Infrastructure projects need data-driven decision-making, now more than ever

The benefits afforded by new technologies in terms of planning and delivering infrastructure projects have never been more relevant than they are today. Emerging trends in the infrastructure sector are being driven by a rapidly changing, increasingly complex and uncertain world market that’s under pressure to plan for a sustainable future.

KPMG declared 2019 “a year of data-driven enlightenment for the infrastructure sector” in its annual report, Emerging Trends in Infrastructure. Governments and authorities, it says, “are starting to recognise the true value of their data in driving insights, operational performance and broader innovation”. Meanwhile, “technology is providing the scope for radically different solutions to infrastructure needs, and often much more cost effectively”.

Major infrastructure industries (transport, energy, communications and water) account for nearly 10 per cent of Australia’s GDP, according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE). For infrastructure owners, operators, developers and investors, the opportunity to respond to industry trends and make evidence-based decisions – thereby delivering better results for the Australian community – is an exciting one.

Data sets have never been particularly sexy, but they’re invaluable now as a basis for more objective, far-sighted and efficient decision-making.

Tech solutions provide better data and analytics

Technological transformation across all industries has gained momentum over the past two decades. Now, advanced software and analytics are becoming commonplace because they deliver clear benefits.

Here are some of the capabilities that are transforming the way we work:

  • Live tracking: Mobile and cloud-based technologies are driving improvements in productivity and communication by allowing teams to track costs, quantities, resource usage and progress on projects. Real-time data collection cuts out inefficient double-handling and makes up-to-date information available to all stakeholders instantaneously, while predictive analytics allows more control over projects by alerting teams to safety risks and cost blowouts.
  • Cloud-based documentation: Reducing paperwork in favour of centralised, cloud-based data storage systems eliminates the lags associated with spreadsheets and paper. Mobile apps can access project plans and related documentation (such as permits), so that project teams have round-the-clock access to the information they need to work efficiently.
  • Integrated solutions: Digital products are allowing organisations to tie together multiple systems, from the back office to the front line. Allowing these data sources to speak to each other can eliminate the duplication and fragmentation that commonly plagues complex infrastructure projects. By streamlining processes and automatically analysing multiple datasets, integrated solutions provide a single channel of communication and useful, actionable guidance for decision-makers.
  • Communication platforms: Integrated, cloud-based systems for data collection and analysis are also improving collaboration across siloed teams and multiple stakeholders. Task management and scheduling software products, for example, enable transparency, accountability and vital information-sharing.

Data is key to responding to sector trends

These new capabilities in data collection, reporting and analytics dovetail with many of the infrastructure sector’s most prominent trends in 2019. Of the 10 trends KPMG identifies in Emerging Trends in Infrastructure 2019, most are impacted by – if not entirely reliant on – data-driven decision-making.

The report notes a widespread shift in governments worldwide towards “a much more analytical and evidence-based approach to the way they plan and prioritise their infrastructure investment”. Increased data availability and analytical capabilities are behind this shift, but it is also a response to “an increased recognition that technologies, models and citizen/user/customer expectations are rapidly changing”. Data is allowing governments to plan better and respond to the needs of the community more effectively.

According to the research, data is also driving the following:

  • Operational efficiency: “Planners will use data and analytics to not only create much stronger alignment between supply and demand, but also to improve the overall effectiveness of the planning process. Regulators will be using data and analytics to better govern and oversee infrastructure delivery. And investors will use it to assess the value and resilience of their investments.” Rule-of-thumb planning is giving way to predictive analytics and evidence-based decision-making.
  • Better management of megaprojects: As projects become vastly more complex, demanding collaboration between governments and across borders, they are becoming more challenging and riskier as a result. But data and analytics provide a way to navigate this. “In this environment, we expect to see project owners find a new thirst for benchmarking, analysing performance and learning lessons from other successful projects globally as they seek to defend projects against political and financial pressures.”
  • Competition for new technologies: Rivalries around new technologies look set to intensify, with startups in developing markets just as likely to triumph as leaders in the developed world.
  • The rise of the customer: Technology is giving infrastructure planners and owners unprecedented insights into customer patterns and expectations. It’s also leading customers to demand a greater say in their infrastructure options. In the future, infrastructure planning may rely on real-time and predictive customer insights rather than historical patterns and expert opinion. Ultimately, this should lead to a massive democratisation of infrastructure planning; those that recognise this fact early and embrace it will reap the benefits.
  • The growth of interdependent infrastructure: How do infrastructure planners approach interdependent infrastructure needs (electric cars that rely on road, transit, power and distribution networks, for example; or navigation apps that integrate public and private transit options)? Planning effectively for such projects necessitates addressing the problem of siloed departments, as well as considering “multiple long-term plans, supported by robust scenario-planning capabilities”. Sophisticated approaches to analysing and sharing data are therefore vital.

This year sees the infrastructure sector on the crest of an exciting, powerful wave of technological capability. If harnessed wisely, these capabilities represent enormous opportunities to change the way we plan and work. The data that we generate, collect, share and analyse will determine the infrastructure that is delivered into the future.