Aurecon’s Chief Digital Officer Andrew Maher talks about the importance of scoping the right data in developing a digital estate.


Building the digital estate

It's not just big data, it's about having the right data

Digital technology is evolving at lightning speed, and, as Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab describes, this is creating an environment where “the changes are so profound that, from the perspective of human history, there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril”.

The imperative to “go digital” cannot be ignored, but rushing in without a fit for purpose strategy? You run the risk of creating more challenges than opportunities.

Every aspect of our lives is dependent on built assets and, more than likely, assets that are being run to failure, not to optimum. The traditional response to managing a large and complex asset base has been either to schedule maintenance and replacement of assets on a time basis, or allow the assets to break and then replace, repair or upgrade.

Even getting a handle on the scope of assets itself can be challenging. Governments, as an example, can own assets directly; hold assets through business enterprises or by other arm’s length arrangements; or be considering the sale of assets at different points, making valuation and depreciation analysis difficult to say the least. But one thing is certain: reducing the cost of ownership can generate large benefits.

At Aurecon we’re using digital technologies to find the ‘sweet spot’ between over spending on scheduled replacement, and the service impairment caused by asset failure. Our work is pertinent especially when asset owners are working on master plans, some of which are up to 30- and 40-years and include significant expansion.

A 2017 report on the threats and opportunities of the often-discussed “Fourth Industrial Revolution” identified a potential reduction in Australia’s annual healthcare expenditure of 8-12 per cent, and annual efficiency gains in the public sector of 4-15 per cent. The driver? Embracing digital innovation.

We’ve been working with large asset holders across markets including aviation, defence, health, transport, data and telecommunications, government, education and research in the quest for asset management that is proactive and predictive instead of retrospective and reactive.

The solution sees us taking the information from assets – via sensors, meters, management systems and finance systems – and putting it on a digital asset register, to create a digital estate.

Digitising the estate

The digital estate enables a two-way flow of data: information from the system informs a ‘dashboard’ interface that shows a real time view of the entire estate; and updates are made into the digital estate, which builds the digital model and allows it to project trends and scenarios that inform better decisions.

Automation and algorithms mean the digital estate can develop its own secondary data (forecasts, projections, trends) and then the data becomes an asset.

Digital estates are complex, clever systems, but we always start with business-oriented questions. Rather than build a system that collects data from every item-type – a mistake we’ve seen in some systems – we start with what decision makers need so they can improve their asset optimisation.

Knowing the questions allows us to build a digital estate that doesn’t waste time and resources but allows for a vertically integrated system to enable decision making by the C-suite, asset owners and facilities managers. Focusing on the right data, not just big data, can reduce complexity and deliver better insights.

We see this confluence of engineering, infrastructure and digital as a key driver of infrastructure building in the future, not the least because as asset owners develop their digital estates, they’ll not just have more cost-efficient systems of ownership, but the data will ensure they know what to build in the future.

About the author

Andrew Maher is Aurecon’s Chief Digital Officer. He is responsible for driving digital transformation within Aurecon, partnering with Aurecon people and clients to explore current and future requirements of the digital economy.

This article is an adaptation of a LinkedIn Pulse by Andrew Maher titled, Building the digital estate – not just big data, the right data, published on September 3 2018.

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