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UK ‘needs Digital Framework for infrastructure data’



Commission report advocates creation of framework and ‘digital twin’ of national infrastructure

The National Infrastructure Commission has advocated the creation of a Digital Framework for Infrastructure in an effort to increase the performance, efficiency and resilience of the system.

It has included the idea in a new report, Data for the Public Good, along with a proposal for a pilot project to create a ‘digital twin’ of the national infrastructure.

The framework would be a national resource, as open as possible, to make it possible to share data about infrastructure assets.

It could promote a move away from data silos, while ensuring the protection of personal data if the necessary steps are taken. A framework task group, whose chair would act as national champion for the agenda, would have responsibility for driving progress.

It could coordinate standards and formats for collating and sharing the relevant data; although action is needed to provide minimum levels of commercial confidentiality and security safeguards.

The digital twin, meanwhile, would provide the opportunity to show the benefits from transforming the data into an interoperable format, and gains from a better understanding of the interdependencies of parts of the system.

This could make the national infrastructure more productive, increasing its performance, efficiency and resilience.

UK strengths

According to the report, the UK’s strengths in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning make it well placed to carry out the project.

It also suggests that the Centre for Digital Britain leads much of the work, and collaborates with the Alan Turing Institute in developing the digital twin.

Speaking at the launch of the report, the NIC chair Lord Adonis (pictured) said that AI and machine learning could play a big part in making the UK’s infrastructure network more efficient. They have the potential to provide for faster road journeys, fewer water leaks and more reliable mobile and broadband connections.

He pointed to the use of sensors in providing real time data on how infrastructure performs and giving early warnings on the need for maintenance and report.

But he warned that these benefits can only be realised if steps are taken to improve the quality, consistency and availability of data, with companies and agencies sharing the data they have on how well their infrastructure operates – while at the same time taking account of the necessary security precautions.

New challenge

Adonis said: “We have a proud tradition of delivering good quality infrastructure that has changed the lives of entire communities – the challenge now is to embrace the newest technologies to make the most of the entire network.

“From smart meters to the latest artificial intelligence innovations, there are real opportunities to transform our infrastructure network and significantly cut delays and disruptions.

“But for the country to see the real benefits of increased productivity, there needs to be a huge improvement in the quality of our infrastructure data and a fundamental culture shift towards more open data sharing to enable everyone to see how services can be improved even further.”

The study was commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Autumn Statement of 2016.

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