This month, we will welcome a new ICE President with professor Tim Broyd replacing Sir John Armitt.
Fortunately the days when a change of President represented a completely new agenda for the Institution are long gone.
On 19 October, one of Armitt’s final but perhaps most significant tasks will be to launch the ICE led National Needs Assessment – a 30 year view of what the UK needs from its infrastructure.
At the heart of Broyd’s year will be unlocking the potential of technology and digital engineering to help meet those needs.
Your correspondent does occasionally find it difficult to navigate through the maze of related concepts; digital, smart, big data, visualisation.
But what is clear is that something significant is happening and that it is moving rapidly from being a niche specialism within our profession to becoming a central plank of mainstream practice.
Digital will help us
This has to be positive. As one ICE member observed wryly to me recently, “look, we won’t stop digging holes in the ground – but digital is going to help us add so much more value and quality”.
To date, much of the attention has been on building information modelling (BIM) and how it will help us improve the delivery and – as we move to level 3 and beyond – the operation of infrastructure.
And it is vital we get this right.
Remove barriers to BIM use
In a time of tight public finances and low productivity growth we need to remove all the barriers to realising the benefits that BIM can bring.
Once we begin to systematically use data as an asset, all sorts of opportunities will come into play. We often look enviously at other sectors where radical transformation has happened.
There is no reason why, in the infrastructure world, we can’t embrace technology and data to make similar shifts, with all the gains in productivity and user satisfaction that follow.
But it isn’t just big transformational changes to business models that are on offer.
Improved decision making
In an increasingly digitised industry, all of our decision making can be improved.
New construction may decline as we get better at identifying other changes that can achieve the same outcome.
Smart motorways and smart railways get a lot of attention, but how many new ticket halls have not been built since London Underground introduced Oyster cards?
The ICE is committed to making sure our profession is driving these changes. That’s why we are dedicating next year’s flagship State of the Nation report to this subject. We’ve already begun taking evidence from experts inside and outside the profession.
The strength of State of the Nation is, however, that it has become recognised as representing the broad sweep of thinking in our sector.
If you think you can contribute – or just want to keep in touch with the project – do let us know.
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