Asset Management in EMEA
How Asset Management Software Solutions can help Infrastructure Operators in Europe, the Middle East and Africa reach their strategic goals.
By Mikkel Bruun, European Communications & Marketing Manager at AgileAssets Inc
Why Asset Management is Vital
The EMEA area constitutes a vast and sophisticated network of roads, rails, waterways and airports. Important travel hubs for business, tourism, politics and commerce are vital to the continuous sustainability and growth of the area.
These hubs are all key societal assets in themselves and consist of several multi-modal transport forms that supplies mobility for people and goods. And the efficiency of the different sub-assets - from pavements, tunnels and bridges to materials, equipment, signs and services is measured not only in money but also in time and lives.
That is why asset management is so important; it is the method by which infrastructure operators plan and execute their day-to-day planning and maintenance of their piece of the big puzzle that make up the inter-connected society.
And to perform professionally and to perfection, state agencies and private companies rely on advanced asset management software, that is tailor-made for their purpose and that translates strategic decisions, policies and budgets into improved mobility, safer transport and social benefits.
In EMEA there is a great diversity across Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Not only in terms of languages - of which there are more than 2000 - but also when it comes to the strategic and practical infrastructure challenges and needs.
In the Nordic Countries - Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, there are problems with freeze-thaw dynamics that can severely damage roads and bridges, while the Southern Countries may suffer under severe rutting in their pavements due to soft asphalt.
In lower-lying areas some of the countries, like the Netherlands, are below sea level and facing flooding and difficulties with climate change, while mountainous areas like Switzerland, Austria, and Italy are challenged by land slides and safety issues with tunnels and heavy snow fall.
Some countries are concerned with congestion and pollution around their mega cities, Like London or Istanbul, while others are in need of new roads for transnational transportation through their territories, like the Balkan nations.
In Africa, functional roads can mean everything for a country, where infrastructure supports exports like the sugar in Mozambique, the cocoa in Ghana or the Dairy from Uganda. On the other side of the spectrum, some countries in Northern Europe may be preoccupied with road noise reduction and carbon emissions.
Return on Investments
One common denominator for all infrastructure owners - very likely the tax payers of the country in question - is the desire and need to keep their investments safe. For whether your country is wealthy and capable of building impressive and efficient structures and transportation systems, or you are struggling to finance even the most basic developments, you need to maintain what's already in place in order to harvest the benefits and not forego the time and resources already spent.
In a cost-benefit perspective, infrastructure is the fuel that propels modern society. Mobility is key and every second counts. So interventions in terms of maintenance projects are costly to commuters and consumers and the businesses that depend on reliable transportation. So for the asset managers of EMEA, as well as globally, it is of the highest importance to be able to predict, plan and execute any interruptions to the flow of traffic and transport.
In addition, repair and renewals of infrastructure assets has to be timed according to advanced deterioration models and on the basis of constant inspections and registrations, often amounting to large data sets with valuable information to guide the actual management and distribution of projects. This is where sophisticated IT, financial calculations and engineering come together - and where the decision making process becomes key to securing societies return on investments.
Asset Management Drivers
Asset management in EMEA has evolved dramatically during the last 25 years. Three main drivers have influenced this rapid development; A political-financial investment policy that have facilitated the build-out of the Trans-European Transport Corridors, a strategic-high level agenda to align research and knowledge-sharing across borders and an IT-innovative boost that has enabled a shift from traditional an basic methods to data driven and more holistic approaches.
Over the years, the World Bank and (since 1991) the European Bank of Construction and Development have sponsored strategic road and highways throughout EMEA, resulting in dramatically improved transport networks to the benefit of trade across borders and connecting strategic sea ports and production facilities in the energy and supply sector. These loans and donations have been tied to the implementation of documentation regimes that ensures proper asset management, keeping investments safe.
The European Union has facilitated cross-border collaborations in the research area, like the European Research Arena, ERA-NET that has resulted in alignment of strategic interests, manifested in shared tendering and awarding of programmes that has delivered road maps and procedures on the basis of best practises and experiences, to answer common challenges. The Conference of European Road Directors, CEDR, has now taken over this task. The Forum of European Highway Research Laboratories, FEHRL, is also a significant player when it comes to joined and strategic R&D.
Finally, the evolvement in information technology has revolutionized the ability to handle the millions of collected (BIG) data on infrastructure assets, from traffic numbers to condition details, combining prediction models with operational budgets, political focus areas and public demand. Many national transport administrations have either adopted off-the-shelf solutions to their purposes or built their own asset management systems, so-called legacy or home-grown systems, based on their needs and capabilities - and the data available.
All in all, the asset management in EMEA has been developed on the basis of these drivers, but as time goes by, the infrastructure investments has to be managed as deterioration sets in and research can only be repeated in so many constellations. And the only driver that keeps pushing forward the development is the exponential rise in server capabilities, calculation power and communication that constitutes the software systems that manages all aspects of asset management.
