5 ways to augment ‘smart’ infrastructure investments with analytics

Many countries have bold post-COVID rebuilding efforts already in motion backed by funding priorities that could be transformational, along the lines of the reordering that took place after the 2008 financial crisis. In the US, for example, the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was signed into law
in November 2021, and more are being considered. Roads and bridges, the power grid, broadband, cybersecurity, airports – all of these infrastructure elements and more will be changed forever by this combination of funding and focus.

The shape of this transformation will largely depend on municipal and central government leaders – the people who will decide where to invest these trillions of dollars. But as with any windfall, there are many reasons to take extra care and caution. For example, simply increasing investments in the same projects and processes will squander opportunities at a historic scale. Government leaders must seize this rare opportunity to change the direction of their infrastructure investments, to enable the digital transformation of cities and towns for generations.

Government leaders can amplify the value of their infrastructure with infrastructure analytics

Analytics capabilities can play an outsized role in post-pandemic infrastructure transformation. Governments that have already adopted analytics capabilities should plan on expanding the scope of those initiatives in coming years as the scale of their infrastructure-focused efforts expands. However, many of the industries involved are not “analytics-native.” For example, highway engineering firms may miss important opportunities to add an analytics layer to their projects – IoT-enabled sensors, advanced traffic management analytics and more – simply because they have not done so in the past.

In these situations, the job of advocating for analytics capabilities falls to government leaders. How can government leaders deliver transformative, data-driven insights across large and small infrastructure projects?

Following are five practical ways that municipal, state, and federal leaders should incorporate advanced analytics in current and upcoming infrastructure projects. That means analytics should be built into infrastructure strategies, budgets and bills today. Now is the time to act.

1. Extend the life of infrastructure investments

After the initial transformational infrastructure investments, how prepared are public entities to sustain that transformation successfully in the years that follow? Because as soon as new infrastructure assets are deployed, they begin to degrade. That’s when local, state and federal governments must shift their focus to monitoring and managing these assets to safely extend their lives for as long as possible. Analytics can provide government operators with a steady stream of updated insights on the conditions of both mobile assets (such as fleets and vehicles) and fixed assets (like bridges and highways) to extend the productive life of the investment. For example, a large truck fleet operator used advanced analytics to monitor truck performance issues in real time, reducing time to diagnose issues by 70% and repair time by 25%. Building maintenance and management organizations also deploy real-time sensors to detect operational and infrastructure degradations. In scenarios like these, organizations can achieve energy and fuel efficiency savings, as well as savings in planned and unplanned maintenance, to significantly extend the operational life of these infrastructure elements.

2. Analytics to prioritize projects

At every level, public infrastructure is bursting at the seams with potential improvement and transformation needs that could be pursued immediately. Which demand attention first? Where should government leaders direct their attention (and budgets) first to have the greatest impact? Analytics can and should play a central role in better understanding infrastructure needs and prioritizing accordingly. For example, a number of states are already using analytics tools to determine which road and bridge sections present the greatest threats to public safety and should be repaired or replaced first. These tools use a combination of historical inspection data and maintenance reports, and more recent observations and measurements, to create a better view of current and future risks and inform repair and replacement strategies.

3. Intelligent infrastructure to improve citizen services

Infrastructure transformation is ultimately judged on how well it improves services to citizens. In the business world, advanced analytics tools are used to improve the efficiency of asset deployments every day, and when government leaders build a layer of analytics into their infrastructure projects they can do the same. For example, a large metropolitan school district with more than 200 schools used 600 school buses to transport 29,000 students every day – a massive deployment of resources. Using analytics-derived insights, the school district was able to reduce the number of bus stops by 27% while also reducing the distance students needed to walk to a bus stop. Not only could students and their caregivers see the difference, but the district was also able to use the savings from this more efficient approach to bolster services elsewhere. Government leaders are always being called to do more with less. With the help of analytics insights, they can.

4. Cross-agency coordination to save lives

What if infrastructure assets had the power to proactively improve safety for citizens? Doing so requires new ways of thinking about the role of infrastructure in society, and how it is used. It also requires “intelligent” assets with the ability to report out to human decision makers in government. That’s where analytics capabilities come in. In a recent example, a US state used advanced analytics to predict up to six hours in advance when and where hazardous driving road conditions can occur (such as reduced visibility, icy roads, etc.). This solution required cross-agency collaboration, aggregating and interpreting data from multiple data sources such as weather and climate data systems (commercial, FAA and regional data providers), road system sensors (fixed road cameras, velocity sensors) and vehicular fleet cameras (maintenance trucks, snowplows, public safety cameras), etc. While this level of data coordination is atypical, it is an example of an unconventional yet life-saving solution.

5. Support adjacent government initiatives and goals

Infrastructure influences everything. Thus, investments in digital technologies and AI to support infrastructure can also support related priorities. This requires thoughtful planning and cross -agency strategies that link priorities and foster data sharing. This again reinforces the importance of smart leaders with broad vision.
An example would be infrastructure to monitor environmental indicators (such as air quality). This can provide a steady stream of critical insights to inform environmental and climate change initiatives – an increasingly important role as governments around the world are acknowledging the responsibility to minimize harm to the environment.

A singular opportunity

Analytics investments like those mentioned in this article can only become a reality when forwardthinking government leaders advocate for them to be funded, supported and implemented. Today, that will require education – helping decision makers understand the value that data can contribute, not only to the aims of infrastructure initiatives but to broader economic and societal goals. From there, analytics goals must be translated into line items in budgets.

Fortunately, analytics capabilities are mature and proven, both within government and in the private sector. It’s easier than ever to make the case for analytics, drawing from a wide range of experiences in both arenas. And it’s important. Without making concrete plans to inject analytics capabilities into the massive infrastructure projects being funded today, society will miss out on the benefits of infrastructure-wide insight for decades to come. It’s a singular opportunity – and it’s our shared responsibility to ensure that we don’t miss it.

By: James Caton
Global Leader, Smart Infrastructure & Smart Cities, IoT Practice, SAS

About SAS in IoT SAS empowers organizations to create and sustain business value from diverse IoT data and initiatives, whether that data is at the edge, in the cloud, or anywhere in between. Our robust, scalable, and open edge-to-cloud analytics platform delivers deep expertise in advanced analytics – including AI, machine learning, deep learning, and streaming analytics – to help customers reduce risk and boost business performance. Learn more about our industry and technology solutions at www.sas.com/iotsolutions