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Elevating Infrastructure | Mott MacDonald

Motorway headlights edit

Beyond design and construction, the real value of building information modelling (BIM) lies in its potential for whole life asset information management, enabling improved infrastructure performance and better-targeted investment.

BIM serves the industry well by facilitating streamlined design, strong collaboration and, increasingly, more efficient construction. It is now just a step away from merging with smart infrastructure, a development which will realise vast efficiencies and cost savings for clients, their customers, and wider society.

It is worth taking stock of BIM’s capabilities. In a few short years it has grown a truly n-dimensional capability, able to co-ordinate 3D design data plus information on cost, scheduling, carbon and much more. Metadata assigned to BIM “objects” includes intended performance, supplier information, and instructions on servicing, repair and replacement.

Data sharing protocols

Important work has been done to establish protocols and common standards for data sharing. There is now much better understanding of risk and liability relating to information accuracy, integrity and security. And the industry has become more selective about the type and quantity of information that is put into BIM models so that it is manageable and, above all, useful.

As the industry’s BIM capability grows ever greater, the idea of harnessing design and construction phase data for the benefit of operation and maintenance is moving ever closer to reality.

The compass of smart infrastructure is much wider. Data inputs might include Scada, customer billing, GPS, ticketing and counting, social media, sensors, GIS, satellite imagery, CCTV and more in addition to BIM. But the data management, sifting, sense making and decision taking skills required by BIM and smart infrastructure are coming ever closer together.

Output per capex pound

The industry currently measures efficiency and value in terms of output per capex pound. The preoccupation continues to be

with building new assets, and finding faster, less wasteful, lower cost ways of doing so.

However, in most mature economies, the value of infrastructure in use is substantially greater than the value of infrastructure in development. In the UK, the addition of new assets adds less than 0.5% each year to the value of existing infrastructure.

The key concern of civil engineering should be to maximise the service and value that society gets from the operational asset base. The need for asset creation will never go away. But the focus must shift to the many decades of service that follow. If the industry is really committed to efficiency and value, it should be measuring in terms of outcomes for the ultimate customer, per whole-life pound.

BIM strategies

A comprehensive, forward-looking BIM strategy can lay the foundations for effective whole-life data management – or smart infrastructure if you prefer – that enables real-time performance optimisation, proactive maintenance, and targeted investment in asset enhancement or expansion.

The industry should be under no illusions that moving from capex to whole-life solutions is a massive shift. There is a role for government and the biggest of the private sector clients here: the government’s stipulation that all public projects would need to be BIM level 2 compliant from April 2016 had a huge effect on private clients, many of whom decided to demand the same standards for their own assets. If major clients decide to set a new smart standard for projects, many others are likely to follow.

A number of other conditions are needed to pave the way for smart infrastructure:

  • Improved data quality Many data sources are incomplete or poorly maintained, while many BIM models have been developed with a view to construction, but not operation. BIM and smart infrastructure strategies need to be drawn up with target outcomes in mind. That will enable the right kinds of data to be gathered, and the right hardware, software and management processes to be put in place.
  • 5G The government’s plans for a modern industrial strategy recognise the importance of 5G broadband technology in creating a step change in the way people, organisations and assets interact. Seamless web connectivity and faster data transmission are key to making smart infrastructure work. The UK rollout is scheduled for 2020. Projects in development now should be ready-prepared.
  • Improved standards and protocols While many organisations are making valuable inroads into asset information management, the industry must standardise its approach to ensure these systems are mutually compatible. Effective collaboration and agreement now will benefit everyone, including the early movers.
  • Open exchange of data Traditionally, much work has been done in silos. But there is a need to share data openly – both within companies and between them. Retailers and transport operators have already gained hugely from making information open source – and it is interesting to see that technology pioneers like Tesla are doing the same. In many instances there is more to gain by sharing than by jealously protecting.
  • Make the business case If the industry can quantify the benefits – in particular the whole-life savings – then a case can be made for investing in smart solutions.

The construction industry is dead – long live the infrastructure industry

It is time for the civil engineering profession to embrace the 99.5% of infrastructure that already exists and get excited about how to make it work better.

Yes, there is still room for innovation in the way assets are designed and delivered, but there is much more innovation happening in the world of technology.

