The essence of asset management is to better prioritize resources to optimize outcomes, basically institutionalizing a business-like approach to managing infrastructure. This is not so-called “rocket science”. It is simply what any organization, public or private, should be doing to best use its resources in achieving desired results for its customers and stockholders, whether referred to as asset management or not. To my knowledge, no organization has sufficient resources to do everything it needs or wants to do. Thus, a systematic approach of setting priorities must take place—asset management.

In the bigger picture, asset management is an extension of engineering economics. Utilized for over a hundred years, engineering economics has, and continues to be, a primary means for decision-making for infrastructure development. The ability to retain, retrieve, and analyze increasing amounts of data in recent decades has enabled evidence-based decision-making on a network scale. Made possible by computer and digital technology, other “big picture” analyses are increasingly emerging to include the discipline of sustainability that facilitates decision-making between economic, social and environmental realms.

Every public and private body is under increasing pressure to justify investment and that it is making best use of its resources. It is tempting to generate an office of asset management in addressing these pressures. However, inculcating an asset management approach requires a cultural change where the entire team thinks in more holistic terms on how to better utilize resources to optimize outcomes.

Many organizations have developed a strategic approach that identifies better allocation of resources for the management, operations, preservation and enhancement of infrastructure to meet the needs of current and future customers and stockholders. As an example, in the mid-1990s the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) formed an Asset Management Committee. I was privileged to serve as Vice Chair and Chair. Within a short period of time, the entire transportation industry in the United States recognized the value of asset management and has been refining processes ever since.

At about this same time, the value of performance measures was emerging in conjunction with asset management. There are essentially four traditional elements of asset management that interact:

  1. Performance measures (what target is desired and achievable)
  2. Asset:
    1. Inventory
    2. Condition
    3. Utilization
    4. Value in dollars
  3. Life-cycle cost prediction
  4. Agency or organization cost
  5. User cost
  6. Trade-off analysis and investment strategies (by combining the above to produce an optimized budget)

An example of asset manage, while Director of the Nebraska Department of Roads, determined that the optimal allocation of resources in a broad sense (including budget) was:

  1. Critical bridges
  2. System preservation
  3. New capital investments

Asset management is quite literally the best of continuous improvement. That process never ends. An account of the full collection of resources must be pursued. Some are visible and some are not. This is a partial list of assets commonly owned by transportation agencies:

  • roads, including for all modes
  • trails
  • bridges, including vehicle and pedestrian
  • public transportation assets and systems, including buses and trains
  • culverts and drainage structures and systems
  • other structures such as sound walls
  • signs of all kinds
  • lighting and electrical systems
  • heating and air conditioning systems
  • buildings, including for people, equipment and materials
  • airports and aircraft
  • waterborne ferry systems and craft
  • land
  • roadside vegetation
  • rest stops and visitor centers
  • rail grade crossings
  • traffic control signals, devices and systems
  • changeable message boards, fixed and portable
  • vehicles
  • equipment to include heavy wheeled and track, construction and maintenance, snow and ice, mowing
  • materials of all kinds
  • tools of all kinds
  • intelligent transportation systems
  • intelligent infrastructure systems
  • transportation management centers
  • information systems, including software and hardware
  • data of all kinds
  • economic impacts
  • environmental impacts, including aesthetics and views
  • societal impacts, including access for the disabled
  • user impacts, including to traffic and safety
  • human resources

There are other resources so feel free to add to this list. They must all be managed in an asset management framework to make best use of available resources and to optimize outcomes. This is what customers and stockholders expect.

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”

– Mark Twain