A step change in infrastructure and tech

Our infrastructure supports our communities, public services, wellbeing and economic growth. It encompasses all assets that enable the delivery of public services including schools, hospitals, transport, digital connectivity and housing.

Tomorrow’s infrastructure will be shaped by the creative use of data. The connecting of new and emerging technologies founded on robust information will change what we do, how we do it, and the outcomes achieved.

So, it is an exciting and important time to be involved in the infrastructure sector. Neverhas technology offered so much potential to improve how we plan, invest, deliver and manage our infrastructure. And the Scottish Government’s step change in investment for infrastructure provides us with an opportunity to accelerate the adoption of the technologies we need.

On current estimates that would mean around £7 billion of extra infrastructure investment by the end of the next Parliament. That is investment that will deliver jobs and allow our communities to flourish and businesses to grow and export more.

Scottish Government Programme for Government, [September] 2018.

New infrastructure technologies are emerging with pace. These will improve how we develop and deliver infrastructure and help to make the buildings we use more efficient and effective. 3D design, virtual reality, building sensors, laser scanning and cloud-based data sharing, are only some examples of technologies being applied in innovative ways.

The market place is growing between infrastructure clients and technology companies. Between 2013 and 2018, globally, $18billion of investment has been attracted to the construction technology market place. McKinsey [September] 18. The trend is one of continuing technology development and a step change in investment.

This pace of change brings opportunities as well as challenges. Given its demand potentialand collective buying power, the public sector in Scotland is well placed to help shape things going forward. Our focus will be on improving the performance of the infrastructure created,  improving delivery, and improving the performance, productivity and sustainability of industry.

The platform for developing the change across the public sector in Scotland is Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is the process of accurately creating, managing and exchanging digital information within the built environment. It is creating a new capability – focussed on data and technology – for improving infrastructure performance. The adoption of BIM processes will help things move faster and in a more informed manner.

The public sector BIM programme in Scotland is led by the Scottish Futures Trust on behalf of Scottish Government and has delivered new tools, guidance and policy. This has been done in collaboration with industry through the work of the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre who with the support of Scottish Enterprise are delivering a programme of training to support industry move to a more digital way of working.

Within the first year of launching the Scottish Government BIM policy and SFT guidance portal, £1bn of public sector projects within Scotland were implementing BIM on new construction projects.

We are already seeing a lot of new applications such as mapping software at the planning stage to improve investment decisions, 3D computer modelling technology supporting the design stage to improve productivity and stakeholder engagement, 360 degree photo capture technology to monitor construction progress and quality.

Finally for the management stage, new sensor technology can provide live feedback to improve how we operate and utilise our assets to improve services and environmental performance.

But to make best use of these new technologies the pace of adoption and improving capability needs to increase. In parallel to the ongoing BIM programme, SFT will seek to do more to address these challenges with the development of a new Infrastructure Technology Navigator. This new platform will complement the existing set of BIM tools. It will raise awareness and it will support the adoption of these important technologies by the public sector.

Through the investment, leadership and resources available within Scotland, the platform for delivering a step change in technology is in place to increase the performance of our infrastructure and improve the services they deliver. It is what we do now that will shape tomorrows infrastructure.

Paul Dodd is Head of Infrastructure Technology at the Scottish Futures Trust.