New Report Points to Benefits of Embedding Digital Technologies in Infrastructure
WASHINGTON—The United States must transform existing “brick-and-mortar” physical infrastructure into digital infrastructure to seize the next wave of economic opportunities that will create jobs and improve people’s quality of life, according to a new analysis from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a leading technology policy think tank. Released on the first day of national Infrastructure Week, the report serves as a policymaker’s guide to digital infrastructure, its benefits, barriers to deployment, and policy solutions to overcome them.
“Infrastructure has always been a prerequisite for economic growth and vitality—and now, as advances in information technology have fundamentally changed the economy, infrastructure also must evolve,” said ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson, the report’s lead author. “Most existing infrastructure will need to be hybridized, by integrating digital features, while some new infrastructure will be purely digital. But make no mistake: The country’s future growth prospects will hinge in no small part on whether it successfully transforms our infrastructure systems.”
The report outlines the many benefits the United States can derive from deploying robust digital infrastructure, including:
- Expanded capacity—through increased use of both existing and new infrastructure;
- Time savings and convenience—through reduced congestion, simplified operations, and better decisionmaking capability;
- Cost savings—through waste reduction, increased efficiency, and more flexibility in the provision of key services;
- Improved reliability—with greater predictability and fewer interruptions in key services; and
- Enhanced safety—through improved resiliency to threats and interruptions.
ITIF identifies several barriers to faster and wider deployment of digital infrastructure, including costly and outdated regulations, a lack of public funding for investment, a small pool of workers with requisite tech skills, and ill-founded fears about data privacy and security.
The authors propose a series of recommendations to overcome these barriers and ensure that government policies support the transition from traditional infrastructure to digital infrastructure:
- Create “digital-friendly” regulation;
- Develop strategies for how agencies can support digital infrastructure in their areas of influence;
- Increase funding for digital infrastructure; and
- Don’t let privacy and security concerns slow deployment.
“Information technology is creating a world of smart enterprises, smart governments, and smart cities. It’s time to accelerate the creation of smart infrastructure to support them,” Atkinson concluded. “Doing so will generate an array of economic and social benefits. But without a clearly articulated goal of transforming traditional infrastructure into digital infrastructure and the right policies to make it happen, this much-needed transition will continue to lag.”
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy. Recognized as one of the world’s leading science and technology think tanks, ITIF’s mission is to formulate and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation and boost productivity to spur growth, opportunity, and progress. Learn more at itif.org.