If the road had a voice, what advice would it offer in relation to modern maintenance contracts
Throughout the world, Governments are trying their hardest to reduce costs of Public Infrastructure Asset Maintenance and Management, without compromising industry best practice, transparency or the principles of whole life asset optimisation.
New style maintenance contracts are emerging with 3 stakeholders: they are longer term than before, focused on cost minimisation, efficiency of inspections, monitoring all inspection activities and work, transparency of payments, utilising industry best practice and the optimal availability of assets for their users.
Whilst the three stakeholders have differing business needs, the assets around which they are focused impassively demand a single shared purpose in order to achieve an optimised life and maximum availability in the best possible condition.
So this article gives the road a voice, written as if by a road who wants no more than a long life in the best possible health, to service the needs of its users and to provide a great experience on the journey. It speaks to the three stakeholders and tries to explain that each will achieve their own aims by working together better.
Hi, I am the road. Strong, long and rough to the touch I live outside all day, every day. I don’t feel the cold but it does damage my surface. The sun warms me up, but too much can melt my surface. I can carry cars easily, but those big heavy trucks damage my outer skin and occasionally damage tof he under-layers if I don’t get my repairs done quickly. Being built on virgin earth at some point in time, severe damage can occur if the earth beneath me objects or is weathered by the elements.
Unlike you humans, I am designed to live forever (my friend “Watling Street” is around 2,000 years old) and humans study how to repair me at the optimum deterioration point so that I do, indeed, last forever. Such clever people also have to deal with Politicians, who are motivated not by my health but by the need to be re-elected; I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the clever people are trying to explain to the politicians what is best for me…but I am stuck here.
Recently, the outcome of conversations between the clever people (Highways Engineers) and Politicians have resulted in three groups jointly being responsible for my upkeep. Here’s my story on what I see…it’s a little inclined towards my viewpoint and I can say that any criticism each stakeholder may have will run off like water off of well cambered tarmac.
These three groups are participants in a “Contract” so are with me and my friends between 5 and 35 years. They come from tribes called “Asset Custodian”, “Managing Agent” (or Independent Engineer in some countries) and Contractor (or Service Provider or Concessionaire).
Repair my surface and clean my drains and I will get you from A to B as often as you wish
The Contracts are written in different styles, asking each of the three tribes to do things a little differently, but, in essence, the Contractor does the work as asked in the Contract and keeps me in tip-top condition, the Managing Agent inspects me and asks the Contractor to do extra repairs and the Custodian is the one who “owns me” or at least who is my “in loco parentis”.
Money changes hands in contracts. The Asset Custodian might pay the Managing Agent and Contractor ad in other styles of contract the Concessionaire takes money off road users by blocking their path until they pay a “toll” and therefore does not need to be paid…or might even pay a small percentage back to the Custodian, to help them pay the Managing Agent.
Being suspicious of their motives, I have listened to them talking at many meetings, usually by my side and this is what I think each are all about.
The Asset Custodian – wants to keep an asset register, a history of inspections and the defects found. This helps them keep a backlog of work that they classify at different priorities so that they can match the contract spend to the Political funds made available. They create contracts which they put out to tender and let in a transparent way to avoid accusations of corruption and favouritism in the other two stakeholders they choose. They consume summary reports from the other two stakeholders and formulate asset improvement strategies that they take to the Politicians to try to get more money. They are the issuers of payments whatever the style of contract and oversee the utilisation of industry best practice, particularly for inspections, intervention points and repairs.
The Independent Engineer or Managing Agent – carries out and records inspections mainly, then records defects and categorises each according to a priority. Sometimes they will specify the work items in a list and sometimes they will describe the outcome of the work. Always within contract rules & terms, they then monitor work issued, both whilst “in progress” and after completion. They are checking the effectiveness of Contractor, their second purpose in life apart from checking my health. I like these guys, they are like my GP, giving me regular check-ups using industry best practice. They do spend a huge amount of time with the Asset Custodian signing off work for payments, preparing reports and strategic asset improvement plans. They act in good faith as the Agent of the Asset Custodian and care for the objectives of my owner.
The Contractor is someone I watch closely. Being well-motivated in my country to do the job well, it builds their reputation and thus helps them maintain or increase market share. In other countries, I have heard that Contracts can be allocated on the basis of “other considerations”, but we have software that records all the transactions from Contract collation, letting and award – maybe these other countries could see my owner’s system? In our country, they receive work, carry it out, update the system when it has been finished or partially complete and make a claim for the payment if that is the contract style. They have regular meetings with Managing Agent, conduct daily visual inspections and might carry out regular and minor routine maintenance tasks. Supervising their own workforce occupies much of the managers’ time and workforce optimisation is important to them. Their management seek to reduce operating costs and to spot potential work so that they can maximise income.
Road subsidence can be quite bad
My advice to them? I am pretty savvy about the ways in which IT can help them. They could share one computer software system and they don’t have to buy it…systems are available over the internet where a payment is made per user per month. Worried about data – don’t. Part of the monthly fee is the return of your data at the end of a contract in a standard data IT format. Sharing one system is easy and the provider could also do the mobilisation – including data take on, configuration, user acceptance testing and go live assistance. Where local culture allows, the system can also be provided fully staffed as a managed service so that they overhead is at a known monthly fee and no ongoing worries about IT updates, skills and capabilities present small but significant risk factors. Of course, the traditional options are there – own the IT system, provision of training and use by each of the stakeholders. And anywhere in between.
The audit trails come with the system to internal and external/public accountability are all built into moder IT systems (or don’t choose them) as are communication with citizen portals, Call Centres and GIS. Interfaces to Financial systems, mobile computers and role-based software are part and parcel of what is provided today in best of breed systems. Take them as Capex or Opex, use them to defend liability claims and be pro-active showing citizens the quality of service that comes from an evidence based approach and you will be able to concentrate the stakeholders minds on the quality of me – the road.
If my road surface were as durable and flexible as the modern IT systems, I would last forever and maintenance costs would be minimal!