We’d be the first to admit it: asset management is one of those nebulous terms that often gets dropped into conversation, but is very rarely defined. Asset management approaches must be tailored to your organization like a fingerprint, to intertwine with your unique needs and goals. But with a broad range of approaches and applications, asset management looks — at first — like a blurry landscape, which can create considerable confusion around how to achieve the desired objectives.
To gain some clarity, and to maximize the business benefits of strong asset management, here are 10 questions to bring your organization’s perspective into sharper focus.
1. What can asset management deliver for your organization?
A first step is to understand how asset management can benefit your organization. Spoiler alert: it’s about much more than just counting your resources in a spreadsheet or a software program. Depending on your starting point, adopting asset management practices as an organization can derive significant value in multiple areas, like risk management, financial planning, environmental protection and social impacts. Basically, it's about delivering your key services without letting costs or failures sneak up on you. The table below lists some key benefits asset management can create for your organization.
- Managing/mitigating risk
- Planning for financial sustainability
- Maximizing asset utilization and getting value throughout asset lifecycle
- Preventative maintenance and timely replacement of aging infrastructure
- Safeguarding environmental resources
- Understanding and responding to social impacts
2. How will you meet your organization’s needs?
Another important consideration is around finding the appropriate solutions for your needs. Early in your journey, it is important to figure out how to deliver your services in a way that delivers on your goals, while considering long-term financial sustainability. It's important for your asset management strategy to match the needs of your organization — and more importantly, your staff. How to deliver service should be appropriate for your context. With that said, large organizations sometimes use simple tools, as long as they are appropriate for the issues being addressed. Likewise, small organizations sometimes use more expensive approaches, if the return on investment is clear. The asset management system can be crafted to maintain a line of sight between the strategic, tactical and operational decisions that get made throughout the organization and ensure that help advance goals and objectives. It helps staff focus on outcomes that create the communities we aspire to become.
3. Who’s going to take the lead?
Strong leadership is an important part of asset management. Champions should be endorsed by top management, be clearly identified, be responsible for implementation, and ensure consistent messaging across the organisation. All too often, organizations simply assign asset management onto someone’s regular full-time job — but it can’t be effectively managed as an afterthought, working off the side of someone’s desk. Asset management is a way of doing business. It affects everyone’s job, and often choosing an individual to take ownership for advancing implementation will help the process of change, and help an organization progress over time. Asset management is not a single task, it is a way of doing business and has cultural impacts across the entire organization.
The key take-away is organizations of all sizes are more successful at implementing asset management when they have a champion to take ownership for its implementation, and all staff understand their own role in how the organization effectively manages their infrastructure.
4. Do the right people have a seat at the table?
As you already know, key institutional knowledge exists across organizational levels. Particularly in a large organization, there are valuable opportunities and knowledge at the operational and front-line levels that can be leveraged to optimize results.
Asset management is a team sport – including voices from all levels of your organization is critical.
5. What work is already being done?
You are very likely already practicing asset management, to some degree — and there may be opportunities to centralize and consolidate the existing data in different areas of the organization. Often many of the steps in the asset management approach are happening, it is their linkages that are missing. Investigating the work that’s already been done (both in your own area, and in complimentary sectors) saves time, and creates a convenient foundation to build on.
For example, a small municipal client worked with WSP to understand what had currently been done, and what was needed for future improvement. By leveraging existing work, the city could identify important gaps and move to develop a system to help manage all their asset types.
6. What factors into your level of service?
What is level of service? It sounds like an intangible buzzword, but really, it’s just a decision about how your organization is going to deliver on its services. Are you going to provide a high-end premium service? Are you going to provide the most cost-saving service that still meets requirements? Or are you going to land somewhere in the middle? Understanding the range of service you can provide, the cost of alternatives, and the affordability and risk expectations of your community is key in managing your assets to balance meeting end-user needs with financial sustainability.
7. Are you collecting the right data?
Another area that’s important to examine through an expert lens is data collection. Collecting and maintaining infrastructure data can be expensive and challenging. It’s important to identify in advance which metrics are really tied to the results you’re seeking, wisely evaluate the right data to collect and how to collect and store it. Once you know what data you need and understand the types of decisions you want to make – now you're ready to start thinking about software.
8. What financial speedbumps might be coming down the road?
Before committing to anything, it’s important to assess how financially sustainable the moves you make now will be in the long-term. Are there any big costs coming down the pipeline? Are there any investments you need to make now to avoid snowballing costs later? Are there funding resources that could help you with that? Sometimes, external funding may be available to you that isn’t immediately obvious, without the help of an experienced consultant.
A lot of pieces need to come together for good asset management, but you don’t need to do everything at the same time. Like starting with the corner pieces for a jigsaw puzzle, taking time to start on the right foot can really bring your team together. Having the a clear picture of the future helps select the right steps to take. We can help clear the fog of the future, and help you understand the financial, social and environmental considerations to make the right choices for your organisation.
9. How will you account for risk?
This spring, flooding in Quebec and Eastern Canada caused nearly $208 million in insured damage. While last year, severe weather in Canada caused an estimated $1.9 billion. These are just two examples, related to climate change —but there’s plenty more risk to go around.
Understanding and planning for different types of risk that may impact your assets is mission-critical — and it may save you money even if disaster never strikes. For instance, WSP recently assisted the New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure on a project, forecasting potential culvert system failures due to storms. The proactive planning work led to a cool $28 million in funding from the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF) — and probably saved on some headaches down the road.
10. Do you have a change management process?
In our experience, the technical side can often be easier than the people part. Good change management can help navigate the existing complexities within an organization, create transparency and accountability in decision-making and help transition away from embedded ways of operating. Helping your leadership, change champions, and the wider organization get in the driver’s seat of this change goes a long way on the road to success.
One thing to keep in mind is that great change management is a collaborative, living process, driven by people. In a recent project with a major airport, for example, WSP helped create a series of interactive workshops with airport staff, allowing key players to be actively involved in the development of change, while enhancing the everyone’s understanding of asset management.