Construction firm Costain has announced an intriguing tie-up with Microsoft, in a move that signals the increased blurring of the lines between the digital and engineering worlds.
The two companies are working together to support water utility Anglian Water to develop an enterprise-ready digital twin for a new 500km network of interconnecting pipelines and associated infrastructure that will move water from areas of surplus in Lincolnshire to the drier south and east of the region.
Costain will use the Microsoft Azure platform to integrate systems and business functions for improved enterprise data management, and enable artificial intelligence and automate processes that will drive better decision making. Other partners involved in the project include engineering contractors Jacobs, Mott MacDonald and Farrans as well as product lifecycle management software vendor Bentley.
Costain and Microsoft have also announced a broad partnership focused on “helping owners and operators of infrastructure create and get value from digital assets.” The UK initiative brings the infrastructure engineering knowledge, client insight and digital integration expertise of Costain with Microsoft’s cloud, machine learning and data analytics capabilities.
The aim is to help organizations in asset-intensive sectors including energy and utilities and transport, create digital versions of project delivery schedules and physical assets, enabling them to virtually and remotely test designs, weather scenarios, incident response, carbon reduction schemes, and maintenance and up-grade programmes, with enhanced speed and accuracy.
It is always interesting to identify those projects that signify a clear market trend, and we think that this tie-up will set the tone for a wave of closer working between tech platform giants and asset engineering specialists – as well as IT services organizations. While the tie-up between Microsoft and Costain at Anglian is by no means the first of its kind, the development of wider partnership to develop more repeatable propositions shows that these kind of alliances are stepping up to the next level.
Collaboration between digital and engineering firms has not always progressed smoothly – in the UK, Thames Water struggled to get full value from its engagement with partners from both sides during the last phase of its asset modernization programme. But with growing regulatory pressure to deliver improved customer service, and rising penalties for asset failure, energy and utilities organizations are looking to harness technology wherever they can to enhance performance.
It is also worth noting that we are seeing increased momentum in the adoption of digital twin solutions across several industry sectors in recent months. We heard from one customer in the utility sector that its early investment in digital twins really helped it during recent periods of lockdown, when it was not able to get field engineers on sites to plan upgrades to key assets, but was able to get a lot of the work done virtually. We have explored the use cases for digital twins in this report.