Unlocking smarter infrastructure

Smart infrastructure promises so much potential, but for many businesses delivering ‘smart’ remains far from clear. Paul Wilson, Director of Digital Project Delivery EMEA at AECOM delivers his perspective on how organisations can get set for smart and unlock its transformational potential.


The application of big data analytics to drive increased efficiency and automation in managing buildings and infrastructure is the eventual big win, however this requires taking a step back to see how technology can be applied cost effectively now to deliver this smart infrastructure in the future.

Ambitions to roll out smart infrastructure across the island of Ireland are considerable. And with resource constraints widespread, the island stands to uniquely benefit from its adoption. The ‘All Ireland Smart Cities Forum’ underpins the extent to which the island is looking to propel its infrastructure into the 4th industrial revolution, unlocking additional capacity and fuelling regional prosperity. As a cross-border community, it is focused on the advancement of cities in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland through the deployment of, and value creation generated by smart programmes.

The ability to deliver against these aspirations will depend heavily on industry and government working together to fuel initiatives that deliver projects quicker, cheaper, and ultimately, more successfully.

How hard is it to be smart?

Delivering large scale infrastructure is traditionally slow, and performance is sub-optimal. Low productivity and outdated construction practices can delay much needed improvement. This is compounded by insufficient talent in the industry, material resource constraints and out-dated procurement practices that are inhibiting the application of digital solutions. In short, it is hard to invest in smart practices. However, we are starting to see a smarter industry appetite.

Across the island, infrastructure professionals recognise the benefits smart technologies can bring, with particular excitement surrounding increased efficiencies and improved project and risk management – almost half (46%) of the island’s construction practitioners see efficiency during design and build of projects as an immediate effect of the application of smart technologies.


of the island’s construction practitioners see efficiency during design and build of projects as an immediate effect of the application of smart technologies.

What do you foresee as being the most immediate benefits of smart technology within the sector you operate in?

This is a very positive industry shift. Teams at AECOM are focused on promoting digital delivery across all client projects, helping to drive the industry forwards. We have seen first-hand how digital delivery can transform the design process, hasten construction and improve performance through knowledge capture, interdisciplinary workflows and application of lessons learnt and automation to deliver smarter infrastructure faster.

The integration of smart technologies through AECOM’s digital delivery platform supports closer public and private sector workstreams, reducing planning and procurement times and improving communication, resulting in more cost-effective projects delivered on time. This is good news for all parties and the economy on the island of Ireland.


AECOM Digital Delivery Framework

1/ Foundational Layer

Governance and leadership, process, production, knowledge and skills required

2/ Transition stage

Roles and responsibilities, documented processes, key activities, standardisation, developing capacity and capability

3/ Managed approach

Day-to-day management, assets required, integrated systems, organisational expertise

Digital delivery – conversation to action framework

Digital transformation is ongoing, across the industry as a whole. At AECOM we are helping clients with their digital delivery journey, setting them up for success now and in the future as technological change continues apace. Ultimately, our aim is to highlight all aspects of digital delivery to our clients so they can make informed decisions about the technologies that will unlock the most benefit and deliver over the long-term.

To move conversation into action, we developed a staged process to assist clients in creating their bespoke version of what successful digital delivery looks like – driving efficiencies, innovations and performance through managing effective information management, workflows and organisational culture. Careful analysis of what is needed at the foundation level develops a digital delivery approach that works efficiently across the project and/or program without causing significant disruption. Technical as well as digital expertise ensures a truly integrated digital delivery approach that is relevant and appropriate for each client.

This model leads to three long-term interventions, which result in digital delivery being embedded into business-as-usual, leading to long-term improvements in efficiency, innovation and performance:

culture-01-1 1/  A Culture of change

efficent-01 2/  Efficient working practices

data_man-01-1 3/ Real time data management


With every client requiring a bespoke approach, understanding the knowledge of internal client teams and combining it with the digital expertise of the AECOM team is a complex process. A phased approach that considers the client’s working culture and practices from the beginning is imperative. With a combination of empathy, evidence and energy, we can focus on encouraging the use of new technologies by providing the structures and knowledge to do so. The benefits of this should be immediately evident to the client themselves, creating momentum to embrace smart technologies.

Data: risk and reward

BIM Level 2 and ISO requirements have been a positive push in terms of making the industry think more carefully about what innovation in the design process looks like and how it can be implemented practically into efficient working practices. By designing a digital delivery framework, clients can create dynamic, future-proof workflows and processes that do not frustrate development or delay production. It is a challenge to ensure that any asset meets the performance requirements of the future. With the framework in place, client teams can adjust to resource requirements, further innovations and external demands much more quickly, enhancing the performance of infrastructure assets considerably.

Real time data management is rapidly improving the industry’s ability to make more informed decisions far earlier in the design process as well as capture and transfer knowledge within a single project or even across multiple projects. As a result, errors are reduced, and learnings and adjustments can be implemented to maximum impact.

Strong data management can also offer real-time troubleshooting information to keep delivery running smoothly and provide feedback at the end of the process to fuel future developments. Data’s role in long-term client success is invaluable, and with a good framework, clients can operate and manage the data independently, enabling them to make future decisions autonomously with a clear view of the impact.

