On 21 January 2020, Ross Waugh and Heather Himmelberger held another Ask-the-Experts webinar titled, “Infrastructure Asset Management – How to Start.” Inframanage.com presents the webinar topics through a series of blog posts.
And one of the things that we want to make a point about is that asset management is about thinking. And anybody who has come to one of my training hears me say that it’s not about the technology, it’s about the thinking around your assets.
You can use technology in various ways to help you, but it’s the thinking that gets you where you need to go. And you can’t short cut that. You have to think about these assets. You have to think, what do I need to do, what’s going in with my system.
You have to do that thinking part, and you can’t outsource that. You can’t write a critical old document and hope that that’s going to solve your problem. You can’t even buy a piece of software and push the button to have it give you all the answers because there isn’t a short cut way of doing the thinking that goes around it.
Because you still have to make decisions. You still have to be the one in charge of the overall picture.
So just remember that again that thinking doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money. It’s just changing your mindset, to ask yourself some questions. Why is this happening? Where are we having problems? What is the main thing going on in the system that keeps us up at night?
And just that simple kind of thinking can get you some valuable benefits and some quick wins. So, don’t be thinking that if I don’t spend a bunch of money on a 200-page document that I’m not going to get where I need to go because that’s simply not true.
It doesn’t have to be a super-complex thing, and my first couple of trips over to New Zealand and Australia told me that because many of the systems had done precisely that. They started with a 5-volume, a couple of hundred pages per volume asset management plan and decided that that didn’t help them at all.
And they needed to start from scratch and say, okay, let’s regroup. What do we need to do? They will pull out a 30-page plan and say this is working well, and you could see it was coffee-stained and dog-eared and written on.
You can tell somebody was using it, that they were working from that, versus the thing sitting on the shelf that looks beautiful but didn’t help them.
And I think particularly in water and wastewater networks, often the issues you’re dealing with would have accumulated over decades.
And so the thought that you can, in one year, solve all those problems is unrealistic both in terms of your human resources, even if you get the biggest and “bestest” consulting firm in the world, and certainly in terms of your organizational ability to manage that.
So, the trick is, and this comes back from the quick wins and quick gains. It’s a bit like the old if you ever look at the LEAN company startup stuff where you cycle fast. Here’s a problem, solve that fast. Right, get that one knocked off. Here’s the next one.
Because you don’t get the resource or the funding, if you’re going to try to do something, oh look if we are going to solve this problem, this can take us 20 years. It’s never going to be resourced or funded.
But you can break a big problem down into a whole lot of little issues. Yes, it’s basic project management. And go right, what’s number one? Oh, yes, we need to do that.
And as Heather was saying with the thinking, it’s like, when you step back from, “this is the way we always do, or we must do it this way” and just take a fresh look at the issue, maybe a broader look at the problem, rethink it, maybe put a lot of people in a room to brainstorm the problem.
And why is it that all of a sudden you find that five different parts of the organization, all have five different answers and they haven’t talked to each other about it.
Just that process alone, can, you can get some phenomenal gains. And I haven’t met a CEO yet when all of the different teams working together well and have come up with an innovative answer that they don’t like that. Normally they are absolutely thrilled that that is happening and haven’t quite worked out how to achieve that themselves.
And you can hire, and again I do like the EFC model here in the US because Heather and her team do a lot of mentoring and a lot of training.
That’s a really good way to stimulate thinking. Sometimes you can’t do that. You hire a specialist. Try and hire the one that passes information.
Black boxes inside large firms are not much at the end of the day. Sometimes you just need that. You got, look I want an answer, I want it used today and you hire somebody to do that for you. That’s okay.
But the understanding of the organization of the issues and the adaptation and change of that organization over a period of three or five years or longer into asset management thinking and mindset will just deliver unbelievable gains, both organizationally and physically. And you will find all other things that you were doing that you probably won’t do.
Asset management thinking and benefits – an example
I will give you a little example of that. In New Zealand, there’s quite a large city that we had, and they had, I think it was 120 wastewater pump stations, two pump stations and about six to seven quite large ones with really big pumps.
And they have a maintenance inspection regime where the maintenance team went every single day to those pump stations to make sure they are okay. But they had full remote SCADA systems on them with sensors from “here to Africa.”
And so, I said to them, why? Why are you sending guys here every single day?
And the answer was, that’s what we’ve always done. Ah, why have we always done that?
Well, back in the days before all the sensors and all the skater systems, you should go and visit them because you might have some blockages or some problems and you don’t want an overflow.
Well, that was really really good practice 40 years ago or 30 years ago but not now.
So, the question came up when, there was an outsourcing contract, contract renewal, and they were about to write into this contract. You should go to the pump station with a crew that need two or three team members of the crew in the vehicle and all that, every day for 120 pump stations.
So then you do the math on that, saying we need 3 or 4 crews. And just that one little discussion, said actually we don’t need to do that.
Maybe once a week would be fine. I suggested once every two weeks, but they were not entirely comfortable with that, so they came back to once a week.
The guys who were doing that did not get laid off. They just redeployed to do other important stuff, more on pump maintenance and things like that rather than just running around, looking at the wells and any blockages and locate the instrumentation in the pump station which was already mirrored back to the main office.
So yes, things like that. You can just have straightforward conversations like that, that can end up changing your practices, doesn’t create any more risk, and can save a considerable amount of expenditure.
Not to say what they were doing previously was wrong because it was appropriate before they had all the monitoring. But it just didn’t change with the monitoring. And there’s lots and lots of stories like that, I think.