Challenges and opportunities in Australian highways

25/01/2019

Townsville City Council in Australia has procured Yotta's Horizons platform for its pavement asset management needs. Avesh Maharaj (pictured), business development manager at Yotta, explains the challenges and opportunities in the Australian infrastructure asset management market.

As a connected asset management software and services provider, Yotta’s stock-in-trade is helping organisations, agencies and companies with asset-rich environments to manage and make more informed decisions about their infrastructure assets. That’s been our focus in the UK for many years.

The challenges and complexities of highways infrastructure asset management are much discussed at a local government and broader industry level across the country. But these kinds of issues are not unique to the UK. Industry bodies worldwide have similar challenges to face – but the geographical, regulatory and economic environments in which they are working can be very different.

The Australian infrastructure asset management environment is a case in point. The broad asset management approach in Australia is theoretically based on that in the UK. Like the UK authorities, the Australian authorities look to follow ISO 55000, an international standard, introduced in 2014, covering the management of assets of any kind. Before that, the Australian authorities typically followed the UK’s PAS 55 standard, which was published by the British Standards Institution (BSI) in 2004 for physical assets, and later evolved into ISO 55000. It is important to note too that the ISO and PAS standards are across all asset classes including water, facilities and open spaces.

Australia also has also two important industry bodies in this space: Austroads, the peak organisation of Australasian road and transport agencies and the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA).

The way ownership and funding of roads is organised in Australia is, however, quite distinct from the UK. Some roads are funded by local authorities. Some are funded by the state, which is also funded by the federal government. These are typically maintained either by the state, local government, or by a contractor. Other roads are owned by local government. These are funded by the state, rate payers and federal government, and maintained by the local authority or by the relevant contractor.

Funding is also typically tight. When authorities with responsibility for road maintenance discuss the challenges they face, it is generally the biggest talking point. For solution providers pitching into the marketplace therefore, the focus is typically on asset optimisation - being able to do more with less.

While serious concerns about the scarcity of funding will be only too familiar to highways and infrastructure asset management departments within UK councils and local authorities, the way that the approach is rolled out is quite different in the two countries.

Take the way that road information is measured and mapped, for example. While the UK has a data collection standard, Australia does not. Authorities typically either collect data from complex machine-based surveys or drive down the road and give it a rating score from one to 10.

Factors such as safety and traffic volumes are typically key considerations for the authorities when planning their overall strategies. Weather is also a critically important factor when it comes to road design and maintenance.

The country experiences a vast range of different climatic and weather conditions: from snow and ice to arid and tropical. Those that are relevant will of course need to be factored in when roads are designed, particularly with regards to the types of materials used in the road building and maintenance process.

Looking to the Future

Moving forwards, connected asset management is likely to become increasingly important to the authorities responsible for road ownership across Australia. Today, connected assets still only make up a small proportion of most councils’ overall asset portfolios.

Therefore, while the potential offered by connected asset management is likely to be huge over the years to come, linking field staff to office staff may well be the most important application for this kind of solution today. We also see potential for connected asset management technology to help in ensuring compliance obligations are met by making certain that complete records are kept of all inspections and defects.

In more general terms, while some councils remain risk averse and hesitant to adopt new technology, we see huge potential for the latest asset management approaches across Australia to help teams responsible for roads management to visualise, manage and optimise all their asset management strategies and records in a more efficient and effective manner.

And moving beyond that, we see great opportunities for them to start building connected infrastructure, which allows them to maximise the value of their assets, bring data, systems and people together and drive operational efficiencies.

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