How technology can help infrastructure owners to fly

Posted: 22 February 2024 | | No comments yet

Learn valuable lessons on navigating the digital transformation landscape from Rennie Chadwick, Director of Transport & Mobility – EMEA at Cohesive.

How technology can help infrastructure owners to fly

In Summer 2023, a billboard ad was wrapped around a construction site in Antwerp, Belgium. “Hey ChatGPT,” it read, “Finish this building…”

The ad – which went viral and notched up thousands of approving comments – continued: “AI can do a lot… but it can’t finish this building… fix a leak or install a heating system. Crafts(wo)men are here to stay.”

In infrastructure, as in all sectors, new technologies promise to shake-up traditional ways of working. Generative artificial intelligence (AI), digital twins and digital asset management tools will ultimately transform how we design, build and maintain our critical assets.

Hype (as the ad alluded to) is to be expected, as is anxiety around change. This is especially the case in a sector with a long-standing resistance to modernisation (the World Economic Forum described the infrastructure sector in 2019 as ‘one of the least digitally transformed sectors of the economy.’)

But many transport infrastructure owners and operators are eager to probe the possibilities of digital tools and solutions.

They understand the potential of technologies like AI to support more efficient delivery, optimise maintenance, help them to meet net-zero goals and deliver a better service to their end-users.

Their ‘roadblock’ is not trepidation – but navigation. And their questions are these: Where do I start? How do I unlock the practical benefits of technology in a way that meets our organisation’s precise needs? How do I use it to bring the best out of our specific assets?

National Highways: Data to improve decisions

I am privileged to have supported digital initiatives for some of Europe’s largest transport clients. These include HS2 Ltd, National Highways (NH), London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and Irish Rail. Their approach provides valuable lessons to any transport infrastructure leader that is seeking to embed digital solutions and approaches within its operations.

While committed to digital transformation, the starting point for each of these organisations was not which technology they wanted – but their desired outcomes.

Take National Highways, for example. It developed it’s digital, data and technology strategy with a clear-end goal: to help it to deliver its Strategic Business Plan, meet its net zero and sustainability goals, and to help it to ensure safe and reliable journeys for road users.

Its requirement was equally clear: to make its data accessible and actionable. It wanted to connect the various siloed datasets across its organisation into a single hub. It wanted its teams to have easy access to it and to use it to inform key decisions and help them to better understand the network, how it was performing and where interventions were needed.

Our work to support this – and produce what is known as NH’s Business Information Framework (the backbone of a digital twin) – included core software and digital solutions. We configured these to precisely match NH’s needs. But, critically, these were not where the journey started.

The journey started with us digging deep into the existing data set-up at NH. We worked in close collaboration to understand where the silos were, why dataset ‘x’ needed to connect to dataset ‘y’, and what end users within NH needed to be armed with to help unlock improvements in both the delivery of capital projects and in the performance and maintenance of the strategic road network.

Unlocking data siloes at Sydney Airport

Bentley Systems, our parent organisation, and Cohesive have been privileged to work with Sydney Airport (SYD), too. It has taken a significant step towards the creation of a digital twin. But the digital journey of this, one of the world’s oldest airports, started not with a whizzbang solution – but with some core questions.

The airport’s civil engineers, architects and designers asked: “What if we could create a cloud-based portal that could deliver a comprehensive picture of our campus displaying a mix of CAD, geospatial information. And business data on any device? What if any user could access relevant information quickly, without printing PDFs and without the delay of asking the team for correlating information?”

Grappling with these sorts of questions, probing the possibilities and understanding what your organisation stands to gain from a digital transformation is key.

Only then can the technology – even with the limitations and flaws the ad alluded to – help your organisation to fly.

Cohesive logo in black

For more information on how Cohesive helps transport infrastructure organisations with the adoption of digital, data-driven approaches, please contact the Cohesive team.

Rennie Chadwick CohesiveDr Rennie Chadwick is a senior leader with more than 35 years professional experience, 20 of which have been at Senior Management and Board level. He brings extensive expertise in the areas of business strategy, change management, data and digital strategy, BIM, information management, design management, asset management, sustainability and more.

He is a true champion of innovation. His key area of expertise lies in transforming and improving business and organisational performance and processes through the practical application of innovative practices and technologies, data & digital strategies and strategic change management.

Rennie leads Cohesive’s advisory team and the company’s work in the transport sector, supporting its clients by encouraging, exploring and driving the development and implementation of new ideas and leading-edge technologies that solve industry challenges.