Three words have dominated our thinking, our policy and our practice in infrastructure decision making over the last 30 years – efficiency, sustainability, risk. This is about to change.
With large, centralised, and expensive mass infrastructure needed to support public services, ‘efficiency’ was a key concern. But technology is making smaller, distributed, infrastructure, not only cheaper – but in today’s climate of cyber terrorist concerns – also much safer. We are now developing new de-centralised means of provision and our new concern is how safe and effective they are.
EFFECTIVENESS is thus becoming more important than efficiency.
For infrastructure ‘sustainability’ has been interpreted as ensuring long lifespans. We have designed for this and over the last 30 years we have developed tools and management techniques that enable us to manage for asset longevity. This, too, is now changing. With the shift from an ‘asset’ to a ‘service’ focus, functionality and capability have become more important determinants of action than asset condition. This shift is fortunate for it is needed if we are to address the many changes we are now facing – technological, environmental and demographic. At first we thought to ensure sustainability by building in greater flexibility. But change is now too rapid and too unpredictable to make mere flexibility a viable and cost effective strategy.
ADAPTABILITY is the new word. We need to design for, be on the lookout for, and manage for, constant change.
Risk has been the bedrock tool that we have used in the past to minimise the probability of both cost blow-outs (affecting efficiency) and asset failure (affecting sustainability). Risk management has been a vital and valuable tool. However ‘risk analysis’ implies we know the probability of future possibilities. Today we have to reckon with the truth that the ‘facts’ we used to have faith in, may no longer apply.
UNCERTAINTY is more than risk and requires different tools and thinking.
Effectiveness, Adaptability and Uncertainty.
With these new words comes a requirement for new measures, new tools, new thinking, new management techniques. Life cycle cost models were valuable in helping us achieve efficiency and sustainability and apply our risk analysis. What models, what tools, what measures will help us achieve Effectiveness and Adaptability and cope with Uncertainty?
What new questions do we now need to ask?
For years we have asked ‘what infrastructure should we build?’ Perhaps now we need to ask “What infrastructure should we NOT build?”.