Data is power

November 2009 » Departments » COMMENT
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.

This month, CE News’ sister publication, Rebuilding America’s Infrastructure: Engineering for Bridges and Roads, presents a valuable article on asset management (go to for the article). While this article by Kathryn Zimmerman, P.E., president of Applied Pavement Technology, Inc., is specific to transportation asset management, all infrastructure managers and consultants recognize the vast benefits that asset management delivers to any type of facility owner, and if a public asset, to citizens at large. Of course, like most great programs, they cost money to execute.

After reading Zimmerman’s article, I asked her about what happened to the anticipated influence of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement 34 to drive public works owners to employ asset management, and in turn create work for civil engineering firms.

Zimmerman replied, “I remember several years ago when most of us in the asset management field believed that GASB Statement 34 would be a tremendous impetus for utilizing these types of tools. You may recall that agencies had a choice between two approaches to satisfy the requirements under GASB Statement 34; they could choose to depreciate their transportation assets or they could use the modified approach, which required that they had a method of tracking asset value and that appropriate levels of money were being spent on asset maintenance.”

She said, “Many of us saw the modified approach as the best way to record asset value because it provided a more realistic representation of asset value (largely because it provided a form of ‘credit’ for the maintenance activities being performed by the agencies). However, most agencies assigned responsibility for meeting the GASB Statement 34 requirements to their financial divisions. As a result, they elected to use the depreciation method rather than the modified method. The approach is simpler to use, better understood by accountants, and places no responsibility on the agency to maintain their assets. With that decision, the impetus for asset management was lost or reduced.” Zimmerman closed with, “We are now hopeful that the move toward performance measurement will provide the push that’s needed for agencies to adopt a more transparent decision process such as asset management.” Here’s hoping!

During these times when we need to fix big problems, we must rely on real-time data to make informed decisions, set priorities, coordinate activities, communicate needs, and create the transparency the public deserves.

For those of you managing pipe assets, you’ll find this month’s “Pipe choices” Special Report (page 27) valuable. Editor Bob Drake breaks down the details for various types of pipe, including applications, performance, sustainability, resources available, and manufacturers.

Various technologies can help collect and manage data as part of asset management such as GIS and laser scanning. This month’s Progressive Engineering feature is “3D and thriving: How and why 3D laser scanning technology is prospering” (page 35) by Lieca N. Hohner, chief editor for Spar point Research, LLC, a technology research and consulting firm. Learn how this technology is growing, what software enhancements are making management of point clouds easier, how web portal solutions are helping team members interested in laser scan data collaborate, and more. Complementing this article, Bob Drake interviewed 3D laser scanning experts and shares their perspectives on this technology in “Point clouds on the horizon” (page 38).

Besides the technical articles in the issue, there is a wealth of business management knowledge, and our Exclusive is all about collecting data from your clients to manage your business better — think of your clients as your assets, and you’ve got a different sort of asset management story here. “What clients want” (page 19) by Susan Dell Orto of ZweigWhite provides expertise on conducting data-gathering initiatives to ensure you’re meeting client expectations and achieving your corporate service goals. Two sidebars in the article are especially insightful. “Client ‘hot buttons’” on page 22 shares common complaints from engineering firm clients. Be sure you aren’t doing these things to your clients! “Feedback revamp” by Bruce Haldors, president of Transpo Group, shares his firm’s experience with implementing a robust schedule of client feedback surveys and the tremendous benefits the program has created for the firm.

Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.,

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