Written evidence submitted by Luke Seabright, Dr Suresh Renukappa and Dr Subashini Suresh, Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Wolverhampton
Climate Adaptation Challenges in Infrastructure Asset Management
- Managing ageing assets requires a change in attitude from the “make do and mend” view, to a long-term thinking “is this asset future-proof” view. This will require cultural change which will need to be adopted throughout the industry, and for organisations to start looking to the future in a comprehensive and serious manner, with a view to stop drip feeding future proofing into the infrastructure and invest before it becomes an emergency cost.
- There is likely to be many organisations within the industry that have the best future proof solutions for infrastructure asset management, but because of the high initial costs, may be overlooked when competing for funding or bidding for contracts, which is becoming increasingly difficult due to the pressures now being faced from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic further pressuring the reduction of budgets, which in hindsight is good, but this cultural attitude is dampening the progress in asset management towards a future proof infrastructure.
- In the asset management plan, decisions can affect how ageing assets are managed, whether the objective be to support a more sustainable system as part of a drive to support the fight against climate change, or to stay competitive by adopting modern technology and cost saving solutions. Cultural change may take play within an asset management system whereby the culture is out-dated and long-term behavioural attitudes are required to change to keep up with strategies and cultural structures that align with a modernising technological asset management system, further supporting an organisation competitiveness.
Introduction and reasons for submitting evidence
Infrastructure asset management is an aged discipline which is not given the credit or attention it deserves and appears to be a hidden specialism. Asset management is built on traditional practices, culture, and behaviour, that owes itself to a non-digital era. Ageing infrastructure throughout the UK is approaching a critical time whereby the need to invest on renewing or upgrading, rather than patching, is required. To help avoid reactive and emergency costs, the way infrastructure assets are managed needs to be more efficient, which requires culture and behaviour in asset management to evolve with the times, and adopt future proof, forward thinking strategies, developed upon traditional ways.
- In the UK, after the national infrastructure was assessed in 2014, not one major infrastructure category was determined to be fit for the future, so in response, HM Treasury determined that investment to replace ageing infrastructure was going to cost around £375 billion, which would contribute to climate and economic policies and eventually meet the demand for population growth. The financial climate in today’s economy, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, there is mounting pressure on asset managers to maintain good performance levels with a decreasing budget.
- To perform successful asset management on ageing infrastructure requires the right attitude towards maintaining assets. Nation-wide, there is a perturbing attitude towards managing the ageing infrastructure with a “make do and mend” mentality. This installs a poor perception into the minds of asset managers with the possible consequence of not providing attention to assets where it is needed. There are a few problems with extending the life cycle of an ageing asset:
1. The cost to maintain an asset outweighs the value and performance.
2. There is increased risk of failure which leads to more regular inspections and spending.
3. Today’s standard doesn’t necessarily leave enough tolerance for an ageing asset to stay within tolerance, leading to non-compliances and derogations to the standard, which is a risk to cost and safety.
- The main challenge on infrastructure asset management posed by climate change, is the severity of flooding, which causes major disruptions throughout all key infrastructure sectors such as Roads, Railways, and Airports. The change in climate requires organisations to adapt their asset management capabilities for the purpose of being resilient, which affects the current strategies for designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining infrastructure assets. There is absence of research relating to the governments asset management capabilities to determine an assets resilience to climate change, which results in a knowledge void in the critical objective of creating climate resilient assets.
- Supporting a change in asset management when adapting to climate change requires support from top management as there is a known correlation between support from top management and organisational change, which helps to implement new strategies for asset resilience to climate change. Digital technologies and innovations play a crucial role in the resilience of asset, providing organisations with the ability to predict, sense, and analyse data concerning climate changes in the surrounding environment. Adapting new technology also require support from leadership to provide the foundations for organisational change, as exposure to new technologies supporting climate resilience can be limited due to a cultural weariness of new changes.
