by Holly Tancredi, Journalist, Infrastructure magazine

Digital technologies are having a significant impact on the way Australia manages its critical infrastructure. As a tool, digital is allowing vast amounts of data to be collected and analysed, resulting in better asset decisions. Here are some of the key discussion points from the ‘Making the most out of data in asset management’ panel at this year’s Critical Infrastructure Summit.

This year’s Critical Infrastructure Summit featured the panel, ‘Making the most out of data in asset management’ at its Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure conference.

The panel was led by Copperleaf’s Boudewijn Neijens, and panellists included Tim Mumford, Principal – Digital and Innovation at Beca; Julian Watts, Director, Engineering and Asset Management at KPMG Australia; and Mark Simister, Head of Program Delivery at Sydney Water.

The panel explored how to best leverage data and new digital assets, as customer demand grows and COVID-19 restrictions lessen, as well as challenges around legacy systems, processes and integration of new asset management technologies.

Sydney water digital spine and infrastructure framework

Mr Simister said that over the last few years, Sydney Water has had a very successful infrastructure program, but the utility recognises customer demand is increasing. “You have to reimagine how your infrastructure framework is established and set up. A key component of that is incorporating a digital spine and a digital enablement,” Mr Simister said.

Sydney Water introduced a new infrastructure delivery framework called Partnering for Success (P4S) in 2020 to do more with less and to be able to become more productive and efficient in how Sydney Water delivers to its customers. He said the success of asset management comes from the inbuilt maturity matrix in the P4S framework.

The matrix designs the exact steps and stages both Sydney Water and its partner organisations need to take over a ten year period, under eight core metrics. A digital framework that lays out expectations and key steps allows the utility to make decisions towards clear, specific objectives.

The digital spine supports the myriad of decisions and steps towards growth, and Sydney Water was able to utilise legacy and demonstration as two key metrics to deliver more for less with the same resources.

“The digital spine is becoming something that’s critical to be able to rapidly progress our projects through the planning, design and construction phase and into maintenance,” Mr Simister said.

“We really are pushing at the forefront of being able to make sure that you are encompassing everything from a BIM approach to delivery of infrastructure, right from the get go. “We have projects that were up to, a couple of years ago, taking probably two and a half years from dream to reality and finish.

Now some of those we’ve got down to less than 12 months. So, time is money and we’re demonstrating how much faster we can go through and deliver, but with the same, or even better results in terms of outcome.”

The right leadership and vision

The future of data in asset management is not only about operational pressure and customer demands, it is also reliant on having the right team and leadership to succeed. The panellists discussed how, for some organisations, the data they have access to is being underutilised, and requires a change in processes moving forward which needs to be embraced throughout the organisation.

In regards to what makes the ‘right team’, the panel said having a blend of experts who have been analysing data for years, as well as newer minds that can challenge how data can be interpreted and turned into a valuable asset, is key.

Mr Simister said there needs to be a balance between making the most out of expert knowledge and experience in an organisation, while opening the door for new minds who will push boundaries. “There’s a real bright future ahead and loads of opportunity, but we’ve got to make sure that we’re taking everybody on that journey,” Mr Simister said.

Mr Simister said that is what Sydney Water tries to do – curate integrated teams. He said asset managers are already embracing data and systems, which is second nature, but added that humanity, which allows us to connect, lead, and engage, should not be forgotten.

“It’s very good to be able to critically review data becausea lot of engineers use maths. The calculations that are in the background, that’s the rules that are there and they just apply the rules. Sometimes the innovation and the ability to think at a different angle can be lost.”

Mr Mumford described finding the right team as difficult. You need enough understanding of technical matters, a level of domain knowledge, and a healthy dose of industry experience. Most importantly, people need to understand the problem or challenge the client or user is facing.

This requires a healthy dose of enquiry, conflict resolution and strong, effective communication, alongside a degree of ownership when problems arise.“These people are unicorns,” Mr Mumford said.

“We need to think about integrated learning for engineers and for this community broadly. “Collaboration, working across organisations, bringing the right skills to the table is going to be really key.” Mr Mumford said a problem in the industry is sometimes asset managers wait for corporation owners to drive data and digital innovation.

“I would say the digital asset management space is often perceived by very senior leaders as someone else’s accountability or someone else’s responsibility,” Mr Mumford said. “It’s everyone’s responsibility and everyone has an accountability to work more efficiently through tools like digital.” Mr Mumford concluded by posing a statement for a potential future environment.

“Imagine a world where we hold each other responsible for data quality. Imagine a world where innovation became everyone’s responsibility; where we were all empowered to innovate.”

Register for free to watch the Critical Infrastructure Summit’s ‘Making the most out of data in asset management’ panel by visiting www.critical-infrastructure.com.au.

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