On Assets, Management, and People

Although it is becoming widely accepted that Asset Management is something municipalities should DO, few people can seem to agree on what asset management actually IS.

A wise co-worker once said “It’s like everyone is saying they believe in god, but then we realize that we believe in different gods”.

I personally have spent a lot of time thinking about the term, knowing the power of language and labels in how we do our work with municipal clients.

A commonly used definition of AM is one like this:

Asset management is a systematic process of operating, maintaining, upgrading, and disposing of assets cost-effectively (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials). This definition likely conjures up images of spreadsheets with segmented assets and replacement lives. While this is a very operational definition that implies a bit of a roadmap to implementing asset management, I think that the narrowness in scope actually hinders the potential of what can be achieved with our public assets. I definitely think there are appropriate times and places for spreadsheets and systematic approaches, but for me this definition is a bit too prescriptive and doesn’t give much credit to the intelligence of the people who are interacting with the infrastructure on a daily basis – the people who have made the choice to work to serve the public.

To me, asset management is really more about services provided to the public, being able to achieve the goals of the community, and doing more with less. I’ve pondered dropping the term and going with something all together different that can better reflect the big picture. But a recent check in with the roots of the words ‘asset’ and ‘management’ have me thinking that the term doesn’t need redefining, we just need to get back to the basics of what those terms mean.

With the help of Wikipedia:

Management is… is the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives using available resources efficiently and effectively.

An asset is… Anything tangible or intangible that is capable of being owned or controlled to produce value…

So it’s really about enabling people to work together to leverage what they’ve got to effectively and efficiently produce value, accomplish goals, and achieve the vision of the community – now and into the future

Maybe spreadsheets with replacement values will enable people to do this; but likely it’s much more than that. It’s understanding true value (which for a municipality is different than for a for-profit business), the connection between assets and community goals and vision, and how to enable people to best work together – rather than treating them like spreadsheet and software operators.

The value of the Copenhagen Library is more than the structural condition of the building; asset management is more than a group of spreadsheets.

The value of the Copenhagen Library is more than the structural condition of the building; asset management is more than a group of spreadsheets.



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