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As featured on BusinessMirror:  Emerging Trends in Infrastructure


2023 may represent an epoch unlike any other. Future generations may look back at 2023 with deep admiration or deep scorn. They may praise leaders for their foresight or damn them for their inaction. Leaders today have a choice. The repercussions of these choices can resonate for future generations.

The risk is that leaders allow the worst of our human nature to rule decision-making during this period of massive social, political, economic and environmental change; collaboration could falter, globalization could fail, and society could fracture. The opportunity is that leaders allow the best of human nature to win the day. Society could unite in the face of danger, adapt to change, and innovate in adversity.

The willingness to let go of the past may largely dictate how societies move into the future. They won’t make much progress if they are shackled to sunk investments and entrenched systems. They won’t innovate if they can’t open their minds to new ideas and approaches. They won’t adapt if they aren’t looking ahead. And they won’t unite unless they believe in a better future.

This mindset shift is important as the Philippines forge its path in a post-pandemic world. The infrastructure sector must adapt and develop in order to address the changing needs of society. 

Michael Arcatomy H. Guarin
It is a new era, and we have to think differently in terms of tackling the challenges and opportunities that this presents to the infrastructure sector.

Michael Arcatomy H. Guarin
Deal Advisory Head and Infrastructure Sector Head
KPMG in the Philippines

Guarin highlighted that “more than seeing it as risks, the emerging trends in infrastructure are great breakthroughs that could champion sustainable changes if addressed and implemented appropriately. These trends cut across different segments of society, from ESG, healthcare, finance, digital literacy and communication ¬– a clear manifestation of the interconnection of each one.”

The Ten Trends in Infrastructure

Trend 1: Tilting toward territorialism and shifting allegiances

A big risk for 2023 is that all this geopolitical complexity and uncertainty that we’re currently seeing can slow the pace of decision-making to a crawl. Right now, however, action is needed, and lots of it. Populations need more infrastructure and more leadership, not less. Our advice to infrastructure players is to keep their new geopolitical and supply chain security lenses on a pivot. In a world ruled by unstable temporary alliances, awareness and agility may be key.

Trend 2: Backed into the sustainability corner

This year, we expect to see individuals and organizations take serious steps to move from talk to action. Much focus will likely remain on mitigation (anything we can do to keep global warming and climate change to a minimum is welcome, even if humanity overshoots the 1.5-degree goal). But the growing focus will likely be placed on adaptation as people come to terms with what it means to live in a climate-stressed world. There may also be multiple paths to adaptation, though some require a fundamental shift in mindset.

Our advice to governments and infrastructure players is to leave the old mindsets behind and factor sustainability into decision making now. Retrofitting using an old mindset is going to be more expensive, less effective and more disruptive. And history has proven you can’t win this fight doing what you have done in the past. 

Trend 3: The Age of Mass Customization emerges

The Age of Mass Customization is about personalizing infrastructure to the user — both in its physical manifestation and in the way we use it. And that will require a step change in digitization, new business and services models. Focus can be placed on creating unique experiences for users while protecting their data, their privacy and their interests.

The challenge facing infrastructure providers and governments is two-fold. The first big challenge is how to remain relevant in an age where technologies and private players are already disrupting the service delivery model. Governments may need to rethink where and how they will play (or perhaps, just intervene) in the provision of infrastructure. In part, this requires new ideas and models that eschew the industrial age and embody the age of mass customization. It will likely also require some tough decisions about what to do with existing industrial-age assets

Trend 4: Inflation, pricing and supply elevate the risk

A health pandemic, followed by a supply chain pandemic, led to an inflationary pandemic. The big worry for infrastructure players is that the next stop is a bankruptcy pandemic.

The continued volatility and financial disruption of the past few months have certainly not been easy for infrastructure players. We are seeing infrastructure planners and owners struggling to budget for projects that will take years to deliver and decades to finance. As costs rise, return on investment equations rapidly change. As inflation bites, so does affordability.

To be sure, supply chain bankruptcy would be a worst-case scenario this year. But the risk of not building anything at all would be much, much more dangerous over the long term.

