New Zealand could take a lesson from the way China and Singapore leverage big data and analytics to better plan and deliver major infrastructure, suggests John Dalzell.

Dalzell, managing director of the CadeNZA consortium, joined Infrastructure NZ's recent study trip to Singapore, Hong Kong and Mainland China.

Says Dalzell: "There has been significant investment in R&D in China, and numerous 'think tanks' have emerged that help to inform policy direction.

"By capturing data from this unprecedented level of activity, analytics are providing a powerful tool for applied continued learning and optimising future investment. This plays an important role in producing a better quantitative assessment of benefits and risks that can be extended to help New Zealand with the monetarisation of societal benefit cost — key for achieving agreement around project priorities and funding."

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He suggests this is one avenue the NZ Government could explore as part of its Belt and Road Initiative workplan.

The new Infrastructure Commission will have a role in helping shape the infrastructure priorities and the new Urban Development Authority (UDA) will have a role in helping deliver these projects.

Dalzell says a partnership between these Government based entities and the Chinese equivalent the National Development Reform Committee (NDRC) under the BRI umbrella could provide better and more robust research and analysis to inform and underpin policy.

"With the level of activity and growth occurring in China, there is a growing base of data and analysis which provides various baseline data sets capable of extrapolation to assist in the evaluation of new projects.

"By focusing on sharing research, comparative information, indicators based on comprehensive datasets and analytics, such a partnership would significantly enhance our quantitative assessment process.

"This enhanced approach with strong policy research at its core would also translate back into greater clarity and certainty for the market by linking specific policy objectives to key projects.

"This would provide optimal conditions for the private sector to invest in the required resource, with more certainty and confidence. Comparative benchmarking provides context to local datasets and a means of ensuring we are meeting international best practice."

In a discussion paper, Dalzell says after decades of insufficient infrastructure investment in New Zealand there is much debate around what constitutes the right level of applied technical innovation.

There is a risk that as taxpayers' dollars are being applied to catch-up on the infrastructure deficit, we fail to include sufficient forward thinking into our plans and projects. Many of the projects in the current planning cycle will take many years to deliver, and at completion there is a risk that they could be obsolete when compared to the rate of technological advancements seen in other parts of the world.

Applying a whole-of-system, whole-of-life focus that is integrated across the entire value chain — design, construction, operations and maintenance — will be critical for delivering time and cost efficiencies.

● The CadeNZA consortium formed in 2017 is a three-way partnership between China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), Harrison Grierson and Silk Road Management to bid for and deliver major infrastructure projects in New Zealand.