From traditional to technological: Infrastructure is changing rapidly due to advances in technology
- April 1, 2020: Vol. 7, Number 4

From traditional to technological: Infrastructure is changing rapidly due to advances in technology

by Joel Kranc

Infrastructure investment is, perhaps, one of the easiest assets to understand. There are different financing models and ways to acquire the assets, but as stand-alone investments, one-word descriptions such as roads, bridges, airport and grids, paint a pretty vivid picture. That picture, however, is being complicated by the growth of technological needs in everyday life, which has changed the nature of what infrastructure is and what it can be. Broadband, fiber-optic, 5G, hyperloop and smart-city needs are becoming more commonplace — and so has the investment needed to build the 21st century’s infrastructure.

A 2017 report commissioned by the global law firm Pinsent Masons found 98 percent of infrastructure investors surveyed indicated they would be more likely to bid for greenfield project opportunities in the next three years in the projects included new technology.

Many new-tech projects are being conceived or are already in the works. In Toronto, a Sidewalk Labs–backed smart city is taking shape that is part of the city’s development plan. Sidewalk Labs is an organization run by Alphabet, parent company of Google. Its goal is to improve urban infrastructure through technological solutions, and tackle issues such as cost of living, efficient transportation and energy usage.

Another example can be seen in California where San Mateo County entered into an agreement with a development team comprised of Facebook and Plenary Group, an infrastructure developer specializing in public-private partnerships. The partners agreed to explore the feasibility of advancing the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor, which could mean potentially reopening the Dumbarton Rail Bridge for passenger service.

A little bit off the grid, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is looking to launch and operate its own network of broadband satellites, which might offer broadband to areas of the globe that have limited or no access to high-speed internet connections.

It all amounts to the important and growing field of “infratech.”

A blog post by John Kjorstad, global services’ infrastructure leader with KPMG, describes infratech this way: “A system that can be imagined through a pyramid. The bottom layer is physical infrastructure ... above physical infrastructure is the data architecture to support decision-making and optimize service delivery. The data architecture establishes what is needed in the next layer up — connectivity infrastructure (including broadband and, soon, 5G). This layer utilizes sensors, QR codes and communications technology to feed information up into the digital platform layer with specialized software designed to secure and manage data. … Finally, at the top of the pyramid is artificial intelligence. AI would utilize the speed of computing to enable decisions in real time.”


Joel Kranc is a freelance writer and head of Kranc Communications in Toronto.


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