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A Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery: ICE report calls for technological focus

Adam Kirkup

A major ICE-commissioned review explains how systems thinking can be used to improve the delivery of complex infrastructure projects, citing the Project 13 approach and the Principles underlying it.

Download A Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery 

The current approach to delivering complex infrastructure projects is facing obsolescence. The sector is struggling to deal with projects that require complex systems to be planned, delivered and, most importantly, integrated to provide the mobility, energy, sanitation and other infrastructure services on which people depend.

In these projects, traditional civil engineering, while still a large capital cost, exists to support a system that is made up of multiple physical, digital and human components. A new tunnel, for example, exists to support a system such as a railway that includes physical trains, stations and track; digital signalling, safety and communications; and human components such as the procedures followed by drivers.

At the report's launch, Andrew McNaughton, steering group chair and former SYSTRA group chief operating officer, said:


“Huge generational challenges such as Covid-19 and the UK’s commitment to a net-zero carbon economy are adding further layers of complexity to what we as civil engineers do."

Interconnectivity is influencing infrastructure

The use of technology to maintain and operate infrastructure networks means that interconnectedness has grown substantially in recent decades. Today, even relatively small projects are best seen as interventions into existing complex systems that provide the services needed by millions of people. In the future, the increasingly technology-based functionality of infrastructure systems will mean that a different mix of skills will be needed to execute these interventions. 

Access to infrastructure services has never been more important. Delivering the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, executing the transition to a net-zero economy and levelling up economic opportunity between countries and regions are all vital for our future.

This report is a review into the benefits of applying systems thinking to the delivery of complex, major infrastructure projects and brings together a literature review and 30 interviews with project practitioners from the infrastructure, aerospace, defence, oil and gas, and technology sectors. ICE has used this insight to create a Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery (SAID), a model that can be used to help deliver better outcomes for infrastructure owners and users.

Find out more about the SAID report and model by revisiting the ICE Strategy Session: A Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery



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The Project 13 Adopter Community held a session to discuss the eight Principles in SAID this morning (25 May 2021). The two complement each other and so the Adopters were able to provide some excellent examples of putting the eight SAID Principles into practice. It is not surprising that being a Capable Owner, front ending and understanding that data oils the wheels were three themes that came up consistently. There was some debate about whether we should set up the organisation around opportunities rather than / as well as risk. We look forward to the follow up to the report coming out later this year. 

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