AM – The Third Wave

Homo Sapiens is a pattern seeking species

it is how we advance. We seek patterns to find meaning. Me, I look for patterns in AM development. I seek the characteristics of the different stages (that I now think of as waves rather than as revolutions, as explained in the last post) and how each builds on the one before and takes us further. This helps me to see not only where we have been but also where we can go. Each wave has its own focus, viewpoint, key players and sources of support as well as constraints. Below is a table illustrating some of the characteristics of the first three waves that I see. What do you think?

Where we have been and where we are

Waves 1 and 2 you will readily recognise, for they reflect where we have been and where we are.  Wave 3 is where we need to go next.  This is the visioning stage where asset management teams, use their appreciation of ‘line of sight’ or the necessity for asset actions to support organisational objectives to guide decisions on both new and existing infrastructure. This is where AM teams need to anticipate, communicate, and prepare for the inevitable shifts in attitudes, governance and demand, that are now occurring and will continue to occur as demographics, climate and technology change. Turning around large infrastructure portfolios is not an overnight task. It takes intelligent planning and communication. This is Wave 3.

Where we are going

Communication, anticipation, action. In Wave 3 AM teams help their corporate managements to explicitly recognise that the asset portfolios and management practices they have now are a reflection of the past, and that the future will be very different from the past and will involve new thinking.  This may seem obvious, but it is not necessarily happening at the moment. Sometimes it seems that it is easier to assume that nothing will change very quickly so we can continue doing what we have always done. And sometimes the lure of the new and shiny leads to adoption of the new without sufficient examination.

The Wave 3 challenge is not to jump straight into the new and exciting, but rather to determine how best to reduce the twin dangers of changing too early, and of moving too late.

The biggest change will require us to ask what changing circumstances and future communities will DEMAND of us, what the new needs will be, and not to look at new technology as merely an opportunity to change the way we SUPPLY the current needs of our customers and community.

From Supply to Demand. In the past most of the information we have needed for our decision making in asset management has been internally generated and recorded in our Asset Information Systems. This has been solely supply side information. We still need our supply side information. But this will not suffice. Knowing what we CAN do is not enough. We need also to look at what we MUST do. For this, we will increasingly require the ability to understand and anticipate future demand change. This is why our our asset management teams will need to expand to include the talents of many other professionals, as I have suggested in the table above.

Is your Asset Management Team prepared?

Is your Asset Management team prepared to tackle the third wave?  If you are not sure, then a good place to start would be with “Building an Asset Management Team” by Ruth Wallsgrove and Lou Cripps.  This will help you recognise not only requirements but also the many new possibilities. Here is a short excerpt “What kind of people does an AM team require?”

Note:  When you buy “Building an Asset Management Team” you not only get the very latest thinking in AM teamwork, but you  pave the way for future developments, for Ruth and Lou are donating all their proceeds (ALL, not just profits) to Talking Infrastructure. 

So go ahead, click this link to get your copy.  You can get a Kindle version for less than $10. In this case value greatly exceeds cost. It’s priced low to maximise the number of teams that can gain access. Spread the word!


NOT a Revolution

I was wrong. Movement from maintenance to asset management, to strategic asset management is NOT a revolution. Why not?

In 2018, for the IPWEA’s online journal, Jeff Roorda and I sketched out what we saw as the general pattern of these individual journeys and what this suggested about where we would go next.  At the time there was a lot of discussion about the third (and for some) the fourth industrial revolution. We needed a sexy title for our paper so we called it ‘The third AM Revolution’. 

We saw AM moving from the pre-AM stage of maintenance only to the first stage of data collection, or ‘asset inventory’, to the second stage of performance and alignment, or what we call ’Strategic asset management’ – the stage we believe most of Australia is now in –  to a new third stage, our ‘third revolution’ that we are calling ‘infrastructure decision support’.

We now see that ‘revolution’ was the wrong word.

Revolutions have connotations of what was previously important getting the chop – quite literally in the French Revolution!  Although each of the three stages we identified are still important because they represent different mindsets and approaches, different groups of players and different techniques, they do not discard what went before.  Instead they increase our understanding of their value and make them stronger.

Let’s see how that works. 

