Back in August I raised some concerns about the Federal Government’s enquiry into “The role of Smart ICT in the design and planning of Infrastructure”. I pointed out that the terms of reference had made no attempt to define what was meant by ‘Smart ICT’ and, more importantly, that there was some conflict between the apparent scope of the enquiry and specifics in the ToR.
The ToR said: “The role of smart information and communication technology (ICT) in the design and planning of infrastructure will be investigated in a new inquiry…” but then went on to say: “In particular the inquiry [should] identify innovative technology for the mapping, modelling, design and operation of infrastructure.” (my italics).
I concluded: “This is really two enquiries merged into one. Both are of great importance, but quite separate. Hopefully at some stage the distinction will be recognised before this enquiry runs its course and produces an outcome that leaves both these areas ill-served.”
Well, it seems that the House of Representatives’ Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities, which undertook the enquiry, realised the limitations of the terms of reference. Its report says the inquiry ended up being more comprehensive and time-consuming than originally anticipated. The more evidence that was received about the role of smart ICT in infrastructure, the more the Committee recognised the possibilities inherent in new technologies and systems.
Conceived as a limited investigation
“This inquiry was originally conceived as a limited investigation of new technologies relating to the development of infrastructure. The response from government and industry, however, has seen the inquiry grow into a broader examination of the development of smart infrastructure using new technologies and systems, and possible responses by government (my italics).”
That distinction seems a bit subtle to me. What’s the point of having a government enquiry into anything if its output does not at least canvass some government action as a result?
More importantly the distinction between finding smart ways to build infrastructure and smart ways to operate it — which overlaps with the idea of smart cities, something on which the Federal Government seems to have shown very little initiative — seems to have eluded the enquiry. The report says: “The total scope of smart ICT is broader than the focus of this report, which deals with the key ICT applications that are applied to designing and planning infrastructure.”(my emphasis again).
However the recommendations do embrace the smart operation of infrastructure. Recommendation 4 calls on the Australian Government to “appoint and resource the National Archives of Australia to oversee the development of a whole-of-government strategy for the collection, management, storage and security of data related to the design, planning, operation and management of infrastructure.” (my emphasis).
Call for smart infrastructure task force
Recommendation 6 calls on the Government to “lead the formation of a suitably qualified and resourced Smart Infrastructure Task Force, led by Infrastructure Australia, … to provide for the coordination and implementation of smart ICT in the design, planning and development of infrastructure, and in the maintenance and optimisation of existing infrastructure.”
Recommendation eight says: the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development should adopt a practice of examining “whether the use of Smart ICT, in optimising the operation and maintenance of existing built infrastructure assets, can provide a more cost-effective solution than their physical replacement or upgrade.
The report said that Smart ICT “if used effectively, have the capacity to transform the design, construction and management of infrastructure assets; the management and use of existing assets; and the operation of transport, communications, energy and utility systems. These technologies are transformational, with the capacity to increase the productivity of the Australian economy.”
It then said that the core of the report was that: “Governments and industry must be aware of the potential of smart ICT, and must invest in the technologies, skills and systems to make the transformation a reality.”
All well and good, but failing to really make distinctions between how smart ICT can help in the design and construction and in the management and operation of infrastructure – which are quite different issues – I don’t believe the report really achieves its objectives.