Digital is something you ‘do’. Ian Gill

Infrastructure is currently undergoing transformation, a digital disruption which heralds great economic, social and environmental benefits – if we can steer it in the right direction. However, it’s worth exploring further what ‘digital’ really means, and how to make the most of it.

Digital (adj.) – A property used to describe discrete data, usually represented by 1s and 0s.

This is the sort of definition you will find in a dictionary. Is this the notion that is getting everyone excited in the industry? Digitisation, digitalisation, digital transformation, digital strategy, digital twins – they’re all in fashion right now, but we must mean something more than the definition above when we refer to the sweeping changes disrupting our industry.

So how should we define ‘digital’? And should we care? Is digital important and getting due attention, or has it been propelled into the stratosphere by hype? This is my take on the term – it focuses on information and people:

“Digital is about reimagining your business to leverage advances in technology. It recognises data and information as an asset and acknowledges the importance of connectivity – between data, systems and people.

Digital redefines and generates new forms of value. It requires a new mindset and new behaviours that engender trust, collaboration and innovation, leading to quicker, better, more informed decisions resulting in radically improved performance.”

Other takes on digital often also include reference to customer-centricity and outcome focus, but they should be in everything we do, not just digital. Those who have had the most success in their digital transformation show that ‘digital’ is not just a descriptor for hi-tech gadgets, but rather, it is something you do.

It is the first aspect of my definition above – reimagining your business through technology, that I personally find most exciting. Huge improvements in technology in recent years – both physical (3D printing, nano technology, robots), and non-physical (platforms and cloud computing), provide us with a nearly limitless ability to gather, analyse and manage data. Of course, digital is about much more than technology alone, but it has a significant and exciting part to play.

This begs the question – why do so many organisations still do things the way they did 15 years ago? Why haven’t standards, processes and procedures kept up with our technological capability? This relates to the people aspect – the mindset and behaviours needed to make the most of digital. Even relatively modern standards relating to BIM – such as BS1192 (ISO19650) – have evolved little since first coming onto the scene in 2007 and already feel dated. There is only so much you can refine a process until improvements are only marginal.

Digital gives us a way to challenge and reinvent processes, and digital twins may be one of the only ways we can deliver a step change in performance for UK infrastructure – building reliable systems on time and to budget and ultimately creating a better place to live. But only if people are willing to go on that journey.

Digital deserves all of the attention it’s currently getting, and some organisations are embracing digital transformation with open arms – which is great to see, creating information management frameworks for secure interoperability and pioneering digital platforms to operationalise business and get more value from our infrastructure assets.

If you believe what we in Smart Infrastructure believe – that people and information should be at the heart of all of this, then please get in touch to see how we can explore that journey together.

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