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The role of Smart ICT in the design and planning of infrastructure

Smart ICT

In this article we discuss the role of Smart ICT in the design and planning of infrastructure.

In July 2015, the role of smart information and communication technology (ICT) in the design and planning of infrastructure will be investigated in a new inquiry by the Australian Government via the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications.


According to the Australian Government, Smart ICT has the capacity to vastly improve the design, planning, quality and cost of new infrastructure and existing infrastructure by allowing for use of digital management. This has profound implications for planning, development, management and maintenance of infrastructure, with significant productivity benefits for governments and the community.

At the time of announcing the Inquiry, Committee Chairman Jane Prentice (Ryan, Queensland) said the Committee believes that Smart ICT will revolutionise the planning and design of infrastructure. 

“As part of its recent inquiry into infrastructure planning and procurement, the Committee took evidence on technological advances in survey and imaging techniques which have the capacity to significantly increase the speed and accuracy of data collection for the mapping and modelling of infrastructure, making it much more efficient and cost effective, with huge benefits to the community as a whole.”

Starting point

The creation of a mature, digital economy for the Australian built environment will deliver high performing assets and exceptional value for all asset owners (public and private), taxpayers, and the community as well as a knowledge base to enable the Smart City and create a Digital Built Australia.

The time has come for the Australian construction sector to reform by seizing the opportunities offered by the Digital Economy. Cities and assets are becoming ever more complex, the demands on finite resources more challenging and the need to look overseas for growth and opportunity has never been more pressing.

Technology is changing the way we interact with each other and how we live our lives. It is changing the face of business, markets, governments and social engagement. Aurecon believes that a Digital Built Australia strategy is required to refine the approach to deliver the standards, methods and tools and productivity/cost savings which can be made through the use of digital ways of working. Currently, digital ways of working are often internationally referred to as Building Information Modelling (BIM).

BIM can be defined as a collaborative way of working, underpinned by digital technologies which unlock more efficient methods of designing, creating and maintaining assets. BIM provides direct benefits to asset owners which results in net savings. These savings enable asset owners and governments to more efficiently allocate funds to other uses and/or projects that benefit wider society (e.g. education and health), creating a positive multiplier effect on the economy.

At its core, BIM is about a culture of integration, education/skills and processes and technology. BIM is not a software tool – it is a better and digital way of managing information to deliver and manage better performing assets, on time, and to budget. The Australian government and construction industry can benefit from adopting a digital strategy (through BIM) to improve exports, create more jobs, stimulate the economy further, find savings to finance further infrastructure assets, and help create a sustainable built environment.

Nationally, the construction industry employs approximately 1.3 million workers and represents some 10 percent of GDP or AUD 228 billion per annum of expenditure - some 40 per cent of this being in the public sector. However, productivity continues to be an issue confronting the construction industry – implementing digital engineering through BIM as standard practice within industry could solve this productivity problem. Productivity is also an issue for governments as large capital works programs have a long lead time before full productivity benefits of capital and labour can be realised. Also, implementing BIM in a structured and systematic way across governments could generate better value for money and savings in public procurement of infrastructure projects. 

The concept of Smart Cities and social infrastructure grids is becoming a reality, but relies on high quality engineering data. Digital engineering through BIM is the DNA of future Smart Cities. Australia has the potential to lead one of the defining developments of the 21st century, which will enable the country to capture not only all of the inherent value in our built infrastructure assets, but also the data to create a digital and smart city economy to transform the lives of all.

Looking to the future

In our submission to the inquiry, Aurecon accepted the scale of reform needed to improve the procurement of major infrastructure capital projects. Therefore, our paper’s recommendations were divided into two sections.

In our principal recommendation Aurecon called upon the Government to mandate the use of BIM in all public infrastructure projects, and doing so consistently across all construction works.

Further, Aurecon called on the Government to take the lead in developing national guidelines and to work with the states and territories to achieve a uniform national position on the use of BIM, including standardised bidding approaches for public infrastructure projects based on digital engineering/BIM.

This process recommendation is designed to ensure that the options raised in the paper (and other models) advance through a detailed and national review. This is important, because it will provide a formal process that allows all stakeholders and jurisdictions to submit their views and interrogate the challenges presented by Federal and State policy and procurement reform.

The secondary recommendations within the paper concern themselves with supporting, complementary recommendations that will help facilitate a national digital mandate. The paper was structured in this way to provide policymakers with a logical, sequential and actionable framework to finally advance meaningful solutions, to enable a digital built Australia.

The radical changes promised by the rise of the digital economy will have profound implications for Australian construction if they are to remain competitive and relevant in a global construction market, where physical borders are rapidly dissolving. The Australian national construction industry must be ready to secure their share of the forecast AUD 400 billion per annum global market for integrated city systems by 2030 (UK Construction Strategy 2025).

Aurecon’s principal recommendation

The Australian Federal Government, in conjunction with both the States and Territories, should establish a Digital Infrastructure Task Group over a multi-year programme to enable government as a client to derive significant improvements in cost, value and carbon performance through the use of open, sharable asset information.

Secondary Recommendations

• Leadership

We also recommend that the Australian Government takes a leadership role to position Australia as a digital construction leader within the Asia Pacific region. The recently issued Intergenerational Report highlighted that to enhance productivity, government will need to continue to focus on reforms that can improve the competitiveness of businesses and markets, and which will also include taking advantage of opportunities presented by changing technologies and new markets, both at home and abroad.

Aurecon has been taking a leading industry role in elevating the standing of BIM and the benefits on offer. This includes coordinating a study tour visit to Australia by the Chair of the UK BIM Task Group, Mr Mark Bew, to meet with key government and industry representatives. 

