The Take: Tennessee’s Tragedy Underscores the Need for Advanced Technology to Rebuild U.S. Infrastructure


What’s News 

Recent weather disasters in Missouri and Tennessee destroyed roads and caused bridges to collapse. In Tennessee, the destruction prompted renewed attention to the condition of the state’s roads and bridges. The condition of an 82-year-old bridge that collapsed was one of nearly 300 state-owned bridges ranked as “poor,” according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Tennessee is not alone. Last year, 46,154 of the nation’s more than 617,000 bridges were determined to be in “poor” condition, according to a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

In November, President Biden signed into law the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a US$1 trillion investment in U.S. infrastructure. About $550 billion of that is targeted to rebuild and improve the nation’s failing roads, bridges, power grids, and broadband systems.

SAP’s Take 

The combination of advanced technology and immense funding available today creates a “once-in-a- generation opportunity,” said Katharina Muellers-Patel, SAP global general manager, Service and Financial Services Industries.

Traditionally, when a road or a bridge is built, it’s designed, constructed, and opened. Then those who worked on the project go away, leaving the municipality to maintain it. Digital twins — digital replicas that can mimic a structure from construction to the end of its usable lifespan — operate similarly.

But with other advanced technologies, such as geospatial mapping, analytics, predictive analytics, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI), the opening of a bridge or road is just the beginning. In-memory databases, such SAP HANA, can handle and process exponentially growing data and, with other technology applications, turn it into useful, actionable information.

The lifespan and operations of an asset, such as a bridge or road, can be recorded, analyzed, and predicted by sharing and using continually increasing data. Digital threads, as this concept is called, brings together the continually collected information that had traditionally been siloed in the manufacturing process and now can be shared by all.

“So, in the future you would actually have all this data in one place,” Muellers-Patel said. 

With digital threads, new data is constantly being added throughout the product’s life cycle. This provides a thorough understanding of the asset: what it is exposed to, how it is functioning, how it may function in the future under current and predictive scenarios, what could happen, and when to retire it.

These designs and operations can create more environmentally friendly infrastructure by analyzing soil and measuring an asset’s climate impact along with that of its suppliers, including material and services. Smart infrastructure operations also can save time and money. Instead of “scheduled maintenance,” digital threads can sense or predict when maintenance is needed at a very specific location.

“What we’re suggesting is that this model continues to evolve over time, and you keep on adding more data,” Muellers-Patel said. “We can compute the information and constantly add data from all sources — from inception to delivery to usage to maintenance, all the way to the end.”

Ilaina Jonas, Senior Director of Global Public Relations, SAP
+1 (646) 923-2834, ilaina.jonas@sap.com