Governments told to focus on ‘existing infrastructure’

Leaders should encourage more effective management of operating assets rather than solely invest in building new ones, a new report suggests.

Public authorities around the world need to rethink their infrastructure investment priorities, according to the World Economic Forum.

In a report published in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, the Geneva-based organisation warns that while building new assets ranks high on the global agenda, leaders in both the developed and developing world often neglect existing ones – often leading to “increasing congestion, unnecessary operational costs and inadequate maintenance”.

Growing consumer demand, constrained financing and ageing assets made it necessary for nations to get more out of their infrastructure base by extending its longevity and productivity, the report said. Addressing current weaknesses would help address what the World Economic Forum estimates is a global $1 trillion infrastructure investment need.

Better asset management – via the enablement and adoption of best practice in operation and maintenance (O&M) worldwide – were seen as crucial in this effort.

“In operations, [governments] fail to maximize asset utilisation and to meet adequate user quality standards,” the report said. “Maintenance is all too often neglected, since political bias is towards funding new assets.”

The World Economic Forum was optimistic this could be achieved. Best practice, it said, already existed in a number of industries – including airports, ports, power and roads – while recent innovation in digital technologies could help bring about further efficiency gains.

Remote sensing, advanced analytics, autonomous operations and integrated scheduling and control were seen as among the most promising breakthroughs capable of fostering better utilisation of infrastructure.

Most importantly, the report pointed out, was that such efforts remained largely affordable, being cost-effective in an otherwise capital-intensive industry.

“Even small O&M improvements can make a remarkable impact, given the large size of the global asset base, where each percent of improvement translates into billions of dollars saved.”