There is firm focus on how the engineering industry can best leverage advances in technology and data management to deliver value to clients. Leading the charge is Aurecon’s Digital Leader for Infrastructure, Will Hackney who says that the process of developing and harnessing ‘Information Models,’ which are a digital version of our built assets is the key to unlocking substantial value. Information Models are typically generated as a result of a collaborative, digitally enabled, way of working often referred to as Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is recognised internationally as a transformative, digital approach, which leverages enabling technology that can improve productivity through seamless sharing of data to ensure business benefits for all of Industry, particularly the transport infrastructure sector.
There is currently a large digital divide between capital delivery and operations and maintenance for transport infrastructure clients. This is largely due to the fact that there are different drivers, people and processes involved. Synchronicity challenges lie in the differing skillsets, timeframes and through various procurement and delivery processes. Clients are asking how the owner/operator can prescribe what they need and how can they better manage and utilise that information and data once available? This evolving jigsaw of an ‘Information Model,’ provides a holistic solution when properly defined and managed through an asset’s life cycle.
There has been so much innovation in the digital technology space such as in virtual design, visualisation and mobile devices, yet we are still a very paper-driven industry when it comes to relying on documentation and reports that are the current product of information modelling, management and the benchmark of payment and delivery milestones. Transport infrastructure clients are in an ideal position to make a step-change now to ensure a productive and digital future. This is because they have all the challenges of managing moving operational assets such as fleet (i.e. trains) and rely on well-developed practices such as requirements management (i.e. mapping and testing to initial or emerging requirements such as regulatory compliance), systems engineering and configuration management (i.e. how things relate and function as part of a broader system over its life cycle). These are all disciplines and skills that can be enhanced through the leveraging of data and technology, for example, managing the upgrade of a signaling system on a rail network in line with both the operational requirements and constraints whilst being closely aligned to the design and delivery process, can be a significant challenge whilst maintaining required levels of service. It is ultimately the coordination and integration of people, processes and information that will further unlock additional value of enabling technologies in this space.
As the digital description of every aspect of a built asset through design, fabrication and construction to project management, logistics, procurement, material specification and energy consumption, an Information Model in the project context is so much more than just 3D design. Importantly, it can form a structured container for all of the information on a project – before, during and after construction and proves its value when the asset owner or manager is delivered a complete and accurate set of inter-related digital information for increased efficiencies in management of their assets. Referred to as a Project Information Model (PIM), they can in turn be reconciled from various projects to contribute to the formation and upkeep of a more holistic Asset Information Model (AIM), which can also be the basis to inform future works.
It really all comes down to collaborative working, better communication and change management in business, assets and information. It has to be more than just the fantastic data sets and visual technology. The problem is that people are currently thinking about how all of this can be applied to the operational phase of the infrastructure asset, but the volume of information created and managed throughout the design and delivery phase of acquiring assets means that often too much information is provided without the means to filter and manage this beyond delivery to the owner/operator. There is also a vast amount of operational and organisational data that is captured and maintained on a daily basis, which often represents the most valuable datasets to the owner/operators, which could help inform decisions around both current and future assets.
The management and use of an Asset Information Model can comprehensively support many of the activities or decisions needed to effectively manage the asset throughout its lifecycle. The Information Model stands out because all assets described in it have physical and functional properties defined, including their relationship to other assets. In fact, the key benefit of utilising Information Models in a structured and appropriate representation of the asset is when they are managed and sourced via an integrated or collaborative data environment. This will drive faster and more effective processes and sharing of information along with better designs, improved lifecycle performance and better production quality and customer service.
Currently, many transport clients see most of their potential value from a digital approach in the operational and maintenance phase due to the longevity of their asset’s life. This is not as evident when compared to buildings where there are typically smaller plots, fewer stakeholders and more discrete non-integrated facilities or assets (i.e. a commercial facility only connected to standard utilities such as power and water and not linear transport systems or across large regional domains). However, with linear infrastructure such as transport, there is typically shared ownership across a very large scale both above and below ground. There is also the legacy of the infrastructure to consider and the utilities – the ‘capillaries’ in between that are always a challenge in the way they are structured, managed and funded. But we have the right thinking to take this forward – the opportunity is in finding the best way to bring processes and people together and harness the value from creating, managing and leveraging Information Models. It’s about engaging the people to define and follow a process and then disseminate appropriate information, which would naturally navigate into procurement. The future therefore holds huge opportunities for harnessing digital assets for transport infrastructure.
We believe that leveraging a digital version of an asset can change the current state of play in the industry and towards unlocking further value from enabling technologies. It can improve information sharing, drive productivity, provide greater transparency and increase sustainability – it is the cornerstone to ensuring sustainable whole-of-life transport infrastructure assets. At its core, a digital approach of value is about creating a culture of integration, education, skills and aligned processes, information and technology. The future is one of managing Information Models to deliver and manage better performing assets, on time, and to budget and underpins how Aurecon develops its project designs, manages construction and delivers better whole of life asset management of public infrastructure.