The future of the city is defined by inequality, vulnerability and risk. In a context of population growth, urbanisation and aging infrastructure, the principles of infrastructure asset management must be fused with technological innovation to enable organisations to turn great peril into promise.

INFRASTRUCTURE AND HUMAN SECURITY


In South Africa, people take to the streets every day in “service delivery protests”. They are intimately aware of the relationship between city infrastructure and basic socio-economic security. They are willing to put their lives on the line to be heard and to fight for what they believe to be a human right – the right to basic services supported by working infrastructure.

The view that many people only start to take note of infrastructure when it fails, serves to accentuate our reactive relationship with city infrastructure. Infrastructure failure means different things to different people, depending on their socio-economic vulnerability. For the more fortunate, infrastructure failure translates into squandered taxes. For the most vulnerable, it could mean the difference between a newborn child dying of a waterborne disease or not.

When one considers the relationship between infrastructure and human security, the global numbers are shocking:

An estimated 746 billion people live in extreme poverty

1 billion people lack access to safe water

Nearly 1 billion people lack access to electricity

A women will walk an average of 3.7 miles (55 football fields) every day to collect water

1.5% of home births involve safe water, sanitation and proper hygiene

1 child dies every single minute from diarrheal disease caused by contaminated water and poor sanitation (more deaths than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined)

1 in 5 infants die in their first month due to lack of clean water in unsanitary environments


It is vital to put infrastructure in this global context of inequality, vulnerability and risk. Across the globe, population growth, rapid urbanisation, aging infrastructure and constrained public budgets are placing ever greater demands on city governments.



INFRASTRUCTURE MAINTENANCE AND SUSTAINABLE INVESTMENT


As noted by Peter Thomson President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly, at the 2017 Global Infrastructure Forum:

Investment in sustainable and resilient infrastructure is fundamental to achieving long-term sustainable economic growth … [i]n short, improving the livelihoods of those in greatest need.

Infrastructure lies at the base of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals; however, the global infrastructure gap is a pressing issue. The gap was estimated to be around US$1 trillion a year in 2014. Annual global demand lay at US$3.7 trillion, while investment lagged behind at only US$ 2.7 trillion.

Infrastructure investment more often than not translates into funding expensive new capital projects. However, constraints on public budgets, inadequate project implementation and corruption negatively impact new ventures, with dire consequences for vulnerable populations. This political bias towards funding new assets results in a neglect of maintenance and asset resilience, which leads to unnecessary user costs, as well as negative environmental and social externalities.

In uncertain economic times, according to the World Economic Forum, authorities need to make the most of their existing asset base to increase asset productivity and longevity. In other words, the sustainable approach in the current economic climate would be to invest time and money into optimising existing infrastructure assets.

The following principles of infrastructure lifecycle asset management become ever more important to extract value over the entire planned life of an asset:

Increase asset lifetime value by extending asset life and reinvesting with a lifecycle view

Increase utility by maximising asset utilisation and enhancing quality for users.

Decrease total cost by mitigating externalities and reducing operations and maintenance costs.

In times of uncertainty, innovation and technology can support more efficient and effective asset management to turn risk into opportunity.



TURNING PERIL INTO PROMISE


The urban sociologist Robert Park describes the city as “man’s most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in after his heart’s desire”.

The evolution of the city has been intimately tied to industrial revolutions that have:

1) Helped humankind to become less reliant on animal power

2) Enabled mass production

3) Afforded digital capabilities and long-distance connectivity to billions of people

We are currently in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, where new technologies are “fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds”, resulting in what the Founder and Executive Chair of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwabb, calls “a time of great promise and great peril”.

Technology is an enabler or catalyst of change, but not a solution in itself. IMQS is in the business of developing software to help organisations better manage all facets of city infrastructure (roads, water, electricity, etc.) - the business of turning peril into promise.

As a proudly South African company, we have spent over a decade focusing on enabling our clients through technology. Municipalities in South Africa work in an environment where innovation is stifled by challenges that include:

Skills shortages

Complex regulations that prioritise compliance

Spending priorities torn between social and economic infrastructure


Within this challenging environment, IMQS’s aim is to ensure that the engineers and accountants in charge of using taxes to plan, build, operate and assess city infrastructure have a complete view of their asset landscape. Our intuitive, GIS-based Web platform forms the base of a broader integrated software product suite that has been developed in accordance with international infrastructure asset management best practices.

We work closely with our clients so that our solutions reflect their business processes. In the case of Rustenburg Local Municipality, that has struggled to conserve water amid drought, population growth and budgetary constraints, the ability to record, structure and leverage asset data has helped save over R300 000 in areas of operations and maintenance in just one year. We are proud that our software promotes communication and transparency across all departments and stakeholder groups, and contributes to the fight against corruption that plagues public offices the world over.

With the right information at hand, and transparent systems in place, municipalities, utilities and city governments in South Africa, and beyond its borders, can make informed decisions, and be held accountable for their actions by the populations they serve. All this is done with one goal in view - to enable the development and management of smart, well-governed, honest, secure and inclusive cities that represent the sustainable human habitats of tomorrow!