ICT researchers and vendors have implored the Government to prioritise investment in physical infrastructure that makes good use of available smart technology and data.

NICTA, IBM, Autodesk and Telstra are among 33 public and private sector organisations to date to have made submissions to the Inquiry into the role of Smart ICT in the design and planning of Infrastructure.

NICTA said it wanted to see “evidence-based” infrastructure investment – with that evidence coming from the analysis of hard data.

New and existing infrastructure can be fitted with sensors that collect data about usage. This can be combined with other data sources and fed – for example – to machine learning algorithms that can be used to better predict where infrastructure investments would be best targeted.

The research body is keen to set aside current notions of infrastructure and reshape the conversation from ‘pouring concrete’ to how smart ICT might be leveraged to transform thinking.

“Australia can no longer simply pour infrastructure budgets into concrete,” NICTA said.

“Our infrastructure investments during the last decade have not improved productivity, so we must understand where to spend and how to use smart ICT.

“Even modest improvements in infrastructure efficiency will reap large dividends for Australia.”

NICTA noted the possibility of resistance from the traditional construction sector, but did not believe this should nullify important conversations on how to fit technology systems around physical infrastructure assets.

“Rethinking infrastructure as intrinsically and essentially supported by ICT will not happen overnight, and history suggests that there will be resistance (‘technological inertia’) from those who feel that computer scientists are invading ‘their turf’,” NICTA said.

“But the future seems clear - without the capabilities of smart ICT, Australia’s Infrastructure spending will continue to grow, and, as has been the case in the last decade, the problems that need solving will be left unsolved.”

IBM – a known proponent of ‘smart’ technology – agreed that IT needed to be wrapped around physical infrastructure, noting the potential for macroeconomic gains.

“By deploying new enabling technologies, we can make our age-old existing infrastructure more efficient and reliable and potentially offsetting new investment in the longer term: our power grids; our water networks; our transport systems,” the vendor said.

“We can make new infrastructure more resilient to climate change and population pressures.”

While physical infrastructure could generate important data, IBM noted the data would be most valuable combined with other sources, and some of that integration would require significant cooperation.

“It is critical that moving forward, in the design and planning for infrastructure, that data and information from across the public and private sectors be integrated to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of our nation’s housing, healthcare, education, social services, transport, energy, water, emergency response and human capital networks,” IBM said.

Other submissions dealt more with specific systems or technologies that they thought should be mandated by the Government.

Telstra’s submission did not deal with road infrastructure itself, but rather the users of it – imploring the Government to mandate autonomous vehicles.

“Because of the significant safety and societal benefits of autonomous vehicles it is not unreasonable to expect that at some point in the 2020s, developed countries could mandate a date by which all vehicles must be capable of being autonomous in order to be registered,” Telstra said.

“This would lead to a more rapid introduction of self-driving cars than could be anticipated from natural diffusion alone.”

Telstra further predicted that the “impact of technology adoption over the next 35 years [could]… lessen the need to build new infrastructure”.