INTERNATIONAL IDEA EXCHANGE

Towards an International Roundtable on Asset Management

Carol Beal, P.Eng.
Assistant Deputy Minister, Program Operations
Infrastructure Canada
Ottawa, Ontario

The Canadian Public Works Association (CPWA), the Canadian arm of APWA, is working in partnership with Infrastructure Canada (www.infrastructure.gc.ca) (the Government of Canada's department responsible for infrastructure and communities) to create an international roundtable on asset management. In an environment of deteriorating infrastructure, and limited resources, the principles of asset management are of increasing interest to public works practitioners and investment decision-makers as a means of budgeting for, and using, resources most effectively. An international roundtable, looking at among other things asset management, will provide a multi-lateral focal point for the exchange of ideas and best practices on asset management based on the model of a working group that is already operating in Canada.

I would like to tell you about how the process to develop an international roundtable on asset management started, what happened at the meeting during the APWA Congress in Kansas City, and what the next steps are.

The Starting Point
A few years ago, members of Canada's public works community set up a National Asset Management Working Group to bring together the various disciplines involved in infrastructure decision-making—such as engineering, finance, and standards—to address infrastructure management and financing issues in the Canadian context. The group's objective is to improve the planning of infrastructure investments by developing a more integrated approach to project decision-making. Peter Enslen of the City of Calgary and Tony Varriano, a Director General here at Infrastructure Canada, co-chair the Working Group.

The process to develop an international version of the Canadian Working Group started in 2004 when Andre Juneau, then the Deputy Head of Infrastructure Canada, attended the APWA Congress in Atlanta and noted the presence of a number of delegates from other countries. Since he was aware of the Canadian Asset Management Working Group, he expressed a desire to discuss infrastructure development issues with international colleagues to see if there might be some shared interests. As a result, he met with delegates from Australia and New Zealand. He also visited civic officials in Atlanta. He returned to Canada with a sense there was potential to create an international network and followed up with then-CPWA President Ian Neville to develop the idea further. They discussed options for moving ahead and concluded that an international forum might be the best mechanism available and that it should be discussed with other interested parties.

Andre attended the APWA Congress last year in Minneapolis where he hosted a meeting for about a dozen international delegates from five different countries. That meeting established that the group did have a number of shared interests and concerns, and recognized Andr‚'s vision and leadership in creating the conditions for such an undertaking. The session concluded with general agreement that an international roundtable would be timely and useful, and it was agreed that Andr‚ would continue to work with the participants to develop the idea further in the months following Minneapolis.

As word of the Canadian initiative began to spread, other APWA members expressed interest in becoming involved. In June 2006, he hosted an international teleconference to discuss how the group's interests could be advanced and to identify specific steps that might be taken. Conference call participants included members from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Mexico and Canada (including CPWA President Ian Neville). The group identified some priority themes of common interest and agreed to meet to focus on them during the 2006 APWA Congress in Kansas City.

As this work progressed, however, the Government of Canada asked Andre to become Canada's representative at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, an opportunity that would take him away from Canada. As his Assistant Deputy Minister for Program Operations, I was asked to carry on the roundtable initiative and to chair the international group's planned meeting at the 2006 Congress, a task I welcomed as it would give me the opportunity to continue to build on Andr‚'s efforts over the past several years.

With more than 20 years experience in public works management with the Government of Canada, I have long been interested in lifecycle management issues. As a public sector decision-maker, I see a need to focus more attention on building a shared knowledge base so that we can improve our capacity to make informed lifecycle costing and management decisions in an integrated way, and not just decide on the up-front capital investment, without understanding ongoing lifecycle implications. The meeting in Kansas City confirmed that others in the international community share these views.

Kansas City
Close to 20 delegates and another half a dozen observers attended the International Roundtable Meeting in Kansas City. Representatives from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States were at the table. The U.S. delegation included, for the first time, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation, two key federal agencies.

The group confirmed the need for an international roundtable and determined that it should have some basic operating principles such as the following:

  • It should be a conversational forum designed to foster the exchange of knowledge;
  • It should be collegial and consensus driven; and
  • It should have an informal structure.

While most of the discussion in Kansas City focused on the asset management issue, two sub-themes emerged as topics for priority attention:

  • Encouraging better understanding among disciplines with respect to costing and condition assessment decisions; and
  • Promoting a lifecycle approach to infrastructure and asset management decisions.

Next Steps
In the first instance, the group agreed that the development of a common lexicon or terminology with respect to lifecycle management terms would be a useful objective. In my view, this means developing a common approach to lifecycle management as an operating concept—not necessarily to develop a common definition, but a "commonality" of thinking.

Participants at the International Roundtable Meeting at the Kansas City Congress. From left: Tony Varriano, Director General, Infrastructure Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; Tim Haynes, President, International Transportation Assessment Solutions, Regina, Saskatchewan; Carol Beal, Assistant Deputy Minister for Program Operations, Infrastructure Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; and Ian Neville, Commissioner of Public Works, Regional Municipality of Niagara, Ontario, and CPWA Past President.

The group also agreed that it would be helpful to set up a systematic way to exchange information, such as through the Internet. As a first step, we undertook to establish an integrated listing of informative and relevant websites that would be made available to all participants of the roundtable.

Human resources was another major theme discussed by the group and there was general agreement that skills and labour shortages are a general concern across many public works jurisdictions. Participants cited individual cases and potential solutions based on their own experiences and it was agreed that it would be useful to carry on the discussion of human resource issues at a future roundtable.

In my opinion, the Kansas City roundtable meeting was a great success and, as Chair, I plan to keep our momentum going and will be convening a conference call in December, and another in June, before the 2007 APWA Congress in San Antonio.

I would also like to acknowledge and say thank you for the hard work of the many people who have contributed to the roundtable thus far. I believe something very positive has been launched and I look forward to continuing to build on the successful network now in place.

For more information on Infrastructure Canada or for questions related to this article, please call (613) 948-1148 or send an e-mail to info@infrastructure.gc.ca.

Invitation to Cairns, Australia

IPWEA International Public Works Conference
26-30 August 2007

The Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia (IPWEA) invites you to submit a proposal for the Education Sessions at our 2007 Cairns International Public Works Conference.

Proposals are to be submitted by 1 December 2006 (some extension for overseas applicants).

Full details and abstract template are available from the conference website at www.ipwea.org.au/cairns2007.

Register your interest for the conference even if not submitting a proposal!

Chris Champion
CEO, IPWEA
cchampion@ipwea.org.au


INTERNATIONAL QUOTATIONS:

"I think most of the rules of golf stink. They were written by guys who can't even break a hundred." - Chi Chi Rodriquez, Puerto Rican golfer

"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., U.S. author

"I know that this defies the law of gravity, but, you see, I never studied law." - Mel Blanc, U.S. actor

"Live one day at a time emphasizing ethics rather than rules." - Wayne W. Dyer, U.S. therapist and author