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Digital key for smart investment in public infrastructure for NZ cities

By Shannon Williams
Thu 21 Jul 2022

Major public infrastructure projects can better manage risks of cost overruns and delays if they deploy data and digital tools at the earliest planning stages, according to a new report published by global consultancy Accenture.

The report, Public infrastructure: a once-in-a-generation opportunity, found investments in digital technologies delivered 6.7 times higher ROI compared to other investments. However, nearly two-thirds of infrastructure leaders have not deployed new technologies in the last three years.

With annual infrastructure spend set to reach $11.2 billion in 2026, Accenture believes New Zealand is at a critical moment for it to future proof its infrastructure investment through smart application of digital technologies.

"Traditionally, we have been slower to adopt technology solutions that could help us plan investments in New Zealand. That means projects are at greater risk of taking too long to complete and costing more than budgeted," says Paul Hearnden, managing director at Accenture New Zealand.

"The nation is on the brink of some of the largest investment in public infrastructure in its history," he says. 

"We need to make sure that we spend it well and embrace, and reimagine, the role of data and digital."

The right data can improve project oversight, contract management and citizen experience. Digital solutions can enhance safety, optimise project schedules, enable transparent supply chains and provide insight into the sustainable performance of infrastructure throughout the lifespan of the project.

According to the World Economic Forum, by 2040 the world will face a US$15 trillion gap between the funds required to provide adequate global public infrastructure and the amount being invested. In New Zealand, economists estimate that decades of under-spending has left New Zealand with a $75 billion infrastructure deficit, approximately one quarter of annual GDP.

Hearnden says that both public and private sector organisations should consider how they can partner with others to build technology and data into infrastructure investment from the beginning.

One example of a technology innovator is Reveal, experts on subsurface utility mapping and scanning. Based in Wellington, Reveal is creating an innovative new digital platform to make subsurface data more accessible and affordable for everyone.

"Reveal's recent partnership with Wellington City Council is one example that we have been following that shows the kind of innovation needed to get greater returns from infrastructure investment," says Hearnden.

"The projects team partnered with Reveal to overcome one of the most common challenges with managing underground infrastructure and utilities not knowing what you're going to find when you start digging. Reveal used its unique system to proactively map and visualise Wellingtons underground, which includes everything from power to gas and all-important water pipes," he says.

"This platform allows Wellington City Council to navigate underground infrastructure investment more efficiently and plan for the future based on up-to-date, accurate data. Instead of digging and hoping, contractors can plan repairs and maintenance with a clear picture of whats beneath their feet. There's fewer stoppages and delays, meaning that the project is more likely to be finished on-time and on-budget."

Hearnden says this partnership is just one example of the way that organisations should be working to make sure that we get the most out of infrastructure investment. 

"Integrating technology solutions early in the planning process leads to better outcomes we've been watching Reveal prove the benefits of smart planning and innovative uses of technology as their profile grows," he says.

Sam Wiffen, CEO and managing director of Reveal, says the Wellington digital twin is the largest and most detailed proactive subsurface mapping ever undertaken in Australasia.

"We know more about what's under the streets of Wellington than anybody does about any other city in the world," he says.

"Reveal has modified existing ground-mapping radar technologies so we can gather data much quicker and more efficiently. We've been able to map inner-city Wellington, including the CBD and Golden Mile, in a matter of months, and in the process, we've discovered a huge number of anomalies and unknown utilities that weren't present on any existing plans.

"Having an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the region's underground utilities will help Wellington City Council reap massive cost savings over the coming years as Wellington seeks to improve its transport network and create a more liveable city," Wiffen says. 

"It also enables the Council to engage in proactive planning for the future to meet their housing, resilience and sustainability goals.

"We see digital twin technology as a critical infrastructure tool for local government and utility owners worldwide. Industry players need to look at their digital infrastructure projects together with their physical infrastructure."

Reveal field operations team use ground-penetrating radar and electromagnetic line scanning to detect underground utilities.

The Reveal field operations team worked night shifts for 20 weeks mapping the Wellington CBD.

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