The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a dramatic and extensive transformation in the body of ecosystems, infrastructure and assets upon which the UK runs.
As a society, our reality has changed and, as we move beyond a state of emergency, we need to reimagine our critical infrastructure to reflect a new host of needs. Yet it’s not just about responding reactively to needs as they arise, but rather harnessing a global opportunity to reimagine critical infrastructure and build back better.
Critical infrastructure plays a vital role in keeping the lights on, water flowing and essential transport moving. In today’s virtual world of work, the telcos are very high on the critical infrastructure pyramid as their role in fostering productivity rises to prominence.
As our critical infrastructure faces new challenges and comes under new pressures, we have to ask ourselves the question: how do we redesign to cater for the new level of service that is needed, and how do we create in-built resilience around that service? Citizens need services that work, and that have continuity.
What might our new world look like? A whole host of infrastructure services will need to evolve. With transport, for example, capacity has historically been designed around early morning and evening rush hours. However, the concept of rush hour has shifted dramatically as an increasing number of people swap the physical commute for a digital one – there will be an increasing trend towards people going into work when they need to and want to. Our transport infrastructure needs to evolve to accommodate this shift.
And as a result of this shift in working patterns and locations, there is also a shift in power usage as more people stay at home. People are not just using more power at home because they are at home more, but are using it to charge electric vehicles, IoT devices and mobility aids. A question around the efficiency and affordability of power usage arises. People may begin to ask, “why don’t I generate my own power, or sell my excess back to the grid or to my neighbour?”
Similarly as a greater number of people choose to work remotely, the smooth functioning of critical data services will continue to become more essential. If WiFi goes down for example, people can’t work and children can’t participate in essential education activities. The resilience we build into new critical infrastructure services has to accommodate these types of changes.
Whilst we have experienced significant disruption, and there may be more to come, there are also opportunities as we explore a new frontier for work, commerce and our social lives. Some businesses may find themselves increasingly irrelevant if they continue to operate in the old way, and need to pivot, retrain and reposition accordingly. For example, certain lines of work once dependent on a particular kind of physical infrastructure to operate can now rethink their business and operating models, allowing them to take advantage of new opportunities. For example, events no longer need a venue, or to be able to cater for a particular number of attendees. By hosting an event online, event organisers can bring their costs down and expand their reach and revenue by inviting more people. Businesses no longer need office space if they use digital collaboration tools and the cloud to promote remote working. Companies are also being pushed to examine and repurpose their assets. The airline industry, for example, can re-examine how they utilize their access to physical infrastructure and flight paths to develop new opportunities in the field of logistics.
Most importantly, it’s a time for us to build back better - as companies, the government and society as a whole. It’s a fresh opportunity to create services that are aligned to sustainability, and to explore adjacencies and overlaps. With this in mind, we can move beyond a state of emergency to more than just recovery, and embrace a revival.