Smart technology can get us to the 21st century infrastructure we need

America has a history of creating infrastructure milestones that have led to significant prosperity and national advantages. Dating back to the advent of the transcontinental railroad and moving forward through the Rural Electrification Act, the Interstate Highway System to the deployment of the ARPANET, these milestones have created competitive advantages that continue to this day.

During the 1950s and 1960s, our nation was transformed by explosive growth in our nation's public infrastructure ecosystem. That ecosystem allowed America to prosper by bridging communities and creating regional pockets of innovation. Coupled with the Space Race with the Soviet Union, the 20th century infrastructure ecosystem helped make America a technological superpower.

Now we have the opportunity to create a 21st century national infrastructure that will benefit all Americans. The 21st century national infrastructure will only be fully realized by investing now in smart infrastructure technology.

A 21st century infrastructure ecosystem includes transportation (roads, bridges and airports), water (public utilities) and energy (electric grid) that is layered by cross-cutting smart technology and enabled by ubiquitous broadband connectivity and sensors.

Our infrastructure is urban, suburban and rural, impacting every single American. As we invest in our infrastructure, we must take into account emerging technologies for both the physical infrastructure (new durable materials), and the digital tier that makes the physical infrastructure smart.


The current state of our nation's infrastructure simply cannot address the demands of a 21st-century America.

There are several good examples of how implementing smart infrastructure technology has created jobs with proven return on investment (ROI). Consider our 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investment in smart grid projects. According to the Department of Energy, nearly 50,000 new smart grid jobs were created while adding close to $7 billion in total economic inputs.

Another example is our nation's water infrastructure, which is need of smart infrastructure technology. In an America that is increasingly impacted by drought conditions, dealing with non-revenue water loss via leaks becomes critical. The American Water Works Association indicated that the 237,600 water line breaks each year in the U.S. cost public water utilities approximately $2.8 billion annually.

Over the course of the past few years, the city of North Miami Beach, Florida deployed smart water infrastructure technology. The ROI numbers to date spotlight the critical importance of implementing smart infrastructure technology. According to Itron, a technology company that offers products and services on energy and water resource management, the North Miami Beach utility has already identified and repaired 23 leaks, saving 27 million gallons of water and $38,000 annually.

Scale these numbers across hundreds of cities and towns across America and the numbers are quite staggering.

Simple enhancements to our transportation infrastructure ecosystem could have profound effects. According to a 2014 report by the National Economic Council and the president's Council of Economic Advisers, Americans spend 5.5 billion hours in traffic each year, resulting in $120 billion dollars in extra fuel and lost time.

Some of that lost production could be recaptured if we deployed smart infrastructure technology such as intelligent transportation management software, roadway sensors that monitor freeway conditions and reroute public transit, or networked traffic lights that communicate with each other and adapt to changing traffic patterns.

As we deploy smart infrastructure technology across the transportation, water and energy ecosystems, we should not do so in a siloed fashion. We will truly experience the impact of smart infrastructure technology when the technology is cross-pollinating across those silos.

We need a comprehensive system where water, power and transportation each affect the other components.

In order to realize the true value of smart infrastructure technology deployment, access to reliable, available broadband connectivity is essential. Owners and operators of the transportation, water and energy infrastructure ecosystems will be relying on mobile devices that depend on broadband connectivity (the Internet of Things) to access data from the sensors. Of course, the smart technology ecosystem must also be interoperable and cyber-secure.

Public private partnerships are also essential in a 21st century infrastructure ecosystem. Consider the Envision Charlotte program which helped connect more than 60 buildings in Charlotte, North Carolina's commercial center. To date, the program has reduced power usage by almost 18 percent and saved more than $17 million.

Smart technology will have diminished relevance unless the American citizen can capitalize on the smart data. According to National Instruments Corporation, it will take a new technology infrastructure and ecosystem to connect people to government in the best way possible in the 21st century.

Constituents need to be able to realize the full potential of the smart infrastructure technology benefits. This is already a reality in Arkansas using a platform called Gov2Go. Gov2Go is a digital personal assistant providing a single system for all of a citizen's notifications from and interactions with state government. Information is personalized, timely and relevant to the citizen all in a single location. Today, more than 200,000 Arkansans receive state government information and notifications via Gov2Go.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to jobs and productivity. According to a 2014 Brookings Institute report, infrastructure jobs tend to pay 30 percent more to lower income workers relative to all jobs nationally.

Add smart technology to the mix and that figure is sure to increase.

That alone is a great incentive for adopting the many new efficient smart technologies into the 21st century infrastructure ecosystem.

Brooks serves as the vice president for government relations and marketing at Sutherland Government Solutions. He is also vice chairman of CompTIA's New and Emerging Technologies Committee. Brooks served at the Department of Homeland Security as the first director of legislative affairs for the Science and Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a senior adviser to the late Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). Follow him on Twitter @ChuckDBrooks and on LinkedIn.

Logsdon is the senior director of public advocacy for CompTIA. In this role, he runs the association's New and Emerging Technologies Committee (focused on the policy surrounding social, mobile, big data/data analytics, cloud, the Internet of Things, and smart cities). He was also the staff lead for CompTIA's federally focused technology convergence commission, which examined the impact on the public sector when social, mobile, analytics and cloud converge. Follow him on Twitter @DJLSmartData.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.