0. Before AM there was maintenance. Maintenance specialists firmly believed in the value of their work, and they were right.  Unfortunately they were unable to convince others, especially finance.  When AM came along it provided a framework to demonstrate that not only was maintenance able to fix what was currently broken – it could also help prevent more breaking down in the future. That is why so many maintenance engineers were keen to see AM adopted by their organisations.

1The first stage of AM, naturally, was to establish an asset inventory. We needed to know what we had to manage. 

2. With enough basic data we were enabled to take the next step use the data collected for performance improvement. When we did this, we became much more aware of data quality and coverage. That first stage of data collection did not get the chop, now we wanted more.  Instead of data being required simply for a mandated balance sheet (e.g. a storage location) it was increasingly seen as  necessary, indeed essential for progress, and so demand for more data, and for data of a higher quality with greater coverage has continued.  

3. The coming third stage is what will bring all of these stages – maintenance, data collection and performance improvement or strategic asset management – together, for it is at this third stage that asset managers finally reach the stage that they have desired for a long time. Asset management is able to get (and worth a) place at the board table! 

So not a revolution.  But what?   

We could simply call them ‘three stages’ and be done with it. This, however, would not show the connection between them, how each builds on what went previously, so we are calling them waves, for like waves they build on each other and get stronger. 

Why is this important?

Because now that it is so easy to access detailed information about the second wave of strategic asset management or performance improvement (IIMM, PAS55, ISO 55,000) there is a temptation is to dive in at this level.  But without attention to the first wave of data collection and without strengthening the pre-AM stage of maintenance, such attempts lead to failure. Under-developed countries wanting, and needing, to do fast catch up with the developed world are at particular risk. 

They are being pressured ‘to do asset management’ in order to get the strategic asset management, second wave, benefits but the importance of funding and training at the earlier stages, particularly maintenance is not being recognised and dealt with.    Every stage – maintenance/pre-AM, data collection/asset inventory, and strategic asset management/performance improvement or alignment –  requires a different focus, different tools, different groups of players.  

I will talk about Wave 3 – where we go next – in a later post.

Q: Does this development pattern make sense to you?  

Can you recognise it in your own organisation or others?  Is it obvious, or do you see an alternative pattern to your own asset management journey? 

Coming Next: The Three Waves

Why understanding them can help you move closer to your ultimate goal.

Why Bother with History?

Ten years ago, on LinkedIn’s Asset Management History Forum, I asked  “Why bother with history?” It was the most animated discussion on the forum. Now, with ten more years of history behind us, have we learnt more or do you agree with Jan Korek’s view that history is irrelevant?

This was Jan Korek’s opening statement:

“I have never subscribed to the suggestion that you need to know where you’ve been, to know where you’re going! History, to me, is little more than a badly-drawn representation of the past, based on an exaggerated impression of successes….. and an amnesia of the failures. 

Having been deeply fascinated by Asset Management for a score or more years, and am still working at the blunt edge of the process, I have had to change, adapt, forget much and learn more along the way. So what do practitioners, or the process, gain from a knowledge of when (or why) some obscure government department became notionally interested in the stewardship of infrastructure assets? I would suggest very little. 

Anyone who has been in Asset Management for a period of time will have grown their own unique history based on any number of influences. So what is to be achieved in distilling each individual story into an homogenised, badly-drawn fiction? Experience shows that we even fail to avoid the mistakes of the past, even when we know the history involved. The news, each day, is full of such examples. 

What seems more important is the future, “Where are we now”, and “Where to from here”? Or to put it another way, you need to know where you are now, to know where your going.” 

A compelling set of arguments. 

Opening for the other side was John Hardwick.


What a start to the year you go away for a couple of days and a great discussion begins. I can only say that everything i have implemented has come from others.

I have implemented knowing what worked and what didn’t. I have used this to significantly change the way my organisation does Asset Management. I am only new in comparison to many of you but it is your collective knowledge i have used.

Also I have used your history and stories that have helped many other companies not make the same mistakes.  I am a strong believer that we learn from our mistakes and not to make them again. 

If this is the case it is critical for new organisations implementing Asset Management to have access to some of the good the bad and the failures.

I have given more then 20 organisations access to my staff and myself over the last twelve months to learn from what we have done and the mistakes we made. The best part is I learnt so much in return it has been amazing.

