Highways UK 2019 Starts in



6/7 November 2019, NEC, Birmingham




The vital ingredients for successful asset management

The public have understandably high expectations of our first-world country's infrastructure, expectations that are not met by the conditions they experience almost literally on their doorstep, as Claire Gowson, Principal Consultant, Atkins, explains

Claire Gowson

Claire Gowson

Principal Consultant, Atkins

Thursday 1 November 2018

The challenges facing highway authorities seem to amount to an almost impossible conundrum. Peaks in public expectation are matched by troughs in central government funding for local infrastructure. As recently highlighted in a letter by a group of industry bodies to the chair of the Transport Select Committee, current funding plans mean that the SRN will receive 52 times more funding per mile than local highways, though local networks carry 64% of all road traffic.

The same letter highlights the need for improved governance as well as more money - and asset management is essentially a governance system. The ISO 55000 series contains a substantial number of challenging requirements, and the new Code of Practice is even heftier. Picking through the guidance, three vital ingredients emerge as essential for successful asset management.

The first of these is practicalrisk management, and there are several requirements relating to risk-based management in the new Code of Practice. Risk in management standards can seem obscurely theoretical, when asset managers need practicality, and practical risk management means ubderstanding and clearly stating what is at risk.

This might appear a statement of the obvious, but when describing a risk, something must clearly be at risk. In other words, "there's a risk the maintenance backlog will increase" is not an effective argument for resources. There must be a "so what?" that relates clearly to organisational objectives. Not only does this ensure alignment of asset management activities with business goals, but it also makes sure that risks are articulated in a manner that makes sense to politicians, the public and those with the purse strings.

Corporate risk criteria for likelihood and consequence are the starting point for any risk-based approach. Asset management risks should be evaluated using the common currency needed to compare them with each other, and other types of risk. It is not sensible to create an independent highways-specific version of a risk matrix without referencing it back to the corporate set, assuming you need those without technical knowledge to understand risk consequences.

A successful risk-based approach means that you and your teams use risk as a tool to prioritise activities and allocate resources, as opposed to simply filling in your organisation's risk spreadsheet. Having a stand-up discussion about the barriers in the way of delivery, and agreeing how they rate with risk evaluation criteria, is an effective way of aligning individual judgments and priorities and feeding into asset management plans.

The second vital ingredient for successful asset management relates to data. The Code of Practice has several recommendations for which a data strategy is a useful building block. A data strategy is:documented, detailed record of data needed to deliver objectives and manage risks to them;a risk-based prioritisation of that data; and aplan to obtain data that is missing, to mitigate the fact that data isn't available, and to manage the existing data. 

Do not wait until investing in a new set of surveys to create a data strategy. Do not assume that investment in a new maintenance management system will resolve the problem of data management. Create a data strategy and use it to drive investments in information. 

Thirdly, the style of leadership needed for effective asset management is rooted in the fact that it is an outward-facing discipline, requiring co-ordination across most departments, often from a middle-management position. 

Good asset management leaders do not sit isolated, producing a strategy that remains on a shelf. They are evangelists who describe a long-term vision for their organisation, and enough of the specific changes required to make that vision credible. 

They present evidenced-based arguments for changing processes and understand how to make those arguments appeal to senior decision-makers and operational staff alike. They understand technical detail but also know when the detail is a distraction.

A good asset management leader is only rarely army-sergeant-major and more often car-salesman-with-integrity, if such a thing exists! This rare but essential leadership style is the third ingredient for successful asset management. 

Claire Gowson will further outline the vital ingredients for successful asset management in the Tarmac Materials & Maintenance Dome at 11.30 on 7 November.