Costain, the specialist in smart infrastructure solutions, has worked with industry partners to develop a demonstrator for a new cloud-based digital platform called the Intelligent Infrastructure Control Centre (IICC).
It was developed by Costain along with key partner SAP and a consortium of industry leading enterprises, including Transport for London (TfL), East West Rail Company, HS2 and Network Rail. In partnership with the UK Government and others, and with funding delivered by UK Research and Innovation from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, they formed the ‘Transport Infrastructure Efficiency Strategy Living Lab’ (TIES Living Lab).
One of the first initiatives to come out of this partnership, the IICC can be used across all sectors and industries. It will harmonise the vast quantities of intelligence that UK infrastructure projects generate and drive greater productivity and resilience through the capture of efficiency and innovation. This will contribute to a radical culture change in how the industry designs and delivers projects and will offer a completely different way of managing operations that will save money and time.
Taking comprehensive operational data from an infrastructure project portfolio, the IICC then synthesises the information onto one platform. At a project level, this data is essential to effectively manage operations. At an enterprise level, it informs numerous processes including budgeting, talent acquisition and external reporting. For organisations with responsibility for national infrastructure across the UK, complete visibility of enterprise performance is a fundamental the IICC system can deliver.
Tim Embley, director of research, innovation and development at Costain, explained: “Many of our clients across all the sectors we work in, whether it be energy, defence, water or transportation, face challenges with having consistent and accurate data on critical factors such as commercial, carbon, safety, as well as complete cost transparency.
“But, of course, optimising the design, delivery and operation of infrastructure schemes requires access to the right data at the right time to help inform decision making and look for opportunities to increase the whole life value of any programme or asset, including things like social value which can sometimes remain hidden.
“Within the system, you can bring different data sets to life – what gets collated and tracked is decided collaboratively with the client. It brings full data transparency to empower the key decision makers. With its built-in analytics functionality, it can also literally predict the future.
“Where data isn’t easily available, it uses artificial intelligence to ‘deep mine’ the existing data to manufacture data. That means you can start to predict the outcomes and look at scenarios and decisions that are going to be made. This helps reduce the unknowns and significantly reduces risk, thereby cutting costs, increasing efficiency and giving greater delivery certainty.”
Neil Robertson, chief executive of the National Skills Academy for Rail (NSAR) and TIES Living Lab programme lead, stated: “It’s hard to build or maintain a piece of transport infrastructure. A lot can go wrong – and it frequently does – so improving the information available and turning them into insight as well as foresight is incredibly useful.
“One of the potentials of the IICC is that we see things before they take a turn in a certain direction and the anticipation of problems is a real gamechanger.”
Francesco De Toma, head of construction and real estate advisory at SAP, commented: “The IICC will provide organisations with a real-time view of what’s happening with their data, enabling them to make fast, effective and targeted decisions.
“Costain was looking for ways to bring added value to its customers. Thanks to the latest business technology platforms, they can implement new business models, enjoy faster time to innovate and scale applications quickly from project to enterprise level through a system-agnostic approach.”
Another issue, faced at both a company and industry level, is that of ‘innovation siloes’, where great ideas can become buried and are not shared. This represents a huge loss of potential value.
Using the IICC, innovations can be identified and transferred on a live basis. For example, there could be an innovation on the A14, where the use of 3D machine control has achieved 30% savings on the earthworks. Network Rail might be looking for some efficiency savings on a big new railway project, something like HS2, and could achieve 30% efficiency savings through the earthworks with the same innovation.
Tim Embley added: “The data collated into the TIES Living Lab’s IICC will make it easier for organisations to understand and shape the business case for investing in and adopting that innovation elsewhere.
“It can be transferred more seamlessly from one supply chain or sector to another, helping to drive those savings at scale a lot more quickly than ever before. This means more success for owners and operators of infrastructure and, ultimately, better results for our communities who need the critical infrastructure.”
Nathan Marsh, Costain’s chief digital officer, believes rapid industry transformation is now on the cards: “The IICC brings together our deep-domain experience and technology-integration expertise with the unbelievable firepower in the sort of things that infrastructure needs, like data visualisation, predictive analytics, machine learning, coding and customer intimacy from partners like SAP. They are working in other industries so not only bring a fresh perspective and challenge ways of doing things, they bring insights from those industries so we can benefit from lessons learned and innovate faster.
“What we’ll see in the infrastructure sector, as this technology becomes embedded, is very rapid transformation: better data ensuring better, faster and greener delivery of infrastructure that will improve productivity and build resilience across the sector.”
To learn more about the new IICC platform, listen to the Engineering Matters podcast ‘Weaving a new data fabric for Infrastructure‘.