History allows us to tell stories that help others conceptualise their path to hopefully a more successful future. 

Also a compelling set of arguments. 

What’s your view?

How has your understanding of AM history enabled you to be a better asset manager?

Asset Management: Problem or Solution?

The Scene

It was twenty years ago and I was in the office of a regional council CEO.  I led with an open question “How important do you think that AM is?”  He was a nice fellow, he didn’t want to hurt my feelings but clearly he was not enthusiastic about the subject.   “I guess it is valuable, but we aren’t going to do it!”  “OK”  I said, curious, “Why not?”  “Well, look it’s this way, if that section of Carter’s road gets washed out in the next flood, that is where I am going to have to put my money, not into some future renewal fund!”  “Entirely right”, I replied. “That will be your first priority. Can asset management do anything to help avoid that flooding problem?  Can it, at a minimum, reduce your overall asset maintenance expenses to free up the funds you need?”  It was clear that he had not seen asset management in this light, that is as a solution. He had equated AM with a renewal forecast, a problem.  And too many still do that – CEOs and Asset Managers both!    

The Story

There was the Asset Manager who presented his renewal forecast to the board and told them that they would have to double their asset expenditures.  The board sacked him.  And they were right to do so!  That fellow was not doing his job.  He was simply stating the problem and expecting others to take action so that he would not have to.

The Point

A future renewal forecast is not the end point of an Asset Manager’s task – it is the beginning.  It states the problem, as accurately as can be done. But it is still only the problem. Now a solution has to be found.  The task of the asset manager is to find that solution. Not to be like a certain US President who expects to be praised for doing nothing to solve the problem whilst making it worse. Indeed by not immediately taking action to find a solution that Asset Manager was making the renewal problem worse.

The Future?

Asset managers often ask how they can sell asset management to the board or senior executives.  The answer is obvious (although not necessarily easy): it is to tell them how AM can solve their problems.  The first step is to find out what their (not your) problems are. What do their customers, their clients, their regulators want of them?  Most often when I ask asset managers what are their organisation’s key issues, they answer in terms of their own issues instead.  At asset management conferences I hear people claim they want to make their organisation an outstanding asset management organisation.  That is OK but it is not why your organisation is in business! 

Lou Cripps, co-author with Ruth Wallsgrove of ‘Building an Asset Management Team’  ( highly recommended and available from the Talking Infrastructure website) summed it up this way. 

“For too long we have been looking down and inwards. Now we need to look up and out”.

A single source of truth?

Photo by Сергей Гладкий from Pexels

A single source of truth

As digital transformation expands, there has been pressure in the field of asset management to consolidate, structure, reformat and create new data and align it with the business processes to create a systems approach for informed decision making, with the aim of providing structured data that can become a single source of truth for organisations and enable quality decision making for delivering value to the end user.  Many providers of Asset Information Systems and IT promote this as their goal.

Logically, can there be a single source of truth?

While I am definitely in favour of IT solutions (#More code, less cement), I am struck by that phrase “a single source of truth” and ask myself  ‘is aiming for it missing the point?’  We have, for a long time, argued that good decision-making requires good evidence.  But good decision-making, as we are coming to recognise in these difficult times, is multi-layered and this means that the evidence needed for these decisions must also be multi-layered. No matter how clever our IT, we cannot rely simply on the information we can generate within our organisations, but we need to look without and beyond.

Consider what we have now learned from Covid 19

As the world has watched – and felt – the impact of Covid 19 in recent weeks, we have developed a new respect for Experts and the data, analysis and evidence that they can provide to help us feel our way through this problem.  I say ‘feel’ advisedly. Because we are like the blind here, and will need to zig-zag our way forward, trying something and then retreating if the infection rate rises.

First there was a infection pandemic – a health problem. Here in Australia we responded with a national lock down that has been hugely effective in curbing the rate of new infections and thus deaths. But now we have an economic problem as 1.7 million are thrown into unemployment and factories, wholesalers and retailers are standing idle and interstate and international travel and thus tourism halted.

The government has sought to ease the impact on unemployment with its job keeper and job seeker allowances and this has been sound thinking. But later it will need to decide what to do with the debt it has incurred – a public finance problem. No-one knows how long the support will last or when they can go back to work. Many, particularly the most vulnerable casual workers, are not covered.  Anxiety rises. Authorities are now anticipating serious mental health problems and a rise in domestic violence.

