Today, the landscape of infrastructure asset management is shifting. Government cuts are biting and councils need to do more with less. As budgets continue to tighten, local authorities are having to downsize and cut staffing levels. Highways departments are finding it difficult to retain skilled and experienced employees and with recruitment plans often on hold, and Brexit adding to the uncertainty, there is a lack of new talent coming in through their doors.

At the same time, initiatives such as the Department for Transport (DfT’s) Incentive Fund and frameworks like the Whole of Government Accounts (WGA) are making it necessary for authorities to adopt a more strategic approach to asset management planning. Moreover, the requirement for asset management skills is growing, with the Government increasingly linking competency in this area with the provision of funding.

These factors together have led to a shift in the attitude of councils to strategic asset management planning. In the past, their focus has too often been on bringing in infrastructure asset management capability on an ad hoc basis to support asset modelling or individual programmes of work. Today, driven in no small part by the latest government initiatives, we are seeing growing demand for a coordinated professional services approach that moves away from an emphasis on offering advice around the best practice use of a product portfolio towards a more holistic methodology founded on strategic business consultancy.

We are now seeing asset management providers rising to the challenge of this shift in focus and starting to offer asset management consultancy services specifically designed to help councils meet the requirements of emerging guidance and good practice in asset management.

They can, for example, start assisting authorities in aligning themselves with the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme (HMEP) guidance on infrastructure asset management which advises that local authorities set up an asset management-led organisation that addresses this recommendation. They can also help councils move up the banding levels laid out in the Incentive Fund documentation by effectively answering the 22 questions, thereby demonstrating competency. An expert third party delivered infrastructure asset management approach can be critical here in answering the questions and potentially also helping councils provide evidence of 3-5 years works programmes across their highways infrastructure, or benchmarking to show how the authority’s capability to deliver asset management services compares with neighbouring or equivalent councils.

To be effective, this kind of professional services offering needs to be delivered as part of a true partnership type approach. From the asset management provider’s point of view, it is all about understanding the client, their capability, their resourcing and their vision of where they want to be and want to go and then offering a complementary service.

No place for a one-size fits all

What needs to be clear when it comes to professional services though is that the kind of service offered needs to be tailored to meet the needs of the local authority. The more mature and advanced councils typically have a clear view of their asset management strategy going forward.

Often, they simply need the right blend of software and services to support their overall approach. The less advanced councils generally see the benefits of adopting a more strategic approach to asset management but may struggle with the resource to make it happen. The provider therefore, might need to be more proactive in offering strategic consultancy to get the council up and running.

All of this requires a detailed assessment of needs prior to service implementation and a clear communication of the available options. Providers must make it clear that they can either stand at a distance, or point the customer in the right direction.

They can offer a full managed service or they can deliver an approach that sits somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes. It’s clear though that there is no place here for a one-size- fits-all approach.

In a landscape where asset management remains under threat from ongoing public sector cuts, local authorities will continue to focus on getting more for less from their highways departments. Today’s forward-thinking professional services approach can play a key role here in driving efficiencies, while helping councils to maximise government funding and realise optimum value from their infrastructure assets.

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