A strategic approach to solving U.S. infrastructure inefficiencies

Ryen Tarbet is a guest contributor for BuiltWorlds and North American Channel Manager at Assetic.

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We’ve reached a critical crossroads with infrastructure planning and budgeting, compounded by a known, significant lack of funding. We can’t lean on the same old systems and processes and expect change that will produce more sustainable outcomes for our communities. The good news: Solutions are achievable with a shift in process and the application of proven technologies.

Issue 1: Complicated funding processes

One of the biggest contributors to inefficiencies is the complicated funding process for infrastructure projects. For example, transportation initiatives are overseen by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which is a federally mandated and funded transportation policy-making organization made up of representatives from local government agencies. The MPO allocates federal funds after reviewing the needs of state roadways, bridges and highway systems as presented by different jurisdictions, each with their own needs and aspirations. The inherent challenge in this is that economic and social priorities can drastically change within a short distance from one town to the next. For example, widening roads and building extra parking lots might be necessary to accommodate traffic in a resort town, while a smaller neighboring town might be forced to handle the same amount of traffic flow without the updated infrastructure.

Issue 2: Communication inefficiencies prevent collaboration

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Another prime source of inefficiency is lack of communication. Some local government departments do not actively communicate or attempt to coordinate project timelines internally. Individual departments tend to be singularly focused on their own priorities. Without common data and insight into each other’s upcoming projects, it is easy for departments to find themselves with costly areas of conflict.

In the Oak Lodge Services District in Oregon, for example, citizens voted recently to consolidate sanitary and water services. This presented an opportunity and a challenge for asset managers. Through the application of best practice asset management and predictive analytics, the district was able to identify opportunities to combine water and sewer projects, reducing equipment and mobilization costs, as well as service interruptions.

Likewise, at the construction and inspection phases, collaboration is key. There is no excuse today not to have a mobile technology in place to ensure that stakeholders in the office know the precise status of multiple projects on the ground. Scope creep often happens when stakeholders are in the dark about day-to-day progress and lack the insight into avoidable issues.

Issue 3: Data-sharing isn’t optimized

Map-based and predictive modeling technology platforms can play a role in making planning and investments as optimal as possible. Predictive technology can create a spatial and visual context for infrastructure to help consider the impact on and from other networks nearby. This empowers organizations to address issues holistically as opposed to on spreadsheets which lack powerful context and built-in analysis. Streamlining technologies between several agencies using shared GIS and predictive analytics tools, can help prioritize and monitor projects, breaking them down by MPO, county, state and federal administrations. Departments could collectively review assets that require repairs or replacement, while working on their respective projects to reduce disruption and conserve resources.

Infrastructure projects are often underfunded, and at the end of the day those limited resources need to be used optimally. Through improved coordination and the application of technologies such as GIS, mobile field-to-office apps, and predictive analytics for asset management, strategic optimizations can significantly reduce costs, saving time and taxpayer dollars. Once greater efficiencies are established, the gap will begin to close, and we can shift our collective focus away from the backlog, toward the future.

Ryen Tarbet headshotAbout the author

Ryen Tarbet is North American Channel Manager at Assetic and is a former senior Local Government manager. He’s an Institute for Asset Management member and participates on TC251 in the development the ISO 55000 standard.