Recently, Scott Yates, a Principal Consultant at Assetivity with over 20 years’ experience in maintenance engineering and asset management, assembled a collection of case studies on effective strategies for creating asset management capability within asset-owning organizations. The paper – Building Asset Management Capability in a Budget-Constrained Organization – will be presented at this year’s AMPEAK asset management conference, and the following interview is in relation to his paper...

Could you give a general background as to the project’s purpose and intent?

We at Assetivity have been working in the asset management space ever since the discipline started, and from the companies I’ve worked with there has been a fairly consistent combination of two factors: one is a real constraint on resources (that doesn’t seem to be going away), and the other is a kind of willingness to make this beast a little bigger than it needs to be.

If you look at ISO 55000, it clearly states that asset management should be scalable to the size of the organization, the complexity of the assets, the asset resources, etc. The question then becomes, how do you go about setting an asset management system up so that it’s genuinely appropriate for the scale and the size of an organization’s challenges? I thought about our experiences at Assetivity and that’s when this paper sprang into mind. I wanted to provide case studies and real examples to show that proper asset management doesn’t need to be a huge thing. It can just be looking at what you’re doing in a slightly different way.

Both at the beginning and end of your paper, you highlight the need for an organization to have a “visible champion”, could you elaborate on what you mean by that and why it is important for successful asset management?

A visible champion is a member of senior management who is communicating the asset management message pretty much wherever they go. When they open their mouths, the words that come out should be, we need to be thinking about our assets through their whole lifecycle, we need to be thinking about cost of ownership, delivery of service, etc. so that they are constantly on message and pushing everyone else to get on board to being a part of the company’s change in thinking differently about asset management.

That individual is one of the most critical influencers. Without that driving force leading everybody, you’ll end up with a couple of different possibilities. One is a splinter in which everyone ends up going in different directions, and the other is a situation in which the person in charge of that role starts to autopilot – you watch their lips move and they say the right things, but you can tell behind the scenes that they don’t really believe it – and then nothing happens.

A visible champion would be at the upper level of the corporation’s asset management structure. In terms of the lower levels, the paper mentions that you’ve seen companies with both fully centralized and fully distributed models, could you elaborate on those and what the advantages or disadvantages of both are?

To take a step back from what you asked, I don’t think there was any organization that absolutely had 100% distributed or 100% centralized models, those are the extremes on the spectrum, and the practicalities of those structures would overwhelm the theoretical ability to operate in that space. There’s always somebody who has a bit more authority involved in asset management and there’s always people on the ground that are not the experts who get things done. Most companies operate somewhere in between the two extremes. But I have seen organizations operate quite well in diverse parts of that spectrum, depending on the nature of the organization.

When I started writing this paper, I had a very clear idea in my head that you need to set up a centre of expertise in which you have genuine asset management professionals who provide coaching, mentoring, process guidance, and process development. But as I laid out the case studies I realised that there’s not an absolute truth in this. I think what is true is that roles need to be clearly understood, there needs to be enough of each type of expertise in each organization to understand what needs to be done, and people need to properly execute those roles.

Could you talk about your experience in data consulting?  You mentioned how one company you worked with had a 150-page asset management strategy.

I think every large asset management document I’ve ever seen was either out of date or not approved. I saw some documents that were two years old and were supposed to have an annual review, but the document had never even been signed off. Other organizations may not be quite that bad, but every company has areas it can improve.

There is a need to record your asset history, basis of design, and those kinds of information, but those are not things that change very regularly. I personally don’t like to see them in a strategic asset management plan or strategy. My philosophy is to keep those documents as short as you can get away with. The main elements you need are to communicate the message about why you think what you’re doing is the right thing to do, be able to track your outcomes, and be able to highlight who is going to carry out the actions. If you can communicate those, then you’ve really captured the essence of your asset management planning.

From everything we’ve talked about so far, what is the biggest factor to keep in mind when forming an effective asset management plan?

I think even a bigger question than that is what do you need in place in order to deliver the outcomes you’re trying to deliver? The majority of the companies I’ve seen have, to some extent, lost sight of that. They’ve tried to build the big asset management system that they think ISO is after. But looking at ISO and what it’s trying to achieve, I think those organizations can do better by minimizing and streamlining their asset management systems.

How is your presentation going to be conveyed at AMPEAK?

The idea of the presentation is to be a conversation starter. This is not a formal research paper, these are purely case studies from my subjective experience. I want to present them as stories that will keep people engaged in discussion. I want people to think about what they’ve done, whether their strategies have or haven’t worked, and how these case studies are different.

Is there anything else you would like to let people know about in regards to your research?

I think the main message out of this paper is let’s not make this beast bigger than it needs to be. Asset management is definitely the right way to think about realizing value for the organization, but it doesn’t mean we need to throw out everything we’ve done before and start again on a blank page. It means we need to build on and refine what we have by recognizing past strengths and successes, as well as areas we can do better. If we recognize those types of principals, we’ll find that it doesn’t actually take a huge investment of resources to get to a fairly satisfactory position in regards to compliance with ISO 55000 and certainly in regards to building a competent asset management organization.

Scott's full research will be presented at this year's AMPEAK Conference, held in Sydney, Australia from 24 - 28 May. For more information on AMPEAK, including the full list of presenters and keynotes, please click here.