When I tell my friends I work on a magazine for public works professionals, they almost always say, “Oh, like the Hoover Dam! The Tappan Zee Bridge!” or some other high-profile project.
Well, I say, yes and no. Yes, in that my audience plans and builds their city, county, special district, township, and/or state’s lifelines. Those networks and systems represent these jurisdictions’ single largest capital investment, a fact that’s always news to my friends.
But even more of my readers’ energy, I say, goes toward lining up the resources necessary to keep those assets functioning for 10, 20, 30 years (or longer). And that is much harder. It requires a lot more money for things that are a lot less relatable for the average person.
The predicament is difficult for an outsider to grasp until you provide the standard example of a pothole, water main break, or sewer back-up. Someone has to take care of roads and bridges, streetlights and traffic signs, water tanks and pipelines after they’re installed, and that’s what public works does.
One reader who responded to our cover story’s survey said it best: “All government is public prioritization. Everything, even social services, is moving toward hard-data justification. Infrastructure has to stay in that race, head to head.”
Last year many of you at trade shows and seminars said you were looking for ways to do that. After years of reducing or deferring maintenance on all but the most-critical assets, everything seemed to be failing simultaneously; and elected officials were demanding answers in formats they — not you — understand.
In our visually based, data-driven society, that means maps, charts, graphs, and spreadsheets.
Asset management software isn’t a panacea. There are two significant challenges: getting started and keeping going. Unless someone on staff is technically proficient, trying to make an apples-to-apples features comparison of competing vendors is frustrating. Taking the next logical step — integrating with legacy software for back-office functions like accounting — can be a nightmare.
That said, a new generation of public works professionals is slowly replacing retiring baby boomers. They’re generally more tech-savvy than their predecessors. An asset management program can be a potent recruiting tool that, if nothing else, provides the successful candidate with the tools he or she needs to move the operation forward.