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The Changing Face of Infrastructure Asset Management

31 July 2017

By Nick Smee

Over recent years, we have seen a sea change in expectations around how people and the businesses they work for should interact with data and systems; how software should look and feel and how it should help us. The clarion calls for more data, more integration and more innovation are getting louder and louder all the time.

There is a generation of people in the workplace today who have never known a world without the Internet; who have owned a smartphone from a young age. They are increasingly used to an app-based culture and they are demanding beautiful and elegant user interfaces on all their systems – not just the ones they carry in their pockets or on their tablets.

They like technology, they see it as an enabler and as an integral part of their life. However, they want the technology that they interact with to be intuitive and easy to use. This is not to just exist in their everyday lives as consumers but in the business environment also. Critically too, this generation is becoming more influential in the workplace and their technological tastes and preferences as consumers are having an ever-greater impact on the way that business technology is evolving.

The radical changes we have witnessed in expectations of technology are one of two main factors shaping the business environment today. The other is the ongoing ramp-up in overall data volumes. According to the April 2014 report, EMC Digital Universe with Research & Analysis by IDC: “the digital universe is large – by 2020 containing nearly as many digital bits as there are stars in the universe…and by 2020 the digital universe – the data we create and copy annually – will reach 44 zettabytes, or 44 trillion gigabytes.”

Added to that, estimates indicate that as much as 90% of that data today is unstructured and that raises questions in terms of how organisations embrace data to drive business advantage and competitive edge.

Why Innovation is Important

It’s clear that a revolution is today underway in the way that data today is managed and analysed. Businesses across all sectors need to rise to the challenge and embrace innovation, if they want to be in the vanguard of the process rather than ending up a casualty of it.

It’s a lesson that the highways sector needs to take note of and act upon quickly because data growth rates will ramp up, as processing power accelerates and digitally-savvy millennials increasingly dominate the workforce.

This won’t be a straightforward process of course. The highways industry has not historically been known for speed of innovation. The introduction of analytical pavement design and polymer-modified bitumen both took many years to move from concept to practical application. However, we see real grounds for optimism in the future. Yotta’s recent experience is a case in point. When we first developed our asset management software, one person involved in the industry told me that although the product was brilliant, ‘nobody would buy it’, as it represented a significant modification to traditional processes. That was around four years ago. Today, our Horizons software has over 60 clients across the UK, Europe and Australia, all generating improved asset management practices and behaviours.

What makes the best asset management software effective is that it turns data from impenetrable bits and bytes into the kind of insight and intelligence that drives informed decision-making. And the more data we have access to, the more insight we can gather from it.

Being able to visualise all this data effectively is critically important though if we are to effectively realise this potential. A Scanner survey, for example, will bring large quantities of information into the organisation, all of it of potential value. But the data in its raw form will be bewildering to most business users. However, if the best-quality visualisation is applied to it, organisations can make the data not only more intelligible but also really come alive. Decisions can be made in a better value for money and more informed way.

Enhanced visualisation is certainly one key approach that we believe has great potential in asset management today but it’s far from the only one. As the data-driven world transforms into the connected data universe, solutions providers will increasingly need innovative ideas to ensure they are optimising the value they attain from their highway assets.

We are living in a world increasingly dominated by the Internet of Things, by sensors embedded in devices continuously sending and collecting data. Analyst, Juniper Research recently projected that the number of connected IoT devices, sensors and actuators will reach over 46 billion in 2021.

In terms of the highways sector, it’s crucial that councils have access to software that enables them to optimise the management of different asset types from waste management to street works. That’s a huge benefit to any local authority. As the new connected world starts joining up many of our assets, we have to begin to look at operational challenges even more holistically. We need to consider how the different asset classes can link together and how they can be connected with other external functionality to bring additional benefits. We need to think about waste management and enhancing it through route optimisation. We need to assess drainage and make sure it’s looked after properly to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact other highway assets.

Going forward, therefore, before they think about how to drive efficiencies in a single asset class, providers should consider how this will be affected by the management of other associated classes. Councils typically draw their spending from a single budget ‘pot’. In the future, providers will need to work with them to deliver a more holistic multi-asset modelling approach. This will have to focus on optimising efficiencies across all asset types and ensuring local authorities concentrate on allocating spending across their assets in the most efficient manner possible rather than adopting a fragmentary asset-by-asset approach that fails to optimise overall value.

Bright Future

Over time, the enhanced connectivity that the Internet of Things will deliver and the rapid escalation in data growth that it will drive presents a mix of challenges and opportunities to authorities and highways agencies. The number of connected devices is growing all the time. We already see bridges, street lights and a raft of other infrastructure assets with sensors located on top of them. But those sensors themselves will ultimately have many other connected devices embedded in them, looking at weather patterns, pollution, noise and the like to help authorities plan future repair and maintenance scenarios.

To tackle the challenges and turn them into opportunities providers will need to change and acknowledge that the revolution is already underway, they need to embrace it and ensure they are protecting the investment their customers have made, while enabling them to take advantage of the opportunities that the future is expected to bring.

That’s why we see connected asset management platforms as the way forward, allowing connectivity between a range of assets and data types and helping businesses harness the resulting insight for their competitive advantage. For the first time, councils will have the opportunity to realise the economic benefits of managing all their assets in the same way; generate good quality data about them, and make smarter decisions about their ongoing maintenance, to provide better service levels at lower costs.  In the world of infrastructure asset management, the future is already here today.

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