Sporting events have been cancelled and resumption of them is a major talking point in the media for all of us who would normally attend the football on the Saturday and yell and scream for our teams, (and discuss it endlessly on Thursday, Friday and Sunday) no longer have this opportunity to break tensions, relax and cement social relationships. The arts are particularly affected as few arts workers fall within the protected jobs range.  What are we without the arts, without sports?

Yes economics is important. But it is not the only thing that is important.To solve a multi-layered problem it is not possible to have ‘ a single source of truth’

Now let us return to Asset Management.

Is it possible to make decisions based only on clever IT applied to our assets? That may enable us to determine our internal supply costs – but outside in the world how do we know how much will be demanded?  What external costs – and benefits – will our actions create?  What impact are we having on the mental health of our workers and on the environment? We may be able to make a profit in the short run but what of our resilience in the face of change in the slightly longer term?

Asset decisions are thus also multi-layered, so can Asset Managers really expect that in serving all their stakeholders they can rely on data for ‘a single source of truth’ – no matter how cleverly calculated?  Or do we have to come to terms with the fact that all of life is a trade-off?  And thus consider how we learn to deal with trade-offs?

If not a single source of truth, then what?

An important question!  Talking Infrastructurebelieves that more is required of AM Leads than simply to follow an IT algorithm or a one point source of information.  We need to be able to think through the ‘cumulative consequences’ of our decisions, and to that end we are developing “The toolkit for Leads” specifically for those who head up our asset management teams (or aspire to) and see themselves as being a more forward thinking and active part of their organisation’s decision making.

If you would like to know more, sign up now to be a member of Talking Infrastructure (it’s free) and we will advise you as soon as it comes online and keep you up to date with additions.  

More infrastructure Reflection

For your weekend reflection over a cold beer – or libation of choice.

In 1999 my friend and colleague, @KC Leong, organised the first AM conference in Malaysia. It was held in Kuching, Sarawak.  Not only was asset management very new but even the concept of an asset was pretty new so that the Minister opening our conference felt that he needed to explain what an asset was.  ‘An asset’, he said, ‘is anything of value’.  Then he paused, thought for a moment, and added ‘ and also anything not of value’ for, he explained ‘ it could become of value later’!

But what does it mean to be ‘of value’ ?  This is something that we started exploring last weekend. I learnt a lot from our discussion and sincerely thank @Adam.Lea-Bischinger, @Gosh Jacewicz, @Ruth Wallsgrove, @Gregory Punshon, @Christopher Silke  for their contributions.  What this showed, is that we cannot simply assume that all infrastructure is (a) ‘of value’ and (b) certainly not ‘of equal value’.  So how do we decide what projects should get our attention?

Today I would like to take this further by considering some of the arguments presented by Mariana Mazzucato.  Mariana is an Italian-American economist whose research into the eocnomics of innovation and the high technology industry revealed that far from the private sector being the wellspring of all innovation, nearly all of the significant innovations that are now in common use (and just about all of the features of the iPhone) were actually developed in the public sector.  She does not detract from what the private sector has done with these innovations but she does bring out the importance of state investment, which has featured so heavily, especially in the early, high risk stage, so necessary to subsequent development.  In her first book ‘The Entrepreneurial State’ she debunks the myth that the State is merely a dull and stodgy administrator and shows that much of the real innovative work is done in the public sector.

Consider Australia’s own CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). From its development of wifi using complex mathematics known as ‘fast Fourier transforms’ as well as detailed knowledge about radio waves and their behaviour in different environments, to Aerogard developed way back in 1938 and now used by Mortein to protect us from disease producing insects.  Its research beginning in 1968 resulted in the world’s first plastic banknote which protects against forgery.  This basic research was carried out by the CSIRO as part of the public sector. Now required to finance itself, the CSIRO has less scope for basic research (which is expensive and so hard to fund in the market) and has instead to focus on applied research. Which is all well and good, but where are the next basic research breakthroughs to come from?  Is this an example of short run gain at the expense of long term loss?

