Industry leaders came together virtually in October for the Critical Infrastructure: Digitisation Series – two free-to-attend Virtual Conferences on 5 and 7 October exploring how digital technologies are impacting infrastructure. Here are the highlights from the conference.

The Critical Infrastructure: Digitisation Series was the latest event to be held under the highly successful Critical Infrastructure Summit umbrella, and took a deep dive into two sides of digital transformation: the digital technologies that art being employed in the design and construction of infrastructure; and the infrastructure being built to enable Australia’s digital transformation.

Created and run by Monkey Media – the publishers of Infrastructure, Utility, Energy, Council and Pump Industry magazines – the event saw more than 650 infrastructure professionals registered over the two days.

The conferences included:

♦ Digital Infrastructure: Implementing digital in physical assets – 5 October

♦ Cloud Infrastructure: The systems behind the new virtual economy – 7 October

With speakers from the Federal Government, NT Infrastructure Commission, NSW Government, Office of Projects Victoria, UNSW Canberra, PwC, Digital Twinning Australia, Cross River Rail, Australasian BIM Advisory Board, IoT Alliance Australia, Infrastructure Australia, Queensland AI Hub, and nbn Co – there were in-depth discussions across both conferences.

These conferences wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the sponsors – Series Partner Everbridge, Session Partner Snowflake, and Sponsor Hexagon. The Snowflake Data Cloud is being used across the utilities sector to quickly and easily digitalise both business and operational technologies.

By collapsing data silos into Snowflake’s data platform, utility businesses are able to quickly and easily enable high-value outcomes, from live condition monitoring and bushfire mitigation, to customer analysis and risk-based maintenance planning.

Because Snowflake is built for ease of use, speed of development, and hands-off maintenance, Snowflake’s customers report dramatic reductions in time to value and total cost of their data projects, and we appreciate their insights and input into the event.

Implementing digital in physical assets

Conference 1 explored how technology can help deliver a more profitable, resilient infrastructure industry and a better built environment.

It looked at how tools and technology like BIM, big data, and analytics are changing how infrastructure is planned, designed, built and managed.

Wayne Patterson, Director of Spatial Operations, Spatial Services, NSW Department of Customer Service, kicked off the event with his keynote presentation on the NSW Spatial Digital Twin. Wayne has led the team that developed the ground-breaking NSW Spatial Digital Twin, a 4D (3D+time) Foundation Spatial Data Framework.

The NSW Spatial Digital Twin is helping the NSW Government with infrastructure asset planning and management, integration with land use planning, data collaboration, and sharing. Wayne also gave delegates a live demonstration of the digital twin, showcasing what it is capable of and how it can be used to best advantage.

It was a fantastic session, combining a look at what the wider industry is doing, with the advancements happening in NSW and a first-hand demonstration of the digital twin in action.

Our second speaker was Sue Keay, CEO of the Queensland AI Hub. Sue was formerly a Research Director for CyberPhysical Systems at CSIRO’s Data61, and the Chief Operating Officer for the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision.

She delivered a fascinating presentation outlining how robotics and automation are being implemented in the critical infrastructure sector, and the opportunities available. We then had an industry panel looking at digital asset strategies around Australia, featuring three infrastructure leaders.

The panelists were: Luke Belfield, Acting Victorian Chief Engineer, Office of Projects Victoria; Louise McCormick, Interim Infrastructure Commissioner of the Northern Territory, NT Infrastructure Commission; and Andrew Curthoys, Digital Relationship Manager, Information Management & Technology, Cross River Rail, and Chair, Australasian BIM Advisory Board.

In his role at the Office of Projects Victoria, Luke shared his insights into the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy and how this has supported the state’s huge pipeline of transport mega-projects.

Louise explored how the NT is implementing digital technologies through the Digital Territory Strategy. While Andrew discussed both the approach to BIM that the Australian BIM Strategic Framework recommends to government to ensure consistency, as well as his role at Cross River Rail and how the project has been implementing technologies in its construction.

It was a great discussion that covered where Australia’s critical infrastructure sits when it comes to digitisation, the biggest challenges to the implementation of digital technologies, and where are the biggest opportunities that perhaps aren’t being focused on enough.

This was in addition to questions sent through by delegates, who were able to participate in the panel and ask their burning digital questions to the three speakers.

Then, Genéne Kleppe, Chief Executive Officer, Digital Twinning Australia, closed the day with a frank look at how asset owners should actually be digitising their physical assets.

Genéne said whether your innovation is seeking sustainability or disruption, digitising critical infrastructure requires getting out of the weeds. Digitising value propositions exist, with roadmaps abound and the simplicity of what you need to do will surprise you.

The systems behind the new virtual economy

While the first event was all about implementing digital technologies in physical assets, the second day of the Digitisation Series focused more on the digital infrastructure that has become indispensable to the functioning of society.

This session looked at topics including 5G and the digital economy, data privacy and cyber security, the digital divide between regional and metropolitan Australia, and a look at the NBN rollout.

We were lucky enough to start the conference with a recorded presentation from the Hon. Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Federal Government.

Minister Fletcher discussed 5G, connectivity and the digital economy and gave several great examples of projects and initiatives already underway across the infrastructure industry that demonstrate 5G capabilities, including autonomous vehicles.

Dr. Ian Oppermann, Chief Data Scientist, NSW Government, then delivered an in-depth presentation on the future of the infrastructure sector and the opportunities in digital.

He touched on data sharing and the next generation of digital infrastructure. We covered Ian’s presentation in more detail in the article on page 40. Day two also included an industry panel session, this time looking at an important topic when it comes to digital and cloud infrastructure: cyber security.

Panellists included:

♦ Robert Di Pietro – Partner, National Lead for Critical Infrastructure & Operational Technology, PwC Australia Cyber Security

♦ Elena Sitnikova – Critical Infrastructure Protection, Research Leader, UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA)

♦ Frank Zeichner – CEO, IoT Alliance Australia

These three speakers have a wealth of cyber and critical infrastructure experience between them which made this a must-watch panel for anyone working in infrastructure. We have also deep dived into the key takeaways from this panel in an article on page 46.

Peter Colacino, Chief of Policy and Research at Infrastructure Australia, then joined us to talk about the digital divide between regional and metropolitan Australia, and the opportunities there are to increase digital access around the country.

While discussions on digital infrastructure can sometimes focus on the technical systems, we can’t have a discussion about the next phase of digital infrastructure when parts of the country still don’t have equal access to these services.

Peter has led the delivery of the landmark 2019 Australian Infrastructure Audit, and the recently released 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan and Infrastructure Market Capacity Report, so he was able to explore this topic within the context of the current challenges and opportunities in the sector.

Closing out the conference was John Parkin, Chief Engineering Officer at nbn Co, who gave a fantastic update into the NBN rollout and what’s next.

Missed the Critical Infrastructure: Digitisation Series Event? You can still watch the panel session, or any of the other presentations on demand. Register for free at www.critical-infrastructure.com.au/watch-digitisation-on-demand/.

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