Asset management is increasingly being recognised as a critical contributor to value across a wide variety of industries. Too often, however, the benefits of asset management are sabotaged by plans that are out of date or not used. Common causes include excessive length, poor ownership, inappropriate structure and broken links to other planning documents. These can be addressed by analysing the organisation’s context and developing a fit for purpose plan matched to it. Usually, this will result in shorter, simpler documents and this article discusses how to do it.
Organisations across a broad range of industries are beginning to recognise the benefits of a formalised approach to asset management. Working with these organisations, we regularly come across asset management plans and other planning documents that are over 50 pages long and, almost without exception, out of date. Such plans do nothing to advance either the organisation for which they have been prepared or the discipline of asset management as a whole. If organisations are to realise the value of asset management, they must address these issues and create effective asset management plans that comply with the requirements of ISO 55000 and provide the information required to manage highly technical and critical equipment.
We like to refer to plans that aren’t used as “shelfware” – documentation that looks good on the shelf but doesn’t add any value to the overall organisation. Where shelfware exists, any success in managing the assets is “despite” rather than “because of” it. When we look at our experience with such documents, we see some common themes:
- Length – almost invariably, these documents are over 50 pages long, often including extensive descriptions of the asset or the management processes used for it
- Ownership – these documents have usually been prepared by consultants or contractors and the relevant internal staff do not “own” (and frequently have not even read) the documents
- Structure – the documents often follow a pre-defined template with little or no tailoring to the specific asset or even the organisation
- Linkages – the documents have typically been prepared in isolation from the organisation’s strategic planning processes
It should be noted that these documents often contain excellent information regarding the asset, including design descriptions, maintenance requirements, upgrade plans and much more. Similarly, many of the template structures are generally good and based on reputable references such as the International Infrastructure Management Manual. The issue is not that this information does not have value, but that it is not being used in a way that harnesses that value.
In our opinion, the keys to resolving these issues are already contained within ISO 55000. At the top of the list is a clear understanding of the organisation’s context – with a strong link to the concept of asset management maturity. As ISO 55002:2014 puts it: 
An asset management plan should be documented at a level that is appropriate to the organisation and the degree of sophistication in its asset management approach.
In other words, it is not enough to prepare a good plan – it must be a plan that fits the organisation and the asset. For example, one of our consultants recently reviewed a 72 page asset management plan for a small council (less than 20 staff, including road workers, librarians and so on) that covered only the organisation’s footpaths. Given that the organisation had defined six other asset classes, all with plans of equal length, the ability of the organisation to maintain – or even read – these plans was effectively nil. Unsurprisingly, they were more than two years overdue for update and not used to affect the council’s business planning.
A further key is contained within the Communication and Information clauses of ISO 55001:2014 . The thrust of these clauses is very clear – invest effort in identifying what information is required and the mechanism by which it will be communicated. Asset management plans are clearly a key element of this, but their role – communication of the actions required to achieve the objectives – is often compromised by a structure that has not been adequately thought through and which promotes inclusion of unwarranted “information”. In the case of the asset management plan previously discussed, this included an overview of the shire’s location, geography, industry, etc – information that was duplicated in every other document in the shire’s asset management system and which added no value to the content. It also included extensive process information (e.g. asset management planning processes and definitions) that were also duplicated in the other plans.
The overarching solution may therefore be summarised as “plan the plan”. An essential part of the process is to know what the asset management plan is meant to communicate, who to and why. This will allow a cohesive, clear story to emerge in the shortest possible space. In the case of our example council, a single plan for all asset classes – including the Strategic Asset Management Plan and a description of the framework – just 65 pages long and owned from cover to bibliography by the Deputy Chief Executive Officer.
Too often, the benefits of asset management are sabotaged by plans that are out of date or not used. Common causes include excessive length, poor ownership, inappropriate structure and broken links to other planning documents. These can be addressed by analysing the organisation’s context and developing a fit for purpose plan matched to it. Often, this will result in shorter, simpler documents that are easier to maintain as well as more effective in the management of assets. With that in mind, perhaps it is time to ask yourself “How long are my plans?” If you think you suffer from this problem, you may like to consult our longer article on What does a good asset management plan look like? Or just give us a call – we would be happy to help.
 ISO 55002:2014 Asset management – Management Systems – Guidelines for the application of ISO 55001, Switzerland, 2014
 ISO 55001:2014 Asset management – Management Systems – Requirements, Switzerland, 2014