Companies responsible for maintaining efficient road, rail, ports, airports and utilities infrastructure are facing unparalleled challenges to build, operate, maintain and replace ageing assets. And they’re doing this at a time when the digital economy is developing tools and methods that can fundamentally transform the practice of asset management.
How infrastructure management organisations respond to these challenges and gain greater digital control over their assets will determine both their own effectiveness and the effectiveness of the economies they support.
In order to efficiently and effectively build, operate, maintain and replace their assets, infrastructure management organisations are currently having to address four key challenges.
Understanding what you have
This is not as simple as it sounds. Many assets were built and deployed in the early- and mid-20th century and in some cases as far back as the late-19th century. Organisational models have changed significantly over time from centralised to devolved and back again, and in many cases an organisation’s status has moved from public to private with ownership moving off-shore in some instances. Organisations’ ability to keep effective control of their assets during this time has diminished, and many are now playing catch-up.
Joining up asset information
Asset composition and relationships are complex. Within an system construct most assets are related to one or more other assets. Having a system view of assets is therefore highly important, but many organisations do not have the ability to fully understand how their assets inter-relate and how they contribute to the effective delivery of the whole – or even how to model this.
The challenge therefore is akin to the law of unintended consequence. In addressing asset performance in one area, it is not possible to know how that will affect asset performance elsewhere or across the system as a whole. Investment decisions are therefore sub-optimal and control of the system of assets is lost.
Predicting the future
Not all assets are used to the same extent, therefore not all assets will need replacing at the same time. Understanding which assets are used when and how they degrade is critical to controlling the asset, understanding the contribution they make to the system of assets and when they can be replaced. Predictive analytics goes some way to addressing this challenge but is often hindered by organisational capabilities, data availability and/or quality, and knowledge of how to apply new digital technologies in a way that enables greater control over the future.
In the face of all these challenges and the need to make a return on and better control investment, organisations will invest in areas where there is greater certainty and clearly defined business benefits. Where investment in assets is costly and time-consuming, organisations are making the decision to defer or reduce activity, often resulting in assets exceeding their economically-productive lifetime and impacting reliability and service.
Each of these challenges has the potential to be fundamentally addressed by the Digitalisation of Infrastructure Asset Management. Solutions include:
Visualising assets brings them to life. Being able to view assets from any digital mobile device from any location enables controllers and asset management professionals to more efficiently understand and gain control over the assets, where they are and what state they are in.
The need to send asset maintenance staff into a situation that demands high standards of safety is significantly reduced when organisations can view the asset in detail from a position of safety. Visualisation tools are digitalising at an alarming rate, which, along with step-changes in the ability to digitalise collection, collation and retrieval of visual data means that organisations are now able to view all of their assets, no matter how remote, from any location.
New digital tools and techniques
New solutions that centralise and structure asset data across many asset classes, enabling interaction with fault management and work order system, have changed how organisations view and use asset information. The opportunity created through the application of digital tools, to join-up asset information has given organisations greater control over their assets.
Though a ubiquitous concept, data analytics is a practice many organisations have struggled with implementing effectively. Many infrastructure asset management organisations have implemented intelligent infrastructure programmes and now receive information from remote assets regarding their utilisation and condition. The ability to control and predict when assets could fail and hence when to intervene is now commonplace but it is through digitalisation of this process that it becomes part of a whole system and not an isolated or point solution.
Understanding the system and how assets interact and inter-relate is critical to being able to make effective decisions. Many organisations have digitalised their decision-making processes based on improved analytics and the transformation of analogue data into a digital form. Asset managers are now able to compete for scarce funding and prove through effective benefits mapping and asset control that they can make returns on investment.
Infrastructure asset management is an important field undergoing major changes with the adoption of digital technology and the possibilities it brings. In the next months, CSC experts will be sharing thoughts on asset management, pondering challenges and offering solutions from a technology point of view in a series of blog posts. We invite you to offer feedback and connect with us on social media for additional conversation.
Gooty Agraharam, Nick Clark and Chris Lewis are senior members of CSC’s Consulting team.
Gooty is a Managing Partner and Head of Digital Infrastructure Asset Management. He has an extensive track record working with asset-intensive organisations, focusing on the application of digital tools to asset management. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Nick is a Partner and Head of Digital Asset Integration. Based on his considerable experience of technology-enabled business and digital transformation programmes, he is currently working with Network Rail on the ORBIS programme, one of the largest asset transformation programmes in Europe. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Chris is a Partner and Head of Transport. He is an Economist by training who has worked with many central government departments and major corporations on their asset strategies and transformation programmes. Connect with him on LinkedIn.