Asset Management IS About Managing Assets

It has become quite popular of late to say that Asset Management is not about managing assets. This is often paired with a declaration something along these lines: “That group thinks they are doing Asset Management but that’s not asset management. What we do is actually Asset Management.”

I can appreciate the intent behind a statement like “Asset Management is not about managing assets.” There is definitely a difference between the managing of assets and the discipline of Asset Management. I would point to the excellent guidance published by WG4 of ISO/TC251 convened by Jack Dempsey, Managing Assets in the Context of Asset Management.

It is very important that we help organizations understand that just because they have deployed an EAM or CMMS, or have a well-run maintenance and reliability organization, or even have staff titled Asset Managers, it does not necessarily mean that they are practicing Asset Management. Unfortunately, an explanation that Asset Management is not just or not the same as managing assets seems to end up devolving into simply “Asset Management is not managing assets.”

At the risk of oversimplification, it is possible to be managing assets without exercising the discipline of Asset Management. It is also likely that without the organizational structure of an Asset Management plan, the activities of managing assets are not achieving optimal value through balancing cost, performance and risk.

However, it does not follow that Asset Management can be practiced without managing assets. This is the false corollary that is actually implied when someone says Asset Management is not managing assets.

Then there is also the struggle against the coopting of the term Asset Management by various communities as a synonym for the particular set of activities they apply to managing assets under their mandate – perhaps most egregiously by those of us in the operations, maintenance and reliability realm.

As a result, there is an ongoing and enthusiastic effort to clarify the actual nature of Asset Management and to reclaim it from one particular sphere or another. Ironically, a certain sense of ownership also tends to underpin these efforts, which leads to statements like “What I do is Asset Management; what you do is not.”

The challenge is not so much that we are mistaken about the nature of Asset Management. We just tend not to fully understand the breadth and scope of Asset Management as a broader discipline with reach beyond our own domain. (I’ve written previously about Asset Management and the parable of the blind men with the elephant.)

So we have the situation where property managers describe their mandate as Asset Management, maintenance managers are being relabeled as Asset Managers, and Asset Management is being used synonymously for UID and asset tracking. Or capital investment planning. Or contract and compliance management. Or…

Here’s the thing: they are all right in a sense. These are all asset managers practicing Asset Management. It’s just that they only have one piece of it. The problem is that everyone thinks what they do sums up Asset Management or, at the very least, is the central activity of Asset Management.

Asset Management IS about managing assets. But it encompasses all the different sets of activities that aim to deliver value from assets.

So rather than saying Asset Management is not managing assets, perhaps statements like these would be better:

Asset Management is more than reliability or maintenance.

Asset Management is more than asset accountability and tracking.

Asset Management is more than accounting and contract management.

Asset Management is more than capital investment planning.

Asset Management is more than whatever you do in your job to manage the assets under your purview.

If we go back to the central definition of Asset Management in ISO 55000, we can find the key to the dilemma:

Asset Management is the coordinated activity of an organization to deliver value from assets.

Coordination. Collaboration. Cooperation.

We need to seek a broad understanding and application of asset management instead of ownership of asset management. We can learn a lot from the other stakeholders in the game.

Earlier this month we participated in the National Property Management Association National Education Seminar, presenting a session on preparing for ISO 55000 certification. The tagline of the NPMA is “Value through Professional Asset Management.”

Property managers are deeply invested in Asset Management but from an entirely different perspective and scope than our company is most familiar with. They deal with managing the ownership of assets, where we work more with the function and operation of assets. Property managers are concerned with who bought the asset, who owns it now, what are the contract terms of the asset, can it be traced, the disposition of assets, compliance, and auditing. And much more I am learning.

In contrast, we are focused on the function of an asset, how it can fail, how we can keep it from failing, the risk it poses to an organization, maximizing its value and optimizing its utilization.

But property managers and operators alike are pursuing asset management. Assets have to be owned before they can be operated and maintained. Owners, managers and operators are generally different entities. But we all touch the assets at different stages in the lifecycle and have an important contribution to delivering value from the assets to the organization. Understanding more about what a property manager needs to do in their role helps us understand how to work with them better.

Here is a key takeaway: Different stakeholders need to make different decisions for different reasons about the same assets. We have to work together. We have to coordinate.

So perhaps we can agree, Asset Management is about managing assets – but it is about all the activities that work together to deliver value from our assets. It’s a team sport.