By Kim Ho, Assistant Editor, Infrastructure Magazine
The uptake of Internet of Things (IoT) technology is seeing seismic shifts across every sector, but according to Frank Zeichner, CEO of the Internet of Things Alliance Australia (IoTAA), the infrastructure sector is lagging behind other industries. Here, Mr Zeichner discusses the barriers to IoT uptake and offers a new approach to its integration.
There’s no question about the transformative potential of IoT technology. Industries across Australia are moving towards digitisation, harnessing data to yield greater insights, value and efficiency. Guiding this shift is IoTAA, Australia’s peak IoT authority. Now in its fourth year, IoTAA’s purpose is to accelerate the adoption of IoT through the Australian economy and society.
As IoTAA’s CEO, Mr Zeichner has a deep passion for IoT transforming industry and improving Australia’s competitiveness. While investment in infrastructure and the construction industry is high and should remain high, Mr Zeichner said the sector is relatively immature in its adoption of IoT. Massive opportunities for better design, more efficient use of assets, better resource sustainability and customer and community interaction and participation are in the offing.
Take, for example, the simple task of measuring the air quality beside a trans-urban freeway. While it is likely that the contractors or asset managers overseeing a freeway are measuring air quality outside its smokestacks, it is far less clear who they would share that information with – or if they are sharing that information at all.
In the absence of that data, Mr Zeichner said he has seen city councils install their own air quality sensors next to smokestacks on freeways, so knowledge about the freeway was lost unnecessarily and costs increased.
“The collecting data part of IoT is the starting point, actually sharing that information with people who need to know internally and externally, so that they can do appropriate planning, integration and responding, is where the real value comes,” Mr Zeichner said.
“That data, with the proper protections for individuals and companies, needs to be made available – and under conditions that we understand and agree to.”
Another example offered by Bill Ruh, Chief Digital Officer of Lendlease, at IoTAA’s recent IoT Impact conference, highlighted the proliferation of IoT, in many of the one million or so Lendlease buildings worldwide, that is highly siloed and non-interchangeable – such as for HVAC, lifts, security, energy use, water use, room occupancy etc.
These examples illustrate a gap in the end-to-end system, a missed opportunity that, for Mr Zeichner, demonstrates that the industry is lagging behind – something the finance industry learned and implemented a long time ago. He said in terms of IoT uptake and maturity, we haven’t yet developed the collaborative model and trust needed for the construction and infrastructure industry to fully exploit IoT.
Despite innovations in development that are pulling together disparate IoT data sources, Mr Zeichner believes Australia’s current lack of IoT standards is slowing adoption. For example, building management systems (BMS), which present a static digital representation of a building and real-time operational data about it, currently have little to no standardisation.
For him, Australian construction has yet to connect IoT real-time usage data with static data to form a lifecycle utilisation and cost model of buildings and infrastructure. This combination of data sources provides the basis of the ‘Digital Twin’ which promises capabilities such as automated building design incorporating usage to dramatically reduce build cost overruns. Doing this will enable asset managers and urban planners, for example, to answer questions such as: How is it being utilised? Where are people? When do they go in and why? When do they go out?
Smart sensing to exceed efficiency targets
However, Mr Zeichner believes there are many reasons to be optimistic. Several exciting infrastructure projects are breaking new ground for the sector, such as the Victorian Government’s $18 million Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP).
“GHD Digital is one of the key professional services consulting firms [on the LXRP], and they’ve implemented a whole IoT tracking and monitoring system, integrated with IoT set up by project management,” Mr Zeichner explained.
The project involves work on 78 crossings almost simultaneously and the sites must share tools, machinery, equipment and people between them.
“This undertaking is feasible because not all sites are ready simultaneously, but it requires significant coordination, which IoT is enabling.”
By tracking all the equipment, project managers are able to have complete visibility over their fleet so they can schedule which site can use what equipment at any given time. Moreover, project managers are able to track the U beams being delivered to replace the crossings.
“They’re trying to get to eight delivered per day, from an industry average of six. They’re doing that by tracking where they are, tracking the vehicles that are moving them, and adjusting the traffic lights as they go – and they’re meeting their targets,” Mr Zeichner said.
“So as you can imagine, there’s a massive improvement in the logistics and the supply chain of building a really complex set of parallel construction projects – with way better visibility and control.”
Breaking new ground on digital integration
Mr Zeichner also noted a growing trend of construction equipment with sensors already inbuilt, as opposed to being added later.
For him, the New South Wales Government’s IoT Policy Framework, developed with IoTAA and other industry input, represents an important development that will work to drive inbuilt sensing and data sharing in projects across the state.
