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Transforming the way we plan, design, build and operate our national infrastructure using geospatial data infrastructures

Part 1

The need for information about our national infrastructure

The National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has described how advances in technology have always transformed our lives and indeed whole industries such as banking and retail. In the same way, sensors, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning can transform the way we use and manage our national infrastructure. The more information we have about the nation’s infrastructure, the better we can understand it.

Building an ecosystem of digital twins

The Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) has talked about how greater data sharing could release an additional £7 billion per year of benefits across the UK infrastructure sectors, equivalent to 25% of total infrastructure spend. The Digital Framework Task Group (DFTG) launched the Gemini Principles, bringing together key voices from government, academia and industry to provide the sector with foundational definitions and values to guide the development of the National Digital Twin (NDT), an ecosystem of digital twins that are connected by securely shared data. It starts to address the key recommendations in the NIC’s 2017 report ‘Data for the public good’.  This work forms part of the CDBB’s remit as the national focus for the digital transformation of the built environment.

The CDBB state that the NDT will be a national resource for improving the performance, service and value delivered by the UK’s infrastructure; delivering benefits to society, business, the environment, and the economy. CDBB has been tasked with delivering the information management framework to underpin the NDT, and a series of pilot digital twins. The framework forms an integral part of HM Government’s modern Industrial Strategy and Construction Sector Deal.

Data is critical

It has been well documented that data is crucial to transforming the way we use and manage our national infrastructure. However, collecting data alone will not improve the nation’s infrastructure. The key is to collect high-quality data and use it effectively. Data can improve how our infrastructure is built, managed, and eventually decommissioned, often referred to as the asset (infrastructure) lifecycle, taking a “whole of life” approach.

Taking a whole life approach to infrastructure assets

Infrastructure assets can be some of the most valuable things that organisations will ever own and/or manage. Impacting employees, tasks, jobs and the organisation.  Examples include energy, transport, water and wastewater (drainage and sewerage), waste, flood risk management and digital communications. That’s why an infrastructure asset lifecycle or the entire journey of an asset from new to decommissioning, are so valuable for organisations to observe, track, maintain, and manage.

An infrastructure asset lifecycle is the series of stages involved in the management of an infrastructure asset. It starts with the planning stage when the need for an asset is identified and continues all the way through its useful life and eventual disposal.

The infrastructure asset lifecycle can be tracked in different ways and is generally monitored in some way, even if it’s not a formalised process. The importance of any given asset lifecycle is determined by several factors, including how costly is the asset to replace, how crucial is it to the organisation, and the overall reliability of the asset in question.

When maintenance is neglected, organisations must struggle with the resulting unexpected breakdowns, long delays, and emergency maintenance. When properly maintained, infrastructure asset lifecycles can make the process of maintaining and managing valuable assets much easier for everybody concerned.

The different asset lifecycle stages

Every infrastructure asset typically has five different stages in its lifecycle:

  • Plan
  • Design
  • Build
  • Maintain/Operate
  • Decommission

While these lifecycle stages seem very simple on the surface, in practice it can be significantly harder to maintain all assets according to and throughout these stages.

  1. Plan

The very first stage is planning of the infrastructure asset in question. It is the stage where a lot of mistakes can occur. The outline infrastructure asset needs, usage and expectations are determined.

If something is set up wrong, or something is miscalculated at this stage, it can affect all the other asset stages, until the asset is renewed or disposed of.

  1. Design

At this stage a proposed infrastructure asset is specified.

  1. Build

At this stage the infrastructure asset is built, and an organisation gets everything promised from the plan and design stages.

  1. Maintain/Operate

At this stage the infrastructure asset is used or operated and then maintained as necessary and costs are collected to ensure the full lifecycle costs are captured.  Depending on the infrastructure asset, this stage may go from months to years or even decades.

  1. Decommission

At the end of their useful life or when the cost of operating or maintaining an infrastructure asset becomes too high, assets need to be retired and properly disposed of.

While these stages may seem straightforward, it’s rare that organisations follow all the stages logically. This may be because of outdated policies and standards, limited processes, insufficient data and/or poor-quality data and limited technology.

Next week, Matt White will be continuing this article, going into more detail about the importance of geospatial data within our national infrastructure.

Get in touch, if you would like to discuss this further with our team.

Author: Matthew White, Senior Consultant, 1Spatial

National Infrastructure Commission

Centre for Digital Built Britain

Data Infrastructures Part 1

Data Infrastructures Part 2