Asset management’s best grapple with innovation, standards and sustainability

Leading managers of critical infrastructure in Australia gathered in Sydney in August to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the asset management industry, at a conference attended by asset owners, utilities and senior figures from within the infrastructure sector.

Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure was held from August 16–17 at the Swissôtel in Sydney, providing more than 70 members of the asset management community with an opportunity to learn from the industry’s best, network with clients and colleagues and discover some of the latest innovations when it comes to the art of managing critical infrastructure.

Representatives from event sponsors Velrada and AMP Control were also in attendance and joined delegates to discuss the key issues in the asset management space, as well as take up the position of chair for multiple key sessions.

Debating the key issues

The expert panel of speakers lined up for the event was spearheaded by two keynotes – Steve Doran, Director of Infrastream and Chair of the Sydney Chapter of the Asset Management Council, and Antony Sprigg, CEO of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia.

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Steve Doran, Director of Infrastream and Chair of the Sydney Chapter of the Asset Management Council.

Mr Doran’s keynote presentation, Leading innovation in asset management, kicked off day one of the conference, and gave delegates plenty of food for thought on the topic of innovation.

According to Mr Doran, strong industry competition and shareholder perception that companies are not future-proofing are two of the critical reasons why innovation has become a necessity for today’s asset managers, rather than a luxury.

Mr Doran warned delegates that they needed to consider risks such as their traditional technologies becoming obsolete, and more agile start-ups providing more cost-effective solutions when weighing up how heavily to invest in innovative new methods of managing assets.

During his presentation Mr Doran also provided advice to delegates on balancing innovation with the risk that inherently comes with it – something that doesn’t always come naturally to managers of critical assets.

“While at one extreme there may be standards that are compulsory via legislation that should not be by-passed due to say commercial risk exposure, there will also be many that are effectively only optional guidance or allow significant leeway,” Mr Doran said.

“Perhaps the most relevant example to us all as asset managers are the ISO 5500X suite of asset management standards. Earlier this year, due to my passion for innovation and role in the field of asset management, I performed an analysis of clauses throughout these three standards to determine whether innovation and ISO 5500X were ‘friends or foes’.

“Refreshingly the outcome of this analysis was that these standards do not restrain us from innovating. The ‘how’ we implement management of assets is up to us and the only real innovation limits in this case are preconceptions and misconceptions and the nature of our interaction with the key stakeholders around us.”

Antony Sprigg’s keynote presentation provided the opening for day two of the conference, with his presentation focusing on The role for ‘sustainability’ to inform and evaluate asset management for critical infrastructure.

According to Mr Sprigg, the last few years have seen a shift in industry attitudes towards sustainable thinking when it comes to our assets, and in his presentation he explored the role a sustainable approach to asset management should play in Australia’s future.

Mr Sprigg urged companies to think about sustainability as an essential part of their planning, rather than just something extra. “Often when referring to sustainability the response is really around financial sustainability, rather than the genuine reflection of sustainability which is triple-bottom line; social, economic and environmental,” Mr Sprigg says.

“There needs to be a bit of a mindset shift to go beyond five or ten-year thinking, and look at a genuine whole of life context.

“Thinking about longer-term issues will be respected, because you’re putting the asset, the community and the client’s ultimate responsibilities first. I think there’s inherent benefit with that.”

The asset owner’s perspective

The keynote presentations were supported by a number of speakers who directly manage assets themselves, all of whom shared fascinating insights into the way their businesses are currently managing their assets for optimum current and future performance.

Peter Harcus, General Manager Asset Strategy Gas, Jemena.

Peter Harcus, General Manager Asset Strategy Gas, Jemena.

Peter Harcus, General Manager of Asset Strategy Gas at Jemena, discussed recent changes in Australia’s energy landscape, which have led to Jemena adapting its approach to managing pipelines.

“The increasing cost of energy – particularly the recent increase in gas costs domestically – has heightened the need for Jemena, and other members of the industry, to demonstrate that we are efficient and prudent in our investment and operating decisions,” noted Mr Harcus.

According to Mr Harcus, this need to demonstrate value for customers is complementary to another key trend in the gas industry – much greater scrutiny of gas providers’ social license to operate.

“Today, energy consumers want to know that when they turn on the lights or use an electrical appliance that they are accessing reliable, safe and efficient energy, that is also helping to reduce carbon emissions.

