I have long been interested in one particular aspect of the history of asset management. Why was it that agencies would so often progress to the stage of being the envy of all others in terms of their asset management – only to collapse and have to rediscover everything they previously knew? I suspected that there must be something inherently unstable about asset management – and there is! Here I explain what the problem is and how you can make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
You are going to come across a lot of definitions of asset management. Maybe you already have. All have validity. But the one that I favour at the moment has a focus not on what asset management does – but rather on what we get out of doing it!
I look at asset management as ‘a series of process and information improvements that enable organisations to see not only the likely consequences of the decisions taken today – but also of the actions not taken.’ You can argue with this definition, but bear with me, because you will see how it can help.
When armed with a knowledge of likely consequences you can make better decisions. You may not have enough money to do everything, but if you understand the consequences you can be reasonably confident that the things you are doing are at least of greater value to your organisation or community than the things you are not. Even more importantly, you can demonstrate this to others.
Asset management protects you. If you are a councillor, it protects you from pressure by lobbyists and those who would have you spend council resources in ways which you know are sub-optimal. If you are an administrator, it enables you weigh up different uses of your limited resources. If you are a manager responsible for assets, it enables you to know what to do that will best meet the service needs of the community.The key word is ‘consequences’.
When you can tell what is likely to happen next as a result of the actions you take today – and of your inactions – you are able to make better decisions and make them with confidence. And when you are able to demonstrate this to others and gain their confidence, life becomes much more enjoyable.
Driving in the Dark
Without asset management, you are operating in the dark. It’s like driving at night with your headlights showing you just a few metres of the coming road. You are only able to see a little way ahead, and all of your decision making, whether on short or long term goals, is constrained by having such a limited view. So you have to move cautiously, never quite sure what those shadows mean, or what is coming next. And you can easily miss your turning and have to make time wasting course corrections. Or at worse, run into something with expensive, maybe fatal, results.
Introducing asset management is now like switching on your high beam.
Suddenly, with a better view of the likely consequences of your actions, you can now see a long distance in front. You can move forward more confidently, make better decisions, and avoid potential problems, because you understand the likely consequences of actions and inaction.This is very exciting and it is not difficult to see why asset management creates evangelists. Many of you will have experienced this in the early stages of asset management, when, perhaps for the first time, you now have an overall view of your asset base, a better understanding of what you have, what condition it is in, and what its value is. This gives you a completely different view of what you can do – and it is pretty heady stuff.
But a word of caution!
What I have learnt is that when you reach this stage, you must not stop. The High Beam stage is unstable. When you are on the road, any approaching vehicle can force you to switch them off. Similarly when you are starting asset management, and you adopt generic assumptions about asset lives and desired service levels to get yourselves started, you get a ‘great leap forward’. This is the ‘switching on the high beams’ stage. It enables you to make progress quickly.
As in all things, easy come – easy go!
When things get tough – the asset management equivalent of the oncoming traffic – you can no longer rely on those generic assumptions and service levels. In times of trouble, such as missed grants, unexpected and unfunded asset renewals, in fact any difficulty, your staff and your ratepayers need to have full confidence in the reliability of your system and this means that you need to move on from the generic data and develop information that is credibly yours. In other words, you need to customise, to make the service levels and associated asset lives your own.
To do this you need to work with your community to develop service levels that are widely understood and accepted and can withstand criticisms.
Your asset data needs to reflect these service levels and to demonstrate the reliability that comes from documented, efficient, update mechanisms. Your asset lives need to reflect your own local conditions and known maintenance histories. And you need robust processes to ensure that all new asset acquisition reflects your strategic directions.
This takes effort, commitment – and time.
However, once you have done this, you are largely failure proof. By the time you have developed a good understanding throughout your staff from field staff to CEO, board or councillors, by the time you have good, up-to-date data, and by the time you have the confidence that this brings, then your asset management is secure.
You have successfully navigated the instability phase and come out safely on the other side. This stage of asset management is like adopting a Satellite Navigation System. Now you can analyse all the options and choosing the optimum course is easy.
Moreover, when you get here you won’t want to stop. Now, asset management improvement for the benefit of your community will simply be the way you do business and you will enjoy always seeking to do better. The Road Ahead is now clearer and you travel it with confidence.
- Where are you on the road to sound, reliable asset management?
- Are you still at the stage where you are using general purpose asset lives, gleaned from somewhere else? Or have you customised?
- Have you established accountable service levels? And are these service levels clearly and transparently connected to your asset life data? Do they inform your understanding of effective age and time to renewal?
- Have you reviewed, updated and streamlined your asset management practices?
Think this is too much work?
Then be sure to read next week’s post where we look at the danger not only for your assets, but for your staff ,of not getting to this stage of asset management.
Next Week: AM Protects – your staff!