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4 Things You Should Know About Asset Management

4 Things You Should Know About Asset Management

Asset management (AM) can be an incredibly helpful tool for elected officials and staff. It provides key insights about municipal assets, which can help you establish optimum levels of service, understand and evaluate risks, develop a comprehensive capital facilities plan, and identify budget priorities. An effective AM program results in fewer unexpected service disruptions and extends the useful life of assets, a financial and public relations win.

Smaller jurisdictions often say that they’d like to embrace AM, but that now isn’t the right time; that it is too complicated, that they don’t have computer savvy staff, and a number of other reasons for why they can’t. The more I learn about AM, though, the more I realize that, in fact, smaller jurisdictions can’t afford not to take advantage of AM. While it may seem like a daunting, big city tool, most of the common excuses for not using AM are simply that: excuses. AM can be a fantastic tool for jurisdictions of any size and doesn’t take a huge investment to get going.

Excuse #1: “AM is really complicated!”

While a mature AM program can get incredibly sophisticated, in essence there are just five major, generally recognized components of an asset management plan:

  1. Performing an inventory and condition assessment of the system’s assets;
  2. Defining level of service goals;
  3. Identifying critical assets and the risks associated with their possible failure;
  4. Establishing life cycle costs, and
  5. Developing a long-term funding strategy.

As assets are maintained and their performance measured, that information feeds into the inventory and condition assessment phases of the asset management program and allows the agency to continuously improve and refine its program.

Excuse #2: “Now is not the right time! We have more pressing needs.”

There are always pressing needs in local government. But what are the consequences of not adopting a proactive AM policy? If a municipality does not set aside sufficient funds to operate, maintain, and replace its assets, the assets will deteriorate faster than they should, resulting in premature failure. This will erode public confidence, threaten community values and goals, and impact the community’s economic development.

Public infrastructure competes keenly with police, fire, courts, and social services for dwindling revenues. Elected officials, like most people, make emotional decisions about where to spend money. AM, when done properly, provides policy and budget makers with clear information about your department’s needs and priorities to maintain the optimum levels of service.

Excuse #3:  “We don’t have enough staff or expertise for AM.”

Asset Management is not rocket science: it is easier than the cynics make it out to be. Some AM is better than no AM and you don’t need a perfect system to see the benefits. You can start small by working on simple tasks with your existing staff, even if it’s just gathering all your system maps into one file cabinet with the intent of digitizing them in the (hopefully near) future. Excel spreadsheets listing your system attributes, digital photos, an inexpensive GPS device, smart phones, Google/Bing maps, and aerial photos from a variety of sources are great precursors to more sophisticated computerized AM systems.

Excuse #4: “You need really expensive software for AM.”

While software can certainly make things easier, a functional AM system starts with collecting data (even if that means writing information down on a pad of paper or entering it into a simple Excel spreadsheet) and having effective processes. In fact, it can be incredibly valuable to figure out what you would need that software to do before you spend money. Take advantage of relatively unsophisticated (yet still useful) free or low cost AM programs available from EPA and WERF for water, wastewater, and stormwater systems and transportation AM programs from WSDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  Don’t be afraid to ask local agencies who have already developed their AM systems for advice. 

For asset management to be fully effective, policymakers and field workers alike must be educated and convinced that it works. Multiple stakeholders - including maintenance, operations, management, engineering, finance, and concerned citizens – must be included in AM planning efforts so that there is a unified sense of purpose and direction.

Learn More about AM

MRSC will be hosting a free webinar that will give you a high level AM overview on February 11th at 10 AM. This will be followed by four “nuts and bolts” bi-monthly webinars. If you prefer in-person workshops, MRSC and APWA are co-sponsoring a full day AM workshop in Vancouver on April 5th.

Other Resources:


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of John W. Carpita, PE

About John W. Carpita, PE

John was MRSC’s resource for many years on engineering design, purchasing and contracting issues, local improvement districts, and other infrastructure issues. He had a widely varied career as a consultant, county engineer, city engineer and project manager. He is now retired.