From The Editor | February 6, 2013

Get Your (Water Infrastructure) Assets In Gear

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By Kevin Westerling
@KevinOnWater

Kevin Westerling

Do you practice asset management? In broad terms, you likely do (one would hope) — because, in general, asset management merely refers to monitoring and maintaining things of value (e.g. water systems). In the realm of engineering, however, asset management takes on greater significance, considering lifecycle costs and risk management alongside level of service. It’s this form of asset management that should and does appeal to utilities, but there are still many in the dark on the subject. I would like to shed a little light, with help from a new research study conducted by McGraw-Hill Construction and CH2M HILL.

The full study, “Water Infrastructure Asset Management: Adopting Best Practices to Enable Better Investments,” won’t be available until March, but I can share with you some key statistics from a preview that was released at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., on January 17. Its findings are the result of a survey distributed to members of five industry associations — the American Public Works Association (APWA), the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), and the Water Environment Federation (WEF).

Why Adopt Asset Management Practices?

In a word (or two): aging infrastructure. For 75% of water utilities that currently practice asset management, aging infrastructure was a driving factor. Related, 42% said that the need to increase reliability of their infrastructure systems was important. The third most popular reasoning, at 39%, was to gain a better understanding of the risks and consequences of asset failure — again tied to age.

While part of why adopt is the impetus, the other part is the benefit. The survey revealed that the most advantageous aspect of water infrastructure asset management — scoring 80% among respondents — is the improved ability to explain and defend budgets and investments to governing bodies. Another 67% agreed that asset management allows the utility to better focus its priorities, resulting in better business practices. Knowledge is indeed power.

Yes, you may be saying, but what are these somewhat nebulous asset management practices, and which ones work best? To answer that in a word (or two): Survey says…

Best Practices

To determine relative effectiveness, the survey asked respondents to rate 14 leading asset management practices (split into three categories) as “effective,” “neutral,” or “not effective.” The results are reflected in the table below:

While I can quibble with the terminology (Isn’t “neutral” tantamount to “not effective”?), the survey provides some revealing insight. For each and every practice listed, the majority found benefit, which is a great overall endorsement. Technology and data practices were deemed most effective, especially asset-condition assessment for renewal/replacement planning at 78%.

There was less of a consensus around the other categories, but certainly high marks were found. Strategic asset management planning (74%) and the development of an asset management policy (74%) were praised among strategy and performance measurement practices, and there were clear benefits on the investment side, particularly with regard to O&M and Capital Improvement Plans.

Conclusion

Water infrastructure asset management gives clearer vision to the utility by way of data, planning, and best practices. That information can arm and equip your utility to do more with less — or to do more with more, because now the case can be made for more investment based on current conditions, costs, and future needs.

For further insight and analysis of the study’s key findings, you can access McGraw-Hill Construction’s two-page preview here, and be sure to keep an eye out for the full report next month.