Digital By Default: a new approach to infrastructure planning

Friday, 23 June, 2023

Digital By Default: a new approach to infrastructure planning

Consult Australia has aimed to address industry fragmentation, innovation inertia, sluggish productivity and the profitless boom via a new roadmap for digital transformation in infrastructure.

Titled “Digital By Default”, the paper outlines how Australia’s governments can take the lead to increase productivity and produce better outcomes from infrastructure investment. The roadmap to reform starts with the establishment of a national Office for Digital by Default in Infrastructure.

Jonathan Cartledge, Consult Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, said despite clear arguments for digital transformation, billions of dollars of infrastructure projects around Australia are still being delivered with paper plans and PDFs.

“Businesses in the infrastructure sector are waiting for governments to set standards for digital working. Governments are waiting for market forces to determine the pathway forward. What we need is a national body that coordinates efforts and champions digital by default on every infrastructure project,” Cartledge said.

Consult Australia’s green paper follows recommendations from the 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan, which recommended a digital approach to infrastructure planning, delivery and operations.

Cartledge said being slow off the digital mark could have consequences, such as decades of sluggish productivity and lost data insights.

The construction industry’s poor productivity costs the nation $47 billion a year, according to the Australian Constructors Association.

Consult Australia’s report notes that “pockets” of world-leading digital practice remain siloed and innovative ideas are not replicated across projects or states. It also found that Australia trails many other developed nations for digital capacity and readiness.

According to Cartledge, government, as regulators, owners, funders and benefactors of public infrastructure, can play a lead role in the transition towards digital by default. Given the scale of public expenditure on infrastructure, a national coordinating office is the solution.

“The Australian Government maintains a commitment to a $120 billion 10-year rolling infrastructure pipeline. It makes sense to invest just a fraction of this on a national office to coordinate digital by default,” Cartledge said.

The office would establish a forum for digital champions to share information and set national standards.

“We cannot have eight different standards for digital in infrastructure — that’s just revisiting the rail gauge problem that plagued the nation for 150 years. Instead, we can use our federation as a source of competitive strength,” Cartledge said.

The report marks the start of a period of engagement with the industry. Roundtables around the country will confirm the consensus view and set the direction for national leadership, before Consult Australia launches a white paper with the final plan by the end of 2023.

The green paper process gives the company a platform to share best practice, enabling greater collaboration.

“To invest in our national capability we need standards, policy, coordination and leadership — and an Office for Digital by Default in Infrastructure can deliver all these things,” Cartledge said.

“Digital by default can help us boost productivity, accelerate innovation and catalyse a range of co-benefits like net zero emissions reduction. Most of all, harnessing digital technology will help us build a better future for people.”

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