A similar problem arises if we focus on the infrastructure that ‘supports the market’ rather than infrastructure that ‘supports the community’.   In her 2017 book ‘The Value of Everything’ Mariana argues that modern economies reward activities that extract value rather than create it and that this must change to ensure a capitalism that works for us all.  For those of you who would like a quick insight into her work, I would recommend the article in ‘Wired’(with thanks to @Rohan Fernandez who introduced me to her work via this article).  She also has some fascinating TED talks on Youtube.

I have selected just three questions today from Mariana’s 2019 Ted Talk ‘What is economic value and who creates it?’ (which is worth watching, she packs a lot into 18 minutes), but you may add (and answer) other questions that you think relevant to infrastructure decisionmaking.  The important thing is that we thing about these things, because if we don’t the choice will not be ours, and may be to our dis-benefit.

  1. Who are the value creators?  Who is not creating value?  (e.g. who are just extracting value, or taking it from someone else;  and who are actually destroying value?) Who are these people?
  2. What is the difference between productive and unproductive activity?
  3. When agriculture was the dominant output, land was considered to be the major ‘source of value’, when we reached the industrial revolution, capital became the dominant source. Now as Mariana shows when we focus on ‘preferences’ the source of value becomes rather vague.  How does this impact our infrastructure decisions?

What other questions do you think we need to think about when considering value?

I look forward to hearing your ideas

Have a great weekend!

Does infrastructure have value? Does it create value?

Photo by Tembela Bohle from Pexels

As we head into another hot January weekend in Australia,  here is something to ponder while you drink that cold beer!  (or something warmer if you are in the Northern Hemisphere!)  Does Infrastructure HAVE value?   Does it CREATE value?

What is value?  

In 1981, at the height of the Michael Field’s Labor Government’s attempt to bring Tasmania back from the brink of financial catastrophe caused by excessive over borrowing, I was approached by a Minister with a request. He expressed it most diffidently.  ‘If you are not too busy, could you tell me what is value?’   I gave him a mini economics tutorial on the subject which he clearly understood, but equally clearly, it did not get at his real problem. For the rest of the week I pondered on this question for it was particularly intriguing that he had prefaced his question by the statement ‘A number of us in the house have been wondering’.  Now, one minister asking about value is interesting, but a whole group doing so struck me as quite unusual.  

The Source of value?

After a few days, I figured the stimulus for the discussion of value at a time when major cuts were being made to all portfolios, could be that each Minister was simply trying to establish that his department was ‘too valuable’ to have its budget cut.  So I wrote a small, humorous, playscript in which various Ministers (of invented portfolios to avoid angst) argued for being the major ‘source of value’ – calling on economic, historic and social support for their case.  My Minister was delighted and distributed it to his cabinet colleagues. I had concluded that script by observing that ‘fragrance free soap’ could fetch a higher price than that with fragrance and looked at ways in which each minister could increase value without imposing a cost to the budget simply by removing elements that had ‘negative value’.

Relevant Again

I had not given more thought to this question in the almost 20 years that followed until recently reading Mariana Mazzucato’s work on ‘The Value of Everything’. Just as an understanding of value was critical to that financially strapped Tasmanian Cabinet, so it is also critical to those of us involved in deciding on the shape of future infrastructure and we will look at Mariana’s ideas from this viewpoint in future posts.  But, just to get the ‘little grey cells’ working, here are some basic questions to consider.

  1. What do you understand by value?  How do we measure value when considering infrastructure projects?
  2. Can something that has no price be ‘of value’?   For example can private education (with a price) be valuable, yet public education (free) not be?  (Some years ago the Head of a major accounting association declared that private schools were assets yet public schools liabilities – purely on the ability to make a cash return. What do you think of this?)
  3. Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian

    Can something that has a high price not be ‘of value?   E.g. recently a banana stuck to a wall with a piece of ducktape at Art Basel in Miami Beach was sold at a price of $120K  -and not once but three times. It has created a firestorm of comment and brings to the forefront the idea of ‘value’.

  4. Can cost be a good proxy for value?   And if we substitute a more costly (although not necessarily more effective) component, does this really represent an increase in value – as distinct from simply an increase in cost?
  5. Pharmaceutical companies like to price their products in terms of outcomes -such as the value of better health?   Should they be allowed to appropriate all of the beneficial outcomes.  Why or Why not?

