Infrastructure delivery has always been a challenge due to the complexities associated with its scale, the breadth in technologies and interfaces, and the intertwined expectations of government industry and community. The question of how to improve it is an ever present one, but it is even more front of mind today due to the scale of infrastructure stimulus announced in response to the pandemic.
The Global Infrastructure Hub’s Improving Delivery Models initiative provides answers to this question. In doing so, it identifies several trends in the infrastructure sector that influence challenges and improvements to infrastructure delivery. Government and industry’s approach to managing these trends relies not just on practitioners delivering specific projects, but to broader government policy and direction.
Of the newer trends, there are two that stand out as having increased importance to infrastructure policymakers and practitioners. The first is digitalisation across the industry and the second is the increasing focus on outcomes, especially climate transition.
One organisation leading action on these two trends in their jurisdiction is the United Kingdom (UK) Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA). In September 2021, IPA released the Transforming Infrastructure Performance: 2030 Roadmap (Roadmap), an update on their 2017 Transforming Infrastructure Performance Report. These two trends are represented by three topics in the Roadmap:
- use of data and digital platforms to inform project design and delivery
- standardised approach to infrastructure construction
- carbon emissions reduction.
Nicholas Yandle, Head of Programmes – Project Futures, IPA shares with us below the IPA’s perspective on these three topics, pointing to a path forward to improve infrastructure delivery.
Q: What is the biggest challenge the UK has faced as it seeks to accelerate the uptake of digital platforms in infrastructure?
The biggest challenge is the cultural shift from treating data as an asset and valuing it as such and addressing the foundations at the organisational level – for example organisational and asset information requirements, outside of the project context.
Q: Is consumer privacy a significant concern for the IPA as it tries to access ‘big data’ to guide policy and projects, and what has been done to address this?
Privacy and security are linked and important. Through the Centre for Digital Built Britain, the UK government has supported the creation of the Gemini Principles to address this, and has incorporated security information requirements into the Transforming Infrastructure Performance Information Management Mandate.
Source: Platform approach from the Transforming Infrastructure Performance: Roadmap to 2030, UK Government Infrastructure and Projects Authority, 2021
Q: What challenge does the platform approach pose for the UK?
The biggest challenge is the way in which construction is delivered in sector and project silos. The opportunity is set out in detail in chapter 10.6 of IPA’s Roadmap. It includes a more resilient and diverse industry delivering benefits across a wider range of SDGs, as well as meaningful continuous improvement and factory conditions in delivery resulting in improvements across the iron triangle of time, cost, and quality.
Q: Will the platform approach change the contractual models we use to deliver infrastructure?
There will be a range of platform approaches, and there will be a range of associated delivery models. However, in the simplest terms, yes, the contractual models used to deliver infrastructure will need to adapt to enable more horizontal relationships, including manufacturers, and for manufacturers and integrators to be involved earlier in the process and to enable effective use of integrators and assembly partners.
Q: Given the recent energy crisis in the UK and the net zero goals of the country, how sustainable is the UK energy network and what can/is the UK doing to make the network more resilient?
Significant progress has been made in decarbonising energy in the UK but there will be a need for reliable sources of energy during periods of renewable energy intermittency. The recent gas price surge came at a time when gas supplies were limited, renewables were unavailable as a result of no sun or wind, and there was a spell of colder air. In future, we expect to have reliable generating capacity from a mix of nuclear plants, gas plants with carbon capture, and possibly hydrogen-fired plants. We also expect smart grids to manage demand better, particularly with more domestic battery supply/consumption and localised energy sources.
Q: What are the challenges with trying to implement consistent whole life carbon assessments and related targets and benchmarks?
Organisational capability in carbon management has proved to be a consistent challenge. Departments and delivery bodies are having to invest and upskill quickly, building their internal capacity and capability while also working at pace to introduce effective whole life carbon methodologies across their assets and portfolios. This is particularly challenging given the size of the infrastructure portfolio in the UK and a strong desire to accelerate delivery. Another challenge will be alignment of databases and calculation methodologies, as far as possible, to support comparability.
Q: What practical steps can the infrastructure industry take today to reduce their carbon footprint and how can IPA support this?
IPA is working across government and industry to introduce consistent methodologies for whole life carbon measurement and management. We see this as a first step and a firm foundation. The UK is co-leading the Industrial Deep Decarbonisation Initiative (IDDI) which aims to stimulate demand for low carbon industrial materials. IPA’s role will be to work with major government projects to embed the IDDI targets and ambitions. The challenge for the industry is to incorporate climate change and environmental considerations into every part of their development lifecycle. This will build on work we have already initiated to embed climate change and net zero requirements in the advice and assurance we provide to projects in the Government Major Projects Portfolio.
Q: How is the IPA moving forward on these plans?
We need to invest time and resources in the capability and capacity of our organisation to implement digitalisation and adopt climate transition outcomes. The evidence of efficiency gains and decarbonisation outcomes are there, and the money is on the table to do it. We all just need to know how, and then work together as a collective.
Digitalisation is here and we need to embrace it even more than we have already. The granularity and breadth of data available within infrastructure is only going to grow, and we need to learn how to use it fast. The platform approach is one such output that could dramatically improve the productivity, efficiency, and sustainability of infrastructure.
Leadership is essential. As with any good project, nothing gets done without clear direction and decision making. The vision has been set and steppingstones have been laid out by organisations like IPA UK. What our infrastructure ecosystem needs now are the leaders who will walk down this path and make change happen. While change can be painful, we need it for our industry, our society, and our planet.