Technology is driving the future of infrastructure – are we ready?

Fresh from a tech enhanced holiday, Antony Oliver highlights the need for infrastructure to wake up to the culture shift needed to embrace a technology rich future.

Antony Oliver, Infrastructure Intelligence editor

Just back from holiday. And for the first time this year I went away completely paperless in the ticket department. 

Of course for many that’s probably nothing new. I could have used smart phone technology years ago to avoid printing tickets, boarding cards, maps, and the other instructions needed to secure a family abroad. But this was the first year I dared go the whole hog.

To be honest the move was assisted by my printer running out of ink and a last minute rush to get out of the door. But the fact remains that this year, for the first time, I was genuinely not a bit worried about not having the physical documentation – other than passports of course!

"Despite the old cliché that your children’s future jobs may have not been invented yet, the fact is that being ready for business in the tech generation is critical for infrastructure firms of today."

The reason is simple. It now all works. Whether it is number plate recognition on Eurotunnel, check in apps for airlines, digital boarding cards, Google Maps with guidance from nowhere to anywhere and text reminders to guide you to destinations.

I even had wifi in the middle of the Adriatic (although I’m not sure that is really what you need on holiday, mind you).

My point is that for me to be embracing this new world on holiday, we must have now moved beyond the tipping point, with digital technology now a seamless part of the experience. Without missing a beat.

So what has that got to do with infrastructure? Well simply that creating this kind of seamless experience to embrace and embed digital technology into the infrastructure lifecycle really is going to be at the heart of asset management in the future. 

In short, as infrastructure clients and owners across the transport, water, energy, communications and property sectors now increasingly shift their primary focus away from just building and maintaining assets towards delivering to their customer’s needs, the use of technology really will need to be integral to the offer.

And while, as in my small travel consumer example, much of this is already possible, the key challenge will be more about creating culture change than finding the necessary technology. It is a people, process and change management issue.

My question is therefore not whether it will happen but rather who will be ready to deliver it.

"I even had wifi in the middle of the Adriatic (although I’m not sure that is really what you need on holiday, mind you)."

As I found on holiday, there are very clear advantages of embracing technology for both customer and service provider. Less hassle, better customer service, less need for staff, less chance of mistakes, greater flexibility, less time taken to process. Less cost all round. 

The same is true when it comes to the management and operation of infrastructure. 

Infrastructure businesses of today must therefore prepare themselves to embrace this future. While the currency and skills of today may well still be firmly rooted in the physical asset, success in the future will also require a deep understanding of the way in which data gathering and management will enhance customer service.

Despite the old cliché that your children’s future jobs may have not been invented yet, the fact is that being ready for business in the tech generation is critical for infrastructure firms of today. 

I fear that we are not yet reacting fast enough to meet the pace of change.

Antony Oliver is the editor of Infrastructure Intelligence

If you would like to contact Antony Oliver about this, or any other story, please email


We have an explosion of technology entering the market and after 25 years in the sector I truly feel we are on the brink of significant change (of course my view may be a bit distorted having spent the last 3+ years at Innovate UK / Technology Strategy Board). The use of data will transform our industry - we currently have 10 projects working up new digitally enabled solutions under our Digitising the construction sector call plus major investments such as developing sensing technology and modelling through the Cambridge Universities - Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction. We are commencing a wider programme of disseminating and promoting the solutions we have supported - you can find out more on our _connect platform or if you are at the Construction Industry Summit (8th - 9th September) then we will have a stand there with a range of exhibitors in the fringe event. After that we are at the Technology Forum event on 1 October and the built environment is a key theme this year at our own conference - Innovate 15 on the 9th & 10th November. Hope to see you there - Mark Wray, Lead Technologist at Innovate UK -
I am part of a tech 4 good community that is working with civil society organisations here in Manchester to develop an technology platform that enables community groups and responsible business to connect share and trade for mutual commercial benefit. We are building and prototyping the civic infrastructure now needed to deliver the big society and the northern powerhouse. Digital civic infrastructure is where Manchester and it's northern peers are at. If anyone reading this wants to support or help develop our network then do get in touch. We love to work with the big boys too - we're 100% inclusive as long as you are committed to becoming a better business we'll give you the leg up that you need to become one faster than your rivals.
If companies agreed to split royalties 50:50 from new inventions/patents developed by their staff, it would encourage innovation. Many innovative people leave companies because they will not earn any money from their inventions/innovations. The reality is that many people do not like others to be innovative, especially if they lack this skill, as they consider they will lose authority. An idea is not a person or object which one control. An idea can only be influenced and controlled by a better idea. Knowledge is power. If one wants innovation to occur, then one must accept is is a force which cannot be controlled or stopped. If companies want to innovate, why are so many boards of organisations bereft of people with innovation, (Dyson and Apple excluded)?