PART 3. Building the resilient future


2 minute read

It is easy to get excited about the future. We all like to imagine a world of autonomous cars, digital railways that anticipate and help improve reliability, and Hyperloop links to usher in a whole new way of traveling.

Yet autonomous cars need roads to drive on, and digital rail systems and Hyperloop links have to interact seamlessly with legacy transport networks. When our survey respondents were asked about the infrastructure trends that will define the sector over the next five years, such non-traditional and disruptive projects ranked close behind the more predictable “hygiene” projects relating to essential services.

Infrastructure owners — as well as those entrusted with delivering projects — must find ways to keep pace with technological change. This will require clear, long-term thinking from both central and local government. Private-sector providers will also need to be incentivized to help find solutions for a growing array of complex problems.

We need to upgrade existing networks and systems as well as create new ones; embrace innovation in the ways we work and the infrastructure we rely on; and ensure that the infrastructure we create is resilient and future proofed to help withstand the shocks and stresses to come.

Figure 10/

Respondents who see these as major infrastructure trends in the coming five years

A global perspective

Infrastructure resilience

Views drawn from around the globe show different states of readiness for technological change and dealing with cyberterrorism

Technology: disruptive to all

Tackling technological change is a common concern for industry professionals worldwide.

In both APAC and Europe, 66 percent of respondents feel that their countries’ major cities are under-prepared for the impact of technological change on civil infrastructure. Some 65 percent of North American professionals share that concern.

Some are better prepared than others

North American infrastructure professionals feel better prepared than their international counterparts to manage a growing cyberthreat.

Two-thirds (66%) of U.S. and Canadian survey respondents believe the industry is well placed to meet the threat of cyberterrorism, compared with 54 percent of APAC participants and 35 percent of those based in Europe.

For insight on infrastructure resilience, see Infrastructure Resilience: In a Shifting World

Cyber: A countdown to catastrophe?

In today’s digital world, protection against cyberattack is one of the most critical aspects of resilience. When asked about the likelihood of certain events occurring in the next five years, respondents give a sobering assessment. About one in three believes that catastrophic events — a major ransomware attack or city-wide transport disruption — are almost certain in the near future.

Figure 11/

How respondents rate the likelihood of several major cyber events taking place in the next five years

The fact that many industry professionals don’t feel equipped to deal with this growing menace is troubling. Three-quarters of respondents are highly pessimistic about their peers’ ability to anticipate a full-scale cyber event, and little more than half feel prepared to manage the cyberthreat overall.

Infrastructure must be modernized, and the industry must become better informed about ensuring resilience and arming itself with relevant future-proofed skills.

Lack of preparedness may put some systems at particular risk. Cyberterrorist groups are playing on the fact that some of our systems are dated and, therefore, not as secure as some of the more modern systems. Obviously, the solution involves not presenting ourselves as an attractive target.

Peter Rogoff, Chief Executive Officer Sound Transit
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Essential innovation

Infrastructure professionals are aware of the unique economic and social sustainability role facing the industry over the coming decade. But new ideas and approaches are needed for industry players to prepare for what is to come.

There are signs that governments are waking up to innovation. The U.K.’s Digital Built Britain,1 a program launched in 2015, encourages widespread adoption of new technologies and industry approaches — above all, the use of building information modeling (BIM), the internet of things (IoT) and advanced data analytics.2

Another U.K. government initiative, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), was formed to explore how breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) can increase productivity across the infrastructure network. The goal is to develop solutions for asset management, water efficiency, traffic management and the use of big data.3

The academic sector may also have a key role to play in advancing new solutions. Founded in 2002, the Centre for Innovation in Construction & Infrastructure Development (CICID) at The University of Hong Kong is helping to identify and disseminate strategies and methodologies from infrastructure innovation. The CICID also supports interdisciplinary research and has established a knowledge base of major infrastructure projects.4

Integrating new technologies can have a secondary benefit: attracting new talent. It can help solve the sector’s image problem and create a virtuous circle — an influx of new technical skills attracts younger generations who, in turn, increase the tech skills and freshen up the image even further.

Ideas from business

Of the more than 500 industry professionals surveyed, the vast majority share a clear appetite for deeper engagement with the private sector — particularly when it comes to technology and innovation, but also sustainability and resilience more broadly.

Nearly one-quarter of respondents believe that creating incentives for private-sector innovation will make the greatest difference in driving new technology solutions within civil infrastructure. A substantial proportion think it will be key to meeting future sustainability challenges.

In [UK] cities like Birmingham and Reading, better transport systems have been the catalyst for wider urban redevelopment and economic growth. Yet society still thinks of railway projects as transport projects rather than economic projects. The wider benefits of having strong transportation links, on housing, on business, on jobs, rarely gets mentioned.

Mark Carne, Chief ExecutiveNetwork Rail
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Figure 12/

Proportions of respondents that say these initiatives would make the greatest difference to key areas of organizational behavior


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