• Strategy

Aurecon recommends that a digital BIM strategy be raised by the Australian Government with State and Territory Government counterparts at the next available chief executive/COAG reform, with the view to establishing a working group to further understand the drivers and benefits for having a coordinated digital BIM strategy across government.

• International Government Engagement

To further assist in the process of communicating the BIM vision, Aurecon has worked closely with UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to be able to invite a member of the Australian Federal Government to undertake a reciprocal study visit to London to meet with UK Government ministers, leaders of the UK BIM Task group, government clients and the opportunity to visit projects such as Crossrail/High Speed Rail and witness the progress the UK have made. 

Aurecon believes consideration should be given to asking the Chair of the UK BIM Task Group to help present/ workshop the BIM value proposition to key Federal Government ministers from Treasury and Infrastructure departments. 

• Immediate work plan

Given the rapid change and impact of digital disruption on our economy, businesses, and community Aurecon believes there should be a focus on both policy and implementation. In terms of setting the groundwork for implementation, we recommend the following action plan:

  • Identify how measurable benefits could be brought to the construction and post-occupancy management of infrastructure assets through the increased use of BIM methodologies
  • Identify what the Australian Federal and State Governments, as a client, would need to do to encourage the widespread adoption of BIM approaches to improve project delivery and operational performance, particularly in the areas of demonstrating improvement in cost, value and carbon performance
  • Review international mechanisms and, in particular, the UK Government’s five year programme which has encouraged BIM adoption elsewhere (including European Union Countries) and to make recommendations on their lessons for Australia over a similar time horizon
  • Assess the potential of Government policy on BIM to assist the Australian consultancy and contractor base to maintain and further develop their standing within international markets
  • Bring forward more research and innovation (with academic and research communities) to meet the local and global opportunities presented by green construction, smart construction and digital design, Australia construction must invest in people and technology.

• Discussion points to consider

It is critical to identify innovative technology for the mapping modelling, design and operation of infrastructure. The digital landscape is constantly evolving, and is now shaping the way infrastructure is planned and delivered.

Smart ICT presents a range of new capabilities for the infrastructure sector, and in particular, the growing field of digital infrastructure, which brings together numerous technologies, such as:

  • GIS and smart 3D models
  • Advanced information management
  • Mobile Technology and cloud based storage and applications
  • Augmented and virtual reality
  • 3D printing of prototype models, components and structures
  • Spatial mapping and monitoring e.g. laser scanning, LiDAR and photogrammetry
  • Drones
  • Automated construction, 3D printing and prefabrication
  • Quick Reference (QR) codes and RFID chips
  • Real-time remote monitoring and ‘The Internet of Things’

These technologies, when combined with aligned digital processes, present a diverse range of capabilities that offer significant benefits across the asset lifecycle for infrastructure, including:

  • Planning and strategy
  • Development
  • Design
  • Construction and commissioning
  • Operations and maintenance

• Identifying the new capabilities that smart ICT will provide – overview

Sustainable economic growth, pressure on resources and the emergence of the “Digital Economy” present the Australian Government with the following key challenges associated with 21st Century infrastructure.

We have to find ways of delivering more capacity and better public services from our economic and social infrastructure with less capital investment. This means using modern technologies to get more capacity out of our existing infrastructure.

• Maximising availability

We have to find ways of maximising the time that facilities and networks are available to be used by the public. This means using modern technologies to continuously monitor the condition and operation of infrastructure and to intervene before problems arise and to develop better solutions for the future.

• Reducing cost and carbon (Whole Life)

We have to continue to find new business models and integrated supply chains to deliver engineering and construction services more efficiently, but this requires the development of new organisations, new skills and new systems to support the new ways of working.

• Enabling significant domestic and international growth

Aurecon believes we must support Australian businesses at all levels of the supply chain to broaden and diversify their domestic and global customer base. Ensuring that Australia remains internationally competitive – we must develop, deploy and capitalise on the Digital Economy in the area of social services and the built environment to maximise our profile and market opportunity.

• Cost and time savings

Matching the experience of private sector owners, one of the main benefits of BIM for government owners is reduction of costs and compression of schedules particularly during the development and construction of a building or infrastructure project. The collaborative processes at the heart of BIM take advantage of the talents and insights of all project participants (designers, engineers, contractors, and so on) to optimise project results, reduce waste, and maximise efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction. The most significant savings can be gained during the construction phase, by reducing rework through clash detection and visual analysis of spatially coordinated digital models. The result is a project that meets the budget, schedule, and needs of the government owner.

• Transparency

Because the digital process contains such rich and accessible data, government stakeholders will have much greater visibility into how the project is evolving and being built. If the owner is working with multiple contractors and design teams, this transparency can help ensure that all the stakeholders are coordinated and the project is on track.

• Stakeholder and public acceptance

Some government-driven projects, particularly infrastructure projects, can be very complex — with many different stakeholders and diverse public bodies keenly interested in the project. Digital processes and model-based project visualisations can provide greater visibility for all those stakeholders, leading to greater understanding and acceptance of the project, and an easier approval process.

• Attracting portfolio investment

An increasing number of PPP financiers and donors are requiring the use of BIM in their projects to ensure best value for their money, and to help clarify and stabilise the return on investment (ROI) they generate over the lifetime of a project. Therefore, a government that embraces BIM — be it through standards, policies, or mandates — is better able to attract potential partners and investors.

• Operations and maintenance

Cost savings during planning and construction are only one element of the entire lifecycle benefits of a complex building or infrastructure project. When using BIM for design and construction, teams can develop the digital asset data to support operations and maintenance. Once the capital delivery phase is complete, government owners can utilise the coordinated digital Graphical and Non-graphical data to derive ongoing savings and better performance through improved management of the physical asset.

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