“Gas absolutely has a role to play in this energy future, and we need to be far more proactive and transparent in explaining the merits of gas as a safe, reliable, efficient and clean fuel that will continue to play an important role in the Australian energy mix.”

Also providing the asset owner’s perspective was Paul Higham, Head of Service Planning and Asset Management for Sydney Water, who explored the way in which a consumer-centric view of asset management can drive innovation for the water sector.

Mr Higham outlined the considerations Sydney Water takes into account when it comes to planning its asset management program, with particular emphasis on the organisation’s $2.2 billion growth planning projects.

“Our number one priority is meeting the needs of our customers when developing our asset management programs,” he said.

“Sydney Water, like many other utilities, is an asset intensive organisation. In recent years we have moved from an asset-centric view of the world to a more customer-centric view of the world. After all, assets are a means of providing essential services to our customers.”

Mr Higham also said that finding the right balance of service and affordability is paramount in Sydney Water’s approach to managing existing assets with the development of new assets.

Michael Killeen, Asset Manager NSW TrainLink

Michael Killeen, Asset Manager NSW TrainLink

“Innovative thinking seeks to get more out of existing assets before new investments are considered.”
Representing the rail industry was Michael Killeen, Asset Manager at NSW TrainLink, who explored the topic Establishing the desired balance of cost, risk and performance in his presentation.

Mr Killeen explored what companies need to be doing to balance cost, risk and performance in order to deliver an asset management program that is truly outcome driven.

According to Mr Killeen, a considerable challenge for asset managers in the rail industry is highlighting the importance of an outcome-focused program to stakeholders.

“There is a real tendency to measure processes and inputs in the rail industry. An outcome focus identifies and gets the organisation aligned to objectives that make a real difference to customers.”

Mr Killeen said there are two things that asset owners can do to best communicate the outcome focus and balance between cost, risk and performance to stakeholders.

“The first step here is to engage with stakeholders and understand from them what is important – what makes a measurable difference to how they perceive value.

“The second part of this discussion is identifying and objectively assessing things that will make a real difference to those measures.”

Panel discussions get to the heart of the issues

The program for Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure included two panel sessions, allowing speakers to interact and freely discuss some of the key issues they face on a daily basis.

On day one, the speakers representing asset owners – Paul Higham, Peter Harcus and Michael Killeen – participated in the Predictive Maintenance Panel, where they discussed some of the techniques they’re all using to predictively maintain their assets.

The panelists discussed recent innovations when it comes to predictive maintenance, and highlighted the factors most important to them when considering various predictive maintenance technologies.

On day two, delegates enjoyed the Innovation Panel, led by Andrew McAlpine, Asset Performance and Systems Manager at TransGrid, and comprised of keynote speaker Steve Doran, Keith Paintin, Principal Consultant Asset Management at Jacobs and Greg Tyrrell, the Executive Director of the Australian Association for Unmanned Systems (AAUS).

During this session, the panelists considered how innovative asset owners currently are when it comes to the management of their assets, and discussed some of the innovative technologies they are each excited about.

During both sessions delegates had the opportunity to ask their own questions of the panelists, which led to some lively discussion of the topics at hand.

Establishing industry connections

Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure allowed delegates plenty of time to network and get to know other members of the asset management community a bit better.

The speed networking session allowed delegates to make new connections within the industry.

The speed networking session allowed delegates to make new connections within the industry.

On day one, delegates participated in a formal networking session in the form of the Speed Networking session. During this session, all delegates had the chance to meet between five and seven of their fellow delegates, and compare notes on their individual roles within the industry, the useful information they’d picked up during the sessions so far, and to consider potential opportunities to work together in the future.

Feedback from delegates from this session was particularly positive, with many noting that the timing of the session – right before lunch on day one – allowed particularly fruitful conversations to continue and go into further detail over the extended break.

At the close of day one, delegates also enjoyed a more informal networking drinks, where they were able to continue conversations started in the speed networking and meal break sessions in a relaxed environment.

With plenty of opportunities to connect with colleagues, combined with the intimate nature of the event, delegates left the event particularly pleased with the new connections they were able to make over the two day event.

The inaugural Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure was a highly successful event, with delegates commenting on the quality of the speakers, the depth of the presentations and the surplus of networking opportunities as the key benefits of attending the event.

The second annual Asset Management for Critical Infrastructure will be held again in August next year – keep reading Infrastructure in print and online so you can stay up to date with all of the details about next year’s event.

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