Executive summary

  • The message is clear - disrupt or be disrupted

    Nick Roberts
    Chief Executive Officer UK & Europe, Atkins

We live in an increasingly digital world. Rapid advances in technology are disrupting established ways of doing business. Problems that were once solved by simply building something new are increasingly being tackled digitally or by applying technology to existing physical assets.

As a world leader in infrastructure projects, Atkins has been at the forefront of integrating digital technology into physical assets. Using our experiences and seeking the insight and opinion of leading infrastructure figures through telephone interviews, we have created this report to explore the opportunities and challenges created by the digital revolution.

Our research results highlighted that industry leaders are resoundingly optimistic about the opportunities presented by the convergence of the physical and digital worlds.

Digital Reality explores this optimism, using observations from the research to consider how digital advancement in the workplace is changing business operations. Innovations introduce disruption, and businesses therefore need to evolve to capitalise upon this new technology and its promised efficiencies. They also need to develop a greater understanding of the status of their assets and adopt new business models to meet rapidly changing market demands. Implementing cultural and behavioural change will be key to convincing staff to embrace more agile working habits.

The report looks at how the pace of change can be bewilderingly fast, as the bond between humans and machines grows closer. Organisations need to consider not only how new technologies integrate with existing infrastructure, but also how people interact with them. Automation, digital twins and additive manufacturing all offer a range of efficiencies and advantages. However, thought needs to be given to the software and hardware required to support these disruptive innovations, such as the huge servers or Wi-Fi connectivity needed to run hundreds and thousands of connected and autonomous vehicles.

Big data and analytics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things are identified as the top three digital disruptors, while the top technologies currently in use by infrastructure organisations include 3D printing, autonomous vehicles, drones/ UAVs, artificial intelligence and robotics. While investment is being made available to embrace these new technologies, 60% of our industry figures revealed that it will take them over two years to become digitally enabled.

We also examine the difficulties companies are facing to keep up, particularly in ensuring that their staff have the right skills. Organisations must review their staffing strategies and look at which skillsets, systems and attitudes are required, the cultural changes that must be adopted, and whether they need more or fewer people. In the face of a widening skills gap, businesses must consider whether to recruit new staff, or cross-skill existing employees.

Big data represents both an opportunity and a challenge. While more and more data is generated by a growing number of devices and assets with in-built sensors, many businesses still do not know what to do with it, or how to extract value from it. Infrastructure organisations that do so are able to make more informed, strategic decisions. They possess a real-time awareness of the status of their assets, can predict how those assets will behave, and know how and when to repair them. In fact, Digital Asset Management of any critical infrastructure can lead to savings of up to 30% in maintenance and operation costs.

But it is key that an organisation’s assets are as secure as they are efficient. Infrastructure organisations face unique challenges when it comes to the introduction of digital innovations, thanks to the prevalence of legacy assets that often have a lifespan of decades. Much of this infrastructure is also safety-critical and it is paramount that it remains resilient to new vulnerabilities created by the increased interconnectivity of systems. This is particularly relevant given the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation, the Network and Information Systems Directive, and other pieces of legislation around the world forcing organisations to comply or face fines for failing to secure customers’ personal data or protect critical national infrastructure systems from cyber attack or digital disruption. Wherever possible, it is key to include security in the design, but that security must also continue to evolve to meet a rapidly changing threat.

The report concludes that by looking at business transformation, the pace of technological change, people and skills, the intelligent use of big data, and resilience and security, organisations will be well placed to embrace the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and successfully grow alongside it.

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