Do add your comments and we will examine them further next Friday.  
Enjoy your weekend!

What do the young know that we don’t?

Caroline Crouchley, 13 year old designer of a simpler hyperloop

When the young are given the chance to design the future (the future, incidentally, that they will inhabit) where do they look?   Well, the 2019 3M Young Scientists Challenge Winners have been announced giving us a chance to find out.

Caroline Crouchley, an eighth-grader at Garden City Middle School from Garden City, New York, developed a sustainable method of public transportation that eliminates the need for a diesel engine or electric motor in trains.  She took and improved on the hyperloop design of Tesla inventor, Elon Musk.  Impressive enough in itself, but consider her reasoning:

“It has a simpler design, can be more easily constructed, can utilize the existing footprint of rail right of ways, and is cheaper to build,”   She would like to see the hyperloop concept move forward but sees her design as an intermediate step that could realistically happen earlier.

Image courtesy Caroline Crouchley

“What is needed are gradual steps. I see my project as a more practical leap right now from where we are to where we need to go. My proposed design offers high-speed train travel that could be developed sooner and at a much lower cost. It makes more sense as it uses existing rights of way. I am a big supporter of the hyperloop, but I see my project as a more feasible opportunity right now.”

Here is a 13 year old who instinctively recognises that in approaching the future we should go for ‘Continual Adaptation’.

Three of the first four place getters chose to focus on problems relating to infrastructure.  In addition to Caroline’s work, we have:  

In third place, Jordan Prawira, an eighth-grader in California, invented a wind turbine inspired by hurricane formation concepts to improve the performance and efficiency of current wind turbines.

In fourth place, Camellia Sharma, a seventh-grader in Virginia, developed a water leakage detection system to identify underground water leakage and reduce the estimated 48.6 billion cubic meters of water lost annually through current distribution systems worldwide.

They didn’t design grand new infrastructure projects, using old technology, costing billions of dollars and taking unknown decades.  Quite the converse!   They saw that the way to the future is by ‘Continual Adaptation’.

Follow up.

The achievements of these young scientists are impressive, but equally so are problems they chose to examine and the ideas they developed –  from a solution to mitigate earth’s rising temperatures by planting hydroponic trees in the ocean, to a predictive model using machine learning and neural networks to predict and prevent the instances of forest fires, to a new approach to carbon capture that extracts carbon dioxide from the air and recycles it into natural volcanic rock. 

If you would like more information and to be encouraged by their new ideas, their focus and their practicality (well worth emulating), go here.


Growing smaller but smarter

Photo by Ahmed Aqtai from Pexels

“Growth does not mean size!”  

This is the kind of comment that you might expect from a new economics, or a new age group, but you probably would not expect to hear it from a major multinational.  Yet that was how the new CEO of Suez Environment, a major global water and waste organisation, opened his announcement of the company’s 2030 Vision.  He was referring to physical size for he went on to speak of reducing capital (physical structures) and increasing IT, of focusing not on ‘growth’ as such, but on selecting just those areas in which they could add most value.  In other words, to grow performance and profit.  And yes, profit is a ‘good thing’, if it is a reflection of good performance.

I have a feeling we are about to see more of this kind of growth take place from now on. We can contrast this approach to the older approach where companies seek to grow simply by amalgamations and mergers. In the recent past, there has been a lot of this ‘growth’ but it really isn’t growth at all, because nothing has been added by the merger (despite claims to the contrary). It is just a re-packaging of what already exists.  This has been particularly prevalent in engineering and consulting, and yes, also in asset management, companies. Yet it seems that every time a merger occurs, not only do we add more ‘administrative’ levels (i.e. more cost) but many of those employees who are most able and innovative, leave the mega businesses and set up their own businesses as small, more flexible, more imaginative units – and thrive.  

So is ‘size’, as such, a good indicator of company strength? What examples do we have of growing ‘smarter’ rather than simply larger?  If we are in future to focus on growing ‘smarter’ rather than ‘larger’, what would we measure, what indicators would/should we focus on? How does ‘big data’ and algorithms offer opportunities for smart growth? 

And the important question:  

How can strategic asset management contribute to such ‘smart growth’? 

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

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