Technology is playing a vital role in improving the performance of Scotland’s infrastructure
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.
Improving its performance is a key enabler for the Scottish Government’s ambitions for a sustainable and inclusive net zero carbon economy. This ambition is relevant to both new and existing infrastructure, as most of the underlying infrastructure that will be used in 30 years’ time already exists today.
When looking how we plan, deliver and manage our infrastructure, technology is essential. We are seeing unprecedented investment in technology which aims to improve the performance of our infrastructure, such as 3D-design modelling, virtual reality, building sensors, machine learning, robotics and cloud-based data sharing.
How we measure performance is often inconsistent and siloed across the industry but we are seeing improvements across four key areas of performance:
Commercial – increased use of 3D modelling of buildings during the design and construction stage that reduces risk, time and ultimately the cost of construction. Evidence from design teams working across large infrastructure projects has shown working with a 3D model of a project is five times more efficient than traditional methods, improving both productivity and profitability.
Design – application of virtual reality (VR) is enabling new conversations at the design stage, with teachers, clinicians and the general public helping shape the design process and deliver a better product. We have already seen exciting collaborations in Scotland, including the new Bertha Park High Schools, with Perth & Kinross Council and Microsoft exploring the value of technology and data to support asset-management and educational outcomes.
Environmental – technology supports the design and delivery of energy-efficient buildings and how they are managed effectively. The design team for South Queensferry High School used enhanced computer modelling to improve energy efficiency, while the Centre of Excellence for sensing, imaging and the Internet of Things (CENSIS) worked with Scottish SMEs to develop new sensor technologies to enable more efficient use of space and reduce energy consumption.
Social and Economic – is the least-developed area, but could still provide significant value. Digital tools are available to help public-sector bodies better specify community benefits during the construction phase, while database systems can give decision makers enhanced knowledge of the impact of an investment at a local, regional and national level.
SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE LED INFRATECH
The infrastructure technologies market continues to evolve. The public sector experiences challenges in adoption, unlocking investment and overcoming complex implementation. In response, we have launched Infrastructure Technology Navigator, which quickly links users to a list of performance improvements that can be enabled through infrastructure technology.
The navigator provides guidance, benefits and templates to help put the technologies to use. Public bodies are already experimenting with these technologies and Scotland is seeing applications across sectors, geographies and at various stages of the asset lifecycle.
THE INFORMATION IMPERATIVE
These technologies will both create significant amounts of new data and offer the ability to analyse data more effectively, to derive new insight and support better decision making. Good information management processes and systems are fundamental to this.
In Scotland, the platform for developing strong foundations to information management and change across public sector infrastructure is Building Information Modelling (BIM), the process of accurately creating, managing and exchanging digital information within the built environment.
SFT leads the BIM programme on behalf of the Scottish Government and supports its implementation. BIM is creating a new capability – focused on data and TRUST
technology – for improving infrastructure performance. Adoption of BIM processes will help things move faster and in a more informed manner.
Technology will challenge the existing silos and procurement models within the built environment and will require increased collaborative working. As technologies evolve, so will the skills required by building owners, delivery teams and decision makers.
Industry and academia continue to support this skills challenge through the work of the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre in supporting industry, investment by industry in training programmes and alignment by college and universities to respond to these new skillsets. Scottish colleges have also led the UK in developing and delivering new curriculum to address these skills (recognised with New College Lanarkshire students winning gold and bronze in the Digital Construction & BIM category at the Worldskills UK event last November).
Scotland’s infrastructure is already benefiting from innovative technology. However, only through improved information management, collaboration, leadership and a performance-driven approach will we realise the full potential sooner and deliver world class infrastructure for the people of Scotland.
Paul Dodd is Head of Infrastructure Technology at the Scottish Futures Trust. For information on the Infrastructure Technology Navigator visit https://infratech.scottishfuturestrust.org.uk