Engineering a digital future

New ICE President Tim Broyd explains his vision of the civil engineer’s role in a digital future and how the industry can embrace change.

Professor Tim Broyd is the 152nd ICE President
Professor Tim Broyd is the 152nd ICE President
  • Updated: 07 November, 2016
  • Author: Tim Broyd, ICE President

Digital engineering can transform people’s lives. It can help us to deliver, on time, at reduced cost, and with a quality and precision that changes the way we operate and manage truly smart infrastructure. Innovation and technological progress make this a hugely exciting time to be a civil engineer.

But of course innovation and technological advances have been at the heart of ICE for years, and they are the themes on which my career has been based. I look forward to driving this ethos forward during my term as ICE President.

‘Fourth industrial revolution’

The “fourth industrial revolution” – or “Industry 4.0” – is a game-changer. It blends physical and information systems, making use of the huge quantities of data we all generate. And ever-increasing computational power is enabling us to make sense of this data, creating rich opportunities for innovation.

We are already some way along this digital journey – the internet of things, deployment of low-energy sensors, and smart highways are here now. Deployment of Building Information Modelling (BIM), in conjunction with lean and agile technologies, is already going some way to reducing the capital cost of a project, approximately twenty per cent according to the government.

However, not all innovation is invention. We must be open to learning lessons from other industries – like finance, retail and advanced manufacture - and be innovative in how we deploy existing knowledge.

We may find on our digital transformation journey that we have more in common with other industries than we expect.

Infrastructure for society

Whether technological or organisational, innovation in our industry drives the delivery of better infrastructure for society. As such, we must be live to the changing needs of society, and how this impacts upon our industry. Our digital transformation must address the issues the public care about, and we must explain to them, in plain language, how we will meet their personal needs and concerns.

It also has the potential to address some of the major challenges faced by society:

  • Growing and aging population
  • Urbanisation
  • Ongoing public financial challenges
  • Resource scarcity

We need to start thinking about infrastructure in terms of the outcomes it helps to deliver, and not simply as an output.

A call to arms

So when I say we must engineer a digital future, I mean much more than just using existing technologies to keep doing what we are already doing, but faster and cheaper. I mean we must engineer for ourselves a complete transformation in the way we think about our infrastructure and our professional practices.

The next flagship policy report in our State of the Nation series, due to be launched in the spring, will focus on digital engineering. The report will look at the implications of digital on civil engineering and all infrastructure sectors, and therefore for society.

Digital transformation is real, and we must make it happen and embrace the opportunities, or sit back and watch others take those opportunities from us.

About the ICE President

Read more about Professor Tim Broyd’s presidential address and the eight young apprentices he will be working with during his year in office.