Employees in Local, Regional and Central Government Agencies, their partners and a plethora of stakeholders turn up for work each day and do their part in the “Value Chain” of Public Infrastructure Maintenance. Some inspect assets, others make difficult decisions about expenditure based on limited funds and resources. Yet others are skilled tradespeople and craftspeople who actually do the jobs that repair, install or decommission assets.
Are these people experts in Maintenance Management? Are the assets themselves actually important? Or is the Service the thing of importance?
Looking at Refuse collection services, the publicly owned refuse bin is not that which one normally focuses on as an employee in a Municipal Cleansing and Waste work group; the service is what draws delivery staff attention – is it timely, effective, cost effective?
When we look at other assets, we might be drawn to other conclusions. A Bridge Engineer will definitely focus their working efforts on the Condition of components of a Bridge in the context of failure of the whole Asset. With catastrophic consequences, Bridge failure is the correct focus yet one may ask if all it does is provides a service, as part of a Highway…whose function is to facilitate the efficient movement of citizens between various buildings. Some Bridges are destinations, with intrinsic beauty and statuesque appeal such as the Millau Bridge in Southern France or the Fehman Belt Bridge in the Baltic Sea.
Even beautiful assets have function, the ambition of the designer or commissioning body had the vision to make something with intrinsic beauty, adding a secondary function of making a statement about that part of the world, turning “it” into a destination or, more likely, providing function within the context of a beautiful area.
Back to the people…Assets are key to providing services? Perhaps. If so, consider the process of maintaining the road. It needs to be available in perpetuity, in the best condition that supports the transport requirements of the day and unavailable for the least amount of time. People have developed science to predict the best time to do the least amount of work to keep the road available and this science can be flexed for differing budgets and differing desired road conditions (Pavement Management). The people who carry out this “science” are called Pavement Engineers and they care about the asset; their managers and policy makers care about the service. In consultation with “Government” about Public funds and sometimes with citizens (in a democracy) about desired quality, they set out the rules and parameters for the Engineers to conduct their Asset Maintenance Science.
Now to the staff involved in “event driven maintenance”. There are many aspects of Street Based Asset Maintenance in which Events drive most of the remedial actions. Examples include Graffiti removal, many types of property repair, Street Lamp replacements, clearing fly tipping, providing a Bulky Household collection, clearing a fallen tree…none of which would ever happen without their event…amusing thought, perhaps, clearing a fallen tree that isn’t there yet? “Event Driven Maintenance” could be a topic in a University course and, indeed, tomes have been written about this aspect of Infrastructure Maintenance, but it is really all about providing a service to citizens so that they enjoy a great built environment.
I went to one of the big Business Analyst firms the other day and the Director of Public Infrastructure and I mused about how most citizens hardly notice the well maintained Public assets that ARE Britain, or New Zealand, or Melbourne and so on. Citizens visit other parts of the world and notice that Refuse in (perhaps) The Gambia is collected every month, when a large truck goes along the main streets and most refuse on the street is collected and thrown into the back of large trucks by intimidating crews; children are kept away and cars are parked off of the route whilst domestic refuse and unwanted items are put out into the now empty street. You would not be asking for the Bin to be a different shape, which colour should be used for recyclables or whether it had an ID chip but you might be asking for weekly collections as a start point!
So we are focused back on the service.
My conclusions is that TEAMS provide services to citizens. Within the team, Engineers and Scientists practise aspects of the appropriate Asset Maintenance Management techniques. Others within the team make decisions levels of service to balance public funds with citizen demands.
On a purely personal note, I observe that those involved in all aspects of Managing public assets and providing public services affect our lives much more than we usually think about…until we are confronted with very different levels of service or public assets that are clearly in a very different condition. Oh, and by the way, the public would like to hardly notice your 24/7/365 efforts, but want to feel really good about where they live.
To answer my own question “Do you manage assets or provide services?”, I choose an answer with an added observation: Your team does both and, in so doing, you have a profound effect on all of the citizens you serve.