Insight: Infrastructure data insights for a sustainable and resilient future

If our industry is going to build a sustainable future, we must continue to bring leading-edge solutions into practice
Insight: Infrastructure data insights for a sustainable and resilient future

Tim Embley, Group Research & Innovation Director Costain and member of the CSIC Steering Group on making a digital mind set front and centre of business, engineering and decision-making.

Our global society faces unprecedented times. There have never been so many pressures on our industry and the infrastructure systems we deliver. External threats from climate change, weather extremes, terrorist violations, cyber penetration and recently Covid-19 are just some of the frontline challenges. Technological advancement, innovation and human ingenuity are combining to confront these challenges and drive the changes required to create a sustainable future for generations to come. 
No one person or organisation can resolve these issues – we must all contribute to deliver a better outcome through the decisions we make both in the short and in the long term. Technology is an integral part of our tool kit but not a solution in itself; we must make decisions to ensure our industry creates a resilient built environment while respecting resource constraint within the natural environment which must be sustained. 
Leaders across the infrastructure and construction industry have researched, innovated and developed new services in collaboration with our clients, bringing smart digital solutions to market and challenging existing business models to focus on better outcomes. Our industry is short of resources, both material and human, and there has never been a better time to work collaboratively to adapt, embrace and scale-up new solutions to make yesterday’s innovation today’s norm. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated how quickly and effectively we can act when circumstances demand urgent response; our infrastructure systems were critical in moving key workers and mobilising society and our communication systems essential to support remote working. 
If our industry is going to build a sustainable future, we must continue to bring leading-edge solutions into practice, with technology at the front and centre in everything we do. Data is the new currency for making the right decisions and smart infrastructure is the new practice in our engineering provisions. 
Collaboration to secure best outcomes for our industry and the people it serves is already happening and brings opportunity for positive change at scale. Organisations such as the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) collaborate widely to accelerate implementation of smart infrastructure solutions, working with a range of organisations including i3P, fostering collaboration and innovation across infrastructure clients and their supply chains. Industry alignment with the Construction Leadership Council demonstrates how our sector is uniting important agendas to become a unified force for change. We are now a mature industry that must be agile and adapt quickly. We are embracing innovation as part of the trusted engineering solutions we support to enable society to function and flourish and the global ecosystem to prosper. 
A ‘digital mind set’ has to be front and centre of business, engineering and professional decisions as we champion smart infrastructure in everything we do. Digital will help predict the future, benchmark with the past, make real-time decisions today and enable better outcomes for society. 
As industry leaders and influencers we are all responsible for the choices we make; we can refer to the Sustainable Development Goals to provide us with a framework for common good and to influence others that shape our industry. Financial decision-making dictates business models and commercial decisions. We welcome UK Government’s review of the HMRC Treasury Green Book and the Five Case Model for business to consider a sixth case of sustainability when forming the business case for investment decisions. We welcome projects that receive investment from Green Bonds and the private sector who put emphasis on social value through their investment. 
We can all play our part. Can you think of one action that you or your organisation can take – and do it well so it becomes your new norm and part of your business success? Let’s work together to accelerate change and establish an industry of smart and sustainable infrastructure that is resilient and adaptable. 

Tim Embley is a member of the Steering Group for the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC) at the University of Cambridge. See

Through the University of Cambridge, CSIC is an active member of the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC) and is hosted in the UKCRIC-funded National Research Facility for Infrastructure Sensing (NRFIS).  

Image credit: NASA via Unsplash