by Julian Watts, Director, Engineering & Asset Management, KPMG Australia

The need to leverage digital is paramount to being an efficient infrastructure owner, manager or operator. To best embrace and realise benefits from digital enablers, a strategy for how they will be used across the organisation in a joined up manner is needed. This ensures that workflows are end-to end and that information has traceability to enable high confidence decisions.

Drivers to leverage digital

With the complexity of modern infrastructure management, operations and maintenance, there are now many distinct variables that can impact stakeholder outcomes.

To efficiently deal with this complexity, many of the process and workflows need to be automated.

The decision-making leavers for any organisation need to be responsive to changing customer needs and the forecasted needs of infrastructure assets that deliver the service.

Traditional manual decision-making methods are becoming obsolete when the volume of near real-time and dynamic data is truly connected and streams into enterprise platforms.

Furthermore, stakeholders are requiring more transparency in decision-making and traceability to source data. There is little room for subjective options and therefore leveraging a digital approach is a preferred route.

Price limitations have been a challenge when introducing new technology and approaches. It is not until a solution is cheaper and the outcome is better, that organisations have the appetite to change traditional methods.

Technology like cloud computing, digital design and automated monitoring has advanced to a point that cost is no longer a reason not to adopt.

What are Digitally Enabled Assets?

Digitally Enabled Assets are those which are designed by a digital vision, managed throughout the lifecycle by digital processes and are supported by a workforce that leverages digital to provide insights through analytics and make the most informed decisions.

The diagram to the right describes some of the building blocks for digital considerations across the operating model for infrastructure management.

These building blocks may materialise as individual digital twins that can be brought together under a connected family of twins.

Digitally enabled asset vision

A digitally enabled asset strategy is needed to capture the voice of customers and stakeholders leveraging platforms like social media to distil public sentiment.

Utilising existing public strategies such as the Transport for NSW Digital Engineering Framework, the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy, or the Smart Cities Council Digital Twin Guidance Note, are a good starting place.

This can then feed into a more dynamic strategy formation that captures inputs from across the organisation to ensure a balanced view that is supported by management, finance, HR, IT, engineering and operations.

Digitally enabled lifecycle

Digitally enabled asset planning drives a more robust way for understanding forecasted needs of asset interventions. By capturing performance and condition information about assets in a structured manner, we are able to automatically draw correlations and leverage machine learning to propose optimal interventions that humans can then make the ultimate decision on.

Digitally enabled asset procurement practices mean that sharing the right existing asset information with the supply chain can be seamless and provide the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ in an integrated common data environment.

Digitally enabled asset design has been a staple for several decades, however, it continues to evolve to leverage automated parametric design procedures that seek to standardise asset configurations by limiting the number of parameters that can be adjusted.

This significantly speeds the design process, but also improves the operability and maintainability of similar assets across a portfolio.

Digitally enabled asset construction is improving to better leverage robotic equipment, modular 3D printing and autonomous vehicles for excavation and earthmoving.

There are significant advances in leveraging artificial intelligence to monitor site changes over time, through fixed cameras and the use of drones to repeatedly build 3D models of a site and identify confidence of project progress and delivery.

This can also enable automated contract payments based on 4D known milestones. Digitally enabled asset operations needs to extend further than just technology that monitors asset movements.

For instance, European Train Control Systems (ETCS) provide the ability for a more dynamic utilisation of rail infrastructure for train movements, however it needs to be connected to how other supporting infrastructure is performing to operate the network as a system and optimise i.e. space between trains and energy usage.

Likewise, Digital Meters for power and water utilities enabled by IoT, provide a more real-time feel to customer demand, however it needs additional analytics to make sense of the tidal wave of data so that correlations can be drawn for further insight.

Digitally enabled asset maintenance is set to leverage a multitude of analytical techniques that provide insight into how assets are performing and how to predict when potential failures may occur.

For instance, understanding failure modes and being able to infer these using digital techniques can provide the forecast needed to make timely interventions and reduce the chance of service outage.

Digitally enabled asset renewals can be forecast based on understanding the end-of-life of an asset and having an integrated way of estimating if that asset should be renewed to maintain a service level, should be re-designed to remove potential operational issues, or changed to optimise either an increase or decrease in demand.

By having asset intervention analysis joined up, we can better budget and sequence works to optimise how works are packaged and therefore reduce the impact to customers.

Digitally enabled asset decommissioning can also be achieved through the creation of a digital twin to simulate how the asset can be taken out of service for reuse and recycling.

This approach can also be implemented in the early design phases of an asset to leverage a digitally enabled circular economy where it is possible to track embodied carbon, materials, hazards and other sustainability metrics.

Digitally enabled support

A digitally enabled asset workforce is needed to provide the right information to the right decision makers at the right time. This information needs to be presented on the right platform depending on the role of the resource.

A field-based workforce can also be empowered through technology wearables that can aid in workers safety and optimise scheduling and location of crews.

Digitally enabled asset data acquisition has had a sharp increase in activity through the use of IoT sensors, drones to capture 3D photogrammetry, the use of LiDAR and other satellite photography.

Also leveraging data capture through proxy information gathered by existing workforce or public crowdsourcing is an attractive option to rapidly build knowledge.

Digitally enabled asset risk and review provides a more dynamic way of assessing business risk, supply chain risk, and asset risk.

By having a joined-up method to measure key performance indicators and metrics, organisations are able to better manage risk exposure and trade-off between risk and cost where the cost of an intervention provides a net positive benefit compared to the risk of doing nothing.

Digitally enabled asset review and improvement provides senior stakeholders with the confidence that all parts of the operating model are working in unison and can help target focus areas of the organisation where they are needed most i.e. using lead indicators as metrics for automatic validation.

How to take charge, digitally

There is an incredible opportunity to realise significant latent value from your assets at every step of an organisations digital asset enabling journey, however the first step is to get started.

If you already have a clear digital strategy and vision on how to join and enhance your digital support areas of people, tools, technology etc. then undertaking an assessment of your organisations digital maturity and end-to-end workflows is a valuable next step, and is already helping asset owners to prioritise where an organisation can focus its limited energy.

Developing a roadmap does not need to be difficult, with a clear vision and focus on benefit realisation, building an organisational digital twin can be achievable and most importantly enjoyable.

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