By Dr. Geert Roovers – Infrastructure management is becoming more and more complex. Uncertainties rise, policy fields get intertwined, budgets are under pressure and demands from politicians, stakeholders and users need constant attention. In this climate asset management is rising in public management, and seems to be an answer to every new challenge. But what are the consequences of this rise for public infrastructure managers? What challenges are they facing? This essay explores these challenges. An exploration which sets the agenda for new competencies for modern infrastructural managers.
Planning of infrastructure is becoming more and more difficult
Modern infrastructural asset management has to deal with many challenges. It has to deal with more and more uncertainties, climatic as well as socio-economical. It has to deal with demands from politicians and society. Bad performance of intensively used networks is less and less tolerated, while available budgets are cut. Finally, more and more stakeholders have to be taken into account while planning and implementing asset management. Because of this, planning of new infrastructure and maintenance of existing infrastructure becomes more and more difficult. Planning of infrastructure has to deal with emergent developments, uncertainties in those developments and even beyond that in terms of unknown-unknowns. This planning asks for intensive modelling, analysis and research, but also for adaptive capacity (Van Buuren et al. 2014). Different long-term scenarios have to be taken into account. Furthermore, investments in infrastructure are high, and will become higher due to developments like climate change, growing technological opportunities and higher societal demands (De Wulf et. al., 2010). These large investments ask for long term perspectives in planning, and these long term perspectives raise investments as well. Herder and Wijnia (2012) therefore state that ‘design of infrastructure has to be right for a very long time’.
Professional asset management is rising
Within this complex context professional asset management is rising. The basis for this rise lies in the change of focus from investing in new infrastructure to the management of use, replacement and maintenance of existing infrastructure (Herder and Wijnia, 2012). In this, the functionality of assets needs constant change, because of changing demands from society and politicians. Roovers and van Buuren (2014) speak of ‘a time to evolve’: instead of making big investments, asset managers are continuously adapting their infrastructure to new demands and new climatic and socio-economic circumstances. The rise of asset management is strengthened by the above mentioned challenges, the decrease of public budgets and public calls for more efficiency, more transparency and a more user-orientated way of working (Moon et al., 2009, Herder and Wijnia, 2009, De Wulf et. al., 2010, Michele and Daniela, 2011). Herder and Wijnia (2012) define asset management as ‘getting the best value out of assets’. Asset management focuses on the lifecycle of assets, and puts investments in assets in their life-cycle perspective. It considers the performance of the assets within the context of their risks and costs. Infrastructural asset management has some specific characteristics (Herder and Wijnia, 2012): (1) assets have a very long lifespan of 50-100 years, (2) assets have no resale value, (3) the longevity of the assets, and (4) infrastructural systems are evolutionary systems. Because of the long term design period which is deemed necessary, a long term perspective and future uncertainties need to be considered in concrete investment decisions.
Table 1 summarizes the change from ‘time to invest’ to ‘time to evolve’.
|Time to invest||Time to evolve|
|Project management approach: control over projects||Asset management approach: continuously maintain, adapt and improve systems and networks|
|Focus on project and project goals, based on technical standards.||Focus on assets, performance and functioning, based on societal demands|
|Focus on the project stakeholders||Focus on network users|
|A start and an end||Continuous|
|Political risks in projects with budget and planning exceedance.||Political risks in not functioning of networks and assets.|
|Legal focus on permits||Legal focus on claims|
An exploration of consequences
Thus, the rise of asset management marks the change from ‘time to invest’ to ‘time to evolve’. In this, three elements stand central: (1) the life-cycle perspective on assets, including long term uncertainties, and (2) evolving performance requirements, and (3) permanent dealing with politicians, users and stakeholders. These elements strengthen the relation between assets and their surroundings. Uncertainties stem from developments in the surroundings of assets which press on the assets and their performance.
These developments raise an important question: what are the implications for asset managers? What competencies do they need to deal with these implications. In a first exploration there are four important notions:
- From periodical planning to continuously redefine assets; Building, maintenance and replacement of infrastructure can’t be seen as separate activities anymore: they interact and succeed continuously. A modern asset manager is continuously planning and adapting his assets. Which also indicates that his users change continuously as well: the users of tomorrow are not the same as today. This asks for flexibility in his management and his assets.
- Anticipate on long term uncertainties; Long term uncertainties play a daily role in asset management. This means data-collection, scenario-building and analysis. And furthermore: development of adaptive strategies that can anticipate on these unforeseen futures.
- Continuously connect with other functions Growing complexity, the need for adjusting assets and cutting budgets will ask for connecting with other functions. For example, when tidal energy is generated in existing sluices. Time to evolve will lead to multi-functionality and co-use of assets. Asset managers have to anticipate on this and work on cooperation and coalitions with other stakeholders. Furthermore, legal requirements dealing with assets have to be more flexible to deal with multi-functionality.
- Public-private arrangements change Public private arrangements which shape infrastructural asset management change. Instead of temporary cooperation, focused on realizing one or several assets, cooperation becomes permanent. Actors have to work together for long periods, cooperation must institutionalize between organizations, instead of between people. This permanent cooperation has to deal with staff changes and uncertainties. They have to develop shared ambitions, exchange information on a structural bases and for most: develop trust.
Infrastructure management is becoming more and more complex. Uncertainties rise, policy fields get intertwined, budgets are under pressure and demands from politicians, stakeholders and users need constant attention. Within this context asset management is rising in public management, and seems to be an answer to every new challenge. This rise has some important implications for public infrastructure managers, and sets the agenda for new competencies: (1) infrastructural managers need to continuously and flexibly plan their management, (2) be able to anticipate on long-term uncertainties, (3) search for multi-functionality and co-use of assets and (4) develop skills to develop permanent cooperation. Public infrastructural organisations have to anticipate on that.
This article is based on the following publications:
- Roovers, G., M.W. van Buuren; Van investeren naar evolueren: Wat eigentijds asset management betekent voor de organisatie van het waterbeheer. In; Water Governance, december 2014 [in dutch]
- Roovers, G., M.W. van Buuren; Stakeholder management in strategic, long term planning of infrastructure: Different styles, different outcomes? ; in: Infrastructure Complexity [2015, in prep]
Buuren, M.W. van, P.P.J. Driessen, H.J.F.M. van Rijswick, G.R. Teisman, (2014). Towards legitimate governance strategies for climate adaptation. Combining insights from legal, planning and democratic perspectives. Regional Environmental Change. 14 (3): 1021-1033.
Dewulf, G., Hartmann, A. and Schraven, D. (2010) Denk vooruit maar plan met mate; Hubholland. Magazine: Infrastructurele Netwerken in Europa, 3 (1). [In Dutch].
Herder, P. and Y. Wijnia (2012); A systems view on infrastructure asset management; In: Asset Management; The state of the art in Europe from a life cycle perspective; van der Lei, T., P. Herder, Y. Wijnia (Editors); Springer; ISBN 978-94-007-2723-6.
Michele, D.S. and Daniela, L. (2011), “Decision-support tools for municipal infrastructure maintenance management,” Procedia Computer Science, Elsevier, Vol. 3, pp. 36–41. doi:10.1016/j.procs.2010.12.007
Moon, F L, Aktan, A E, Furuta, H and Dogaki, M. (2009) Governing issues and alternate resolutions for a highway transportation agency’s transition to asset management. Structure and Infrastructure Engineering, 5(1), 25-39
Roovers, G., M.W. van Buuren; Van investeren naar evolueren: Wat eigentijds asset management betekent voor de organisatie van het waterbeheer. In; Water Governance, december 2014 [in dutch]
Photos from Beeldbank Rijkswaterstaat