Information & operational technology convergence: it’s a no-brainer

Graeme Wright
By , - InnovationBuilt Environment

The pace of change in infrastructure, construction, engineering and utilities can be slow.  Yet the future of these industries depends on delivering real innovation.  How could the process become faster?

I was taken by this quote from the Institution of Civil Engineering, the membership body for some of the UK’s most talented engineers.

“We recognise that innovation in construction has traditionally happened very slowly, but by improving our members’ knowledge and core skills, [we] can catalyse transformation.”
 – Institution of Civil Engineering

It sums up both the previous resistance to change and an understanding that innovation is a must in order to move things forward. Or “catalyse transformation” to borrow a phrase.

In that spirit of catalysing change, let’s consider five technology-led market trends that are emerging right now in the construction industry, the broader built environment sector and the utilities sector.

Let’s start with perhaps the most significant:

Information Technology / Operational Technology Convergence 

Information technology and operational technology have, until recently, operated on parallel tracks within most organisations. IT, predominantly back office and typically software-based, tends to focus on transaction processing, support functions and business intelligence, while OT, often in the field and device focused, offers asset control and device-to-device communications. Now thanks to the increasing sophistication of Internet of Things (IoT), smart grids and other device-oriented networks – coupled with standardised IT architectures, application integration and pervasive mobile access – the two are operating in tandem. This in turn promises improved asset management, faster problem detection, greater organisational efficiency and increased system reliability.

Smart Meter Rollout

By the end of 2020, a smart meter will have been installed in most homes – some 26 million – and small businesses across England, Scotland and Wales. It forms the major parts of efforts to bring the energy system up to date, allowing customers to track consumption and costs. As such it is the UK’s biggest infrastructure project in a generation. And at a cost of £10.9bn, the programme effectively represents the UK government’s biggest investment in IoT technologies.

The rise of BIM

As a concept BIM (Building Information Modelling) has existed for several decades but it only gained traction in the early- to mid-2000s as a digital means of representing the characteristics of a building or other facility. An example of using technology to share knowledge across the lifetime of a building (from conception to demolition), BIM shows what connected technology can bring to the built sector [PDF]. Now the IoT sensors means real-time Building Information Modelling, or BIM Level 3.

The emergence of the smart building

According to a government paper into the impact of the IoT, “sensors are increasingly being installed in buildings to gather data about movement, heat, light and use of space. This information could allow Building Management Systems (BMS) to make near real-time alterations to a building’s environment. Sensor data may also be analysed as part of designing subsequent buildings and systems.” The Royal Academy of Engineering believes “advances in data gathering and analysis are opening up new possibilities for smart building technology.”[6] Smart buildings have arrived. And for decision makers that means access to the right information at the right time to complete projects more quickly and efficiently.

Adoption of Sharing Economy models

Those familiar with Uber and Airbnb will have come across the sharing economy – or collaborative consumption, as it is sometimes known – already. Taking inspiration from these ride sharing and accommodation services, the built environment sector could soon embrace this model. For example, perhaps there’s a way of sharing the cost of heavy construction equipment that often sits idle.

Here then are five technology-led changes that are happening now. Yes, the Institution of Civil Engineering is probably right to conclude that innovation in construction has been traditionally a slow affair. But with the coming together of all these trends, now is the time to demonstrate some innovative intent – and to “catalyse transformation.”

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