Asset management: The primary asset

Public infrastructure asset management CSC Blogs

40 trillion Euros by 2030.

That’s the experts’ best guess on the global investments needed to expand public infrastructure sufficiently to keep up with the expected rate of economic growth. This number equals a 4 followed by 13 zeroes and is only slightly less than 10 times the 2015 GDPs of Austria, Germany and Switzerland combined.

According to a recent survey of 100 top German managers of companies concerned with the operation and maintenance of public infrastructure, including power grids, railways and water supply networks, there is a serious lack of information about the actual condition of the infrastructure.

A little more than two in 10 (12%) of companies have a comprehensive asset-controlling system to validate investment efficiency or facility performance. One in 10 has a system aligned with strategic objectives. Only every second infrastructure operator systematically captures data on maintenance and wear and tear (52%), disturbances (53%) or operating costs (56%). More often than not, such data is not sufficiently consolidated to enable educated decision-making or general strategic planning.

This may partially be due to faulty allocation of responsibilities. Not all asset managers are involved in investment planning (52%), strategic maintenance planning (51%) or compliance-related decision-making (40%). Half of the corporate managers do not regularly have the topic of asset management on their agendas.

Deep-rooted dysfunction

High-speed trainNaturally, the situation goes way back.

A famous example is the British railway network and its seemingly rapid deterioration in the years following privatisation between 1994 and 1997, which pushed it into the international limelight. When, beginning in 2002, state-owned Network Rail reacquired most of the infrastructure in an attempt to ameliorate the situation, it soon became clear that the problems went much deeper. Not only was it impossible to take accurate stock of the existing assets, in many cases, structures were not even properly mapped. Technicians and maintenance workers sent to a given location would find, on occasion, that a railway was nowhere in sight. The giant task: to catalogue 30,000 miles of railway, 40,000 bridges and tunnels, as well as uncounted signal systems and pieces of equipment — and to make that information available wherever it would be needed.

The obvious solution was a state-of-the-art asset management system. Network Rail had the ORBIS (Offering Rail Better Information Services) solution implemented, which put staff in the focus. Every field worker is now equipped with a mobile device that not only delivers information but also captures relevant data by means of geolocation and other sensor-based technologies. At the heart of the system is a platform to fulfil the tasks typical of modern asset management systems.

What exactly is asset management?

The purpose of industrial asset management is to monitor all assets, i.e. facilities, structures, interfaces, ICT, human resources and other material components down to the last screwdriver, along their entire life cycles. In other words, an Infrastructure Asset Management System controls the integrated and cross-disciplinary interplay of strategies, processes and IT systems involved in the management of critical infrastructures, such as power plants, utility grids, roads, bridges, waterways, railways and industrial parks.

Such systems are powered by technology. The proliferation of sensors, processors and smart devices effectively enforces the implementation of state-of-the-art IT systems without which the huge data volumes could not be appropriately put to use – think of IoT, connectivity, cloud, analytics, mobile and cybersecurity. A modern IT-based Asset Management System is ideally composed of an array of interconnected modules serving a broad variety of purposes, including facility control, staff planning, risk management, maintenance and investment planning, controlling, accounting, inventory and geolocation.

As a result, the benefits of such systems reach far beyond these operative tasks. They deliver the indispensible information base that is required to master critical future challenge. Future energy supply will be based on high-performance smart grids. Road traffic management, railway capacity planning, as well as the reconciliation of both will rely on telematics. Similarly, ensuring the supply of the increasingly precious resource of water in a transparent way will depend on data, as will the security of telecommunications systems.

Next-generation Asset Management systems will soon become a “must have” for companies that deal with public infrastructure.

andreas weidel

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