Focus on the digital foundation

Irvin Bishop, Jr., EVP & Chief Information Officer at Black & Veatch.

Most Americans never think of the centuries of engineering and trillions of dollars that went into creating the infrastructure systems that enable us to lead our comfortable modern lives. Even when we feel like we’ve had a bad day, most would consider what’s stressing us out as “first world” issues.

Before our cell phones ring to wake us each morning, we’re already using electricity, water, and communications networks to keep us warm, keep our food cold, control our lights, queue our messages, and hundreds of other activities that shape our day will. Our lives are based on vast networks of critical digital infrastructure.

Unfortunately, infrastructure is one of those words, like “digitization” or “transformation,” that many people hear but don’t fully understand. This is often because it’s difficult to conceptualize things we can’t see. When they work at their best, infrastructure systems are the ones we use every day but don’t think about. These systems are invisible but invaluable. From a political point of view, this could be the reason why government programs have historically focused on visible infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges, which are photo-appealing, as opposed to digital infrastructure elements.

Fully connected, fully immersed

Just a decade or two ago, most Americans interacted with technology and data through remote, single transactions at a keyboard, but today few things are static, and we’re seeing fully immersive experiences through intelligent interfaces with exciting new capabilities. Our world is rapidly moving towards a fully realized digital vision where data is created, shared and analyzed to enrich our connected experience, making it more tangible and valuable.

This digital universe is powered by the dense fiber optic networks and wireless communications that automate and control our electricity and water supplies, the 5G towers that stream music to our cell phones, the solar panels on our rooftops that feed carbon-free energy into the grid, and much more .

In just a few decades, we’ve moved from Pong to the hundreds of connected devices that connect us and inform our lives — the fitness watch that tells us how well we slept, the app-enabled coffee makers that fuel our mornings and all that Virtual reality experiences that take us out of our daily lives and into immersive virtual experiences.

Everything we touch depends on reliable power, water, or communications infrastructure, and as more devices come online every minute, we need more bandwidth, more sensors, and more artificial intelligence (AI) to run these networks effectively. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is providing billions of dollars in funding to support, expand and improve these systems, enabling us to accelerate the digitization of these essential systems.

Greater connectivity, better understanding and use of data, and an ever-expanding world of devices and technologies will accelerate our digital future, helping industries, businesses, and communities become more resilient and withstand disruptions, be it from new market entrants, new business models or global pandemics.

Digital solutions, future opportunities

Imagination is the only limiting factor, so where do we see the future?

Communication is a critical infrastructure

Resilient, reliable networks are critical in this digital world, where more Americans than ever are studying, working, accessing telemedicine, and connecting online. 5G networks will support connected devices at a remarkable rate, and 5G’s gigabit speeds will turn data and connectivity into innovation. Connectivity is critical to advancing healthcare, social mobility and economic equality, reducing the digital divide and improving the quality of life in the community.

Safe, sustainable mobility

The transport sector is responsible for almost a third of CO2 emissions, leading industry leaders to embrace the concept of digital mobility, which focuses on using advanced technology to reduce traditional challenges such as road accidents and accidents caused by driver error. Mobility will continue to evolve as communities develop technology-enabled innovations — interactive reservations, smart parking, vehicle routing, app-based payments, and EV charging and sharing — all with the aim of improving air quality and transporting more people and goods safely and efficiently transport .

Smarter, more sustainable water

Climate change is straining water resources around the world, but smarter infrastructure will help manage the threats to our water supplies. Advanced technologies such as digital twins that provide usage data that support predictive maintenance, improved leak detection and climate change planning are all based on data-driven digital systems.

Integration of renewable energies

Solar power and home electrification are gaining momentum, forcing consumers and utilities to use advanced digital systems to integrate these technologies into the power grid. Not only must utilities monitor and manage their communities’ electricity supply and demand, they must also adjust as needed to offset increased demand from electric vehicles. In preparation, utilities are digitizing their distribution network, deploying smart devices, and considering data as a vital resource.

Networking is everything

Our world is evolving faster than anyone could have imagined, and success is beginning to be measured by how well an industry or community can innovate and embrace technology. Advanced communications networks will continue to reshape the world, and static infrastructures will soon be a thing of the past. Everything will be connected. It is wise to take the digital perspective now to not only survive but thrive in this new world.

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