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It’s Not A Gap, It’s A Trade-off.


It’s Not A Gap, It’s A Trade-off.

*Written by Heather Himmelberger

I thoroughly enjoy having my conventional thinking turned on its head, which is even more fun when it affects conventional wisdom in general. So here goes…

What gap are we talking about here? We often think of the gap as the difference between the money we have and the money we want or need to complete all the projects on our list (including maintenance, repairs, and replacements.)  For the typical water, wastewater, or stormwater utility in the U.S., the gap is often quite large.  The gap usually includes pipe replacement, treatment plant upgrades, and years of neglected maintenance (often called deferred maintenance, implying we will do it “some day.”) The way the gap is viewed in most places is that it is a financial hole that someone needs to fill by giving the utility the money.  That someone may be the federal government (everyone’s preferred choice), the state government, the local government, a non-profit or private entity.

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Asset Management Vs. Managing Assets

When you think about your facility – be it water, wastewater, stormwater, or any other set of assets – are your assets managing you, are you managing your assets or are you practicing asset management? The distinctions between the latter two ideas may not seem all that important, but these differences are quite important to achieving your goals.

In the beginning, before you learn about asset management at all, you may be letting your assets manage you. What I mean by that is that you wait until something happens and then react to it. You do maintenance only when you notice a problem or only according to the manufacturer’s recommendation or based on “it’s the way we always do it.” You do not plan for asset replacement proactively and have no shared vision or strategic direction with regards to your assets. The assets just do what they do until they don’t. You replace them when they no longer work the way you want them to. This is a very unsatisfying way of running your facility and, although it may not initially seem like it, a very costly way. Customers are unlikely to be satisfied with the performance and employees will have very unstructured, unplanned days as they react to each failure. Overtime pay may be quite high and financial resources are unlikely to keep pace with the needs.

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