Case Study: Maintaining Integrity Using Asset Management

case study maintaining assets

Written By: Dan Richardson, CEM Senior Consultant for SGM

ASK 10 PEOPLE TO DEFINE asset management and you will get a dozen different definitions. Some will think of their stock portfolios, others of aging infrastructure, and some may cringe no matter what the definition. A functional definition of asset management is a comprehensive strategy to cost-effectively deliver a level of service that meets or exceeds user/customer expectations and regulatory requirements with an acceptable level of risk.

The economic downturn highlighted the fact that in the past decade many, if not most, communities have transitioned from the “if you build it they will come” era to the “now that it is built — how do we maintain it?” era. It does not matter whether populations have increased or decreased; the infrastructure that was built needs to be maintained or these community assets quickly will become liabilities for future generations.

So how do local governments reconcile increasing user expectations and maintenance demands with tightening capital and operating budgets? The same way most challenges are overcome: by developing a strategy that can be successfully implemented one step at a time.

Asset management integrates all aspects of municipal operations, including the technical, organizational, financial, and communication elements. How they get integrated is usually unique to every organization, but below are some suggested tools and strategies.

Agree on Goals

The first step is to identify the highest priorities within the organization. Is it the technical challenge of improving the physical condition of assets, or is it the financial challenge of securing a sustainable funding source? Does it make sense to focus on one particular department, or is it more important to address all departments at once? These are just some examples of the questions that need to be asked to customize the asset management strategy to a specific organization.

So how do local governments reconcile increasing user expectations and maintenance demands with tightening capital and operating budgets? The same way most challenges are overcome: by developing a strategy that can be successfully implemented one step at a time.

The perfect is often the enemy of the good, and there is wisdom in only biting off what you can realistically chew.

Also note the word “agree” in this step. It is imperative that all stakeholders be on the same page with respect to setting priorities and goals. Stakeholders should include users/customers, decision makers, and those tasked with getting the work done.

Choose Your Tools

The tools available today for assisting with asset management are as robust as they are diversified. Do you want high tech or basic? How important is mobile technology? How does GIS fit in? (Hint: It must, no matter how big or small the organization.)

The questions can become overwhelming, so start broad and be honest about which approach has the greatest chance of success in your organization. There are many different asset management software platforms, such as PubWorks, Cityworks, Cartegraphe, and more that are compatible with GIS and help integrate all aspects of municipal operations.

For some, software is a given, but for others, a good old-fashioned spreadsheet can do the job. Regardless of the approach, it is critical to take the long view and commit to using it.

Measure What You Manage

It is tough to accurately plan and budget for the future if you are not sure what you have and what condition it is in. In a perfect world, every asset in every department is inventoried with GPS and assessed regularly by a trained eye so that routine maintenance, repairs, and eventual replacement can be anticipated and funded. Absent that perfect world, tackle one department or even one small group of assets at a time, but do it well.

Why not begin inventorying assets as part of routine maintenance? If you are going to inspect an asset anyway, why not pick up its GPS coordinates while you are there? Maybe an engineer or an experienced staff member can go along and assess the asset’s condition and estimate its remaining service life so that budgets and workloads can be more predictable.

Next thing you know, you will have a useful database of information (ideally a geodatabase that is mapped easily with GIS) that will serve as the foundation to the asset management strategy.

Analyze What You Measure

With good data comes the opportunity to understand it well. Developing good metrics allows you to evaluate progress and set realistic goals. Reviewing trends allows you to spot problem areas and adjust budgets accordingly. For example, if one road or pump station is costing three times as much as another, there may be an issue. If each year the cost to maintain an asset increases due to aging, you can either budget accordingly or perform a more accurate cost/benefit analysis on replacing the asset sooner rather than later.

Communicate What, When, Who, Where, How, and How Much

Goals, tools, data, and analysis are useful only if they are readily accessible, and people will access them only if they are useful.

A common stumbling block is trying to create the perfect asset management “plan.” Drafting a comprehensive asset management plan can eat up staff time and/or consultant fees, not to mention stifling organizational momentum. To be sure, it is essential to organize the information in a way that is useful and accessible, but again, be realistic with what level of detail your organization needs and can commit to managing. Maybe “the plan” is a well-thought-out spreadsheet with a clear narrative on what information it is intended to convey. Maybe it is an intelligent GIS map or web-based storyboard that provides interactive access to asset-specific information. Maybe it is a document that is concise and relevant to all of the applicable stakeholders.

Regardless of what form the plan takes, ensure that what you want communicated gets communicated well. Hopefully, whatever end product you create enables the organization to cost-effectively deliver a level of service that meets or exceeds user/customer expectations and regulatory requirements with an acceptable level of risk.

Monitor and Adapt

If there is one element that should be consistent with any asset management strategy, it is that it should have the flexibility to evolve as conditions and organizations change. For evolution to occur, it is critical that the asset management tools and/or documents be easy to monitor and adapt. The best analogy for this is a dashboard on a car. You would never get anywhere if you constantly had to stop, get out of the car, and check fluids and engine performance. Instead there is a dashboard that allows for efficient monitoring of performance, and it alerts you to what needs attention. For the most part, an asset management dashboard is a software program that can easily run the relevant reports, a spreadsheet that highlights important information, or even a GIS map. The trick is dialing in the right dashboard for your organization, and using it consistently.

But another essential component is a user/customer feedback loop, such as the use of social media or web-based surveys. Asset management is really all about the user. It is easy to put your head down and focus on the task at hand with respect to managing public infrastructure, but it is important to step back every so often and confirm that your organization is on the same page as the community it is intended to serve.

Asset management can be defined in many different ways, but at the end of the day its purpose is to maintain integrity. This includes the integrity of assets, as well as the integrity of the organization charged with operating and maintaining them. Through asset management, organizations can have a much smoother path to the transparency, accountability, and satisfaction that users/customers appreciate and expect.

PubWorks can help you manage your assets, join us for a FREE Demo to find out how.