A stepped approach for Public Infrastructure Management

Construction is one of the main engines of a country’s economy and a big source of job creation. The Public Sector is typically good at building things, but it falls short when it comes to maintaining them. This maintenance backlog has resulted in the current poor condition of infrastructure that is aging way earlier than anticipated. Whether it’s critical infrastructure such as power lines, bridges, rail lines roads and dams or more operational assets like public fleets, light poles and waste containers, public agencies are struggling with managing their assets.

But… why should Public Sector care about asset management?

As obvious as this question might sound, the truth is that most public sector agencies don’t manage their own assets. Historically, they have subcontracted asset management or even structured public-private partnerships for the entire build-operate-maintain process to leverage private sector’s expertise, resources and financial capacity. Additionally, with money flowing from central governments, elected officials have traditionally prioritized new construction over maintenance of the existing one, creating an even bigger maintenance gap.

However, agencies are the ultimate caretakers of these public assets and are therefore responsible for the consequences resulting from a potential deficiency. Relying solely on a private partner to keep their assets in good condition is not an option anymore. Besides, in the current context of tight budgets and increasing citizen demands for better infrastructure, state and local agencies are being pressured to find ways of managing their assets more efficiently, which would allow them to deliver on their promise. But, as usual, this might be easier said than done.

What are the major challenges when it comes to public asset management?

Every public entity faces unique challenges when trying to adopt intelligent asset management practices but, as in many other aspects, it always boils down to people, process, technology… and budget.

  • People: Workforce is critical for the success of any asset management strategy. Agencies need not only to attract the right-skilled people and keep them motivated and aligned with their mission but also provide them with the right tools to perform their jobs both on and off site.
  • Process: Despite the increase in government digitalization catalyzed by the pandemic, still many agencies have manual, paper-based processes in place. This reduces efficiency and creates roadblocks that have sometimes a significant impact in the assets.
  • Technology: Traditional asset management approaches have focused heavily on solving specific individual problems without defining an overall strategy. This has led to a myriad of patchwork solutions that are underutilized, not integrated and technological siloes within the organizations.
  • Budget: Agencies struggle to measure accurately the cost-benefit of asset management, which often leads to funds being allocated to other priorities with a much better-defined value, such as brand-new construction.

So, what can Public Sector organizations do about it?

As complex as intelligent asset management looks like, it really shouldn’t be. Digitalization and management of infrastructure is a journey and, as such, it can be achieved on a crawl-walk-run approach. Possible steps could be:

Initial

1-      Single source of truth – To overcome data silos and ensure all the are areas of the organization are working with the same information, start working with a unique system of record. This will not only enable better decision making and more accurate cost-benefit analysis to maximize funding but it will also allow to build innovation much faster.
2-      Maintenance strategy – Not all assets have the same maintenance needs and therefore different maintenance methodologies can be applied. Use your asset insights to determine the right maintenance strategy and extend your asset’s useful life. The Swiss Federal Railway Agency, SBB, for instance is using reliability-centered maintenance for the train’s critical elements, minimizing downtimes and increasing optimization.

Intermediate

3-      Maintenance execution – To ensure the right crews are working at the right time, in the right place and with the proper tools for the job, adopt solutions that allow efficient planning, scheduling, and dispatching, which is precisely what the City of Cape Town is doing to keep their roads safe.
4-      Real time information and digital twin – After getting the data foundation structure in place, model critical infrastructure to create digital twins. This will allow to have a digital representation of the assets and closely monitor them. Continue enriching your n-dimensional models by injecting data from multiples sources such as IoT sensors or even other stakeholders within the value chain.
 

Advanced

5-      Advanced analytics – To unleash the true potential of digital twins, adopt tools that allow running simulations to predict future behaviors of the infrastructure, for instance, when external conditions change. The Norwegian Public Roads Administration built a digital twin of one of their bridges and were able to predict and correct a structural deficiency before it could cause any damage to the public.

Summary

There might of course be other possibilities for this journey, but there is one essential aspect that agencies need to define before embarking on it: their end-to-end vision. To avoid ending up with a multitude of non-functional systems, agencies need to determine what they want to accomplish with asset management and then define a path that will get them there. And for that, they need a reliable partner that can walk alongside with them, providing the right integrated technologies, streamlining processes, and empowering employees to better perform their jobs.

Learn more about SAP end-to-end intelligent asset management capabilities for Public Sector, as well as how governments worldwide are innovating using the latest technologies.