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Smarter physical infrastructure megatrends

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This is a summary of my keynote presentation for the Smarter Physical Infrastructure track at IBM's Pulse 2012 conference. My slides are attached.

Prior to discussing smarter physical infrastructure it's important to define what we mean by "smart". One way to define smart is to identify the key enabling technologies.

These include:

  • Intelligent devices - smart meters, sensors, smart phones, etc. which are used to collect data
  • Pervasive broadband networks - which are used to communicate with the intelligent devices
  • Big data/analytics, cloud services and social media - which are used to process the data

The use of these smart technologies enables an organisation to gather and aggregate large volumes of complex data, analyse the data to discover actionable information, and plan, communicate and execute an optimal response. Benefits to smart organisations can include lower costs, improved quality and customer service, enhanced decision making and the creation of new value.

Applying these technologies to physical infrastructure transforms the infrastructure into smart physical infrastructure. Examples of physical infrastructure across vertical industries include:

  • Manufacturing - plants and production lines, warehouses
  • Transportation - roads, bridges, vehicles, rails, trains, airports, aircraft
  • Energy - transmission & distribution networks, power plants, drilling platforms and wells, refineries
  • Buildings - commercial offices, government buildings, schools and college campuses, hospitals
  • Water - wells and dams, treatment plants, pipes and valves

One trend we are seeing is the combination of these physical infrastructures in the context of a smart city. A city can be thought of as a system composed of various components. Some of these components such as transportation, energy, buildings and water comprise a city's physical infrastructure. Like any system, there are users. Users of this infrastructure include the citizens and businesses in the city. A smart city adds intelligence to city infrastructure, transforming it to smart infrastructure.

However, why would we want to make a city smart in the first place? The answer is found in the trend of urbanisation. The percent of people living in cities continues to increase and is rising most quickly in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Urbanisation creates problems like increased pollution and congestion, and drives the need for solutions to address sustainability, economic development and societal issues such as quality of like and citizen engagement. Smart technology makes it possible to address these needs.

Smart physical infrastructure must be managed and maintained, so there is a role for asset and facilities management processes. Asset and facilities management can be applied to smart physical infrastructure in a number of ways including:

  • Energy - smart grids introduce new intelligent assets like smart meters that must be managed differently from their non-smart predecessors
  • Water - smart technologies can be applied to water network assets to optimise maintenance and detect leaks
  • Transportation - analytics can use real-time data about asset health, traffic and weather to minimise congestion
  • Buildings - smart buildings can integrate operational technology such as HVAC and lighting control with asset and facility management systems to reduce energy consumption while maintaining tenant comfort


By Rick Nicholson

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