My colleague Todd Shepherd and I had a brainwave* last year to restructure how we teach Asset Management – not as a line that starts with investigating capital needs, the conventional beginning of the asset life cycle, but from where we are now. That is, right in the middle of maintenance. We are always deep in maintenance needs.
It makes more sense of the history of AM, straight off. It was not people writing business cases, or design engineers, who realised the urgent need for something different. It was maintenance, post World War 2, and then Penny Burns and the problem of unfunded replacements and renewals in the 1980s.
If Asset Management has waves, we might suggest what Wave Minus 1 was. Wave Minus 1 was hero engineers, from the Industrial Revolution on, building heroic infrastructure – Bazalgette and London sewers, Brooklyn Bridge. Sewers and bridges are both good things. But they are not quite such good things if they leak or fall down because they are not maintained or renewed.
With infrastructure, it is not enough to start; you have to see it through.
Penny used life cycle models to understand the extent of renewals, and increasingly I don’t feel anyone is really doing Asset Management if they do not use such models. Of course it is called life cycle for a reason. There isn’t an end, only another cycle.
But now I fear that starting at the beginning of one lifecycle in our teaching still makes it sound as though it is the creation of infrastructure that’s the important thing. We have not really got the cycle bit across enough, at least to the average engineer we teach. What comes after construction is still a vague future state, that is someone else’s problem.
And, not at all coincidentally, that’s also the point of the circular economy concept. There is no meaningful product end, and we are right in the middle of the mess we already built.
It is not a straight line into the future, where we set assets in motion and let them go. Longer term thinking, long-termism, has to think in cycles.
*Almost certainly it was Todd’s brainwave, which I managed to catch up with.