Significance of O&M in Infrastructure

maintenance

Installation of new infrastructure assets creates streams of services and improvements to existing services for users. Benefits accrue to these uses as well as a wider set of stakeholders. Maintaining the service potential is a critical element in ensuring that value for money is achieved from the initial capital investment.

However, many governments and asset managers are under significant pressure to trim maintenance budgets and scrimp on operating costs. In some contexts, this emerges as an extreme build-neglect-build scenario. Many Pacific Island nations experience this, as do a number of smaller Australian local government authorities. The full lifecycle cost of infrastructure assets is not factored into the budget planning processes of these organisations. Similarly, many private sector operators of infrastructure have commercial and financial incentives to focus on next quarter financial performance rather than long-term service provision from these assets.

The back end of infrastructure is seen as much less interesting, but it is where all the benefits are generated. So approaches to operating and maintaining these infrastructure assets is as equally critical as the planning and investment decisions to deliver them.

Two broad maintenance strategies are predictive maintenance and condition based maintenance. Predictive maintenance is like regular scheduled servicing based on the design performance of an infrastructure asset. It is less costly to implement but also less likely to match the actual performance of the asset. Condition based maintenance requires the collection of data and information about the actual performance of the asset and provision of a tailored asset maintenance response.

The approaches set up an economic challenge. Should an infrastructure manager simply maintain its assets according to schedule and only collect data and information on condition at the times of regularly scheduled servicing? Or should some initial data costs be incurred to change and adapt design-based, predictive maintenance? Decisions to underfund reasonable maintenance activities need to be made with good information and in an appropriate strategic context.

So it depends. In one sector, for example, the response is clear but not clear-cut. Analysis of wind turbine maintenance to address gearbox, generator and blade failure scenarios shows that for small wind turbines, predictive maintenance is more cost effective than condition based maintenance. Condition based strategies were based on an array of sensor data (optical, oil, vibration and temperature). However, for larger turbines, condition based maintenance where there is a high expected gearbox failure rate is a much better approach. In that instance, the cost of collecting additional data and information enables timelier and more appropriate servicing of the turbines.

For these reasons, infrastructure owners and managers need to ensure there are effective asset management and maintenance policies included in their strategic asset management frameworks. It is not enough to supply the assets, as only the services from them will be able to generate the full suite of expected benefits. This can only be achieved when the design potential of these assets is realised over time.

Education Infrastructure

Recently I was up in Papua New Guinea for work. The PNG government has an ambitious policy of free primary school education. This requires more education infrastructure right across the country.  I had an opportunity to look at how education infrastructure is being improved through an Australian government project with PNG. The following photos show how classroom conditions have changed through some simple design measures.  Use of the old classrooms only stopped a couple of months ago.

 

The new school buildings were erected to Australian construction standards. The design featured higher ceilings to improve air flow, fans, and electrical lighting. Blocks of four classrooms and teachers prep rooms were constructed using Besser block. This made better use of the site.  Also, ablution blocks at some schools were upgraded, which has a significant positive impact on female participation in education.

These clean, functional classrooms provide a much better learning environment for students. This is infrastructure that should last a long time in a very challenging environment.

A Civil Society

kuwaitidiwaniya

While working recently in Kuwait, I was privileged to be invited to a diwaniya (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dewaniya) along with colleagues from my project team.  This type of forum is fairly unique to Kuwait and it a key element of their civil society.

For around an hour we discussed industry policy with a number of leading lights from Kuwait’s business community.  I learned a lot from them.  The discussion took our project team beyond the numbers and statistics we were considering to just how the reforms might actually be implemented.  The exchanges were robust but expressed in good humour and with great politeness.

I think these kinds of gatherings are extremely important in shaping consensus.  Kuwait has hundreds of diwaniyas and candidates for public office often seek to turn up at as many as possible around election time.  In my view, it removes a lot of the adversarial nature that characterises public discourse in Western countries.  Where hard decisions are needed to effect significant change, a consensus based approach may deliver better outcomes than a crash or crash though approach.

Australia used to do evidence-based, consensus-driven public policy quite well.  It was grounded in clearly explaining the need for change.  I fear now that the people putting themselves forward for public office are increasingly driven more by populism and a startling touch of irrationality.

The Rent Economy

Kuwait.jpg

I am currently on assignment Kuwait, one of the oil drenched Gulf states. The economic incentives at play here are unlike anything I have ever seen. At university years ago we spent a couple of hours in undergraduate economics talking about rent seeking – looking for an economic gain without a reciprocal return to society through wealth creation.

Laid out before me is a whole economy resting on this premise and driven by the distribution of oil rents. Kuwait has been pumping around 3 million barrels of oil a day and is targeting 4 million  with some urgency now oil prices have collapsed. Currently this earns them an oil rent (after costs of production and depending on the price) around US$60 million a day. When oil prices were over US$100 a barrel they were getting US$300 million a day. Kuwait has one of the highest dependencies on oil – some 93% of its revenues come from oil rents.

Some indicative figures provide context. The population of Kuwait is about 3 1/2 million people.  Around one third of residents are Kuwaiti citizens, the vast majority of the remainder are guest workers. Guest workers remit around A$25 billion a year to their home countries. This is equivalent to 55% of the Kuwait national budget. Nine in ten Kuwaiti citizens are employed by the government. The country rests on a cash reserve of around US$600 billion.

All businesses, with a few limited exceptions, are required to be 51% owned by Kuwaitis. So there are a range of business partnerships that are not strictly commercial but compliance-based. At any stage, the dominant partner can take control of the business.

This creates some very peculiar incentives. Lack of permanency for guest workers provides little incentive to save, spend or invest in Kuwait. So Kuwait misses out on retaining a significant proportion of their remittances.

With significant reserves in the ground – over 75 years – there is little incentive to move away from this rent-seeking model and the inherent imbalances it introduces. However in the long term that transition will be necessary.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out over time.

 

Infrastructure and Human Development

I am currently in Port Moresby on an assignment.  It is a three hour flight from Brisbane but a world away in many other respects.  The UN releases reports on human development.  Some contrasts are quite stark.

PNG       Australia    Measure

0.411      0.933         Human Development Index

157th      2nd            Human Development Index rank

7.25        23.3           Population (million)

17.07       950.65      GDP (US$billion 2011)

2,381       42,278      GDP per capital (US$ 2011)

0.617       0.113        Gender inequality (lower is better)

62.42       82.5         Life expectancy at birth

When we look at infrastructure it makes you think vey hard about what is important.  It really is all about context.

Sources:
http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/AUS
http://hdr.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/PNG