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Are you an Engineer, or a Data Manager?

25 August 2015

By David Gurr

For anyone in Highways Civil or Electrical Engineering over the age of 30, when you joined the profession it was all about the technical discipline. You could recite bituminous mixture specifications in your sleep, or could wax lyrical on the difference between luminance and illuminance.

Maintenance of the asset was a simple job. If something was defective, someone would complain about it and you’d send someone out to fix it. Job done.

But now, the job’s different.

The technical discipline is still vital. But to completely address the requirements of the job, you need a range of skills they didn’t teach you at college: financial management, proposal writing, PR … but most of all, Data Management.

Data isn’t just pretty pictures on paper. It’s not red/amber/green maps on a wall, nor is it just KPIs born from a thousand spreadsheets.

Without comprehensive data about your asset inventory, it’s simply not possible to manage it effectively. You’re forced to work reactively – and reacting to a situation after it’s already happened is always more expensive than working methodically to try and avoid it happening in the first place. With continued budget squeezes, reactive working is now just a race to the bottom. There has to be a better way.

Working proactively requires a different state of mind. You need to gather the right data about your inventory. You need to know where it is, what it is, what condition it’s in, and what’s been done to it in the past.

Without accurate data, you can’t be sure of the best way to spend money now, and in the future.  Without searchable data, responding to ad-hoc member queries or FOI requests will take up enormous amounts of your time.

To manage the data, you need a single, comprehensive, end-to-end asset management solution. If you find yourself managing asset data in more than one place – spreadsheets, databases, paper – you’re doing it wrong. If you find yourself re-keying data from one system into another, you’re doing it wrong.

Many software solutions now exist that can manage the entire lifecycle from public enquiry, through inspection, works order, job completion, claims, and customer update, all without re-keying data or printing paper. The same solutions allow you to design inspection routes and keep records of exactly what was inspected and when, by inspectors using mobile devices rather than paper. And all with mapping that brings your data to life.

Good software solutions also allow you to search and query the data in seconds without needing a degree in computer science, making member queries and FOI requests pure simplicity.

The very best software solutions also let you ask questions of the data: If I only have £Xm to spend on highway maintenance, how should I spend it for the best outcome in Y years’ time? If I’m planning on part-night lighting or dimming, which specific columns should I target to get the very best return on investment?

Like it or loathe it, data management is now part of your job spec. The good news is that the best data management systems will make the job easier, more effective, and more productive.

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