Information, a new infrastructure form?

Information, a new infrastructure form?


The World is changing and so is the infrastructure space. So, is information the new infrastructure type? Explains Terry D Bennett, Senior Industry Strategist – Civil Infrastructure, Autodesk. Read on to gather more…

Population growth, urbanisation and economic expansion are set to push demand for infrastructure to unprecedented levels over the next two decades. Data is available and a good part of it is geospatially based and infrastructure relevant, but not all of it easily translates into useful information. Therefore, is it time to start thinking about information as a new form of infrastructure on which our new generation of future cities — smart or otherwise — must be built to address our changing urban landscape.

Vision for Smart Cities
The foresight for future ‘Smart’ cities is in part intangible as there is no controlling mind, no single entity. There is a system of systems – infrastructure, and its corresponding individuals — the citizens. Complicated by the fact that individuals are more than ever connected, and as city citizens, often have different collective values and priorities than the same individual would express
A New Infrastructure Form? Information when thinking of themselves as disconnected sole consumer or producer of information.
Never before has society generated as much information as it does today. Researcher SINTEF estimated 90% of all data in the world was generated over the past two years, numbers staggering by any stretch of the imagination. Others estimates state every day we create around 2.5 billion gigabytes of new information and by 2020 this new information is predicted to double every 72 hours. A report by the Economist estimates only 5% of generated data is ‘structured’ – that is, easily understood and digested
by people, software or computers. For data to have any value and leveraged as information, it needs to be both usable and useful.

Sustainable planning
This begs the question – is all this data going to help us make better sustainable planning decisions to address our forward looking infrastructure problems and support the ever expanding urbanisation rate and smarter cities? I would argue future smart cities will be both impacted by changes in technology, while at the same time be required to drive integrated infrastructure
solutions which will require clear data vision and planning. In a world defined by rapidly urbanising cities, these cities will become the nexus point for not only resource use stress, but the unintended and chaotic consequences of poor planning if not addressed.
Technology trends are going to disrupt the way in which industry professionals across civil, energy and resources sectors, plan, design, build and maintain the world’s cities and its information. The nature of this disruption will occur along 3 axis. Changes in the means of production – how we think about and deliver infrastructure, both intellectually and physically is changing. Changes in the nature of demand – the way consumers determine infrastructure need and the relevance of required information is evolving. Finally changes in the definition of products – whether it’s a highway system, a train, a water or electric utility system, or expanded bandwidth capability and access. As the digital and physical worlds become deeply intertwined, the customer relationships with their products — in this case infrastructure systems that support smart cities — becomes more complex.
Urban and city planning is inextricably intertwined with data and the ability to process and analyse this data into information in real-time will help enable infrastructure planners, designers, owners and investors to both maximise the values of their assets, and create smarter cities in the process. Better decision making during planning is critical if we are truly to have Smart Cities. Therefore, we need to start thinking about information as really another infrastructure type. Like physical infrastructure assets
including roads, highways or a water system, digital infrastructure is no less important and its resiliency no less critical. Impacts to the information grid could have lasting and perilous consequences. First, we must define what we mean by smart system information and smart infrastructure. In the context of this article, it is the capability to adapt to varying infrastructure demands and conditions which impact the systems this information is running, including new technology currently available or in development. Information as infrastructure works when it creates the ability for informed decision making, when systems can respond intelligently to changes in the surrounding environment and interact with other infrastructure or user demands all
geared towards achieving a more improved performance.

The need for optimising
Advanced technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) which is geospatially aware, have allowed us to analyse more complex information including risks and problems at a system asset level in order to optimise a design to avoid wasting time and money. Going forward, leveraging BIM to optimise all designs like it’s muscle memory will be a critical skill set. But focus here is still about – “Are we building the infrastructure right?” With rise of big data and leveraging information as an infrastructure type we are entering the “Era of Connection”. This is where we leverage and extend BIM, combine it with smart systems/sensors andthe analytics of big data to create future “smart cities”. In this transition the role of infrastructure planners and designers fundamentally changes. Building the infrastructure right is no longer good enough. We can and must answer the more important question: “Are we building the right infrastructure in the first place?” In this connected era, innovative strategies in planning, design, and maintaining the asset can better leverage information and our manmade and natural systems to create
integrated infrastructure that is resilient and better able to withstand disasters, both natural and man-caused, and recover more quickly. One example is the ability to leverage information to vet/rate different infrastructure design approaches. Infrastructure rating systems such as ENVISION from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure are tools for public administration of infrastructure that include metrics for this triple bottom line approach, in part because such systems encourage maintenance
thinking over a short-sighted investment view. During the planning of infrastructure, the ability to leverage information creates
better predictability about what is required and reduces demand and waste in the long run. This information will also allow future
infrastructure to adapt easier to supply and demands, and changing demographic or environmental conditions. As demand for all infrastructure rises, the pressures to focus on the right way to increase infrastructure — by taking into account costsover the lifecycle of an asset—helps future-proof that asset for growth. All infrastructure is a system and the information infrastructure that
supports it no different. The system requires the capability for monitoring and measuring the degree of change, then analysing options for addressing it and then communicating those options to drive human actions or in some cases take action without human interaction. In the longer term this decision making information will help in the planning of newer more efficient versions of
the information and infrastructure itself. It becomes a positive feedback loop that improves both the physical and digital infrastructure of the city. But Smart Cities require smart planning to begin with. It can be argued that for cities, information is simply another type of infrastructure, one which should be planned and managed just as carefully as a road network or power
grid since it is interconnected with all the physical systems. More importantly smart cities don’t happen by accident, and without smart people,leveraging smart planning you don’t get to smart cities. It is as much about people as it is sensors in roads or buildings. Together these kinds of smart infrastructure interconnections — at a personal, community, metropolitan, or even national level — will change the planning of sustainable cities and provide the foundation for even more holistic visions of smart cities where all kinds of infrastructure, buildings and governance – all talking to each other to optimize and prioritize need, performance, minimize energy use and make life more enjoyable and productive for the people who live in them.