Do, Don’t Do, Defer – Asset Management from a different perspective

When discussing Asset Management with colleagues I often reflect on the reality of life for those people who work in the field at the coal face in the management of assets. For them it is an ongoing challenge of prioritising tasks – ‘do, don’t do, defer’. The choices those individuals make on a daily basis can have significant impact on the organisation and, indeed, on the lives of many. Making the wrong choice can be costly; and that cost is more than just financial. Faced with that challenge my supposition is that most Technicians do the task assigned to them whatever their considered opinion is of the condition the asset is in. If they don’t do the task there is a risk that subsequent failure is attributed to their poor skills and judgement. Justification for not performing the task is also a burden which may subsequently be challenged. If they defer the task it will just be rescheduled to another time. The burden passes to a future event.

As an organisational leader, I’m not convinced that organisations get value from scheduled maintenance.

It is time to get much smarter

At many infrastructure asset owning organisations, asset management has mostly been a matter of maintaining and replacing assets according to fixed schedules that might have been established years earlier. For example, it is common for electrical utilities to check the quality of the oil in their power transformers every two to three years, regardless of the actual rate at which oil quality worsens. This sort of routine-based method has endured for several reasons. It is easy to document and report to regulators, simple to implement, and highly predictable, which helps with planning spending and investments.

But managing assets in this way has evident drawbacks. Maintenance programs tend to vary across companies. The lack of standards for asset management and the variety of asset-management plans make it harder for regulators to determine whether infrastructure asset organisations are doing what they should to ensure that their assets will perform properly. Even among departments within the same company, there is typically no standard maintenance framework. A unit responsible for overhead power lines might use sophisticated measures of asset criticality and health to decide when maintenance is needed, while auxiliary systems and high-voltage units have no asset-management system at all. When various departments follow different approaches to maintaining their assets, management has much more difficulty comparing their effectiveness and allocating resources efficiently. Putting Technicians, rather than Directors and Executive teams, in charge of asset management has also caused one priority to override others: maximizing the availability of assets. After all, this is what engineers and maintenance workers are rewarded for doing well. Such an approach is wasteful. It leads workers to decommission useful assets years before they manifest any problems. It also obliges workers to perform inspections and maintenance procedures even when assets are working well. For the Directors and Executive teams organisations which own assets having clear line of sight between the wishes of the Board room and the Technician in the field sounds easy but in practice, this is much harder to achieve. This is the essence of Asset Management: Asset Management is the systematic alignment of strategy and operations at a holistic level to add value to the organisation.

My own recommendation to an organisation is two fold

Firstly, have everyone across the organisation actively debate the strategies, policies and outcomes expected from assets and secondly, empower those in the field to actively make decisions. Providing decision support for people at the coal face is the holy grail of effective asset management.  Balancing that with learned skills and experience is critical. In the Asset Management community, we are still learning our way into this ‘man-machine’ interface.


Transformational Leader | People Evangelist | Strategic Thinker | Optimistic Futurist | Global Citizen
Ashley has 15+ years record building successful organisations, delivering superior results and actively securing business growth. He has significant experience in all aspects of project development – strategy, business planning and execution – in the Energy, Infrastructure, Utilities, Tech and Built Environment sectors at a national and international level. Ashley is passionate about building successful people, teams and organisations, his professional expertise is centred on organisations which make long-term decisions with significant investments in human and financial capital and in doing so shape the world around them. Ashley approach centres on building strong strategic vision, transformational strategies and operational plans. Acting globally he has extensive experience working with people from different nationalities and cultures: he sees diversity as an essential component to organisational success. Focus areas: Business Strategy, Project Development, Organisational Transformation, Knowledge Management, Asset Management


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