Penny: Today’s post is by Hein Aucamp, Director, WA Integrated Asset Management, and member of our Perth City Chapter, WA, He considers what infrastructure decision making today might gain from what he has learnt from years in the volatile area of Information Technology.
I spent many years developing Engineering and mapping related software. Rapid change, which is becoming apparent in infrastructure, has always been a feature of Information Technology, where the knowledge half-life is said to be 2 years. I trust that Infrastructure Decision Making will never become as volatile as that but it will certainly be less stable than it has been in the past.
Here are my suggestions of translatable lessons. One can cope much more easily with a volatile discipline by dividing it into two broad categories: first, timeless principles; second, current methods to achieve the timeless principles. We need to be able to distinguish between them, to hold tightly onto the timeless principles, and also to be lightly invested in what is temporarily useful.
To get our thinking started, I suggest that these are some of the timeless principles:
• Infrastructure must solve a human need. This sounds as if it is stating the obvious, but think about a situation where infrastructure solves a narrow need but creates a broader pernicious problem: environmental damage, economic hardship for generations, etc. The timeless principle here is a healthy understanding of the service needs we are trying to solve, and the trade-offs involved in our proposed solutions – and indeed a calculation about whether in some cases it would be better to live with the problems.
• Infrastructure creates a long-term responsibility, with unforeseen obligations that might emerge only over time – arising through legislation, reporting requirements, or safety issues. Think for example of the difficulties of managing asbestos, which was once very much in favour. Once built, society will tend to want to renew infrastructure.
• Infrastructure will always have a political aspect. Public infrastructure requires funding by governments and will be attractive during electioneering. Suggestion: an independent central banking system has immunised monetary policy from most aspects of political influence except commentary. Are some lessons for infrastructure possible here? I am of course not suggesting a command economy, but perhaps a broad consistent policy climate could be created – analogous to the way objective renewal programs are supposed to stop jockeying for resealing of roads for influential people.
On the other hand, here are some of the temporary, current methods at our disposal to deal with the timeless principles. We know they are capable of adjustment, because they have been adjusted in the past.
• Funding mechanisms.
• Contrasting promises during elections.
• Best practices.
Do you agree with this division? With the ‘timeless principles’?
How can we apply these lessons from Information Technology?
What other areas might we draw upon for valuable lessons?