Asset management in WASH

Matsautso Mumba, Student, Master of Science in Water, Sanitation and Health Engineering.

*This post is about research conducted as part of a Master of Science in Water, Sanitation and Health Engineering final project, supervised by Professor Barbara Evans*

Among the many challenges most African countries face, access to clean water and safely managed sanitation remains high on the list. Driven by Sustainable Development Goal 6, governments are making efforts to improve service access for their people through investments in infrastructure.  However, rising demands for services continue to put pressures on service providers who often have limited infrastructure and suboptimal financial capacity.  Public utility companies, which generally have responsibility for urban water services and some sanitation, frequently experience premature infrastructure failure because of poor post-implementation maintenance strategies.  To address this challenge Governments, regulators and funding agencies increasingly require utilities to show evidence that post-implementation operation and maintenance strategies are in place before funding for development projects is released.

To respond to these stakeholder expectations, service providers have opted to incorporate the concept of Asset Management (AM) to dictate the delivery of their mandated objectives. Asset management is a decision-making concept aimed at striking a balance between cost, performance and risk constraints of completing their mandated functions. When properly implemented AM is a useful tool for time-bound investment decision making, staff deployment and skills development.

AM implementation presents a number of benefits to the companies. The typical benefits of implementing AM include the following:

  • Maximised return on investment.
  • Maximised operating efficiencies.
  • Risk management and mitigation.
  • Equipment downtime minimisation.
  • Satisfaction of stakeholder requirements.

The implementation of AM can seem challenging, and there may be limited understanding of its role in an organisation.  Typically, an AM process comprises several well defined steps:

  • Defining a clear vision about the business. This is usually through the corporate objectives defined in strategic plans.
  • Defining operational target objectives and indicators of success specific to the business context.
  • Develop AM objectives that link to strategic plan objectives. These objectives need to be realistic bearing in mind the various operational constraints. The objectives should align clearly with other ongoing initiatives.
  • Improving AM awareness in the organisation. This can be achieved through education on the linkage between AM with daily activities of individual personnel.
  • Monitoring and evaluating of the impact of the AM objectives. Strategies for continuous improvement can then be developed using M&E feedback.

The guiding principle of AM implementation should be to respond to the following questions about asset portfolios:

  • What assets do we own?
  • What is their current condition?
  • Where are these assets located?
  • What are the effective/operational life spans of the assets?
  • How do our assets fail?
  • What is the severity of the effect of their failure?
  • What plans are in place in case of asset failure in order to mitigate the effect caused?
  • Who are our stakeholders, what do they require?
  • What does good asset performance mean specifically to our business?

These questions provide the basic expectations from incorporation of AM in doing business. Responding to these questions provides a starting point in the AM journey. The questions also give an indication of the expectation requirements from asset custodianship during the various stages of the process.

As part of my research, I investigated the experiences from the implementation of AM by a Water and Sanitation utility company in central Africa. Based on my evaluation of AM implementation in Lusaka I came to the following conclusions:

  • Asset management has no one size fits all methodology: Each company should decide its intended AM outcomes. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART) indicators of AM success should be defined from inception with a clear roadmap showing steps needed to achieve set milestones. These indicators should be linked to the corporate objectives.
  • ISO Certification meaningless: The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), 5500x trio of standards gives guidelines on AM requirements only. Otherwise, it is imperative for organisations wishing to embark on the AM journey to define specific milestones that are applicable to their nature of business. Most organisations focus on getting certified for AM compliance. However, ISO certification is meaningless if the concepts cannot be linked to day-to-day individual employees’ contributions to AM.
  • Asset Management needs to be simplified! Forget the complex terminology: Asset managers risk losing track of the AM implementation. AM essentially provides the company with the ability to take the right course of action using past, present and future information about the asset.
  • Asset Management is not expensive to implement: There is a misconception that AM needs huge funding to be practical. To the contrary, most of the requirements to manage assets are basic actions, with a huge impact on value realisation from AM.
  • Asset management is NOT operation & maintenance: Operation and maintenance is a component under the AM umbrella. Asset Management covers various actions that are undertaken throughout the Asset Life Cycle stages.
  • Asset Information: Asset management depends on asset information for Asset information creates a basis with which asset management decisions are made. It is therefore important that any organisation wishing to adopt AM prioritise the creation of an asset data management system. The asset data system is useful for storage of historical activities about assets owned.