By Kyle Christiansen
Asset management and capital planning aim to minimize total costs of acquiring, operating, maintaining, and renewing building assets through the entire portfolio of infrastructure assets, affecting the management of these assets at all levels of an organization. These processes allow institutions to manage limited resources by making informed decisions based on asset life expectancy and organizational risk — rendering them a highly-valuable resource for individual universities or university systems.
Outlined below are resources available to universities considering centralizing asset management for improved capital planning, and the factors to consider when approaching the process.
Partnering With Specialists Ensures Smooth Process
Universities are comprised of numerous and diverse facilities that vary in age and condition. Most universities have a large in-house staff of maintenance and engineering employees, often numbering in the hundreds, whose job it is to be both proactive and reactive to the needs and operations of campus facilities, and to maintain the facilities in good condition.
At some point, a university’s management team must widen their gaze and determine how to prioritize staff and budgets for the repair, replacement, and refurbishment of the facilities and systems that they are tasked with managing.
The first step is to assess the current condition of the campus facilities. When the time comes to gather this data, the question is: Who should do the data collection and how long should it take? Should the data collection and facility assessment be conducted by in-house staff, or should the university employ the services of an outside firm?
In-house staff members who are charged with maintaining, repairing, replacing, and restoring various systems throughout the campus serve the best interest of the university when they are solving daily operational issues. Typically, they have little time to conduct the massive undertaking that a campus-wide capital planning/asset management study requires.
Consequently, Facility Condition Assessments (FCAs) are best done by a team of experts with fully configured data collection and cost estimating tools. Having a team of specialists this is skilled in using estimating tools is essential to accurate collection and interpretation of data. Keeping the process moving and ensuring that it does not get sidetracked by in-house staffing issues is critical to the success of the university.
Facility Condition Assessments: The First Step
Through an FCA, a specialized team of consultants can provide reliable and detailed information on mechanical, electrical, elevators, plumbing, facades, roofs, interior finishes, site systems and pavements, and ADA issues. Skilled architects and engineers bring perspective and reliability to the data collection process.
Following an FCA, university management will receive a comprehensive Facility Condition Report, a summary of data collected. These reports provide yearly budget projections that are prioritized and categorized for institutional leaders and facility managers to use to set priorities and financial assets in line with conditions and goals. Facility condition indexes (FCIs) are created, showing the cost of maintenance versus the cost of replacement, so that the institution can maximize its financial investment in infrastructure.
As an example of a holistic approach to facility assessment that a team of architects and engineers can provide, we recently worked with a university to provide a campus-wide assessment where a central building, originally used as a student union and dormitory, was now being used as a library. Our team of engineers and architects reviewed historical documents showing previous building use and design.
The building was not designed to be use for “live loads” such as book storage and book display. The building was not being used appropriately and books were being displayed in the basement only. The condition of other aspects of the building such as windows, roofing, elevator, and ADA compliance, showed the building’s FCI, which suggested that the university should consider building a new facility rather than pour more money into this building.
A robust assessment software platform is important to the development of accurate cost. For example, our team uses hand-held tablets loaded with software from 4Tell™ Solutions. The tablets allow assessors to take photos, scan bar codes, notate condition and age, and identify replacement costs based on a fully-developed, 4-level cost library. Equipment can be bar coded so that age, condition, history, and cost can be tracked in a centralized database.
This tablet-based assessment software allows easy capturing and delivery of data. Priorities must be based on the importance of the system to the safety, operations, and mission of the institution. Research by any assessment team must include integration of historical data and accurate quantity take offs.
Improved Management Through Technology
Following an assessment and the delivery of an FCA report, bar coding of equipment and scanners are now tools of a university’s facility managers. In the 21st century, the paperwork trail is being replaced with a digital, computerized data trail. Asset Management Software is readily available in the marketplace to keep all of the collected data organized and help track expenses, budgets, work orders, and system condition.
With a scanner in hand, on-site staff can scan a barcode, and in an instant, have access to a system’s age, maintenance history, manufacturer, serial number, size, capacity, and replacement cost. Work orders can be produced from a central database and the work can be tracked to completion.
Knowledge of asset condition and history is no longer locked inside the heads of specific employees. Now it is readily available in a central repository of information known as an Asset Management Software system.
By investing in a team to assess and implement this Asset Management Software system, universities can harness economies of scale and maintain a clear vision for campus-wide improvements over the long-term.
The Bottom Line
A comprehensive approach to asset management transitions universities and school systems from building and operating systems to fully managed investments. The result extends asset life, optimizes maintenance and renewal, and can be crucial in helping universities develop accurate long-term funding strategies.
Christiansen is vice president of equity/capital planning services at AEI Consultants, an international consulting firm of more than 25 years that provides comprehensive services to commercial lenders, property owners, managers, tenants, and developers. Services include environmental, property and facility assessments; zoning and energy consulting; site investigation and remediation; industrial hygiene; and construction risk management.