All photos courtesy Metro

All photos courtesy Metro

Transportation agencies face mounting requirements to ensure that their assets operate in a State of Good Repair (SGR). MAP-21 and related regulations specify minimum federal requirements for transit asset management. One of the requirements indicates that by October 1, 2018, each transit agency must submit a Transit Asset Management Plan (TAMP), which includes reporting the condition of assets and setting asset performance targets based on federally-mandated performance criteria that reinforce safety as a key priority. As a result, agencies have a choice to make when it comes to addressing these new requirements: Meet the minimum acceptable requirements or embrace the spirit of the requirements and leverage asset management proactively to help ensure the agency is making the best investments for its community. This forward-thinking approach to asset management is about more than “checking-the-box.” It entails making more critical, effective and important decisions.

This decision to meet minimum requirements versus the decision to embrace a proactive approach is important for every agency, no matter its size. Large agencies may not possess the correct tools to support capital planning and aid in justifying budgets and capital plans. Consequently, staff often string together resources such as siloed software applications and spreadsheets which limits reporting flexibility. These inefficiencies can be compounded for smaller agencies that often have limited resources.

To address these challenges, agencies are turning to versatile asset management platforms to help streamline their processes and meet requirements. Asset management platforms can both help create peace of mind that the agency is in compliance with federal regulations, as well as launch further proactive efforts.

Subjectivity in managing SGR
The Federal Transit Authority (FTA) requires agencies with transportation assets used by the public to maintain these assets in a SGR. While there is no formal definition of SGR, it can be explained as ensuring an agency’s assets are operated safely and reliably on a continual basis. How agencies define “safely and reliably,” however, is subjective.

Based on an understanding of how their inventory performs against federally-mandated performance measures, some agencies choose to establish more stringent asset performance targets than other agencies. Specific performance target goals are not mandated by the federal government. Rather, they are selected by the agencies themselves. For this reason, the method of choosing targets and building systems and processes to support their attainment becomes the puzzle that agencies seek to solve.

Two approaches for maintaining SGR
Inventory analysis and target setting falls within the scope of the FTA-mandated TAMP. However, agencies choose the degree of effort they want to invest in analyzing their data, and what performance targets and asset management strategies will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their assets. Using capable systems and platforms can help agencies streamline the analysis process, which improves efficiency.

Agencies that choose to meet the minimum requirements may not view a capable asset management platform as a pre-requisite for meeting asset reporting requirements or aiding in the creation of performance targets. A level of skepticism is understandable. High license fees and concerns that the ancillary software might not adapt to new regulations are valid. Yet, what if the level of effort and resources needed to undertake compliance in areas including target setting and reporting increase as  regulations change? With the right flexible software solution, these concerns diminish. For instance, more agencies are deploying transit-specific open source asset management solutions to avoid license fees and traditionally high costs and enhance their capability to meet reporting requirements even as they evolve.

Some asset management software platforms are developed as open source platforms, meaning they are publicly available for use by agencies of all sizes.

Some asset management software platforms are developed as open source platforms, meaning they are publicly available for use by agencies of all sizes.

Proactive agencies make the strategic decision to use the requirements for maintaining SGR as a launching pad for agency-wide proactive asset management. For example, targets become data-driven, mission-focused goals produced through robust analysis. Agencies accomplish this goal by tying the SGR requirements to their core mission and cultivating a culture of asset management. They recognize the connection of their mission of safely and reliably providing services and accessibility to the public with the importance of asset management. And many organizations are leveraging open source platforms both to drive the technology behind these efforts and join hands with similar agencies to share best practices that yield real world benefits.

At a high level, the required TAMP serves as a framework for assessing what a SGR means for agencies in a proactive context. Agencies determine an accurate SGR for their assets that allows them to operate reliably and safely with a goal of sustainable improvement. Implementing asset management best practices for maintaining a SGR throughout the agency promotes a sustainable culture of asset management because outcomes are linked intrinsically to the organization’s core mission and related goals. The targets matter because the mission matters.

Asset management steps
It’s clear that managing an agency’s assets effectively requires planning, dedication and commitment. But what is involved in the actual management process? How does an agency move from strategy to implementation? The first step is to “know what you have” by defining the asset inventory, collecting it and assessing the condition of the included assets. Next, establish the desired outcomes, set related goals and then determine a policy and strategy to achieve these outcomes. The final steps involve optimally managing asset lifecycles and resource allocation through scenario planning. To help with the process, agencies can seek out other organizations that have blazed that trail and want to share their experiences in order to identify best practices.

Resources available
There are quality resources available from the FTA and other sources to help agencies meet federal reporting requirements and implement asset management best practices. For example, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published a series of three standards to help agencies develop comprehensive, long-term asset management strategies (ISO 55000, ISO 55001 and ISO 55002). ISO asset management certification is available to assist agencies in learning best practices for identifying and creating SGR processes to support optimal asset life cycles across an organization.

Managing an agency’s assets effectively requires planning, dedication and commitment. With the first step being to “know what you have.”

Managing an agency’s assets effectively requires planning, dedication and commitment. With the first step being to “know what you have.”

A word of caution: Complications arise when departments within an agency execute conflicting asset management strategies and platforms. Without interdepartmental coordination, agencies may duplicate processes and create data quality issues. In this scenario, it is difficult to obtain a cohesive picture of the data that reflects an entire agency’s performance measures and assets. In the opposite case, when an agency shares information across departments in a cohesive, integrated context, it is better equipped to make educated asset management decisions. One key element to overcoming roadblocks is leveraging an asset management platform that enhances and supports organizational collaboration in asset management.

Asset management platform key considerations
Some asset management software platforms are developed as open source platforms, meaning they are publicly available for use by agencies of all sizes. Through these platforms, an agency can integrate asset inventories and bring together crucial data from all relevant departments to provide predictive analyses and important reporting functionality. It is crucial to choose an asset management platform that can be tailored and adapted to an agency’s unique business processes so that the agency can experience:
•    Improved data quality for providing useful, practical insight into asset management decisions.
•    More efficient use of financial and staff resources.
•    The ability to produce technical reports to aid in generating capital plans for justifying budgets and meeting federal requirements.

Sustaining asset management
Developing a sustainable process for asset management is imperative for agencies that want to reap the long-term benefits of better planning. However, this framework, while essential, is not the glue that holds an agency together in its commitment to asset management. Instead, cultivating a culture of asset management within the agency is the fuel for long-term change. Meeting the reporting and other requirements for SGR through the completion of a TAMP is a tool to anchor staff to a common mission driven by organizational culture. Simply put, the mission is to deliver services safely and reliably and provide transportation access efficiently to the agency’s community. When this straightforward vision is promoted throughout the agency, staff are more invested in consistently repeating asset management processes. Staff understand that commitment to SGR directly impacts transportation safety in the communities where they live and work. For this reason, agencies are starting to combine processes and platforms with a safety-focused culture. This is how an agency will best fulfill its mission to serve its community and provide real peace of mind.   

Reagan Lynn and Jack Birger are senior professionals for CS Software, of
Cambridge Systematics, Medford, Mass.