Let’s pave the way for the digital transformation of our industry

The city skyline in Aukland, New Zealand.

Mott MacDonald’s Richard Shennan looks at six key areas he believes are central to digital transformation in the construction and infrastructure sector.

Increasing demands, limited resources. The age-old task of our industry has been to find the most efficient solutions to the world’s toughest problems, and this challenge has only become more acute due to pressures as diverse as population growth, climate change, urbanisation, and the need for social development. 

We know that the digital transformation of our industry will provide the crucial step change needed to deliver this vital infrastructure in a way that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. What is harder to ascertain is just what this digital transformation will entail, and how to get from where we are to an infrastructure industry that is ‘digital by default’.

The Digital Transformation Hub aims to answer this question, and our content will be divided into the six key areas we believe are most important:

Digital transformation: How do we define ‘digital transformation’? Many organisations interpret it as an IT project, but it should really sit within the overall business strategy as a business transformation project. Legacy structures controlling how information is stored and managed often lead to separated silos, duplication and incompatibility, problems which are magnified when you consider the wider supply chain. Embedding new business processes to better store and manage information is essential to realising the potential benefits as the digital revolution disrupts our industry.

Digital twins: Using digital technology to unlock hidden value from our assets starts by creating a digital representation of that asset which can then be modelled, analysed and value engineered. While BIM models for individual elements or assets are common, this can be extended to digital representations of whole systems, and even cities as ‘systems of systems’. With exponential growth in the amount of asset data available – and as asset systems rarely work in isolation from other systems – massive scale digital twins are a crucial ‘next step’ in delivering more for less. 

Smart infrastructure: The digital transformation of our industry enables smart infrastructure – the application of digital assets, dynamic data from multiple sources, and data management systems to our physical infrastructure. In mature economies, where there is little scope for new build solutions, smart infrastructure will unlock extra capacity from existing assets. In countries where the infrastructure base is less developed, smart infrastructure will ensure what is built is fit for the long term. While smart assets are characterised by user interfaces and decision support tools, central to getting it right is the deep domain expertise that leads to a true understanding of infrastructure. 

New processes in construction: From prefabrication and automated construction to cloud-based modelling and the use of immersive solutions, new and exciting changes are taking place in the way we design and build infrastructure. Embracing these changes is a key element in the digital transformation of our industry.

New contract models: The focus is shifting: from the delivery of physical assets to the handover of digital assets such as datasets and information models, and from minimising capital costs to embedding whole-life value. The very notion of a ‘successful project’ is changing, and our contract models need to change too in order to standardise, incentivise, regulate and reward the use of information to create value. 

Blockchain: One of the most exciting developments of the digital revolution has been blockchain and distributed ledger technology which enable and record secure peer-to-peer transactions. By identifying information transactions and the delivery of value across the delivery team and supply chain, reward can be distributed accordingly – incentivising digital design and delivery.

The digital revolution has completely transformed other industries, including finance, media, healthcare and manufacturing. As the infrastructure industry undergoes its own inexorable change, organisations must adapt to remain relevant. This hub will act as a key place for the discussion of the main ideas in digital transformation. We look forward to exploring these ideas with you.

Richard Shennan is global digital business development director at Mott MacDonald. The Infrastructure Intelligence Digital Transformation Hub is provided in association with Mott MacDonald.