Good AM protects you and your staff

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Last week I suggested why asset management – at its early and basic level – is unstable. Getting your data reliable and customised so that you get credibility with your community is time consuming.  But it pays!  It not only protect your assets – it  also protects your staff!

Let me tell you a story

This is a true story about a certain council in New South Wales. In June 2007, during a wild storm, a section of the road collapsed causing a vehicle with 5 people to plunge into the flooded creek below.  A mother, a father, their two children and another woman, a family friend all died.

The cause turned out to be an unlined culvert that had given way. In the subsequent coroner’s investigation it was revealed that:

• The council had been aware of the problem with the road as early as 2002 and had prepared an estimate to reconstruct the entire culvert but that details were never entered into the record management system.

• In 2004, pavement repairs triggered a request by the council’s asset manager to ask for quotes for concrete lining of the culvert with tenders called. But again, the information was not entered into the record system and no follow-up action was taken.

• Emails with quotes for roadwork that may have averted the collapse were not considered official records and were not recorded.

• A key finding of the review was ‘that at the time of the road collapse council’s inadequate reporting practices led to a failure to identify the critical need to upgrade some of its key road infrastructure’

Internet comment on the report of the accident was savage

“Too little too late. Good to see our rate money going towards incompetent council workers who hide behind their computers pretending to be busy. And when the accident did happen they actually had the nerve to try to pass the blame to the state /federal government. This accident should not have happened. For the lazy workers who didn’t do their job properly, how do you sleep at night?”

Is it a case of ‘lazy workers’ or did the system fail them? Unless your system is sound,how would you know? More especially how can they demonstrate their diligence to the outside world?

A poor asset management system puts your staff at risk!

The Central Coast’s ‘Express Advocate’ reported the mother of the young woman whose family perished as saying that she hoped the people who made the human error think about it every night. ‘We certainly do. They have destroyed our family’.

No member of your staff should have to live with this responsibility!

And, although reported as ‘human error’, if you look at the numbers of different people involved in this story, you have to ask yourself whether it is really ‘human error’ or actually ‘system error’.

Now the Coroner’s report was covered in both of the local papers. The reporting was noteworthy for two reasons: One: because both journalists actually used the term ‘asset management’ in their reports, and Two: because both reported that whilst asset was not good at the time of the accident, it was now ‘best practice’.

I was curious.  

What had happened to improve asset management so much between the accident in June 2007 and the Coroners Report in March 2009? (less than 2 years) And what was it that impressed the journalists so much that they both reported that the council was now ‘best practice’ in asset management.

I decided to visit the council and find out. When I walked into the foyer, on the wall facing the entrance was their ‘mission statement’. It said simply “We aim to be a council that the community is proud of” and underneath it said “We are not there yet!”

That told me a lot about the current attitude of that council and their determination to get better.

Then I met with the Asset Manager and his Director of Information Services. Both were extremely open, articulate, knowledgeable – and very enthusiastic about asset management. They knew they had to improve their asset information and had taken serious steps in this direction.

But they also knew that improving asset information alone is not enough. They knew  they also had to understand and improve their processes. And this is where they really shone. They analysed and streamlined each of their processes. There were dozens of these processes, each reproduced in large A3 size – and laminated, indicating that these were for constant use. They were bound in sections relating to different functions.

Mapping is a great way to understand your processes – and a great way to show others  that you understand them! My guess is that it was these graphics that so impressed the  journalists!

Taken together, 

  1. greatly improved information +
  2. A positive, action-oriented, attitude – as expressed by the foyer plague and the confidence and knowledge of the Asset Manager and his Director of Information Services +
  3. Understanding of Asset Management Processes – as illustrated by the process maps,…

all added up to a situation where two different journalists from separate papers, in reporting the story of council failure, would both modify their criticism by making it clear to their readers that the council’s asset management was now ‘best practice’.

But there was an even better result.

After the coroner’s findings had been handed down with all the attendant publicity, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on yet another culvert in poor condition in the council area. In ordinary circumstances you would have expected the press to have a field day with this.  But it didn’t happen.

Despite the obvious cracks and poor condition of the culvert, the Sydney Morning Herald’s journalist provided very balanced and moderate coverage. He quoted the consulting engineer’s findings, made some criticisms of the council but then tempered the report with the recognition that the cost to repair the problem was high relative to the annual budget; actually quoted figures, and comment by other councils about this problem and recognised that a large part of the problem was that the roads were handed over to councils by the State Government, who had previously had responsibility for them, with insufficient maintenance funds attached.

What price would you pay for fair media coverage?

Next week I look at why even good asset management is not enough.  Why we have to ‘go beyond’.


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