Asset Management Systems: Moving to a true enterprise approach

Nine steps can help transportation agencies implement crucial enterprisewide asset management systems

Federal law and Mother Nature issue a mandate
Shrinking revenues, federal mandates and natural disasters are among factors driving the need for owners to get a firm grasp on transportation assets, their conditions and how to best maintain them. 

The federal government requires states to develop asset management plans to improve or preserve the condition and performance of the National Highway System. States that fail to develop and implement plans consistent with federal requirements forfeit as much as 35 percent of their federal share for projects and activities. 

Federal law — covering everything from bridges and pavement to vehicle emissions, accidents and traffic congestion — spotlights the need for enterprisewide asset management systems. Enterprisewide asset management systems can help agencies: 

•    Plan for asset improvements, operations and maintenance 
•    Extend the long-term sustainability of transportation infrastructure
•    Prioritize projects to determine how best to spend limited budgets 
•    Operate from a single data repository all divisions/departments can access 
•    Anticipate and budget for future repairs and replacements 

Along with federal pressure, natural disasters highlight the need for asset management. In the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, East Coast agencies scrambled to assess conditions, repairs and replacements and capture costs and activities to qualify for federal grants or other reimbursements.

Further, enterprisewide asset management systems requirements aren’t limited to highways. The Federal Railroad Administration requires track owners to implement and audit bridge-management programs and inspections, know bridges’ safe load capacities and conduct special inspections warranted by weather or other conditions. 

To effectively report performance of related transportation assets, agencies must have systems that enable them to:

•    Evaluate conditions
•    Identify goals
•    Make informed decisions about how to advance those goals
•    Measure progress

Knowledge, experience varies
Many agencies’ asset management status generally falls into one of three categories: 

1.    Enterprisewide asset management system implementation is crawling at a glacial pace although divisions/departments need it now. 
2.    A system that benefited from investment is trapped in a silo, making it difficult to expand it to other departments/divisions.
3.    Agency personnel must start system implementation from scratch and they don’t know how to begin. 

If your agency falls into one of those categories, the first question you should ask is: Would a program manager add value to our organization’s efforts? For transportation agencies with experience and resources, the answer likely will be no. For other agencies, investing in a qualified program manager may be prudent. Consider the benefits: 

•    Strong project management and strategic planning expertise 
•    Access to and an understanding of leading enterprise asset management software vendors, including Infor, IBM and AgileAssets 
•    Knowledge of each software system’s strengths, weaknesses and integration potential
•    Relationships with related industry technology vendors, such as ESRI, Autodesk and Bentley
•    Know-how based on the success of multiple implementations 
•    Experience with managing roads, bridges, pavement, track systems, signal systems, buildings, runways and more
•    Ability to boost success and lower costs by using the latest information technology trends, such as cloud-based computing, mobile devices, LiDAR (light detection and ranging), building information modeling and, to some degree, virtual hardware and software

Creating a stopgap system 
Agencies whose enterprise wide asset management systems are taking painfully long to deploy might borrow a page from the Massachusetts Port Authority, which had an immediate need and quickly implemented an interim application. 

Massport created a customized web-based database to track airside and landside inspections at its two airports. The application was up and running within months, allowing the agency to efficiently and effectively program and report inspections, and produce documentation and work orders from those inspections. 

Since then, other Massport departments have requested enhancements to the tailored, web-based solution, which will be compatible with Massport’s enterprise wide system when it is operational. 

Nine steps to overcome a sticking point or create a system from scratch 
A sticking point for many agencies is how to expand a system operating in a silo. In other cases, agency personnel must craft an enterprisewide asset management system from scratch, and may not know how to begin. Based on success in both situations, HNTB identified nine best practices:

1.    Assemble a steering committee. Include agency decision-makers, but also welcome vendors or subconsultants who will play key planning and implementation roles. 

2.    Build a strategic plan. Strategic planning helps agencies identify their highest priorities and lowest-hanging fruit. 

For the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, traffic permits and lane closures were low-hanging fruit. Contractors and maintenance crews were submitting lane closure requests in every format — phone calls, texts and emails. Because the NJTA may approve and monitor as many as 600 lane closures per week, tracking them was daunting. 

To better manage closures and traffic permits, the NJTA developed a focused asset-management application through which contractors and maintenance providers submit all lane-closure requests via a single website. The site: 

•    Promotes coordination among engineering, operations and maintenance divisions
•    Allows contractors to request, edit and submit closures, which then are approved or denied in a streamlined process
•    Better protects the NJTA from liabilities if accidents occur as a result of unauthorized lane closures 

The lane-closure application will remain discipline-specific, but its data will flow to the NJTA’s overall enterprisewide asset management system, thus providing all divisions a single source of truth about lane closures. 

3.    Incorporate tools that build a supportive culture. Ask agency leaders to communicate with the workforce about operational efficiencies, improved emergency response, increased asset knowledge and more informed decision-making. Hold day-in-the-life demonstrations to help employees visualize how an enterprisewide asset management system works. 

4.    Ask sister agencies about lessons learned from implementing their asset-management programs.

5.    Create policies and procedures to manage data and workflows that will feed into the new system. ISO 55000 and PAS55 are guiding principles and best practices.

6.    Identify the software package or vendor to best support the policies and processes.

7.    Plan an incremental rollout; software implementation is not the finish line. Successful asset management programs typically are long-term engagements that result in continuous organizational improvement.

8.    After determining the overall program, priorities and schedules, work to identify and pursue early wins to strengthen the case for an enterprisewide system. When the Michigan Department of Transportation’s statewide Intelligent Transportation Systems office wanted a more sophisticated application to help manage its system, MDOT extended its tracking database to dynamically map assets using geospatial technology. The early win helped MDOT justify expanding its enterprisewide asset management efforts into:

•    Tracking assets and work orders
•    Monitoring availability of spare inventory
•    Programming maintenance crews
•    Providing web-based applications to guide decisions about asset repairs and replacements.

9.    Beware of scope creep and distractions. Priorities can change, but they must align with goals outlined in the strategic plan.

Maintaining a high level of service
Enterprisewide asset management is not about how transportation agencies can take better care of one asset. It’s about maintaining a high level of care and/or a state of good repair given financial and resource constraints. Implementing one can help agencies provide safe, reliable transportation for constituents.