Governments need to consider how to best invest their infrastructure stimulus to ensure the money benefits the right people, offers ongoing value and provides an injection of cash and activity into the economy.
Large-scale infrastructure projects are not always as shovel-ready as they seem so governments’ focus should be on projects already in train, at the procurement stage, as well as clearing the backlog of maintenance on assets that they already own. This focus on maintenance work can be enabled quickly and improve infrastructure service levels while providing opportunity to redeploy capacity from other affected industries.
To help stimulate the economy, now is the perfect time for governments to get started on ‘no regrets’ projects on assets we know will have strong demand into the future, for example our road networks where maintenance is seen as a national high priority initiative . Increased access to infrastructure due to population restrictions, or decreased demand, combined with additional labour capacity in the market can be leveraged to complete work that may not have been possible in normal circumstances, and for lower costs.
Capacity in the infrastructure sector was tight before COVID-19 hit, and with a continued surge in projects being undertaken, further stimulus may target areas that have not been as greatly affected and apply further pressure on scarce resources. A focus on stimulus through maintenance activities can provide smaller packages of work into industry, encouraging small businesses and workers with adjacent skills transfer in from harder hit sectors such as tourism and hospitality. Whilst this may allow access to more technical skills from adjacent industries, there will need to be support provided to reskill non-technical labour to reduce the barrier for non-skill labour to execute inspection and maintenance tasks to maximise distribution of the stimulus across the economy.
Some asset owners may require an immediate asset condition assessment which can also provide additional economic benefits. The process of increasing knowledge on asset condition through extensive information collection is labour intensive and can be initiated quickly. If, for example, a government wanted to assess the asset condition of its schools, which carries a $1.3bn maintenance backlog in New South Wales alone, this could require a person to visit every single facility to record its capacity and condition. This type of work is important for identifying infrastructure maintenance needs and for certain asset classes it can utilise capacity from outside the sector providing further job opportunities.
In many areas the backlog of known maintenance works is vast, such as the demand for council facilities which have a maintenance backlog of over $30bn , ranging from high value corrective action to low value cosmetic remediation. Asset owners can use technology, such as scenario planning, to prioritise scopes of work based on future demand, risk profiles and timeliness to rectify. Technology may enable a non-technical labour workforce to collect data through mobility solutions and standardised inspections or through visual/condition data capture techniques such as light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and 3D modelling that may allow a subject matter expert to review and prioritise work remotely.
Once assets have been scoped for condition and a maintenance plan is ready to be executed, the industry again can look at mobilising capacity from other sectors. For example, within aviation, or large retail centres, expertise exists for planning and scheduling maintenance delivery. At this stage, governments can assist through flexibility in relation to the tight regulations as well as removing barriers to unlocking the capacity to assist with economic activity. For example when working on rail infrastructure there are a number of steps that need to be taken for someone to work in a safety critical environment, but ways to expedite this process will allow for activity to be ramped up and stimulus money to flow to the pockets of the citizens that need it.
Embedding this data capture capability will help asset owners to undertake ongoing analysis and become more strategic and repeatable with their asset and maintenance management decisions. It’s predicted that we’re going to see more of these extreme, disrupted global events, so now is the time to consider if your business or government has the right information to enable dynamic scenario analysis to enable agility when faced with the next big event.
Often business structures are being set for five year programs against baked in assumptions, but as we now know, a lot can change in six months. The opportunity now for governments and asset owners is to take any innovations that have been created through necessity during this time and embed the thinking into business as usual. Being agile and able to pivot to different business operating models will create business resilience.
The future maturity level for infrastructure will not just be about designing asset management systems linked to business objectives, but about linking many possible future business objectives that enable business continuity and future agility.