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How do we balance innovation with security?

12 March 2018

The fifth annual ICE-Topcon lecture looked at how technology is enabling smarter asset management while also highlighting how crucial security is when sharing information digitally. 

How do we balance innovation with security?

The increasing convergence of infrastructure and technology was the theme of the 2018 ICE-Topcon joint lecture which showcased the smart asset management innovation coming out of some of Europe’s leading engineering firms.

Since ICE and Topcon’s partnership began in 2014 a lot has happened in the infrastructure sector. We’re getting better at delivering large and complex projects and working more towards outcomes for clients and end users. Technology has been one of the key drivers and it continues to reshape the traditional identity of our sector at an incredible rate.  

Of course there are barriers and challenges to overcome around integrating new technology, not least around making sure that our new smart methods of information sharing are secure. ICE’s Digital Transformation campaign, supported by forward thinking organisations like Topcon, aims to help overcome such challenges and move the industry to a more productive place.   

Smart asset management in practice

A challenge all engineers can relate to is how to squeeze more performance out of existing assets. Opening speaker Vincent Lamour of Cementys Group notes that while we’ve always had monitoring regimes the advanced technology we have today allows us to monitor more accurately and efficiently. This helps us predict and plan maintenance, reduce service disruption and extend the lifespans of assets.

Cementys’ experiences on major projects such as the NKP offshore platform and the Wadi Laban Bridge demonstrate cases of how monitoring has enabled service life extension – e.g. through use of sensors and fibre optics to analyse strain and vibration.

Ultimately, using technology helps us make better decisions with less reliance on human judgement. Lamour highlights a quote from Admiral Grace Hopper: “One accurate measurement is worth a thousand expert opinions.”

Gathering data by digital

Of course, we can’t make good decisions without good information, which means we need to gather it effectively and strategically. 

Skanska has witnessed the evolution of technology-enabled data capture in the highways sector. Chief engineering surveyor Mark Lawton describes how mobile Lidar and remote sensing has become an effective and efficient data collection method and often eliminates the need for return visits to sites.

Drone surveying, global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), digital terrain models (DTMs), 3D machine control (3DMC) and inter-connectivity at worksites are all essential tools for the transfer of data, linking design with construction, operations and maintenance. These are crucial parts of the productivity improvement jigsaw.

Fostering innovation

Turning project level innovation into industry level advancement is a different challenge. Clients have a role as capable owners to set paths and remove blockers to innovation which the rest of the industry can learn from.  

Sophie McPhillips highlights Tideway’s innovation programme, 'The Great Think' which not only mirrors Bazalgette’s original mission to design fit-for-purpose London infrastructure but also aims to deliver a sustainable legacy of innovation.

So what about security?

The growing scale of available asset information together with ever-increasing connectivity presents quite a challenge to project clients. They need to be able to ensure that their information is shared securely and that all project stakeholders can be trusted to handle information sensitively.

As a prelude to the lecture ICE and Topcon convened leading industry minds to identify the industry actions needed to meet the security challenge.

Ultimately, we need to establish a culture of true security-mindedness where every single person understands that they have a responsibility. The level of shift required has been compared to the health and safety revolution. That may be true, but the challenge is more complex.

Information leaks or hacks aren’t manifested in the same way as a workplace accident – they can take weeks or months to reveal themselves. They can be extremely damaging, especially with the threat of fines coming under new GDPR regulations. We need a shift in attitude and behavior that reflects the level of risk.

For security measures to be successful they must work for people. If not, they risk becoming a blocker to growth and innovation. New technology is revolutionising the sector but a level of governance and even cautiousness is needed to ensure systems remain resilient. Physical infrastructure assets only get built once so security must be well planned, tested for and designed in from the very outset of projects.

Realising the technology opportunity

The infrastructure sector is at a crossroads. The convergence of construction, engineering, surveying and technology presents a unique opportunity to meet the biggest challenges our sector faces: increasing productivity and profitability, meeting growing infrastructure need and delivering quicker and at lower cost.

Of course it’s not just about adopting the technology. It’s about offering outcomes and identifying the right tools and techniques to realise them. And the transformation towards digital involves overcoming hurdles and challenges such as skills, behaviours and culture, as well as security.

Innovative and game-changing technology is out there, but for it to really make a difference the industry needs more champions to lead its utilisation – both of what’s available now and what’s to come in the future.

Follow ICE's Digital Transformation campaign

Further information to keep you secure

Security is not an insurmountable problem. Clear guidance exists:


Watch the lecture

  • Ben McAlinden, manager (international partnerships) at Royal Academy of Engineering