Railways are highly complex systems, reliant on many assets of varying types and ages that are operated and maintained by different organisations. If part of the overall rail system is not effective, then it is likely to have a resultant impact on the outputs of the whole system, leading to delays and poor perception of ‘the railway’. All organisations that are part of the railway system, therefore, need to ensure that they are managing their assets effectively and sustainably.

Whether you are involved in infrastructure, rolling stock or plant, it is likely that you have a large and varied portfolio of assets, with a significant range of ages, differing conditions and different rates of wear. Historic approaches to maintenance mean that, whilst you are keeping a ‘steady state’, you may get an unwelcome surprise if many assets reach the end of their economic lives at a similar time.

Better Information Management

Over the last 20 or so years, the Institute of Asset Management has been one of the global organisations leading the definition and development of asset management as a professional discipline. This started with the launch of PAS 55 in 2004 followed by the release of an updated version in 2008. This formed the basis of what became the ISO 55000 suite of standards in 2014, and has been a catalyst for raising the awareness of asset management globally.

ISO 55000 defines a system (not a software system) for managing assets, which can be utilised to manage these complex portfolios. Whilst asset management does not specifically relate to software (in some contexts you may undertake effective asset management with a simple spreadsheet), most of its activities are very reliant on good quality information. If you have asset information that you can trust, then the likelihood that the size, nature and condition of your asset portfolio will deliver unwelcome ‘surprises’ should be reduced greatly.

ISO 55000 does not specify how to manage your asset information, just that you should utilise good data to inform your decisions. This is where the approaches to BIM (Building Information Modelling) can help. Whilst the acronym ‘Building Information Modelling’ may lead you to think that this just relates to buildings or facilities management, the approaches apply to any built asset or portfolio of assets. To reduce the likelihood of such misunderstandings arising, some organisations, such as Network Rail, have adapted the acronym to become “Better Information Management”.

Like asset management, the discipline of BIM is gaining global acceptance with standards and approaches developing at a steady rate. In the UK, this started with the development of a range of standards (including BS 1192, PAS 1192-2, PAS 1192-3, BS 1192-4) coupled with a mandate from UK Government for centrally funded projects to achieve a specified level of maturity by May 2016. This generated a level of interest from many parties and led to exemplar projects such as Crossrail using BIM to underpin much of the approach to design, construction and information management.

A range of ISO standards are now in development or planning to help ensure that approaches to BIM are comparable on a global basis. This is leading to the development of the ISO 19650 series that has been, in part, based on the principles defined in the PAS 1192 series.

A number of software tool vendors have been working hard to try to convince people that their product will ‘deliver BIM’. This is not necessarily the case, and has led to me often using the phrase that “BIM is a mindset, not a toolset” – you need to have an understanding of what outcome you are trying to achieve and the role that software needs to meet, alongside other business activities, to achieve this outcome.

So why bother with all of this? The benefits of asset management are varied and include: Improved financial performance; Better risk management; Improved asset investment decisions; Improved service reliability; An increased ability to develop and agree the optimum asset management strategy.

Any activity to review and strengthen the management system of an organisation is also likely to allow validation and refinement of other parts of the management system.

Photo: Institute of Asset Management.

Photo: Institute of Asset Management.

Benefits of BIM

So those are some of the benefits of asset management, what about the benefits of BIM? Last year, we supported a large infrastructure and services group which ran a proof of concept study to assess the likely benefits of BIM across the whole asset lifecycle – this indicated that the adoption of BIM will result in savings of between three and seven per cent of the whole-life-cost of assets.

The benefits delivered by BIM come in distinct phases – during design and construction, during operation and maintenance, and when there is next a planned asset intervention. Benefits of BIM during design and construction can be 20 per cent of project cost, which will be repeated, in part, when there is next an asset intervention.

During the operation and maintenance phase of an asset’s life, there can be smaller benefits arising from a limited number of interventions where better information can improve planning and delivery. However, it is important to note that it is not possible to secure the benefits of later phases of the assets’ life if you have not been undertaking previous activities adequately.

For example, failure to update asset information during the operational phase of an asset will result in information and design models not being trusted when planning and delivering these future asset interventions, thereby requiring expensive asset data gathering activities. This shows that BIM applies to the whole organisation and not just the design/construction/project team.

Whatever part you play in the lifecycle of an asset, you will almost certainly be a user, creator and updater of information. As the overall railway system gets more interlinked and sophisticated, the reliability and effectiveness of the service will depend on all of us undertaking better information management.

This article was written by Julian Schwarzenbach, director of Data and Process Advantage and keynote speaker at the Rail Asset Management Summit . A data evangelist, he is also involved in many of the information-related activities of the Institute of Asset Management and was involved in the development of PAS 1192-3, BS 1192-4, PAS 1192-5 and PAS 185.