Infrastructure industry risks commoditisation if it doesn’t adapt


Infrastructure technology leaders warn of dire consequences for the sector’s future if it doesn’t grasp technological change.  

“Our industry is falling behind. Even compared to agriculture we see more tech and innovation going into that than our industry,” stated Antoine Labrosse, chief digital officer at Artelia in France.

Speaking at the Global Infrastructure Conference, he acknowledge that this meant there was now an opportunity to catch up fast and learn from the mistakes of others, but he suggested it also risked side-lining the infrastructure sector as tech firms derive the real value.

“Once you’ve identified the value to be generated by digital transformation, we then need to identify who captures the value of that change? Are we – the engineers – just a commodity plugged into a platform?”

Bram Mommers, global technology officer at Arcadis, agreed. “We need to learn because the ask is enormous. If we don’t do that, if we don’t make that change, then the big tech companies will see revenues go through the roof while engineers are commoditised”.

“So we need to think about how we make a change and how we use technologies to achieve a better outcome in the infrastructure sector.”

Tony Scott, CEO of NeuralRays AI, suggested that this comes down to people making the best use of what they have.

“In many organisations, project risks have been correctly identified and logged but have not been managed effectively. So our vision is to improve project management with better information using performance-based risk close-outs”.

And he said this came down to an outcomes-first approach, offering a definition of digital transformation for the industry: “Using emerging technology to create human and business outcomes previously considered impossible or never before imagined.”

Sam Harley, managing principle, digital enablement at Aurecon in Australia, offered up the impact of Covid-19 on healthcare as a great opportunity to learn from a sector “at the coalface” of recent change.

“We need to create value, so we really need to understand how global communities will be using the built environment today and how that is different after Covid-19. One example of that is healthcare, which has been through a huge transformation with things like contact-tracing, which is very data-driven and which saw health departments have to kick into gear to make happen.”

“So the way health infrastructure interacts with communities now, with data-led diagnosis and remote consultation, there’s a lot to learn there.”

Mark Enzer, chief technology officer at Mott MacDonald, suggested that an active approach to change was now needed.

“If we believe that we should be driven by outcomes, then the outcomes that matter are for people and nature and that’s what we should be held to account for. So its not just improving little technical things in our zone, its about connecting that to outcomes for people and nature.”

He concluded: “As we look at what is ahead of us, and if we consider that we are building digital as well as physical worlds, our ancestors did amazing things to build our physical world. So now is our opportunity to build the digital world. As engineers we can see this opportunity and we need to identify it as a real thing.”