However, with a greater reliance on data comes an increased risk of a data breach. And this is not lost on the island’s industry professionals with the biggest risks outlined as cyber attacks (54%) and complying with data protection legislation (42%). Cybersecurity and safe data management is a vital priority during the design process, it is crucial that all aspects of data management, both short and long-term are founded in best practice and take into consideration all the unique aspects of each client

What are the risk factors associated with growing reliance on data?

Once again, the phased approach to digital delivery helps AECOM respond to these risks. By assessing cyber and data protection risk at a framework level, all potential avenues are assessed. It means building systems that silo and store information in a secure and compliant way from the start, so that these don’t become issues that need to be addressed further down the line. Moving from the macro-profile of the project risk down to the minutiae of particular workflows and processes, this phased approach supports best practice.

The framework comes first

So, whilst a phased framework is not the first area of development that springs to mind when considering digital delivery, it is perhaps the most important. From unlocking the skillsets of experienced client-side individuals to managing potential cybersecurity risks, a considered framework will provide a clear platform for industry stakeholders to begin their digital delivery journey in partnership with AECOM and others. Through building digital infrastructure that simultaneously embeds systems in the day-to-day process and upskills personnel on how to use those systems, it provides client organisations with the tools and knowledge to remain on the digital transformation journey that will be ongoing.

Get set, smart

When smart solutions start to overtake traditional methods, we will see significant change and disruption. With stretched labour resource across the region, those organisations who have upskilled their personnel to leverage the current and future advantages of digital solutions will reap the benefits.

Therefore, the challenge is for businesses to implement a digital delivery framework as soon as possible to promote a culture of positive change, spearheading innovation, building smart infrastructure and unlocking its tremendous potential for the island of Ireland.

Big data improving cycling infrastructure

It is vital to understand how cyclists currently use our cities roads and what their experiences of these facilities are, however information can be hard to find and of a poor quality; the advancement of technology has the potential to transform our understanding and improve our future cycle networks.

As part of the Smart Dublin Programme run by Dublin City Council, the Smart Cycling Challenge involved the data collection from 500 participants on their regular cycling trips using bicycle lights developed and supplied by Northern Irish company, See.Sense. The See.Sense bicycle lights uses unique sensor technology to monitor real-time information including:

  1. Cyclists’ routes and movement patterns
  2. Speed and dwell times
  3. Road surface quality
  4. Collisions or near-miss events
  5. Cyclist feedback

This provided information on 7000 journeys covering almost 34,000km in Dublin. The See.Sense and AECOM teams collaborated to use this data to develop a methodology for understanding the Quality of Service of existing cycle networks, with a particular focus on pavement quality, journey time delays and routing.

The conclusion of the study is that the vast data gathered by cyclists on their daily commute can generate useful information, in a cost effective way and produce a tool for planners to develop cycle networks, while also identifying maintenance priorities to improve safety.This information can be shared with city planners with the aim of building better infrastructure to improve public safety and make cycling more convenient, which in turn will help reduce congestion and lower city pollution.

Highways England

M6 Junction 21a to 26 Smart Motorway

Within civil engineering, the requirements and demands are pushing design processes beyond their traditional limits. Delivering better and more intelligent infrastructure projects has become paramount in today’s world. In order to adapt to these requirements quickly and efficiently means working smarter, not just harder.

In the north west of England, Highways England has plans underway to upgrade a 10-mile stretch of the M6 between junctions 21a and 26 to a smart motorway. In order to increase efficiency as part of this project we developed and implemented new processes and technology - parametric and automated design.

By using parametric design software, we have been able to reduce design and modelling costs by approximately 20%. This has been achieved by developing a set of standard templates and scripts to facilitate the foundation of a digital twin model.

These are available within a centralised project library, comprising Highways England digital component library (DCL) and project specific components. As a direct result of this process, we can see reductions in redesign and return greater quality to our client.

As the project moves towards construction, a high level of graphical detail is required to allow build activities to be undertaken from the model. Therefore, we are employing design automation techniques and embedding design rules, parameters and constraints, to provide greater accuracy and consistency within our designs, removing unnecessary and repetitive design processes. As a direct result, we have confirmed that producing higher level detailed models at earlier stages can provide enhanced levels of buildability and value engineering.

Having the freedom to develop and deploy greater levels of information into our digital model is building the foundation blocks of our linear infrastructure digital twin model. The information collected feeds directly into the 4D programming process and 5D costing model. Having linked the model to these programmes, AECOM has started to integrate the life cycle of an asset and create the foundation of a digital twin.

This dynamic connection can provide clients with visual insight into information once lost within countless reports. This process also standardises and aligns our team to the one common goal of digital information, which focuses efforts where needed and removes waste by automating processes.

With the use of parametric and automated design techniques and processes, the biggest time saver occurs within the change management control aspect of engineering design. By configuring and coding our programmes, we can handle design changes faster, with greater quality and higher accuracy, all aligned to the project criteria outlined with the project requirements.