Infrastructure alert: ‘Fix it when it breaks’ mindset is unsustainable

Many universities may not be aware of the data available to them
By: | June 7, 2021
(Adobe Stock)(Adobe Stock)
Ashay Prabhu

Ashay Prabhu

As part of the Biden administration’s $4 trillion economic plan, administrators are receiving a major stimulus windfall. Moreover, the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan is ushering in sweeping proposals helping educational institutions grow. A

According to the 2021 ASCE School Infrastructure Report Card, 53% of public school districts report the need to update or replace multiple building systems, and universities face similar challenges. Today, organizations are forced to do more with less to fix aging assets and systems, creating a potentially unsustainable backlog.

However, major change is on America’s doorstep, which provides an opportunity to fix the backlog without simply throwing money at it. This is the science of strategic asset management, or SAM.

Put simply, SAM provides the opportunity to reduce the number of assets entering the D/E/F zone of their lifecycle by comparing their future through simulation power, if the funding was redistributed, realigned or optimized in an informed, needs-based manner. For example, at the root level, to make the most of the funding, higher ed facilities may break the “fix assets when failing” cycle and focus instead on “how many assets can we save?”

This requires a data-driven approach and long-term optimization that can be then communicated to decision-makers. Many universities may not be aware of the data available to them, but many have succeeded when simply prompted to do the math in order to tell a compelling story that will consistently secure the necessary funding.

The SAM sandpit

A simple first step in improving facilities capital planning is to compartmentalize into the SAM sandpit, a basic and fundamental state of assets, e.g. asset age and replacement cost. If custodians have a reasonable understanding of what they have, then they can move beyond estimates and spreadsheets very quickly to create their own first-generation SAM plan. The first generation then leads to a business case to secure more accurate, up-to-date data, which improves the generational maturity on long-term planning.

Administrators may find this data by exploring the systems they own across buildings and facilities. Their subject matter experts have access to the lifecycle attributes of these systems, from the roofing down to floor finishes.

Then, SAM provides the basis to take an evidence-based approach to assets and look to justify special needs-based funding and also improve the per-student ratio wherever possible with the strongest underlying story. Administrators are encouraged to always engage with operations, finance and human resources for additional operational data. Often a desktop review with SMEs provides the perfect dataset needed for long-term planning.

New data allows teams to more accurately size and categorize their deferred maintenance and create models and visualizations to help look beyond today’s needs. Many acquire data but then stop—they know when things will fail, but they are not utilizing it to prepare for the future or anticipate unexpected failures and maintenance needs.

This data-driven approach can provide real-time analysis that moves administrators from estimation and short-term reactive asset fixes to optimization and long-term proactive planning.

Once this data is structured, administrators can analyze what-if scenarios to choose the best plans of action, aligning funding with criticality and long-term focus and predicting the what-ifs.

Predict and protect

Strategic asset management allows universities to be prepared with models up to 30 years out to help them build a better future. By doing the math, universities can find out where their real priorities are. They can uncover if there is a specific building or dorm that is in danger of being left behind and reprioritize accordingly. This approach provides a plan of control by comparing the long-term impacts of short-term maintenance and renewal decisions.

“Before, our data set fell in the 69% accuracy rate and was only partially up to date,” says Paul Lozo, director of operations at the University of Richmond. “The data was constantly changing and always fragmented, but by consolidating all our assets within a single platform, we were empowered to prepare an accurate spending model and budget.”

Strategic asset management allowed the school to increase efficiency and communication. According to Lozo, even with up to 400 work orders received per week, phone requests were reduced by 75%, freeing up time for administrative staff to focus on other tasks.

“You have to have accurate data to tell a compelling story. All of our assets and building components tell a story that drives back to our budget and funding model and allows us the flexibility to move money around based on our needs.”

Administrators can revisit quarterly or annual forecasts to update plans in real-time. By first finding and collecting the data a university already has, administrators can shift focus away from the list of broken assets and toward predicting and protecting the learning needs of their communities.

Ashay Prabhu is an infrastructure expert and the VP of strategic asset management at Dude Solutions and co-founder of Assetic.