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Let's get critical: A key asset management practice

With vast portfolios of assets to manage, and the need to keep costs low and meet required service levels, deciding where to invest resources can be a difficult balancing act for water utilities.

One way to prioritise spending is by considering the criticality of the infrastructure assets. This isn’t necessarily the likelihood of an asset failing to function, but rather the consequences if it does.

“You can use this approach to help guide your investment and prioritise where you should be putting more and less resources into,” said Geoff Hales, Director of consultancy firm Barnewall Resources Pty Ltd.

“If you categorise something as a critical asset, you’d probably want to do planned maintenance to prevent it from failing, while a less critical asset you might just repair it when it fails.” 

Organisations can also use asset criticality to help set performance targets, with a critical asset usually required to perform to a much higher standard than those lower down the list.

A tailored solution

Hales, who is also Chair of the Australian Water Association's Asset Management Specialist Network, has worked with organisations including Queensland bulk water utility Seqwater to develop asset criticality analysis methodologies. He said the end result are outputs that help planners, maintenance teams and operators make better asset-related decisions. 

To develop a useful methodology and tool for Seqwater, Hales and his team first took the utility through seven key considerations that helped pinpoint the business’ needs.

The most fundamental was to understand how asset criticality would be used. Seqwater wanted to develop its asset life cycle strategy, prioritise investments, profile its portfolio, and develop performance targets. 

It also needed a consistent approach to determining the criticality of assets related to different services. For example, a pump at a water treatment plant and a barbeque at one of its recreational areas. 

Other considerations included: what Seqwater meant by ‘criticality’; the type of infrastructure it wanted to assess; the hierarchical level that assets needed to be assessed at; and the type of tool needed to implement the methodology.

Rather than a generic methodology and tool, which Hales said could often be too detailed or too simplistic, the resulting tool is one tailored to Seqwater’s needs.

“There’s no point chasing data you don’t have, going into more detail than you need to or producing an output that’s not the one you want,” Hales said.  

“In the case of one of our other clients, who were provided with a proprietary system, they were getting an output that their maintenance team couldn’t readily use,” he said.

Although the methodology is still being implemented at Seqwater, Hales is optimistic about the benefits it will provide the organisation.

“They’ll confirm what their critical assets are and therefore be able to focus their efforts to achieve optimal life-cycle outcomes for those assets,” he said.

“This means they’ll be able to optimise their investment in looking after their assets.

“As a result, they will have an opportunity to reduce the demand on their resources, both in terms of people and dollars. That will be a key benefit.”

For more information about the Australian Water Association’s Asset Management Specialist Network, click here.