Asset management: new guide supports continuous improvement

A lack of support and resources are among the key challenges facing asset managers, according to research that has informed new guidelines.

Research conducted with local and state government professionals across Australia and New Zealand has found that organisational culture and environment is the top challenge when it comes to adopting a continuous improvement approach to asset management.

The analysis, which was commissioned by Austroads, has led to the development of a set of new guidelines to help asset managers implement and sustain a continuous improvement approach.

Governments across Australia and New Zealand are responsible for more than 900,000 kilometres of road, valued at more than $250 billion, yet many are lacking continual improvement processes that meet standards.

The research, conducted by infrastructure and environmental services firm Cardno, was based on roundtable meetings with 80 asset managers in capital cities across Australia and New Zealand and a survey completed by 40 local and state government professionals.

It identified key challenges and issues facing roads management including:

  • the need for an environment conducive to continual improvement, including support, engaged and proactive leadership
  • a lack of available resources
  • the need for support when pursuing, implementing and sustaining continuous improvement
  • complacency; improvements are made but sustainment is missing
  • low visibility and communication of tools, knowledge and initiatives between councils
  • the need for benchmarking and standardising across councils.

Stephen Walker, business unit manager of asset strategies with Cardno and co-author of the research, said that said the right environment was the number one issue raised by asset managers.

“It came up time and again. Most people were keen to adopt a continual improvement approach but said they needed some support to make it happen,” Mr Walker told Government News.

Respondents were familiar with the various techniques now available, such as statistical techniques, SWAT or root cause analyses, but reported they didn’t have the environment in which continual improvement might occur, he said.

“There was no space created by the organisation to say this is something that’s important, we’re going to give time to it, we’re going to commit resources, the manager will hold people responsible – all those environmental factors were where people said it was falling down,” Mr Walker said.

The research concludes that “at the core of every successful organisation implementing continual improvement is a supportive and enabling environment.”

The new guidelines outline the key elements of an enabling and supportive environment, which include steps for idea generation, evaluation and prioritisation of projects, implementation and monitoring progress.

“We wanted to produce something simple that people could readily follow and implement,” Mr Walker said.

He said asset managers needed to adopt the guidelines “deliberately and with management support to create that environment.”

Starting small and making improvements and gains along the way was also important, he said.

While asset management has traditionally been assigned as the responsibility of a small number of key individuals within a government or organisation, the new guidelines advocate for a “whole of organisation” approach.

“There’s a history of having an asset management team of two people. The guidelines make the point that everyone is involved. You need that environment where you’re breaking down silos and having conversations across the organisation,” he said.

Access the research and guidelines here

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