In preparation for the Australian Infrastructure Plan, the government recently commissioned a report on emerging trends in infrastructure 2021. As part of the report, Infrastructure Australia’s Chief Executive Romilly Madew wrote: “the pandemic put Australia’s infrastructure to the test.”
He’s not wrong.
According to experts, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted one of the most significant sets of technological changes in the last 100 years – with new trends emerging that will shape Australia forever. This article will explore five of these emerging trends in infrastructure: from digitisation to rapid innovation.
Emerging Trends in Infrastructure 2021
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic drove Australians online. As a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and self-distancing measures, monthly online retail sales increased by 100%. This increase was approximately five times the growth of online shopping in 2019.
For Australian businesses, this shift is huge. The rise of online shopping has increased the demand for courier, micro-freight and parcel delivery services nationwide. It has also brought many small businesses online – especially restaurants.
In total, Infrastructure Australia estimates that nine in ten businesses have now adopted online collaboration tools: making their daily operations more efficient and productive than ever before.
But there are benefits for customers too. The rise of small business digitisation has made everyday tasks like shopping, booking appointments and ordering food accessible from any internet-connected device. This has given Australian’s easier access to their favourite small businesses and driven Australia’s total annual retail sales up by 65.5%
The widespread adoption of collaboration tools has also given rise to another emerging trend in infrastructure: decentralisation.
As a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, over 4 million Australians (or 30% of Australia’s total workforce) have worked from home since March 2020. As of 2021, approximately a third of Australia’s remote workers want to continue working from home.
This decentralisation has benefits for employees and businesses. For employees, remote work is flexible enough to be done anywhere: causing a 200% increase in net migration from major cities to regional towns. This migration benefits businesses in turn, as it causes local economy booms in small towns and decreases infrastructure congestion in major cities.
Decentralisation also allows businesses to move their operations out of major cities: reducing their overhead costs dramatically and opening up possibilities in regional areas.
While it’s easy to picture Australia’s infrastructure as difficult to change, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that our infrastructure is actually very adaptable.
As a direct result of lockdown measures, Australia’s healthcare system increased intensive unit care capability three-fold, schools shifted online, and businesses adapted their sales processes practically overnight. Even Australia’s Broadband Infrastructure was adaptable, as NBN Co was able to release latent capacity that increased the overall network capacity by 40%.
The unpredictability of the pandemic has reinforced the need for adaptability for businesses: but this has real benefits for Australia. Adaptable businesses can:
Shift their operations to capitalise when new markets emerge
Adjust to business operations to survive an economic crisis
Embrace change and innovation easily
Use their technological infrastructure for multiple purposes
Use their resources more effectively
#4. Supply Chain Reconfiguration
Supply chain reconfiguration is one of the newest emerging trends in infrastructure. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Australian businesses re-designed their supply chains to prioritise production within Australia.
While this has been tough for some businesses, it’s a growth opportunity for others. An increase in Australia-made products has shortened the supply chain of many products, given businesses greater control over their manufacturing practices and made the production-to-customer process faster.
Though the road to supply chain reconfiguration might be rocky sometimes, it will benefit businesses long term, as stronger supply chains are more future-proof businesses against crises.
#5. Rapid Innovation
Rapid technological innovation has been a key trend for the past thirty years. However, the rise of digitisation during the pandemic has really turned the trend of ‘innovation’ into ‘rapid innovation’.
Let’s take Australia’s healthcare system as an example.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, just 0.04% of all scheduled Medicare services took place through telehealth. After the pandemic, this has increased to 35%. The rise of telehealth has meant that more Australians can access healthcare on the go, which:
Reduces the wait times for appointments
Allows people to access healthcare while at work or in a carer role
Provides rural and regional people with access to specialists
Reduces traffic congestion around doctors offices
Reduces the workload of healthcare administration staff
In any industry, rapid innovation is a key driver of change – as it results in new technology that improves life for everyone. For healthcare, innovation is evident in the rise of time-saving technology like online faxing (also known as ‘internet faxing’).
Future Digital Infrastructure Trends
While these emerging trends in infrastructure describe where Australian businesses are in 2021, digital infrastructure trends will continue to change quickly. Over the next ten years, Australian businesses can expect to see the rise of the following digital trends:
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
The Internet of Things (IoT)
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