Transportation systems are in a time of great change-in technology, demographics, public expectations. These changes have had a corresponding impact on how we manage the Nation's transportation assets. This section explores the strategic, institutional, measurement, integration, and analytic challenges that organizations might face and must overcome to be successful in the Transportation Asset Management environment.
An asset management decisionmaking framework is guided by the setting of strategic objectives. Government agencies must serve a variety of stakeholders, many of whom hold strong opinions based on their own understanding of asset management, coupled with their beliefs and expectations. For example, individuals, divisions, and agencies have different missions, agendas, and values, which are expressed through their practices. These differences lead to a range of differing objectives, which are often in competition. For example, the pavement division's focus is on preservation, while the operations division may be focusing on construction. But, is this the right mix? Competing ideas have to be resolved through alignment with policy goals, an understanding of the tradeoffs, and consensus-building. Furthermore, a consistent focus on short-term budgets makes it difficult to meet the long-term capital investment planning needs of asset management. Lastly, with the ever-increasing need to do more with less, there will be fewer technological, financial, and staff resources available.
Probably the most important and challenging aspect of a Transportation Asset Management program is addressing the needs of people within the organization. Because asset management is holistic, it depends upon comprehensive coordination and communication. Most agencies are functionally segregated. The challenge is to help the people in the organization understand and appreciate the benefits of the Transportation Asset Management process from the perspective of the entire agency rather than the viewpoint of their individual units. Another challenge is building organization-wide commitment to change. Creating buy-in at both the executive and operations levels of the organization is critical to success.
The key to assessing program effectiveness is measuring the right things. Many of the performance measurement issues facing agencies today are extremely difficult. The problem lies in identifying appropriate and meaningful performance indicators. With respect to data collection and management, most agencies find that they are data rich but information poor. Many agencies collect data that ultimately are not used for decisionmaking and analysis. In addition, they are discovering that they still do not have information they need to make decisions. A reevaluation and inventory of the data collected is often needed to solve this problem. Also, since data are often scattered across a variety of disconnected systems, including databases, Web sites, and file systems, employees struggle to find ways to access and process data in an orderly fashion. These problems prevent agencies from producing timely, fact-based information that is needed to make sound business decisions.
Data integration and sharing for asset management involve bringing in data from various sources. Most transportation agencies have large quantities of variable, heterogeneous data. Data heterogeneity usually results from the presence of internal legacy systems that have diverse structures and formats. The challenge is to create a framework that incorporates all of the data items needed to perform the desired asset management business functions, addresses disparities in data sources and formats, and responds flexibly to changing data requirements when new business functions are introduced or when existing processes are modified. Some agencies are using a unified enterprise architecture approach to remedy this challenge.
The emphasis upon economic cost analysis principles is recent, so models, methods, and tools to construct and analyze economic tradeoffs are still being developed. Common, consistent definitions and formats of data across systems in a linked or shared database environment are also still under development. A challenge for most agencies in developing and implementing data standards and in converting existing data to these standards is coming up with suitable data formats, models, and protocols when existing databases are extremely diverse.
Indeed, significant challenges confront agencies that are implementing Transportation Asset Management. Each of the challenges is unique, yet they are independent and interrelated. For an asset management program to be successful, an agency must overcome these most common technical and organizational challenges.