By David Jenkins
When discussing the modern framework for asset management, we often use the word holistic to describe how several disciplines need to work together to achieve one goal.
Accountants, engineers with varied specialities, urban planners, and architects are just some of the professionals whose contributions are essential for asset management.
You can add surveyors, project managers and – on bigger projects – bankers and financiers.
The International Infrastructure Management Manual recommends that asset managers work closely with finance to align financial and asset management plans and budgets, information systems teams to ensure effective systems are in place, strategic planners to ensure that planning outcomes are strongly aligned with corporate planning and capital delivery operations and maintenance, to ensure the right infrastructure is delivered.
Our IPWEA courses combine many of these professional perspectives, and our members regularly work on projects with colleagues from other disciplines.
A typical goal is for engineers to understand financial sustainability and for accountants to understand how a physical asset will deteriorate and require maintenance over time beyond a depreciation schedule.
The reality is that many infrastructure professionals tend to work in silos and rarely come out to interact with other professions, or when they do, it is in a very formal way which is not conducive to the productive sharing of ideas.
Traditional models for delivering critical infrastructure projects remain highly hierarchical, and sometimes even adversarial.
Add in the often-tangled web of relationships between contractors and subcontractors, and it is clear that potential conflicts and friction exist at almost every point in the infrastructure industry.
By any measure, this is a poor cultural outcome, which has broader implications in areas such as innovation and the development and use of new technologies.
I recently spoke at the Smart City World Expo in Barcelona. Technology changes continue to be rapid, and as infrastructure managers strive to be more efficient and reduce energy and waste, they will need to work closely with technologists and urban planners to implement effective long-term solutions. Smarter cities are the future, but they will only be achieved if we can break down any silos that exist between functions in our organisations.
Reaching net zero will involve new thinking about infrastructure delivery. Adopting green or natural assets as a solution will require the engineering and finance professions to work with urban foresters and environmental specialists who innately understand the benefits of these natural assets. At the same time, all professionals need to work together to understand the value of these natural assets. Local government engineers and infrastructure asset managers can be leaders willing to work across the organisation.
Richard Threlfall, the head of infrastructure at KPMG in the UK who spoke at IPWEA’s 2023 International Asset Management Congress, estimates that the failure to embrace cultural change costs the UK upwards of A$16 billion in lost economic output.
To redress this, the tone set by leadership is crucial, and in many cases, leaders need to have the courage to disrupt their own companies and projects.
Just because things have been done a certain way in the past doesn’t mean they must continue to be done that way.
Leaders should communicate to all stakeholders that they are working collaboratively toward the same outcome and that their sectoral or corporate allegiances are secondary to the collective goal. Delivering effective asset management requires significant coordination across the organisation.
Success might also require breaking down barriers and acknowledging that job titles and status might need to be put aside for the good of the project’s outcome.
This will help align stakeholders’ goals whose objectives might ordinarily be narrowly focused and disparate.
The effective leader demonstrates a strong commitment to asset management and creates a culture that enables success, aligns activity towards a common purpose and motivates employees to achieve that purpose.
If we succeed in this cultural shift, the word’ holistic’ will be easier to say and write because it will mean more than it does today and describe an approach that ensures the whole of organisation is working towards the same goal.