The Industrial Age is over. Humanity is now in an Age of Mass Customization. And the relics of the Industrial System are losing relevance. In the past, infrastructure was all about building monolithic 'factories' where people could receive a standard service. Organizations and governments built massive `healthcare factories' where people could go when they were sick. 'Education factories' where students could learn a set curriculum. Even `mass transit factories' in the form of set-piece systems with rigid structures that moved people along the most common routes.
In their place, customized solutions are emerging. We are seeing the emergence of specialized health providers focused on unique conditions. We are seeing the wide-spread adoption of ride-share and mobility options that take people from door-to-door. We are seeing the development of individual educational journeys, tailored around the unique need of each person (some school districts already use AI to identify students with special needs, often far faster than their human teachers can, so learning programs can be personalized).
In many respects, this shift is good news for consumers. It means users are able to get more value from their infrastructure. It reduces the waste of providing services people don't actually need or use. Perhaps most importantly, it offers an opportunity to make infrastructure more inclusive and accessible.
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 (see trend 5), new business and services models. Focus can be placed on creating unique experiences for users while protecting their data, their privacy and their interests. Infrastructure value chains will likely need to be adapted to achieve better response times and higher value. Enabling technologies (like 5G) and emerging approaches (like the metaverse) should be integrated.
The problem is that this move towards customization is happening despite existing infrastructure and policy, not because of it. In fact, more often than not, the shift is being driven by private players who - having spotted a need in the market - took advantage by appealing to the individual consumer rather than the faceless taxpayer. Just consider how community-driven navigation map apps, absent government support, have rerouted the way people travel. Or how private specialist health providers are rerouting patient pathways.
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 (as discussed in trend 9).
This year, we expect to see infrastructure players and governments start to focus more on what they deliver rather than how they deliver it. Instead of providing assets or services, they can focus on generating outcomes. Instead of adding more capacity, they can focus on adding more options. Instead of building monolithic temples, they can start thinking about how to create tailored, customized services that help meet the needs of tomorrow's individual citizens.
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