Refocusing on Opportunities: Five Key Takeaways from Infrastructure Week

By: Barbara Humpton, CEO, Siemens USA

Our national conversation about infrastructure has shined a big spotlight on challenges.  The “why” for revitalizing it has been that it’s crumbling and needs to be rebuilt.


This Infrastructure Week I saw the spotlight re-focus on opportunities.  Meeting with leaders Monday morning at an Infrastructure Week kickoff event, I heard important conversations about funding and replacing aged systems.  But I also sensed a lot of optimism around a powerful idea – that we can use digital tools and the Internet of Things to dramatically improve its overall performance.


Here are my five key takeaways from Infrastructure Week.


Technology and what we can do with AI, data analytics and automation are changing the game.


We’re now at the front end of bringing digital technology to the physical world: As I told Yahoo Finance, while U.S. infrastructure still has people working on concrete and asphalt, now we also have folks working on data.


Everything from our roads and rails to our water pumps, streetlights and buildings is producing data.  Making our infrastructure smarter and more connected – bringing together energy systems and building technologies – gives us a platform to tackle some of the biggest challenges in our cities.


As we replace aged systems and #BuildForTomorrow, we can also build better.


While connecting us, infrastructure has unfortunately also served to divide us.  Using data to drive our decisions is one way we can heal these divisions.  A new focus on equity can help us fix past mistakes by reconnecting neighborhoods and closing opportunity gaps.


The time is right for a new era of public-private partnerships.


Siemens’ view is that increasing federal spending on infrastructure will yield enormous public benefits.  This is particularly true if we apply a wider lens to infrastructure, and if we emphasize connectivity and emerging technology.


We also believe that advancing the ball with infrastructure requires new leadership and ingenuity provided by the private sector too.  Even if new federal project funding gets unlocked, new funding strategies led by the private sector – including public-private partnerships (P3s) – will still be necessary to close funding gaps and launch more projects.


There’s a new art to long-term planning in an era when technology is changing faster than ever before.


KCI Technologies board chairman and chair of ASCE Industry Leaders Council Terry Neimeyer led my panel session.  And Terry kicked things off by noting that infrastructure is typically designed and built for 50 years down the road, asking how we can prepare infrastructure for technological progress that’s still hard to imagine.


Think about autonomous vehicles, one of six trends ASCE has identified as rapidly changing how we approach infrastructure.  Autonomous vehicles were not on my mind a decade ago – yet now I look ahead wondering if my grandchildren will ever learn to drive!


Here again is where public-private partnerships come into play.  Working together, technologists and city leaders can create an ecosystem that not only rapidly integrates emerging technologies, but that figures out how to focus them on improving society – whether that’s zeroing out emissions or making commutes easier and safer.


Imagine autonomous and electric transportation.


From intelligent infrastructure to the vehicle and testing technologies, Siemens is working hard to making autonomous driving a reality.  But we’re really bullish about the societal impacts of what we call eMobility too.  After renewable generation, eMobility – electrifying not only vehicles, but buses, trains, trucks and aviation – stands out as one of the biggest opportunities we have to protect our planet and improve air quality in our cities.


Siemens has formed a business to provide the planning, the charging infrastructure, and the software platforms required to support eMobility on a much larger scale.  And during Infrastructure Week, we saw a great example of how this growing market has can also benefit our economy and the workforce.


Siemens will deliver 16 new electric bus chargers to support the New York City Transit Authority’s eBus program.  And now Siemens is also expanding our Wendell, North Carolina manufacturing plant – creating new 50 jobs – to support eMobility projects like this one.


There are numerous ways that emerging technology can raise the bar for U.S. infrastructure and positively impact society.  And Siemens will explore as many of those possibilities as we can.