Modern infrastructure organisations are facing greater challenges than ever before. Environmental pressure, ever-changing regulatory standards, COVID-19, and the need to continue providing high quality customer service at a fair price means infrastructure organisations must work extra hard and extra smart.
Digital transformation has long been seen as the answer to many of these challenges. Its meaning however is broad, can be easily diluted, reduced to simply a ‘buzzword’.
To understand how digital transformation is helping large infrastructure organisations adapt to modern challenges, it’s useful to look at some real life examples of where progress is being made.
We’ve put together a list of 5 areas where digital transformation is having the most impact on infrastructure organisations.
Digital Twinning refers to the digitalisation of physical assets. For infrastructure organisations, which own or manage a variety of assets across a wide area, digitalising such assets allows for better organisation and understanding of what is physically going on.
With digital twins, complex environments can be modelled and forecasted. Performance and quality can also be closely monitored.
Digital Twinning is certainly being recognised as a significant technological development. Garter placed it in their top 10 technology trends in 2018, and more and more businesses are being built in this space. Digital twins will most definitely be a growing trend for infrastructure organisations.
Closely related to digital twins is Internet of Things (or IoT). Internet of things refers to many of the same physical assets which are covered by digital twinning. These assets are able to upload and download information (connect to the internet), sending all the useful data which they can receive locally. IoT is often considered a key part of Industry 4.0.
Information that traditionally only be available by someone visiting the asset in person can now be remotely gathered. This reduces human resource expenditure and allows the organisation to respond quicker, very useful when customers are depending on your service, and every second counts.
Some exciting examples of IoT in infrastructure include the UK plans for a smart grid, Siemens MindSphere and Fujitus’s OPTEX in Japan.
Big data is a growing trend across all industries nowadays, but in infrastructure, its impact is particularly significant. Energy and utilities companies now consider data from smart meters, grid equipment, weather sources etc. to form models that predict usage and availability. This informs power planning, an important step in the move to renewables.
Some exciting startups we’ve seen in the energy data space include: Surple, Comverge and Bidgely.
Next on the list, digital process improvement, refers to traditionally, manual business processes, being replaced with highly streamlined and automated digital processes.
Software has come a long way in recent years. Technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), AI and Machine Learning are finding their way into businesses, and infrastructure is no different.
Somewhat more significantly, is the level of customisability that niche software vendors are providing. Business processes that we’re previously uncatered for by large scale enterprise software vendors now have highly flexible niche products that fulfil this need.
Some examples of these digital products include Trello, Jira and Miro.
On the other end of the spectrum, is all encompassing software packages that manage infrastructure resources from the top down.
Since infrastructure organisations are by their very nature large, managing day-to-day operations is highly complex. Enterprise ERP solutions act as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for major business functions, whereas the more niche software solutions mentioned prior service more specific business functions that require greater customisability.
An enterprise ERP software is seen by many as the first step to digital transformation, with providers including SAP, Oracle, Salesforce and Microsoft holding significant market share in this area.
To summarise, we’ve seen a lot of talk about digital transformation, and promise from a broad spectrum of technologies about their potential impact. Recently, those mentioned have been the most prevalent, and will likely have the biggest impact over the coming years.
Having said this, different technologies have different purposes, offering value in different ways. For infrastructure, where business operations vary wildly, there will likely always be room for improvement. If you’re currently working in infrastructure, we suggest exploring the options, and seeing which works best for you.