The Transport Catapult and Smart Infrastructure

Last week saw the Transport Systems Catapult’s excellent Barriers to Smart Infrastructure event in Milton Keynes. The theme was highly pragmatic compared to similar technology conferences, looking not so much at what smart technology can offer us in transportation and infrastructure but what is holding the UK back at delivering it.

It was a pleasure to be able to speak at the event, with a number of other speakers taking up 10 minute slots through the day. This quick-fire pitch format worked well in providing both a wide variety of content plus maintaining levels of interest from academia, government and private enterprise. It was followed by a large workshop piece in the afternoon. The Catapult have done these before at their festival events, and it’s a great way of sharing thoughts and insights with other professionals.

Mention smart infrastructure and you’re also talking about the Internet of Things, a theme which dominated the event. Although it remains highly promising as a new technology sector, with huge numbers of internet connected devices and scarcely-believable revenue claims. But it’s also the lack of standards, security, cost and integration with existing systems that continues to hinder the industry’s growth.

Indeed, the very good presentation from HyperCat illustrated the point. Their scalable, highly-connectable product looked terrific but for large enterprises watching, it’s perhaps hard to make the leap just yet. Who will win out with the first true global standard? The issue is clouded by the apparent two-speed approach from both established hardware and start-up software vendors. When you’ve also got groups such as Intel and Fujitsu working together on standards and technology, you can’t help but wonder how many businesses will hold out until they do, while the start-ups continue to fill the void.

One aspect of the migration to smart infrastructure which I think is still in its infancy is business change. Smart infrastructure will change the way we work and this means supporting teams to change what they do. For all the opportunities it provides, many businesses lack the maturity to take advantage of it. Even if you could provide the latest visualised analytics from your Big Data project, can you be sure your business can take advantage of it?

My overall feeling is that there are a virtually unlimited set of use cases for smart infrastructure, mainly because the data these assets generate can eventually be shared. It means that even once you’ve fully understood what your business’ assets are telling you, it will be possible to understand the effect of someone else’s too; for example, how freight movements impact the punctuality of your own services. It’s perhaps why you so often see the word trillion when a monetary value is applied to the IoT market.

Funding will remain a challenge, but with so many people playing in this space already, of different shapes and sizes, I worry that too many will hold back and wait for standards to emerge.

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