Trend 5: Getting the most from digital

Nobody denies that digital transformation can deliver massive potential benefits for infrastructure owners, operators and users. The use cases are manifold. The value is quantifiable. The capabilities are plentiful. So why is it taking so long for infrastructure to actually embrace digital?

This year, we expect to see significant pressure on contractors and developers to up their digital capabilities and integrate into the wider value chain. We also expect to see more infrastructure players work to overlay data with experience — applying human capabilities to drive real value from data.

Trend 6: Cities look for purpose

This year, expect to see the city, regional and national governments start to engage in real and collaborative debates on what value cities can deliver. And, with that, expect to see a much greater focus on bringing together the essential ingredients to drive the work, play and live agenda.

Trend 7: Institutional players drive the climate agenda

Governments have big ambitions for climate change. But they also know that the cost of the required structural changes will likely be enormous — some estimates suggest upwards of 7 percent of global GDP between now and 2050. This is at a time of massive pressure on government pocketbooks, rising inflation and justifiable debates on who holds the costs and reaps the benefits of climate change.

Perhaps not surprisingly, governments are looking to institutional investors to help finance the costs. Institutional investors are also long-term investors. This isn’t just about patient capital. It’s about investors who understand the long-term effects of climate change and are invested enough to want to do something about it. And over the past few years, many have become much more active in their management of their assets, working with their investments to deliver real and measurable decarbonization goals.

Over the coming year, we can expect institutional investors, governments and owners to become much more comfortable allowing the power of capital to drive climate outcomes.

Trend 8: Globalization gets buffeted by security

This year, expect to see infrastructure players start to rework their supply chains into more dynamic supply webs that form around the security of supply. And don't be surprised to see some significant fallout as less-friendly markets and companies get dropped.

Trend 9: Dealing with sunk costs and abandoned assets

Infrastructure assets are expensive. And they are made to last decades. So, there is an obvious reluctance to abandon them early. Yet society’s needs and expectations have changed. Climate change has rewritten the value equation in many markets. And technological change has upped the risk of obsolescence.

The potential risks of trying to solve new problems within an old context and mindset are huge. It limits the imagination. It stifles innovation. It slows investment from flowing into new ideas and technologies. It increases costs, encourages waste and creates redundancy. If society is to move peacefully and confidently from the industrial age to the age of mass customization, it should become much more willing to abandon the status quo and encourage greenfield thinking.

Trend 10: The definition of infrastructure evolves

What is infrastructure really? In the past, it was pretty easy to identify. Infrastructure was stuff that governments built to deliver on citizens' needs and policy agendas. Now those lines are blurring. Infrastructure is no longer the remit of government alone. It does not always deliver on citizen needs or policy agendas. In many cases, the lines between sectors are rapidly blurring.

Given all of the trends we have raised in this report — the shift to issue-specific alliances, changing supply chain expectations, rising economic uncertainty, unsolved questions about existing assets, digitization and the shift to the age of mass customization, encouraging this type of flexible federation of capabilities may prove to be the only way that governments may be able to execute on their agendas. They certainly can’t do it alone. And jumping into bed with one big partner to the exclusion of others has proven to be unpopular with citizens who worry about who is controlling their infrastructure.

What is clear is that the definition of infrastructure is evolving. The competitive landscape is rapidly changing. Governments are no longer the sole purveyor of infrastructure. There will likely be implications for everyone in the sector.

The excerpt was taken from the KPMG Thought Leadership publication: https://kpmg.com/xx/en/home/insights/2022/01/emerging-trends-in-infrastructure.html

© 2023 R.G. Manabat & Co., a Philippine partnership and a member firm of the KPMG global organization of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Limited, a private English company limited by guarantee. All rights reserved.

For more information, you may reach out to Deal Advisory Head and Infrastructure Sector Head Michael Arcatomy H. Guarin through ph-kpmgmla@kpmg.com, social media or visit www.home.kpmg/ph.

This article is for general information purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice to a specific issue or entity. The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent KPMG International or KPMG in the Philippines.