliers to input and collect data that assists with planning and ensures the supply chain runs smoothly.

There are several reasons however why we are yet to see similar initiatives in the public sector.

For starters, this is a new concept, and one that is often considered a technology issue, rather than something that concerns the entire executive team. But given that even small improvements in infrastructure performance can generate millions of dollars in savings, it is a concept that all parties should be considering.

Secondly, data-driven investments and programs to date have been developed in isolation of each other, minimising the opportunity for data sharing.

However, the process of building an infrastructure networked operating model need not be onerous, nor does it require the replacement of existing systems. Numerous tools exist today which can modernise systems and enable different parties to connect into an asset data network. Importantly, once this process has been undertaken for a specific asset, it creates a template for what can be achieved with others, and the foundation for the networked operating model.

The value of the networked operating model arises from different parties contributing and collecting data as needed. Should they subsequently disconnect from the network on the completion of a contract, the networked model ensures all data retained within the network, meaning future participants can gain a complete picture of activity within that asset over its lifetime.

SAP’s Business Network for Asset Collaboration (BNAC) and SAP Ariba business-to-business procurement network provide much of the foundations for the creation of smart digital infrastructure networks and provide both native and API-based integrations with existing enterprise asset management systems to facilitate the secure flow of data.

This means that all associated parties, including architects, designers, engineers, construction companies, asset maintenance, and operating organisations can tap into that network at will.

Driving greater returns on investment

Infrastructure assets have a legacy that extends long past the ribbon cutting ceremony, and even a modest improvement in performance can generate millions of dollars in savings.

With the cost of infrastructure projects growing rapidly and the need for responsible spending, government must find ways to improve infrastructure performance and longevity.

Only through the application of a networked operating model can government agencies ensure those assets deliver the returns expected of them, now and through their entire lifecycle.

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