Data is rapidly becoming the backbone of the infrastructure sector.
Data is rapidly becoming the backbone of the infrastructure sector. As noted in a number of our trends, data has the power to transform the way governments, planners, developers, owners and operators manage infrastructure and can lead to a dramatically improved user experience.
However, we are currently in a ‘mixed economy’ of data ownership – no one party owns all of the data required for smart decision-making. Some data is proprietary (like company data or census data). Some is open and freely available (such as a transport authority’s traffic pattern data). Some is owned by private companies, and some is publicly available but fractured across different public entities. And then there is the private data of individuals themselves (including what is managed by the services they use).
At the same time, many governments are now seeking to encourage greater private participation in infrastructure which, in turn, requires owners and operators to gain access to government-procured and owned data. Indeed, opening up this data has already proven to be a key catalyst to innovation and the development of new ideas.
In some cases, governments have created a ‘permissive’ governance framework where individuals are given access to data on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, private organisations and individuals can request access to certain data sets but only when the use case and the controls are understood and verified. Others have gone further by making their data sets widely available; open data from Transport for London is now being used by more than 600 different apps.
While there are a number of bodies looking into the issue (the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission recently released its report recommending a presumption of sharing of non-personal data1), nobody yet knows how the concept of ownership will evolve. What we do know is that the benefits of sharing are obvious but constrained by mixed views on who owns what data and how it can be used.
This year, we expect governments to get a better handle on managing, sharing and using data across departments and jurisdictions – and between the various players involved in the delivery of government services (particularly when it comes to social services). Some of the more progressive governments will likely start to create more open frameworks for data sharing and collaboration.
Over the longer-term, we expect to see a global transition in the way people value and share data. And, as a result, the ownership of data will become less important. The challenge will then become how to share data across multiple platforms – in an open and transparent way – while protecting the privacy of individuals. Once that data is freely shared, however, the benefits of analysis should unlock dramatically new models for how infrastructure is planned and operated.
As technology starts to play a greater role in the delivery of infrastructure, access to data will come one of the essential building blocks. Governments that are able to start thinking critically about their data policies – particularly those that are able to create robust, flexible frameworks and broad social agreements on data usage – should be well positioned to take advantage of the new technologies now emerging. Managed haphazardly however, it could lead to greater inefficiency in infrastructure development and operations.