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Infrastructure, local governments and asset management: A trifecta of hope

November 16, 2021

Infrastructure, local governments and asset management: A trifecta of hope

Synopsis
5 Minute Read

Achieve affordable, reliable, and sustainable local government services and infrastructure with the five building blocks of effective municipal asset management.

Consulting Leader, Energy and Utilities

The federal government, provinces and territories across Canada have launched billions of dollars in programs to build up infrastructure and stimulate the economy as we emerge from the pandemic.

But asset management is not a one-and-done exercise and only a pandemic recovery tool. It is a constant cycle, and this cycle from idea to retirement and disposition is typically a long one - definitely longer than a federal, provincial or municipal election cycle.

In Canada, as well as much of North America, many public assets are nearing the end of their lifecycles, with corresponding wear and tear. This, coupled with increased demand and revenue strictures, makes day-to-day management of assets increasingly challenging for public sector stewards.

Old problems, tighter budgets

Nearly a decade ago, the 2012 Canadian Infrastructure Report Card noted, “…when assessing the state of municipal infrastructure management, the report card finds that many municipalities lack the internal capacity to assess the state of their infrastructure accurately on their own. This is not to say that the municipal sector lacks the wherewithal to undertake rigorous internal reviews of their assets; rather, that finite financial resources, staff and time preclude a much more thorough, real-time evaluation of the state and performance of their physical infrastructure.”

The message was repeated in 2016 and 2019 report cards, which pointed out one third of municipal infrastructure in Canada was in fair to very poor condition, reinvestments were lower than recommended targets, and “Continuing down this path will result in a gradual decline of physical condition levels that will impact municipal services.”

So how do municipalities do the same or more for less? How do they ensure affordable, reliable, and sustainable local government services and infrastructure?

Build your foundation

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities recommends five key building blocks to ensure local governments maintain the level of services their residents need and demand.

  • Policy and governance - This lays out asset management goals, how they will be achieved, and most importantly, leads to organizational and leadership buy-in and commitment.
  • People and leadership - A collaborative approach led from the top is key to an asset management program that considers customer perspectives, safety, environment, operational and financial realities.
  • Data and data analysis - While no software or system will ‘do’ asset management, programs exist to support asset management, using asset, financial and performance data. But the data has to be captured, cleansed of ‘noise,’ verified and presented in a timely manner.
  • Planning and decision-making - This connects committees with management. When finance and operations realize each benefits the other, planning becomes more proactive, valuable and leads to affordable, reliable and sustainable services and infrastructure.
  • Contributing to asset management practice - Sharing leading practices across jurisdictions - through forums and conferences - is essential to help lower the total cost of development and to accelerate adoption across municipalities.

Ideal results

In an ideal world, municipalities will continually evaluate and balance their service levels and the assets and resources required to deliver them. Municipalities will also include this, striving for balance in every decision. Distinct asset management roles and teams will be found in all organizations, rather assigned to whoever has time. Councils will be informed and enlightened asset management advocates.

Programs and plans will be visible throughout all levels of municipal government, constantly evolving and supported by data and systems. This would include asset inventories, lifecycle plans, performance and service levels measured and acted upon - all tightly integrated with capital and financial planning.

Lastly, lessons learned from peers will be continually shared, adapted and implemented to ensure affordable, reliable and sustainable services and infrastructure. It might sound like a bridge too far, but with strong, collaborative leadership, dedicated teams and experienced advisors, we, as asset managers, can make it a reality.

Contact us

For more information, contact Gord Chalk, MBA, CMC, National Leader, Energy and Infrastructure, at 403.648.4123 or [email protected].

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