Exploring new AM Ideas

Photo by Miriam Espacio

It is rare to come up with 5 new directions from a single conference after 30 years of attending.  But the last 2 days at the Sydney ‘Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure’  conference, I did, and I am both excited and grateful. There is nothing like a nice idea to wrap your head around.  Here, in brief, is early notification of what I will probably be thinking and writing about in the next several weeks (even months).  Please join me in exploration.

   1.  Business Cases 

I made a disparaging comment about the quality of business cases and was taken up on the issue.  “Why so bad?” he asked.  I thought that there was probably three reasons.  1. We come at them with the wrong attitude.  We don’t ask, ‘is this project justifiable?’ and then seek the information on costs and benefits that would enable us to answer the question, instead we start from the biased position of ‘how can we prove that this project should go ahead?’  Under these circumstances it is not surprising we have a tendency to overstate the benefits and understate the costs.  2.  It is a genuinely difficult thing to figure out the benefits of infrastructure, for they usually reach way beyond the immediate recipients of the infrastructure service.  I have also found, surprising as this might sound, that there is genuine difficulty for many in determining what is a benefit and what is a cost.  3. There is a lack of independence.  I was told (who by?) that in Germany the C/B studies are done independently.  This would be a great help if we were to adopt that here.  It would overcome the first two issues and enable all projects to be considered on an equal footing as well as allowing the evaluation body to develop real evalution skill.    

  2.  AM Ethics  

Ashley Bishop had asked, in a comment to an earlier post,  how AM could develop as a profession.  I had given a keynote address on this many years back, but not covered one particular aspect that a fellow raised yesterday (who?). He said that we couldn’t become a profession until we developed a set of professional ethics.  Fascinating!  I started to wonder what such a set of professional ethics might look like?  I would love to hear from anybody who also finds this an interesting question.

    3.  The Boom that never ends  

Andrew O’Connor, KPMG had made it clear that we are currently experiencing a boom in infrastructure spending.  Except that it isn’t!   At least it isn’t if we are to believe new Infrastructure Australia CEO, Romily Madew, who argued that this level of spending is now ‘the new normal’. Booms come to an end, that is the nature of a boom, they don’t become the ‘new normal’.  Capital spending over the next 10 years is about double that of the previous ten or around 100% growth.  Justified by population increase?   But that is only expected to be less than 25%.   If this level is to be the ‘new normal’, it means we will continue to spend on infrastructure at about 4 times the rate of population growth!   Does this sound normal?  Let alone necessary and possible?  And I am only looking at continuation of the level, if we look at continuation of the ‘rate of growth’,  the problem assumes an even scarier dimension.   What on earth are we thinking here?     to be explored.

  4.  Selective projections 

All spending projections focus on capital costs. But every time we build a hospital, the recurrent costs (medical staff, cleaning staff, medical consumables, as well as the infrastructure operations and maintenance costs) easily come to about 40-50% of the capital costs, and they do this every year.  Schools and Universities also have a high recurrent to capital ratio. Utilities less so, and probably roads the least of all, nevertheless even at the lowest level we are looking at around 10% of the capital cost as an ongoing recurrent cost.  These costs continue even when the ‘boom’ has passed.  Tom Carpenter said that in Japan, forecasts include both capital and recurrent.  This is a much safer management process.  If they can, why can’t we?

  5.  Infrastructure Debt and national security  

Where are we getting the money from for this infrastructure spending?  And how much are we paying for it?  Already the University sector is financially dependent on China (as reported in the AFR, 21 August). How soon before all sectors are?  Romily Madew, CEO, Infrastructure Austraia, said that this question was not within her remit.  She thought it maybe was being done in the Treasury.  Who is keeping an eye on this?  The University sector has become dependent on Chinese funds simply because the Federal Government took short term decisions. It didn’t see today’s consequences. Maybe it is about time we took a serious look before this all gets out of hand.   To be explored – does anyone know where this is being examined?

If any of these ideas intrigue you and you would like to work with me to see where these ideas can go – please write to me at penny@TalkingInfrastructure.com.

For more information on AM for Critical Infrastructure

Asset Management is Exciting


Photo by Matheus Bertelli

“How did you get involved in asset management?”  

I asked this question some years ago and this answer blew me away! For sheer excitement and enthusiasm, it is a marketing masterpiece. I haven’t been able to improve on it – can you?

Michael Brendali wrote:  “My involvement and keen interest in asset management began in the second-half of 2008. I was a mechanical design engineer finishing up a long and enjoyable stint on the Sydney Desalination Project when I was asked to contribute to a project we (Sinclair Knight Merz) were undertaking to evolve the asset management strategy for a major urban water utility’s critical infrastructure.

“The fun of complex decision-making from
to the business effectiveness”

I was initially meant to work for about one month on the project as my knowledge of their corporate databases would prove useful for one aspect of the project, but once I became involved I found the asset management field entirely engrossing. This was a world of complex decision-making, dealing with everything from the physical properties of pipes and soils, to the regulatory environment of the utility, to the effectiveness of internal business processes and knowledge management systems. A world that requires you to see the big picture while understanding the intricacies of the minutiae.

A world where on any given day I can be working with operators, maintenance crews, scientists, economists, planners, asset managers or general managers. I was hooked! I was able to expand my role on the project and so that original one month turned into a new career direction

“a collaborative environment”

I have worked in asset management ever since and am currently completing a Masters of Science degree in Water Services Management at UNESCO-IHE in Delft, the Netherlands. This degree focuses on the integration of legal, economic, institutional, organisational and technical considerations for the successful provision of infrastructure services. I am currently undertaking my MSc Thesis, which I am using to research the nature and effectiveness of the collaborative environment for sharing and progressing (strategic) asset management within the Australian urban water sector.

“taking ownership of challenges, even relishing them, and
sharing wisdom for the progression of the discipline”

The human factor of asset management strongly appeals to me. In the current era where we have available a multitude of software, tools, applications and models (which have their value), the indispensible nature of educated professionals with sharp minds cannot be forgotten. Indeed, I think that is one of the great strengths of the asset management community – it contains many talented individuals who take ownership of the challenges they face (perhaps even relish them) and willingly share their wisdom for the progression of the discipline. It is a community that makes me want to actively participate too.

“where you can enjoy debates at many levels”

I truly enjoy the many challenges present in asset management and the debates they spur at all different levels – qualitative versus quantitative analysis; prescriptive standards versus supportive guidelines; structural reform of utilities or the encouragement of voluntary alliances; maintenance or renewal; compliance versus innovation. I have come into the industry at a very interesting time and have been particularly fortunate to have had the guidance and encouragement of a very talented senior practitioner within my firm, as well as the support of my organisation. I can wholeheartedly endorse the value of mentorship on the development of a younger engineer.

“influencing decisions representing
hundreds of millions of dollars”

If I sound overly excited by asset management, it is because I find working in asset management deeply satisfying. I value the fact that the work I do contributes to the sustainable provision of essential services and that, thanks to strategic asset management, decisions influencing hundreds of millions of dollars of (often public) spending can be made prudently.

I look forward to the challenges ahead!”

Well, what do think?  Is there anything that Michael has missed out?  or new things that have come up since?

PS Michael, wherever you are now and whatever it is that you are doing I hope you still find work exciting.  Do let me know what you are doing and I will update this post with your current details.