Optimising infrastructure asset management across Australia by Avesh Maharaj
The complexities and challenges of infrastructure asset management have been much discussed at a local government and broader industry level across the country. But these kinds of issues are not unique to the UK. Worldwide, industry bodies often have similar challenges to face – even though the geographical, regulatory and economic environments in which they are operating are generally quite distinct.
The Australian infrastructure asset management environment is a case in point. The broad asset management approach in Australia is theoretically based on that in the UK. Like the UK authorities, the Australian authorities look to follow ISO 55000, an international standard, introduced in 2014, covering the management of assets of any kind. Before that, the Australian authorities typically followed the UK’s PAS 55 standard, which was published by the British Standards Institution (BSI) in 2004, for physical assets, and later evolved into ISO 55000. It is important to note too that the ISO and PAS standards are across all asset classes including water, facilities and open spaces.
Australia also has also two important industry bodies in this space: Austroads, the peak organisation of Australasian road and transport agencies, and the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA).
The way ownership and funding of roads is organised in Australia is, however, quite distinct from the UK. Some roads are funded by local authorities; some are funded by the state, which is also funded by the federal government. These are typically maintained either by the state, local government, or by a contractor. Other roads are owned by local government: these are funded by the state, rate payers and federal government and maintained by the local authority or by the relevant contractor.
Funding is also typically tight. When authorities with responsibility for road maintenance discuss the challenges they face, it is generally the biggest talking point. For solution providers pitching into the marketplace, therefore, the focus is typically on asset optimisation: ‘being able to do more with less’.
While serious concerns about the scarcity of funding will be only too familiar to highways and infrastructure asset management departments within UK councils and local authorities, the way that the approach is rolled out is quite different in the two countries. Take the way that road information is measured and mapped, for example. While the UK has a data collection standard, Australia does not. Authorities typically either collect data from complex machine-based surveys or drive down the road and give it a rating score from one to 10.
Factors such as safety and traffic volumes are typically key considerations for the authorities when planning their overall strategies. Weather is also a critically important factor when it comes to road design and maintenance. The country experiences a vast range of different climatic and weather conditions: from snow and ice to arid and tropical. Those that are relevant will of course need to be factored in when roads are designed, particularly with regards to the types of materials used in the road building and maintenance process.
Asset Management in Practice
With the help of partners, Yotta has already implemented its visualised asset management system, Horizons, within several organisations in Australia. One such is Townsville City Council (TCC), one of the largest local government authorities in Queensland. TCC regularly commissions civil engineering consultancy Pavement Management Services (PMS) to conduct road condition surveys and sophisticated laser scans of the road surface.
Together, these have provided TCC with an accurate picture of its road assets. However, to better manage public scrutiny and enhance its overall asset management approach, TCC also needed to make more proactive use of detailed data that had been collected.
To do this, the council began looking for a versatile asset management software solution that would allow it to carry out enhanced pavement modelling; put strategic works programmes in place that take account of shifting budgets, and ultimately ensure better allocation of available funds to ongoing road maintenance plans.
Its existing system could not meet these requirements. It had no way of achieving clear and transparent analysis of its whole data set. Often, it needed to use summarised data to calculate road conditions - and therefore struggled to obtain an in-depth and accurate insight into the state of its pavement assets.
To rectify this, the council moved to use Horizons, now integrated into the PMS technology suite, following the consultancy’s recent partnership agreement with Yotta.
TCC is now using Horizons to develop a detailed future works programme, including in-depth maintenance and treatment plans. The goal is to meet prescribed levels of service around road quality while maintaining tight control of funding. In line with this, TCC is now using Horizons to create a capital works programme, that enables it to understand how much it needs to spend every year for 10 years to maintain the network to the required standard.
Looking to the Future
Moving forwards, connected asset management is likely to become increasingly important to the authorities responsible for road ownership across Australia. Today, connected assets still only make up a small proportion of most councils’ overall asset portfolios.
Therefore, while the potential offered by connected asset management is likely to be huge over the years to come, linking field staff to office staff may well be the most important application for this kind of solution today. We also see potential for connected asset management technology to help in ensuring compliance obligations are met by making certain that complete records of all inspections and defects that assets have are scrupulously kept.
More generally, while some councils are still risk-averse and hesitant in adopting new technology, we see great potential for the latest asset management approaches across Australia to assist teams responsible for roads management to visualise, manage and optimise their asset management strategies and records in a more efficient and effective way. And moving beyond that, we see opportunities for them to begin building connected infrastructures that enable them to maximise the value of their assets, bring data, systems and people together and deliver operational efficiencies.