We Must Be 'Smart' About the Future of Infrastructure
America's transportation infrastructure is in a pretty dire state. The American Society of Engineers' (ASCE) last report card gave it an average grade of D+. If the United States were a high school, our parents would be meeting with the principal and we'd probably be concerned about whether we were going to graduate.
Few issues can gain bipartisan support these days, but our questionable transportation infrastructure has been a hot issue at all levels of politics since long before Donald Trump took office. If implemented, the President's proposed $1.5-trillion infrastructure plan could go a long way toward repairing and replacing the crumbling highways, bridges, ports, and railways that continue to plague the supply chain. Maybe the ASCE's next report card will finally give U.S. infrastructure a better grade.
With Great Investment Comes Great Responsibility
However, the federal government only plans to put up $200 billion of the $1.5-trillion proposal. State governments will pick up an additional portion of the tab, but it's clear that President Trump's plan will rely heavily on private investment to meet funding goals.
While investors may grumble at the amount of money they're being asked to put up, it's important to understand the strong bargaining position that would be gained from such a high level of investment. It will be critical to the future of the supply chain that infrastructure upgrades take smart technology into account, and this level of investment should guarantee that we get what we need.
If you're not convinced, these are some of the areas where smart technology will most impact the supply chain:
Smarter roadways, railways, and waterways. Moving forward, infrastructure projects must focus on integrating the Internet of Things (IoT) into our highways, waterways, railways, and pipelines to give unprecedented visibility to the freight sector.
In addition to this increased visibility, the installation of proper sensors could vastly improve the way we monitor and maintain that infrastructure. Bridge collapses, train derailments caused by rail damage, and unexpected lock and dam failures rank among the problems that could be virtually eliminated by smart infrastructure.
Self-driving trucks. Technology giants have already begun widespread testing of self-driving trucks in both rural and urban environments. A recent fatality by a self-driving Uber happened because somebody put stickers on a stop sign, limiting the vehicle's ability to recognize it. A few stickers would matter far less if stop signs had sensors readable by self-driving vehicles. Sensors in on-ramps, mile-markers, and/or in highway lanes themselves could drastically improve the safety of this technology.
Sustainability. The supply chain takes our environmental impact seriously. Carrying the bulk of the investment means that supply chain stakeholders can demand the implementation of environmental initiatives driven by smart technology. This type of sensor-driven data has already been used effectively in places such as New York City to reduce pollution. The more we implement technology across our nation's infrastructure, the more effective we will be in our efforts to reduce the supply chain's inevitable environmental impact.
More data. If there's one thing logistics professionals love, it's data. Lots and lots of data. The data provided from smart infrastructure—especially in urban areas—would contribute to vast improvements in our supply chain/distribution networks, site selection efforts, optimized delivery schedules, and much more.
If the President wants us to invest, then let's invest. But let's do it with the stipulation that we will build our new infrastructure in a way that embraces Industry 4.0, IoT, and any other innovations a connected future brings our way.