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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information
 

Dr Didem Gürdür Broo, a Research Associate at CSIC, calls for the collection, curation and whole-life accessibility of high-quality data.

Only the collection, curation and whole-life accessibility of high-quality data can help us to optimise the performance and maintenance of our existing infrastructure. The availability of reliable data enables us to use our infrastructure efficiently, bringing a sustainable, carbon-free world within reach.

High-quality, trustworthy data can help organisations build strategies, capture value, increase the potential of automation and enable insightful and fast decision-making. Data could change the places we inhabit through enabling real-time solutions to challenges such as traffic congestion, air quality, energy distribution and monitoring. Only the collection, curation and whole-life accessibility of high-quality data can help us to optimise the performance and maintenance of our existing infrastructure, including roads, railways, bridges, buildings and undergrounds. This could make a big difference in a country where we add 0.5 per cent annually to the capital values of our inherited assets1. 

The availability of accurate, reliable data enables us to use our infrastructure efficiently, bringing a sustainable, carbon-free world within reach. However, despite this potential, research shows that as few as 10 per cent of companies are attempting to put data and artificial intelligence to work across their businesses. Some industries such as telecommunications, automotive and financial services are doing relatively well catching up with the level of maturity seen in information and communication technologies. Others such as health care, education, government, and construction are still not close to realising the full potential of data.

Adopting data-oriented approaches is a destination, yet that point cannot be reached without taking the journey. This journey requires organisations to curate, collect, assess, analyse, algorithimise, visualise and operationalise data. The process can be long, and new skill sets and perspectives are necessary – as well as investment – for a successful application. The opportunities are limitless and the change is invevitable.

Data can be referred to as “the new oil”. This metaphor is at once exciting and scary. Today we are, on one hand, grateful for the changes that oil fuelled. Yet, one of the world’s biggest struggles today is waste from this revolution. Now that we are at the beginning of a new era, which many call the fourth industrial revolution, it is vital to understand how data-related decisions of today can affect the future and minimise waste from the start. It is essential to acquire the fundamentals of data, know how data will be useful for our industry and learn the lessons of other industries to avoid repeating their mistakes.

To this end, our strategy should be not only collecting data but collecting the right amount of data for the right purpose, instead of collecting data without a well-defined objective. This requires orgaisations to ask important questions, put initial data management plans into action and continuously check the quality of the data. To enable sustainable, optimised decisions we need not only data but also data from others making discussions on how to integrate and share data more important than ever. If organisations want to be able to compete, profit and help to build a sustainable world, the decision-makers must start embracing data, hire the right people and put in place necessary policies to gather the correct data, make data accessible and assess the quality. Only in this way will our industry be in a position to truly take advantage of the next industrial revolution.

1 Smart Infrastructure: Getting more from strategic assets, CSIC and industry partners, June 2017