Going digital: global infrastructure needs to address its weak links


Guy Beaumont

Digital Lead, Infrastructure


Our survey conducted among infrastructure practitioners from around the world shows that most major programmes have implemented digital strategies and are feeling the benefits. However, for many teams there remains significant potential to do more to fully unlock the opportunities to drive productivity, reduce risk and improve sustainability. In this fifth article in our ‘Transforming performance of major programme’ series, we explore this in more detail.

We have been exploring how digital has been embedded in infrastructure programmes to understand what good should look like – from the importance of people when successfully integrating new technologies and tools and the opportunity to transform programme enterprises, to the real potential for data to drive better outcomes both within current and future projects.

In an increasingly complex world, the demands and expectations placed on infrastructure are considerable: driving economies, equalling-out societal opportunities and improving sustainability. Digital has a fundamental and exciting role to play in enabling more successful outcomes.  

Survey results: the power of digital

We have held up a mirror up to the industry, with a survey to benchmark how companies around the globe are using digital to transform performance and outcomes. To assess the maturity of these sectors and identify what we need to do to further our cause for a digital-first approach, we spoke to over 100 experts across the world’s most sophisticated and ambitious projects, including aviation, roads, defence, utilities and more. 

Our findings have reinforced our confidence in the power of digital. This includes, in particular, the opportunities project teams and clients have to unlock greater productivity, security and sustainability through thinking ‘digital first’. A digital-first strategy is embedding digital from the earliest stages, integrating it throughout programmes and considering it as fundamental to business strategy. 

The survey results also give a sense of how far the industry still has to go to fully take advantage of these benefits. Even when progress has been made, our sector is often just ‘digitising’ – using digital to improve existing business models and ways of working. There is potential to go much further to truly ‘digitalise’ – reimagine those business models from the ground up with digital at the core.   

The complex nature of major programmes can make this even harder – but it is clear that digital approaches need to be more consistent and mature across the sector, and fully embedded in a way that captures the potential – and need – for driving greater value.  

Our survey findings focus on three main digital-first themes:

1. Integration: digital strategies must be developed earlier

Sixty-two percent of survey respondents said that there was a clear digital strategy was in place. This is encouraging, but it is not just the presence of digital but the extent to which it is integrated into programmes that matters.

Early adoption is critical to success. Just over half of respondents said that their digital strategy was in place from the outset of their project, and this group has reaped the benefits. Ninety-six percent of this group recognised the value of digital to their programme when it comes to achieving milestones, and 75 percent said it was helping them to unlock long-term value.

Our goal as a sector must be to champion these successes. For those leading the way, we must encourage them to keep pioneering and improving. Digital strategies need to be nurtured, reviewed and updated to ensure they remain fit for purpose. Of those that said digital is failing to do what they need it to for their programmes, 71 percent admitted that they are not reviewing their strategy. Rapid technological advances mean it is not enough to stand still.

There is also a significant cohort of programmes for whom digital is an afterthought and not as embedded as it needs to be – with 61 percent of all respondents saying that digital was not driving their business strategy. Convincing this portion of the industry that digital can be a key tool is critical not just for their programmes, but to improve outcomes from the sector as a whole.

  • 61% say digital is not driving their business strategy
  • 83% highlight skills gaps as one of the biggest barriers to digital integration

Digital transformation will have to occur across all levels of the industry, from suppliers and contractors, to clients, consultants, regulators and government. The full benefits will only be felt if digital is understood and embedded by all teams at all levels.

How this is achieved will be different for each party, but 83 percent of contributors to our survey highlighted skills gaps as one of the biggest barriers to digital integration. Upskilling client organisations and the supply chain, through positive procurement and contracting practices, is needed to integrate new approaches and bring the laggards up to the pace of the leaders.

2. Data: major programmes need to master their data

In our deep dive into data, we explored how digital strategies need to identify the data points required from programmes, make sure we have them at our fingertips and define how we make decisions from them. The scale of this challenge is, once more, clear from our survey.

Forty-two percent of our respondents said that their data is used to manage performance. That’s concerningly low when you consider the sophistication of the programmes being delivered today and that we are potentially on the cusp of an epochal change when it comes to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. For AI to be relied on to make good decisions, we need good data.

Nearly a third of all respondents recognised that data is underused and undervalued; the challenge is convincing industry of its importance. We found a strong correlation between those that felt that their digital strategy is failing to meet their requirements (71 percent of the total number of respondents) and those that felt that data was being undervalued (27 percent of the total number of respondents).

  • 71% feel that their digital strategy is failing to meet their requirements
  • 27% feel that their data is being undervalued
  • 10% hold their data as a tangible asset

Digging into this theme, we asked how data is valued. Ten percent of participants surveyed said they hold their data as a tangible asset, reflecting a commercial value on their balance sheet. Although this is low, in many ways it is encouraging because it shows that there is an opportunity to capitalise on information that’s being gathered within programmes and between them. This can help attract the interest of investors and encourage wider adoption of stronger data strategies.

3. Resilience: cyber insecurity is of great concern

As we increase the use and complexity of digital, data and technology solutions in major programmes, we increase both the benefits and the risks. Greater connectivity and reach brings with it greater numbers of potential vulnerabilities. Robust cyber security is essential for managing this risk and ensuring programmes continue to unlock value from digital investment. A key takeaway from our survey has been that cyber security is an area that infrastructure industry urgently needs to improve by strengthening its understanding of the dangers and implementing more resilient measures. 

Eighty percent of our respondents felt that their cyber security was not fit for purpose. That should be a wake-up call to the whole sector. We have seen a growing spate of high-profile attacks, from business targeting through to action from hostile states. For infrastructure, this is a shareholder-critical issues, and potentially of national concern.

The connection between digital and cyber security should be clear, yet our survey shows it isn’t. Of those respondents that admit their digital strategy is insufficient overall, 20 percent of those think that their cyber is mature or optimised. The reality is that security and compliance is a vital ingredient of any digital strategy and, by extension, without a robust digital strategy in place, programmes cannot be truly secure.

  • 80% feel that their cyber security is not fit for purpose
  • <30% have cyber- and disaster-management plans in place

In a similar vein, over half of our survey respondents said that their approach to cyber was mature or capable, but less than 30 percent have cyber- and disaster-management plans in place. Such plans are essential in the event of a breach to maintain reliance and operational capability, helping to get a programme back on track with minimal delay and wider impact. Yet the figures show a disparity of understanding. Without a disaster management plan, a cyber security approach cannot truly be mature or capable.

This is likely to be down, in part, to a restricted view of the threat matrix that infrastructure programmes face. In recent years governments have made positive strides in upping the overall level of cyber security, with the introduction of standards such as Cyber Essentials and ISO270001.   

Although the introduction of these standards demonstrate a step in the right direction, in practice much more rigorous protocols, and a culture of cyber security, are needed for programmes on a national or global scale.

Towards a digital-first mindset 

Overall, our survey results show that digital features heavily in industry thinking – and many programmes and teams are using digital to transform the delivery of projects, with positive results.

However, the full benefits are not being realised as strategies are not being introduced early enough or fail to be all-encompassing. A lack of understanding and implementation of effective cyber security matters could be creating significant and unnecessary project risk. The infrastructure sector needs to grasp the full potential of digital to transform performance of the complex, multi-faceted and ambitious programmes that we are seeing delivered across the globe. We can accelerate the economic, environmental and social benefits of infrastructure investment – but we need to think digital first.  

For further information contact:


Guy Beaumont
Digital Lead, Infrastructure

t: +44 (0) 7941 234047