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Expert: Tech Will Play a Role in Infrastructure Upgrades

Six months after the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) became law, federal officials announced the release of more than $110 billion for highway, transit, water, and other infrastructure programs. These funds will support more than 4,300 projects across the United States, according to a White House fact sheet released on May 16.

Individual states, counties, and municipalities will eventually spend $500 billion on needed infrastructure upgrades. The massive spending package represents a “once-in-a-generation investment in embedding community-led solutions, equity, and climate priorities” in U.S. infrastructure, according to Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins, director of policy and partnerships, healthy people, and thriving communities program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. 

To ensure funds go to the suitable projects, the current administration released a guidebook that gives an overview of funding for nearly 400 new and existing programs, ranging from transportation and energy to climate and the environment. The guidebook lets users quickly review and identify eligible funding programs by agency, eligible recipient, and program name.

The main priority for many states and communities will be upgrading transportation networks, broadband, and public works projects. Much focus has been on fixing and expanding bridges, roads, railways, water pipes, and energy grids. Less attention has been paid to incorporating technology into the transformation, but tech will play a key role in helping ensure projects are completed efficiently and cost-effectively, according to Don Ingle, an industry executive advisor at software company SAP.

“Senior appointed leaders in finance, IT, and operations are under incredible pressures to make the right investments so that infrastructure projects are completed on time and budget and are as cost-efficient as possible to operate and maintain throughout decades-long lifetimes,” said Ingle. “Future-proofing the infrastructure requires bringing in appropriate technologies because technology itself has become an integral part of the infrastructure that powers the resilience of communities.” 

A key element will be ensuring that digital infrastructure data is comprehensive, accurate, and trustworthy. A December research report from International Data Corporation (IDC) predicted that by 2023, cities will use real-time communication platforms for half of their digital public outreach to combat misinformation and improve community resiliency and trust.

Many government agencies will depend on connected data analytics from advanced technologies to help drive decisions about infrastructure, Ingle said. He pointed to electric vehicle charging networks as an example.

“As they map out electric vehicle charging networks, they need an integrated platform to turn that usage data into intelligence that guides decisions about traffic patterns to lower carbon emissions and road congestion,” he said. “They might decide to install fiber optics underground for the option of turning a highway into a toll road at a later date. They could select longer-lasting concrete instead of chip sealing for roads.”

Making sense of data across numerous platforms is key to infrastructure project design, maintenance, and longevity. Thanks to the rise in data integration tools, IDC predicts that by 2024 one-fifth of all back-office data will be connected and used across various departments to improve local government program administration — including infrastructure projects administration.

By 2026, about half of mid-sized cities are expected to use digital “twins” to gather operational data to meet climate targets. Digital twins are virtual representations of objects or systems that span their lifecycle.IDC analysts also predict that in the next few years, global cities with 1 million residents or more will increase their spending by 70% on data and platforms that can scale outcome-based transit programs designed to match user capacity with demand. For example, Internet of Things (IoT)-based sensors and predictive analytics can help city planners better manage transportation networks to prevent potential structural failures, Ingle said.


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