This needs to be harnessed to make all the existing stuff more responsive, resilient and affordable for clients and their customers – the industry’s ultimate customers.  

BIM is in our hands

BIM is in everybody’s hands. With Level 2 becoming the industry norm, it is time to look beyond construction to operation and identify ways in which BIM can fulfil its potential by adding whole life value.

And, as existing assets come up for major maintenance or enhancement,  the industry must build new information models for creating and managing data that add value there too.

Developing smart infrastructure necessarily means forming collaborative partnerships with companies which are new to the industry, hiring employees with skillsets forged in the digital economy, and learning new ways of working. The industry is likely to see nimble start-ups make inroads into the sector, providing new competition and bringing new ideas into the mix. It also means working in new and more collaborative ways.

More from what you’ve got

The fundamental promise of smart infrastructure is “more from what you’ve got”. It is a commercial logic that will be impossible to resist. As that increasingly gains traction, the industry is likely to be challenged by new business models.

Shutterstock 418216030 cropped

Shutterstock 418216030 cropped

BIM and smart infrastructure, linked to advanced construction technologies, will make today’s prized specialist skills widely available, and not so special. In future, reward will increasingly be linked to innovation that improves outcomes and adds value

In the traditional model, professional service providers are effectively gatekeepers of knowledge on infrastructure design and performance. Clients pay for access to that knowledge and for expertise in the design and project management of new assets.

But knowledge is being democratised via the internet. More standardised solutions to problems are being developed, and knowledge about best practice and “what good looks like” is more available.

Going forward, knowledge gatekeepers will almost certainly become less relevant. It will be how you use knowledge to deliver better outcomes and add value that will matter. Reward is likely to reflect this.

It is likely to be difficult at first. But as smart infrastructure evolves, new ways of creating value are bound to emerge. Solution providers will be rewarded by the value they create, measured in outcomes per whole life pound, not by their inputs, or even their outputs.

As BIM and smart begin to blur, it is  time for the infrastructure industry to adapt.

Eight things to know about smart infrastructure

  • Smart infrastructure is the result of combining physical infrastructure with digital infrastructure, providing improved information to enable better decision making, faster and cheaper.Smart infrastructure will change how infrastructure is delivered, managed and used. This will affect traditional roles, business models and measures of value
  • Smart infrastructure will allow owners and operators to increase capacity, efficiency, reliability and resilience. Globally, efficiencies gained could be worth up to £4.8 trillion
  • By getting more from existing assets, owners and operators will be able to enhance service provision despite constraints on finance, resources, and greenfield sites
  • Owners will be able to gather data from existing infrastructure and their customers to target investment for greatest benefit and to manage demand, so reducing the need for new construction
  • Some smart technologies have the potential to unleash third party innovation benefiting infrastructure owners and customers alike – for example, the creation of new products and services. In the longer term, the development of smart infrastructure will enable better and more informed whole-life investment decisions based on outcome per pound for the ultimate customers: end-users, fare- and taxpayers, and voters – us
  • Smart infrastructure provides opportunity for the transformation of consumers’ relationship with infrastructure – for example with personalised dynamic journey planning, the opportunity to trade energy directly with peers, or to optimise personal carbon budgets.

Anatomy of Smart Infrastructure


Smart infrastructure diagram 01

Smart infrastructure diagram 01


  • Smart infrastructure will vary from sector to sector, but its anatomy is always the same, made up of three basic layers connected by communications.
  • All components found in smart infrastructure systems have a place in this simple model.
  • Data management Smart infrastructure begins with data, which needs to be harvested, cleansed and structured.
  • Sense making Value is added by making sense of the basic data using middleware, data mining, big data analysis and analytics. Intelligence gained can be used by operators and users to see and understand what’s going on. Alternatively, this intelligence can be fed into decision making.
  • Decision making Better decisions, faster and cheaper enable asset performance to be optimised and efficiency maximised. Decision making is assisted by decision support tools, optimisation algorithms and machine learning.
  • Communication Communication connects all layers to each other while providing an interface with the outside world. This includes all machine-to-machine communications (such as the internet of things) and all machine-to-human communications.

 In association with Mott MacDonald

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