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The future is connected

Richard Shennan, Group Digital Business Development Director, Mott MacDonald
Richard Shennan, Group Digital Business Development Director, Mott MacDonald

Richard Shennan, Group Digital Business Development Director, Mott MacDonald

The new normal must be better than the old

The world is changing around us on a daily basis, and many share the view that after the immediate health crisis is over, the world of infrastructure will not go back to precisely the way it was before. The pressure for change had been building for some time, driven by the need to deliver enhanced social, economic and environmental outcomes in the face of constrained resources and carbon reduction. The enablers are the abundance of data and the digital transformation that can convert that data into value.

The current shock has led to a breakthrough moment for digital. Organisations that have had plans for digital transformation, moving through their management systems for years have suddenly faced the need to rearrange themselves in weeks. Individuals who may have been slow to change their behaviours have had to adopt new ways of working rapidly. Never has it been more important for business leaders to put digital at the heart of their enterprise.

 Now more than ever, digital transformation must be embraced across the entire C-suite with a clear strategy and shared vision

The role of the CIO itself is also changing. Organisations need to focus quickly on how to convert data into value, both for themselves and for their customers. New roles are being created, such as Chief Data Officer or Chief Digital Officer. Still, for success, digital transformation must be embraced across the entire C-suite with a clear strategy and shared vision.

Six steps to success

For an infrastructure owner or operator, or a city authority, the path to realising the true value of information can be set out in six steps:

Understand the challenges and frame the immediate problems that the organisation is facing in pursuit of its goals.

Articulate the additional information that would deliver improved decision-making in solving those problems.

Determine what data sets are available now, both from within the organisation and elsewhere that could be connected to provide that additional information

Adopt an open, secure, scalable platform that can connect diverse data sets and provide the basis for integrated solutions.

Combine experienced practitioners in the relevant domain with digital expertise to create insightful analytics and present the information to the decision-makers.

Measure the impact of the decisions and generate data that can be fed back into the system for continuous improvement and machine learning.

Enterprise Digital Transformation

In order to deliver on those six steps, organisations must change to become information-centric. This implies a fully integrated and collaborative way of working both across internal departmental boundaries and with supply chain partners. A new balance must be found between human and machine working together, using automation to liberate people to do what they do best across design, construction and operational stages of the lifecycle.

A methodology must be adopted to make a full assessment of where the organisation is currently in terms of maturity in the transition to smart infrastructure, to identify priority areas for improvement, and to measure progress systematically..

Leading examples in UAE

Many of the leading organisations in the UAE have started on this journey. Leading thinking relating to BIM has evolved into a wider understanding of the concept of digital twins with a live two-way connection between physical assets and their digital equivalent.

The drive for efficiency has already led to big wins enabled by digital. An example is in the field of electrical power supply. As the region moves to more intermittent renewable generation, matching supply and demand becomes a dynamic challenge, with potential for significant benefits in terms of economic performance and carbon reduction, and the social benefits that follow. By combining domain experience with digital expertise, accessing multiple data sources and using the predictive power of software, a step-change in the ability to manage the network has already been achieved.

Bringing in the best from overseas

There are lessons to be learned from other territories as well. In the UK water industry deployment of advanced automation in pipeline design can cut six weeks from the typical design programme for a 50km route and deliver designs that are optimised against cost and carbon. Digital processes for sharing and approving information has cut six months from a twoyear design programme for one of London’s largest infrastructure programmes, the £4.2 bn Thames Tideway. The UK Infrastructure Client Group put digital transformation at the heart of its Project 13 programme for enterprise working, and the Centre for Digital Built Britain at the University of Cambridge is leading international work on Digital Twins.

Better for everyone

In such a disruptive world, there is a danger that opportunity accrues to the prosperous and the already vulnerable are further left behind. There is increasing recognition of the economic costs of social failure yet, as we already see in some developing countries, the digital agenda brings an opportunity to enhance the contributions from previously largely invisible parts of society. With such power to bring beneficial change, the role of the CIO should embrace the principles of Environmental, Social and Governance investing.

Opportunity for Leadership

There is a massive opportunity for UAE/GCC countries to be at the centre of a step-change in deploying digital in meeting the challenges of our times and bringing together the best thinking from around the world for showing how rapid digital transformation in infrastructure really can lead to a new normal that sets us on our way to a sustainable future. Lu’ay Khdeir, Mott MacDonald’s Regional Development Director, believes that ‘’the region will come out of the current crisis stronger and more resilient as we face the challenges ahead, driving enhanced social outcomes through digital leadership’’.

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