Benchmarking with United States
In the US, where especially road infrastructure has been instrumental in developing the economic growth, asset management has traditionally been driven by financial incitements in a far higher degree than in EMEA. Private companies, as well as state entities have introduced ever more sophisticated management systems, ranging from pavement, bridge and tunnel management to eventually include a large number of sub-assets like signs, signals, guard rails and facilities, connected to the road network.
Emphasis has naturally been on pavements and structures, that requires engineering skills and great resources to build and maintain. But as safety and mobility has become bigger drivers, supported by political and public demand, enterprise asset management systems have become the solution. And nowhere as in the US, has asset management software systems been used to guide investments and secure funding for the largest road network in the world.
Enterprise Asset Management
As all aspects of asset management become important and as technological advances can accommodate large data sets, enterprise asset management becomes the new standard for any road administration. It is all about the life cycle of the assets - not from the cradle to the grave - but from idea to best practice.
The complexity of planning, building and maintaining major infrastructure demands complex supporting systems and methodologies. Natural resources, financial budgets, political demands, public opinion, rules and regulations are influencing the maintenance and operations, even before looking at key performance indicators, traffic information, safety issues and materials, which are only some of the engineering disciplines, included in infrastructure asset management.
So in order to combine policies and engineering, decision makers in every part of the process - from the legislator to the economist to the city planner or construction company - must be able to gather all relevant information, including historical data, budgets and project portfolios in one place. A place that can store, process and analyse data and provide an output that makes sense and supports intelligent spending of tax payers money.
Cross Asset Management
With a life cycle approach and with an encompassing software system, infrastructure asset managers are presently able to make informed decisions on the project and program level - and to choose between a number of candidate projects (unless they have limitless funds). This is an important first step towards keeping assets intact and securing mobility and safety. But another challenge is how to invest across assets.
In EMEA and especially in Europe, co-modality is key to successful transportation. In Africa and the Middle East, cars and trucks are the predominant mean of middle-distance travel and most of the inland transport of goods, but in Europe trains, busses and taxis - and bicycles - are thrown into the mix. (Africa has it's share of trains too, but mostly in wealthier countries like South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius).
The keys to adjust and allocate resources for asset management across different asset types are reliable data, educated users and a software technology with the power to analyse big data and provide strategic, yet tangible plans, based on budget constraints, service level requirements and engineering knowledge. Trial scenarios is a part of the solution, where the asset manager can build tentative programs and predict consequences of resource allocations.
Rolling out Asset Management
Even though the specific requirements for asset management across the world differ by climatic zones, by urban areas and by rural regions, there is always a need to ensure the best possible spending of resources for the public or private infrastructure manager. And there is always room for improvement in processes, practices and technology.
Asset managers in EMEA are battling on more than one front to meet expectations; they need to ensure the quality of the constructions and assess the risks of investments, as well as bridge the gap between high-level decisions and everyday project delivery. And some, if not all, budgets are tight, compared with the ideal condition of the infrastructure assets across modes and usage. The countries with the highest GDP might have the most resources to allocate, but they certainly also have the most expensive and often most demanding infrastructure to maintain. So it is a common problem, but there is also a common solution. It comes in 2 steps:
Two Steps towards Implementation
The first step is to ensure common understanding within the system and the people that surrounds asset management. Whether it is with political players, the public or the work force, communicating benefits and costs of doing - or not doing - projects is necessary for raising interest, ensuring understanding (of traffic disruption) and for securing timely funding and long term investments. Models, graphs and consequences need to be disseminated so project plans can be realized. And the better described and planned for, the higher the possibility of success. That's why the asset management system should include output like transparent reporting and why the system should be all-including in terms of system integration, so all parts of the process can be included, evaluated and adjusted for the common purpose.
The second step to overcoming obstacles or resistance within a project, a programme or an organization, is to roll-out the plans in real life. The coherence between policies and strategies is never more clear than when safety targets manifest itself in new guardrails or mobility goals is met by building a new bridge. And with the right steering mechanisms, these goals can be reached by converting calculations to work plans, connecting field maintenance with service levels, and human resources with national agendas. The dialogue goes both ways - from the work force in the field to the decision makers in the government or board of directors.
In this way, the asset manager can become the link between the two levels and the advocate for better transportation infrastructure asset management.
IRF Committee on Road Asset Management https://www.irf.global/asset-management
Forum of European Highway Research Laboratories http://www.fehrl.org/
Conference of European Directors of Roads http://www.cedr.eu/
International Monetary Fund http://www.imf.org/external/index.htm
World Bank http://www.worldbank.org/
European Bank of Reconstruction and Development http://www.ebrd.com/home
About the Author
A Danish citizen, Mikkel Bruun is European Communications & Marketing Manager at AgileAssets Inc., which delivers enterprise asset management software to more than 50% of the US state departments of transportation, as well as several clients in EMEA.