Transportation systems, utilities, power and telecommunication grids are all part of infrastructure. Delivery, operations and management of all the components of infrastructure are essential to maintaining goods and services while boosting productivity and allowing for economic development.
Construction is one of the largest industries in the global economy and in 2021, it made up about 12% of the world’s GDP. Investment in infrastructure is expected to increase to 3.7 trillion USD per year by 2040. As infrastructure development becomes increasingly complex and digitalization occurs, rethinking the challenges organizations face when managing infrastructure can shed light on digital transformation.
Infrastructure 4.0 and smart buildings
Like how manufacturing has advanced to Industry 4.0, the new model for infrastructure is Infrastructure 4.0 with digital transformation and new management practices at its core. The main components of Infrastructure 4.0 are integrating digital technologies with physical assets. With Infrastructure 4.0 in-depth analysis of things that were previously too interconnected for planners to see can now be analyzed and meaningful information can be extracted. Infrastructure professionals can use this new data to make smarter choices that benefit citizens, governments and investors.
Commercial smart buildings are expected to surge in demand and in 2028 Gartner predicts there will be over 4 billion internet of things (IoT) devices connected in commercial smart buildings. Office-as-a-service and real estate-as-a-service (REaaS) are models that are expected to grow in the coming years. This trend promotes virtualizing what business owners need to run an office and should reduce overhead costs.
Smart buildings are designed to enhance the occupants' way of living. Smart infrastructure is designed to be interactive, and architecture is evolving past the design of only structures and into designing systems and interactions.
Changing ecosystems and business models
With Infrastructure 4.0, focus can increase on how natural and built human systems interact. Enterprise digital strategies can be developed by infrastructure stakeholders. Engineers and designers can innovate and scale-up ideas.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, construction is not performing well when compared to other industries, and productivity growth has been only 1% annually for the last two decades. It is also commonplace for construction projects to go over in terms of time and costs. Consolidation and internationalization are expected to increase the level of investment in digitalization R&D and equipment. As well, investments will be occurring in sustainability and in human capital. Skills scarcity, industrial approaches and sustainability requirements are expected to radically change the way construction projects are delivered.
For example, engineers can use portable devices to upload and review designs remotely, or software packages can simulate installation of renewable energy sites. Cloud-based construction management tools can enable more streamlined collaboration while giving planners, builders, and designers insights into reducing environmental impacts.
The enterprise approach
An enterprise model brings together involved parties such as owners, partners and suppliers. This increased collaboration is geared to increase long-term system performance and operation. Each party will need to consider the outcome of the entire system and foster a holistic approach to sustainable infrastructure while incorporating digitization.
Infrastructure development can result in increased economic growth, and facilitate environmental conservation, resulting in improved social outcomes. Smart infrastructure connects the physical and digital world and allows asset owners to make decisions based on real data. Smart buildings generate significant amounts of data that can help planning to extend to a more granular level. With this data, the skills gap between the private sector and the government can be bridged as skills and resources available increase.
Sustainability on the rise
Sustainability is a major source of disruption in the infrastructure development industry. Global conversations put pressure on organizations to reduce emissions and meet other metrics for sustainability.
The major steps of infrastructure development, planning, design, construction and maintenance can span years and involve multiple stakeholders. With increasing social expectations and green initiatives, taking steps toward sustainability when transforming infrastructure is essential. In May 2020, 28 major cities around the world signed the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment, which outlines requests for all buildings within the city to become net zero carbon in operation by 2050. Becoming resilient and increasing energy efficiency are pivotal.
Much of the current infrastructure is not energy efficient and contributes to environmental degradation. A green building creates positive impacts in its design, construction or operation and reduces or nearly eliminates negative impacts on the environment. As cities are pressured to reduce waste, it is expected for them to be designed with sustainable materials while being resource efficient in water and energy use. Electricity prosumers are expected to play a big role and rooftop gardens may increase the quality of life and increase green space in cities.
New materials will contribute to sustainability as well. Innovations in traditional building materials, such as cement, enable carbon footprint reduction. Lighter-weight material like cross-laminated timber and light-gauge steel frames allow for lower transportation costs and longer haul transport contributing to increased centralization.
Beyond simple carbon abatement, other climate risks are growing and require an adjustment within the infrastructure and related industries accordingly. The environmental impact of infrastructure projects when sourcing and during construction should be considered to foster sustainable practices, such as using fuel-efficient machinery. Water consumption, dust, noise, and waste are additional environmental factors to consider during development of infrastructure.
Private corporations are increasingly being contracted to complete projects related to infrastructure. These types of companies can bring digital innovation and other skills and perspectives in areas where governments and other types of multilateral organizations may be lacking.
For example, a large infrastructure project called the Autobahn A3 project involves the expansion of a six-lane and 76 km long highway that is federally owned. The implementation is planned within the next 5 years and collaboration between parties involves using 5D Building Information Modeling (BIM) to increase decision-making speed and transparency.
A sustainable and smart future
Building more efficiently and sustainably will help manage disruptions. As urbanization increases, building faster and better while keeping environmental impact to a minimum becomes a forefront of business decisions. There are increasing concerns about population growth and how to sustain more people with the world’s available resources. Integrating digitization and enterprise solutions can help drive change and ensure a sustainable future. Smart and sustainable practices together when applied to infrastructure can change a city landscape for the better by making it greener.
About the author
Jody Dascalu is a freelance writer in the technology and engineering niche. She studied in Canada and earned a Bachelor of Engineering. Jody has over five years of progressive supply chain work experience and is a business analyst. As an avid reader, she enjoys researching upcoming technologies and is an expert on a variety of topics.