The clues and catalysts for tomorrow’s infrastructure are already here; it is what we do with them that matters. It is by any measure an exciting and important time to be involved in the infrastructure sector. Never before has technology offered so much potential to change all our lives.

Applications are emerging with pace at the international, national, and local scale – changing and improving how we develop and deliver infrastructure and helping to make the buildings we use more efficient and effective. People are integrating these technologies in the fabric of their lives, interacting with the built environment, embedding them in their homes and where they work, in new and innovative ways.

Today, the public sector in Scotland has an opportunity to embrace these new ways of working and be a catalyst for change. A key part to seizing these opportunities is how digital data is managed and utilised. The Scottish Futures Trust, is working in partnership with the Scottish Government on a programme that is set to push forward the union between data and technology within infrastructure.

Significant progress has already been made and momentum is building. Since September 2015, the BIM (Building Information Modelling) Programme for Scotland has been driving forward an ambitious programme of capacity building and adoption of BIM across the public sector. The adoption of these approaches will help to create a platform for the opportunities in front of us – helping us move faster and more informed towards better outcomes.

“A practical platform has been established from which we can build the capability to embrace and deliver the innovative opportunities emerging with infrastructure technology,” said Paul Dodd, of the Scottish Futures Trust and the BIM Delivery Group Scotland.

So, what is BIM? BIM is the process of accurately creating, managing and exchanging digital information within the built environment and is underpinned by a suite of British Standards. It is fundamentally a collaborative process involving the key players in the development of a project for generating and managing a 3D digital representation of a building. It is about managing data and uses technology to improve the sharing and analysis of data over the life of an asset. It is also a new capability -data and technology- for improving the management of assets in use.

Several public sector organisations are now using BIM on their construction projects, including schools, health projects and transport. Others are using it to enhance the management of their existing estate, such as Historic Environment Scotland.

In April 2017, the Scottish Government published policy on BIM. This requires BIM to be adopted where appropriate on all relevant public sector construction projects above £2m. This was supported by the launch of the innovative BIM Guidance portal for public sector procurers developed by the Scottish Futures Trust on behalf of Scottish Government. The BIM portal is designed to support up-skilling and adoption of BIM by public bodies involved in infrastructure.

The programme has also worked collaboratively with industry. A national network of working groups have been established involving infrastructure providers, academia, technology providers and the public sector to support Scotland’s journey in adopting BIM. There is a continuing growth in the adoption of BIM across Scotland, but there is a need to grow the capability and maintain a focus on good data management to realise the full benefits.

Critically, developing the use and capabilities associated with BIM technologies will enable Scotland to support and realise the adoption of a raft of applications from smart cities to the ‘internet of things’. Digital tools are exploding across sectors and geographies – virtual /augmented reality, sensors, drones, automation of construction, robotics and artificial intelligence to name but a few.

Scotland is in a good position. Scotland’s BIM programme has attracted interest both nationally and internationally enabling collaborative working with Germany, Ireland, Singapore, UK and New Zealand.

There is a growing trend of global technology firms developing new infrastructure technologies. This
has attracted billions of investment and examples can be found within Scotland. A consortium led by Scotland-based organisation Sublime, are working with leading industry organisations to develop the ‘Augmented Worker’. The consortium received Innovate UK funding to develop the technology to link data to the real-world environment. Through augmented reality technology, this will provide a “heads up and hands free” solution to improve construction and maintenance stages.

The Construction Scotland Innovation Centre is supporting and enabling industry to experiment with and adopt new technology applications. Growth in the use of such infrastructure technology will enable innovation, growth and investment across the supply sector.

Tomorrow’s infrastructure will be shaped by the imaginative use of data. The connecting of new and emerging technologies on a foundation of information will change what we do, how we do it, and the outcomes achieved. To seize this moment, we must build our capacity, our capability and our motivation, and give ourselves the means to adapt and embrace the changes ahead.

“We will continue to drive the ambitions for BIM, build capability and ensure the foundations are in place to embrace evolving infrastructure technology,” added Paul Dodd. “We see significant opportunities in exploiting emerging technologies – supporting their early adoption and realising their benefits sooner.”

To deliver world class infrastructure for tomorrow, advanced technology will be a key enabler for change. Improved data, processes and leader- ship will unlock this opportunity.