Ideas to fuel a sustainable built environment

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Asset Management: a Transportation Systems Engineering Perspective

Mar 23, 2016 10:00:00 AM

For many building operators and facility managers, it is generally accepted that there is too much to do, and not enough time or money to do what needs to be done. Facility management staff often fall into a routine of “putting out fires,” which takes time and resources away from preventative maintenance activities. The symptoms of this routine are a high percentage of expenditures for equipment failures and a large backlog of deferred maintenance. When I see the scramble of “putting out fires,” I often wonder what could be done differently to help stop the pattern of equipment failures and deferred maintenance.


Avoiding the Pitfalls of Deferred Maintenance by Looking at Transportation Systems

My view of facility management is informed by my background in transportation systems engineering. In transportation systems engineering, researchers and practitioners have developed working conceptual frameworks for transportation asset management. Transportation asset management, much like facility management, is a process of developing, operating, and maintaining infrastructure to achieve required levels of performance with limited resources. For example, state departments of transportation are tasked with utilizing limited (even dwindling) public funds to provide the public with many thousands of miles of safe and reliable roadway infrastructure, which includes pavement, striping, guardrails, culverts, bridges, signs, traffic signals, and lighting, along with the supporting system of roadway maintenance buildings, vehicles, and materials. In addition to managing aging infrastructure with reduced capital and operating budgets, state departments of transportation have considerable “fires” (i.e. random catastrophic events) to put out, such as vehicular incident response and clean-up, extreme weather events, and actual wildfires.  In my view, effective transportation asset management systems offer a model for enhanced facility asset management.

Trafic_control_center.jpgImage by Flickr user Highways England

Take Inventory, Make a Plan, Establish Metrics

Much of what transportation asset management is, and what can be leveraged in building/facility management, can be found in a transportation asset management plan. Transportation asset management plans include:

  1. “A summary listing of the pavement and bridge assets on the National Highway System in the State, including a description of the condition of those assets;
  2. Asset management objectives and measures;
  3. Performance gap identification,
  4. Lifecycle cost and risk management analysis,
  5. A financial plan, and
  6. Investment strategies”

The important first step in asset management is to take inventory of all assets with a significant cost and/or function. How can an organization manage assets that it does not know the condition of (or existence of) until there is a failure?

The next key step is to establish specific performance metrics that quantify or describe what the assets should achieve (e.g. facility kBtu/SF/year, fan motor W/1,000 CFM, thermal comfort complaints per person-year, etc.). Once meaningful performance metrics are established, baseline values should be measured and performance goals should be set. Gaps between goals and baseline values should inform facility management decisions such as preventative maintenance and capital investment. A complete inventory is needed from step 1 to effectively prioritize assets for maintenance and investment activities.

Asset management ultimately feeds into financial planning and decision-making. Limited financial resources must be leveraged strategically to achieve the performance goals of the assets. The process of asset management and financial planning should be recursive – as investments are made, the condition of assets and the associated performance metrics should be updated to obtain feedback on the effectiveness of asset management activities, and to prioritize the next round of investments.

Written by Brent Weigel