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New study looks into the convergence between digital technology and physical infrastructure

Out-Law News | 12 Jul 2017 | 4:22 pm | 3 min. read

A new study has been launched in a bid to pinpoint the opportunities and challenges that arise from the increasing convergence between digital technology and physical infrastructure, and how they might be addressed.

Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, has commissioned Merger Market to carry out interviews with hundreds of investors, infrastructure developers and technology providers to gather views from industry on the issues they are facing. Pinsent Masons is working in partnership with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and techUK on the initiative. A report from the study is likely to be published later this year.

Investors, infrastructure developers and technology providers who wish to participate in the study can sign up here.

Richard Laudy, head of infrastructure at Pinsent Masons said: "We have seen technology such as BIM impact the construction of infrastructure, but in this report we want to take things further. Our aim is to find out how the industry views the increasing impact technology is having on infrastructure, how businesses are responding and planning for this convergence, and what the challenges and opportunities are. We want to help facilitate the work between the two sectors, which will help to enable improved and more intelligent infrastructure."

The study comes at a time when the UK government and the independent National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) are looking closely at the growing potential of 'infratech'.

Last November, the UK Treasury asked the NIC to identify which new technologies have the greatest potential for improving the productivity of the UK's infrastructure, and to make recommendations to the government about what steps it should take to support the development and deployment of those technologies. 

UK chancellor Philip Hammond said at the time that "emerging technologies have the potential to radically improve the way we manage our infrastructure". The government has already earmarked £23 billion for investment in innovation and infrastructure over the next five years through its National Productivity Investment Fund.

David Isaac, head of advanced manufacturing and technology at Pinsent Masons said: "Infratech sees the convergence of two sectors whose business models and processes do not currently align. Enabling collaboration at industry level is an important challenge for many sectors today but none more so than between infrastructure and technology. This report and its results will accelerate the increasing convergence between these industries and enable businesses to mobilise infratech projects."

"With shrinking natural resources and ever increasing demand, it is important we harness all the opportunities presented by infratech on a global scale to maximise the value of data to drive increased efficiency and improve user experience," he said.

Isaac said that increased cooperation between the infrastructure and technology sectors can help each type of business to learn from each other and adapt quickly.

"Technology businesses are used to operating in fast-paced and agile environments," Isaac said. "There are also lessons to be learned from the infrastructure sector who are used to delivering large scale and complex projects. I am delighted that Pinsent Masons has created a new forum to advance the implementation of infratech projects across the world."

Infratech is the deployment or integration of digital technologies with physical infrastructure, such as airports, buildings, roads and railways, to deliver efficient, connected, resilient and agile assets. The combination of physical and digital infrastructure designs and produces assets that respond intelligently, or inform and direct their own maintenance, use and delivery. As a result it drives out benefits for the end user in terms of efficiency, productivity and a better overall user experience.

Examples include the deployment of connected sensors in public spaces, such as shopping centres, to optimise the way consumers get around during busy periods through the use of data analytics, or the use of smart motorway technology to actively manage traffic flows and utilise the full potential of the motorway network.

Pinsent Masons contributed to the National Needs Assessment (NNA) report published last year which set out a vision for UK infrastructure and included recommendations for harnessing technology in infrastructure projects.

Earlier this year, ICE published its  'State of the Nation 2017: Digital Transformation' report which called on the UK government to ensure that digital transformation is central to its plans to improve infrastructure.

At the time, technology contracts expert Simon Colvin of Pinsent Masons, who sat on the State of the Nation Steering Board and provided advice on technology and legal issues with the convergence between infrastructure and technology, said that the focus being given to technology by ICE, and the personal focus being given to technology by the president Tim Broyd, was welcomed.

"Technology is a disruptor and unless the UK infrastructure embraces it and embeds it in its DNA, the UK infrastructure sector will lose its foothold, either to other global players or to disruptors in the tech space or with tech at their heart," Colvin said. "There is so much to be gained by recognising the value of the digital twin, and a renewed focus on the value of assets to the user. Seeking to contract the skills gap will be key – digitalisation has its benefits but also its risks, so ensuring a balance in focus is given to both will enable a step change to be implemented by the industry."

Investors, infrastructure developers and technology providers who wish to participate in the study can sign up here.