- Cultural change is part of the challenge adapting to the current state of asset management. Culture refers to a long-lived set of values, beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions which are thought to affect behaviour and performance over the long-term. Cultural behaviour implemented over a long period of time, can be hard to influence towards a culture of modern methods and technologies. Leadership plays a big part in changing culture as organisational change is a task undertaken by those in charge developed strategies for change and must be aware of the current culture and subcultures throughout the organisation, to enable an understanding of the difference between current culture and aspired culture for the need of knowing how to change. With a lot of the infrastructure in the UK being built and developed from Victorian times, adapting to new objectives with new infrastructural needs requires cultural change. Not all organisational cultures are the same, so it is not as easy as just coming up with a business model for culture. The process of cultural change can be modelled as per Kurt Lewin’s model of change, but it will always have different inputs and outputs. It is key for infrastructure asset managers to understand this process due to the ever-changing needs, demands, resilience factors, cost factors, and performance factors of infrastructure worldwide. Cultural change is required to keep up with the pace of climate change and developing digital asset management strategies throughout infrastructure asset management worldwide.
- Competition remains a challenge, specifically in government funded schemes and projects, organisations must compete for funding at a national or local level, and more time than not, the organisation with the lowest initial cost wins the contract. In an infrastructure asset management context, the awarded contract may have the lowest initial cost, but may not necessarily have the most efficient strategy for managing the infrastructure assets, consequently not having the capability to realise an assets true value. This could be for several reasons, for example, the cost may be lower because the asset management strategy may not be focusing on future proofing the infrastructure, which is common knowledge to have a higher initial cost input. Although competition can be healthy a drive asset management organisation to improve on efficiencies and value for money, it can also cause some clients to become short-sighted on the bigger picture.
- The aspect of decision making within infrastructure asset management is crucial to ensuring that any decision made regarding a physical asset ultimately aligns with the objectives set out in the asset management plan. There are three key areas of decision making:
- Regarding objectives
- Regarding the performance related situation of the asset(s)
- Regarding the intervention required
The three key areas of decision making, are all inter-related whenever a decision is made, which makes them difficult to separate. The effectiveness of decisions could be improved as breaking down the decision-making process could enable a more comprehensive identification and alignment of decisions. The alignment of the key decision areas can increase effectiveness of decision made in asset management and deserves more attention in further research in conjunction with optimisation of decision making. This is an industry-wide challenge as decisions are still made by humans, which provide a possibility of error. Regardless of the advancement of technology, evidence-based decision can always be interpretated differently dependant on who the asset manager is and what the asset managers thought process is. There is a lot of literature supporting decision making models for optimisation and benefits of certain methods and processes but ultimately, they are different versions of the process to the same outcome. Until human error is completely taken out of the equation, decision making will always be a challenge as there is no standardised model which works for all infrastructure sectors regarding assets.
- An asset can only be maintained for so long and the UK infrastructure is being stretched from an asset management point of view. There needs to be a nation-wide assessment of the UK infrastructure, including the condition and performance factors of an asset to better understand and enable prioritisation where upgrades and efficiencies can be made, which will also enhance the climate resilience of the UK infrastructure and lower long-term costs.
- Asset management organisations require guidance on modern asset management techniques to support a standardised understanding of the available technologies and strategies that should be implemented on the UK infrastructure with a view to become more sustainable and climate resilient. This requires cultural change in many cases which is not common knowledge, suggesting awareness of the topic is crucial to the future of UK infrastructure using strategic governmental guidelines with a view to implement. Current asset management methods work but are heavily based on making use of the cheapest solutions due to the idea of value for money, which should be realised as efficient and sustainable rather less expensive.
- Supporting climate resilient and efficient infrastructure asset management requires advantage to be taken of available digital technologies and innovations which can be very intimidating to many. This requires a more in depth understanding throughout all infrastructure sectors for the purpose of awareness, security and support when implementation is realised.
- By implementing advanced digital technologies and processes such as Digital Twins, Building Information Modelling, Internet of Things, Sensors, Smart devices, Big Data, Drones, and Laser Scans can offer an opportunity to review ‘life cycle’ approaches to critical infrastructure assets which will benefit society through not only improved connectivity but environmentally as well.
21 February 2022