What, exactly, is a corporate asset specialist? “I see myself as a translator and a facilitator,” says Lance Scriven, who fills the role at Dubbo Regional Council, in regional NSW. “I act as a bridge between infrastructure and finance teams.”
Dubbo Regional Council is one of a growing number of local government bodies achieving positive outcomes by employing staff whose sole purpose is to pursue ‘best practice’ in asset management. “There’s a commitment from the current executive that asset management should be a core function of the business,” says Scriven. “I feel very well supported.”
The role, which Dubbo Regional Council created in 2018, is strategic in nature: it doesn’t relate to the day-to-day operation of any asset types nor to any specific budget function. “The asset custodians are still responsible for management of their assets and the finance staff are still responsible for the management of finances,” says Scriven. “I don’t get in the way of that.”
Instead, Scriven helps the asset custodians understand the finances that underpin their infrastructure and provides information to the finance team about how specific assets are operated and maintained. He also helps develop and enforce uniform reporting standards so that the council’s various asset plans are all “speaking in the same language”.
“In addition, my role gives Dubbo Regional Council’s management a single point of contact through which to interrogate the asset plans,” he adds. “I’m there as part of a diverse team to provide clarification when needed.”
Scriven believes well-developed asset plans are key to an organisation’s long-term success. “The plans need to be forward-looking,” he says. “My role is not about just rubber-stamping plans and putting them on the shelf – it’s about asking: ‘Are these plans working for the organisation to lead us forward?’”
Consistency is another essential component of ‘best practice’ asset management, he says. “One of the most important things I do is ensure the asset custodians adhere to a standardised process. That uniformity means we can easily roll together six or eight documents into a single Asset Management Improvement Strategy that covers the combined scope of the infrastructure plans, which saves time and enables strategic thinking.”
Above all, Scriven says, best-practice asset management relies on the commitment of an organisation’s executive team. “If asset management is treated with importance and respect at the top, that will trickle down and permeate the rest of the organisation.”
Recognising the importance of asset management
By the time Scriven’s role was created, Dubbo Regional Council already had a range of asset-management methodologies in place. “Dubbo recognised the need for those methodologies a long time ago,” he says. “A Strategic Asset Management Plan was developed in 1996 and improvements in content and detail happened from that time. This SAMP was later supported by more detailed asset-management plans focused on specific infrastructure types.”
In 2010, Dubbo convened an Asset Working Group comprising asset custodians, finance representation and executive participation. Eight years later, Scriven came on board.
At the time, most local government organisations were treating asset management as a component of engineering – but the corporate asset specialist position was created within the finance team. Says Scriven: “It’s recognition of the fact that councils should have a strong focus on the longer-term financial implications of decisions relating to the management of assets.”
Scriven brought with him a unique blend of asset-management and auditing experience. “I spent 28 years in the manufacturing industry,” he says, “taking charge of capital acquisition and quality management for the organisation I was with. When the Global Financial Crisis happened, I moved into the public sector and took a role with MidCoast Water, managing assets on behalf of the field crews.”
Back in the 1980s, when Scriven graduated high school, tertiary asset-management courses did not exist in Australia, so much of his expertise has been picked up on the job. He is heartened by the recent launch of IPWEA’s Education Pathway, which he believes will help elevate asset management’s status and encourage younger generations to pursue it as a career.
“I recently completed IPWEA’s AMP course,” he adds, “which was really worthwhile because it helped benchmark what we are currently doing at the council.”
He’s hopeful that roles such as his will soon become commonplace at local government organisations. “Australian councils are relatively functional now,” he notes. “But for improvement to happen, sometimes we need to move away from historic models and develop a new outlook on what the future might look like.”