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Transforming Infrastructure: Frameworks for Bringing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to Infrastructure

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The technological advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution have fundamentally altered society in ways both seen and unseen. This digital transformation has changed how people live and work, and everything in-between. One area of daily life, however, seems to be largely missing out on this revolution: infrastructure. It remains one of the least digitally transformed sectors of the economy. While individual examples of highly advanced infrastructure systems exist, the sector at large lags behind others in innovation, a fact made all the more apparent by infrastructure’s ubiquity. When the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Infrastructure gathered for its annual meeting in Dubai in November 2018, it sought to understand why.As it began to think through solutions, the Council found a situation full of opportunity. Infrastructure is far from being a staid industry devoid of innovation – indeed, new technologies and ideas are flourishing. Integrating these innovations, which could change the way infrastructure is designed, developed and delivered, requires aligning stakeholders, implementing effective strategies and creating fertile enabling environments. This will allow existing innovation into the space and provide opportunities for new ideas.The Council thus decided to create a guidebook, contained here, that explores major questions about how to bring the Fourth Industrial Revolution to infrastructure. The guidebook surveys some of the fundamental issues and provides robust frameworks that can help public- and private-sector decision-makers decide how to create the right enabling environments for their situations. It also contains case studies to help illustrate how public- and private-sector entities can work together to integrate exciting existing technologies into infrastructure and spur the creation of new innovations. Overall, the content illustrates three main imperatives: (1) The importance of focusing on community outcomes, not physical assets: It is tempting to define future infrastructure requirements in terms of specific assets: “this city needs light rail” or “we must expand our motorway” are some examples. Defining projects in terms of social outcomes, such as delivering affordable public mobility between specific points, leaves an opening forechnological innovation to deliver those outcomes. (2) The need to adopt a “flexible architecture” approach to infrastructure planning: The technological transformation of infrastructure can be accelerated by recognizing that, while technology-driven disruption cannot be predicted, it can be allowed for and positively leveraged. Planning traditional infrastructure with a more flexible architecture is a way of achieving this; it allows for change and innovation at the edges while protecting and extending the life of core elements. It also permits the use of policy frameworks to allow new innovations to move from idea to commercial success. (3) The necessity of recognizing and respecting infrastructure’s “data layer”: As the world moves into an era of ubiquitous sensors and an ever-connected internet of things, infrastructure assets will become data assets. These technologies offer great potential to increase the social and economic value of infrastructure assets through predictive maintenance, real-time optimization and peak demand management. Much like traditional infrastructure assets such as airports, utilities and community facilities, these data pools will become highly valuable and highly sensitive assets, requiring owners with the right character operating under the right oversight.For planners and policy-makers, there is potential for enhancing efficiency, value and user experience for the publics they serve. Infrastructure owners have the prospect of improving long-term viability, project development and asset management. Technology providers could develop new innovations, forging new partnerships and technologically transforming a new sector. Using this guidebook, decision-makers can begin the conversation on how technological innovation can be nurtured in infrastructure to continue to meet the callenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Future and Emerging Technologies, Smart Infrastructure, Fourth Industrial Revolution
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Publication date: 
Sunday, November 3, 2019
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Transforming Infrastructure: Frameworks for Bringing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to Infrastructure
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