“That IoT Policy Framework will inform procurement in every aspect of a build for infrastructure, because it will demand that infrastructure components, elements and companies 1) build in sensing of their utilisation over the lifecycle; and 2) that they share that data outside their domain, under conditions of course, so that others can use it, which is the key,” Mr Zeichner said.
This framework is set to be a key input into the Western Sydney Parklands City Deal and the Western Sydney Aerotropolis being undertaken in tandem with the construction of the Western Sydney Airport.
Changing our perception of IoT
Mr Zeichner believes the Western Sydney Parklands Project exemplifies a simple but crucial shift in how we think about IoT – a shift which has the potential to accelerate the opportunities that IoT can bring for Australian construction.
“In my mind, I don’t like calling projects IoT projects, they’re projects that happen to have IoT in them. IoT’s an enabler – it’s not about the IoT, it’s about the data that affects and improves asset utilisation, efficiency, how people interact and use services and provides information and warning about breakages and so on,” he said.
“It’s not to say that IoT technologies aren’t integrated in roads and other infrastructure today. The issue is, IoT isn’t just the sensing, it isn’t just the network, or the cloud, or the AI, or visualisation, or the robotics part of it. It’s about the entire end-to-end chain.”
Mr Zeichner said when we approach IoT more holistically, imagining ways in which it may be integrated in a project from the start and provide ongoing information throughout the asset’s lifecycle, IoT technology can unlock extraordinary economic benefits.
“The incremental cost of building in sensing and collecting and sharing of data on a $100-300 million construction is less than a per cent,” Mr Zeichner said.
He said factoring in the savings IoT can have on the lifecycle cost of managing it over around 30 years, and by knowing how each element of the asset is actually used, “the return on investment can be amazing”.
Leveraging IoT to increase quality, value and profits
IoT also offers economic opportunities for supply chain logistics by assisting with quality assurance and provenance. Having a ‘data footprint’ for products, such as food, during transportation will help companies ensure a product’s quality right through a supply chain, therefore attaching higher value to it – for example in verifying adherence to proper ‘cold chain’ processes.
The challenge for IoT integration in supply chains, however, is maintaining data authenticity – that is, ensuring the data being passed on is both accurate and from a verifiably trusted source.
“There are often many partners in the chain, so there are often relationships that weren’t there before. There are people you’re sharing data with you’d never share data with before. You have to come up with interfaces between them, as well as new authentication processes,” Mr Zeichner said.
“There’s a deal of integration and trust networks to build. It’s happening in certain cases, it’s just not scaled yet so we’ve got a way to go.”
Increasing security in tandem with IoT integration
IoT security and data privacy are growing concerns in the industry, posing major challenges to safe IoT uptake in Australia. The more people with whom a company shares its data, the more opportunities for a cyber security or data breach to occur.
“In business, if you just give away your data, you could give away half your value,” Mr Zeichner warned.
“You need security where you’re storing the data, you need security when you’re exchanging data – security happens many, many times in the chain.”
Security is one area in which IoTAA is assisting the industry. The Alliance is campaigning for the introduction of a market-based IoT security ‘tick mark’. This mark would provide clarity and assurance to customers, indicating that products and assets are accredited and that their IoT security claims are valid. Today, it’s difficult for buyers to know who is secure and who is not.
For Mr Zeichner, the solution again lies in the early integration of IoT into every stage of the construction process and anticipating issues in advance.
A shared framework to help roll out IoT together
IoT uptake is also set to accelerate through the recent establishment of a ‘shared framework’ with which to position technology and partners.
“Different market sectors are at different levels of maturity in adopting IoT, and they’re coming from different places,” Mr Zeichner explained.
“Yet IoT, like the internet, like IP, is a common thing across everything.”
In response, IoTAA developed an IoT Reference Framework as a way of positioning technologies and functions in a way that “disentangles all the different components” to provide some standardisation in how different sectors speak about IoT.
Since its launch, the framework has been adopted by overseas organisations. Locally, the Water Services Association of Australia, made up of 53 water utilities, is starting to use it to create an IoT technology roadmap.
The framework is also an essential component to IoTAA’s security workstream, to help unravel the increasing amount and network of security required for IoT.
A starting point, not an afterthought
Ultimately, Mr Zeichner believes accelerated IoT uptake in Australia requires asset owners and operators to move from a reactive to a proactive approach to the technology. Successful IoT stems from asking one vital question: What data would you need to better run and value your business?
“If you can answer that question, then you know how to improve it and increase your value,” Mr Zeichner said.
“If you don’t know the answer to that question, you risk someone else working it out. At the very least, you’re running things inefficiently.”
By approaching IoT as a starting point rather than a consideration later down the track, the infrastructure and construction sector can position itself to reap the vast benefits of digitisation in the future.