Responses to the pandemic have shown the long term importance to local government of a rationalised view of data on fixed assets and infrastructure, writes Andrew Waterworth, director EMEA Confirm at Precisely
Enterprise asset management has proved its worth in the public sector response to the Covid-19 pandemic, with authorities harnessing the software to keep operations running as they quickly adopt new ways of working.
In turn, this has highlighted its long term potential, as they can see the scope for incorporating its use with new technologies and location data in building smart places.
The subject came under discussion at a recent UKAuthority Live conversation in which I took part with Nicola Casburn, asset management commissioner at Lincolnshire County Council, and Sean Gilchrist, transport manager (asset and performance) at City of Edinburgh Council. It threw a spotlight on significant issues around the software’s deployment and how it will fit into the future of public services.
With the discussion taking place virtually during the pandemic lockdown, it highlighted the importance of functions at the heart of what local government does, and what the two councils had achieved as staff were effectively excluded from their offices.
Both managed to minimise the disruption in operations such infrastructure, environmental and highways management, due to having equipped staff with mobile devices – predominantly tablet computers at Lincolnshire, mobile phones in at Edinburgh – and using the Confirm platform to pull together the data sources. They had the clear view while in the field or working from home to keep track of the state of assets, pick up on reports of problems and liaise with contractors on regular maintenance and urgent repairs.
The choice of device reflected one of the issues to arise in the use of the platform, that if it requires clear mapping the larger screen makes a tablet more appropriate, while phones are better suited to taking photos and recording basic data.
Another, found at other councils working with Confirm, was that contractors not able to enter council buildings had to get remote access to the software, leading to changes in access rights to allow them into the system through a virtual private network or in its cloud iteration. It reflected an existing momentum in some towards bringing contractors onto the platform to collaborate more effectively with council staff.
It also become apparent that cloud services have been highly important in the pandemic response, giving authorities more flexibility in accessing the relevant data. Casborn and Gilchrist said this had been a crucial factor, and an online pool of the discussion’s audience revealed that 71% utilised existing cloud solutions to keep their operations running, while another 7% quickly implemented some in their response.
The consolidation of data on assets and infrastructure into one place also provides a big plus point. Casburn said that, since taking on Confirm in 2010, Lincolnshire has migrated data from 40 other systems and integrated the FixMyStreet service for reporting street repairs, making it possible to manage processes end-to-end through the system and successfully maintain operations.
Gilchrist said it is much easier to monitor and manipulate the data if it sits on one platform, reflecting Edinburgh’s long term migration of data from single process systems to Confirm. One of the lessons from the pandemic has been that a stronger overview and control of data is crucial in dealing with a crisis.
A crucial point is that the pandemic has led many organisations to accelerate changes in their working patterns that were already in progress – rather than forcing a sudden reappraisal – and many of these patterns are likely to become the norm. This is partly in the increase in home working, with many organisations planning to maintain it for a lot of their staff; but is also in changing priorities and the demands they will place on authorities.
It reinforces the long term importance of a cloud based asset management platform, especially when combined with the effort to build smart places using technology and data.
Local authorities are already adding data feeds from internet of things (IoT) sensors, attached to public bins, gulleys, lampposts and other fixtures. It provides the platform with a real time picture of the need for collections, maintenance or repairs, helping the authority to react quickly to problems and schedule work before it becomes urgent.
The potential is increasing as more location data becomes available, notably from the recent decision by the Geospatial Commission to make unique property reference numbers and unique street reference numbers available through the Open Government Licence. This can increase the capabilities of the platform to pinpoint where work needs to be done and identify any connections between different assets and infrastructure.
It can support the development of new mobility networks, in planning for new types of public transport, an increase in cycle lanes and the widening of footways. A clear, detailed view of assets is going to be a big factor in planning and maintaining these networks, increasing the reliance on the software platform.
There is also a sense of more change to come, some of it unforeseeable, and that organisations will have be to quickly adaptable to changing circumstances. Effective, near real time enterprise asset management will be crucial in making this possible.
This was reflected in other results from the discussion poll. There was unanimous agreement on the importance of enterprise asset management solutions, along with the need for integration with IoT, and on the significance of geospatial information (with 85% saying it is essential and 15% a useful addition).
The Confirm system from Precisely – previously Pitney Bowes – has these capabilities, with the capacity to rationalise data for all elements of onto a single platform, taking on data from any fixed asset. It can also integrate IoT, location and financial data to enable authorities to plan and manage smart places.
It provides a digital tool not just for dealing with the rapid change of the pandemic, but also for facing up to the future challenges of building smart, adaptable places.
Catch up now with the full UKA Live discussion:
On the panel:
- Nicola Casburn, Asset Management Commissioner, Lincolnshire County Council
- Sean Gilchrist, Transport Manager (Asset and Performance), The City of Edinburgh Council
- Andrew Waterworth, Director EMEA - Confirm, Precisely
- Helen Olsen Bedford, Publisher, UKAuthority
Click here to request more information or to discuss the themes from the live webcast with the Confirm team at Precisely
Image from iStock, metamorworks