responsible stewardship of the nation's aging Infrastructure
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Last Modified 21 August 2010
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Best Practices
Best Practice Category #9
Process Deployment

Although the concept of formalized asset management is relatively new to the public sector, infrastructure management systems, designed for specific asset classes, have existed for several decades. Researchers began with the development of pavement management systems (PMS) in the 1960s and 1970s. In the1980s, these concepts were applied to develop bridge management systems (BMS). With the success of PMS and BMS, as well as maintenance management systems (MMS), public agencies are beginning to explore opportunities for linking existing systems and for developing systems for other types of infrastructure.

For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ suite of “Sustainment Management Systems (SMS)” includes buildings (BUILDER), rail (RAILER), and pavements (PAVER), as well as locks, dams, and other facilities. The U.S. Department of Transportation announced an initiative to develop a tunnel management system for use by state and local agencies in maintaining their highway and transit tunnels (FHWA 2001).

Although most states have some form of PMS or BMS (GAO/RCED 1997; McNeil et al. 2000), the systems are not necessarily used to their full capabilities. According to the Asset Management Primer, ‘‘Most states limit application of their management systems to monitoring conditions and then plan and program their projects on a ‘worst-first’ basis’’ (FHWA 1999). In addition, most infrastructure management systems have been developed in isolation from one another; they typically do not share a common database or communicate with one another. The isolation of these ‘‘stovepipe’’ systems, as well as the typical institutional structure in which divisions are organized around a particular asset class, makes trade-offs across asset classes virtually impossible in most existing systems (FHWA 1999).

Individual infrastructure management systems also tend to be geared toward the tactical rather than the strategic level; that is, the systems provide users with specific, implementable plans. These plans may be for the network level (a group of facilities such as all the pavements in a county), the project level (a particular facility, such as a bridge), or both. For example, a well-designed infrastructure management system should be able to calculate the expected impacts of performing a repair or rehabilitation activity now or later. Deferring activity may be a viable option, but the organization should be provided with an estimate of the cost of the decision. In terms of selecting remedial activities, a good system should be able to estimate the life-cycle costs associated with different activity levels. ‘‘Fully repairing’’ a site using the highest cost, highest reliability method may not always be the best option over the asset life. Rather, it may be more economically viable to apply a ‘‘quick fix’’ repeatedly, depending on the relative cost and reliability. An infrastructure management system should provide the capability to analyze these trade-offs. An infrastructure management system is, among other things, a decision support system. System inventory and performance data are collected and analyzed, along with budget and cost information, to determine the best course of action to attain performance goals. The data collection and decision support modules are critical. As such, these systems can form the building blocks for practicing asset management.