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Dec 2020 | November - December Issue

Advancing Asset Management Through Data Improvements: Southwest Middlesex
Stefanie Fisher, PSD

Having accurate and up to date asset information is critical for developing effective asset management practices and long-term planning approaches. The struggle for many local governments is gathering this data and consolidating it to use in day-to-day reporting and long-term capital planning. The Municipality of Southwest Middlesex, located 250km southwest of Toronto, has been working to advance its asset management program over the past several years and has focused its efforts on enhancing their data in order to develop a holistic understanding of their assets and include this information in capital planning.

The Municipality understood that having up to date and accurate asset information would lead to an effective asset management program, however, this was also one of the biggest challenges in getting asset management started within the organization. The first step was to have comprehensive and uniform information that would balance to the Municipality’s financial statements. Kristen McGill, Treasurer for the Municipality, explained that the original financial report served as a good starting point, but getting the data into the right format with properly assigned asset categories was a challenge.
The Municipality implemented CityWide Asset Manager to manage this data, something that they have found foundational for better reporting and continued improvements to their asset information. One of the main things that the organization wanted to avoid was wasting time inputting inaccurate information in the system. “If you put garbage in you will get garbage out – your asset management system will only work effectively if the data is up to date, so this was our focus moving forward” said McGill.
Southwest Middlesex initially started their asset management planning process with a focus on roads and bridges, putting together an asset management plan (AMP) that focused on lifecycle, however, with no condition information. Staff felt that the value of their first AMP was limited because without assessed condition data, long-term planning would be skewed. Since then, staff have been making considerable strides to improve asset information through continued updates in their software and ensuring that assets have assessed condition. 
The Municipality now has 100% assessed condition for both bridges and sidewalks, with data collection in other areas continuing. It has been a long process, with many steps involved in their overarching program development.
One of the key activities the Municipality undertook was a gap analysis that highlighted where the organization needed to focus their efforts both in terms of asset data and their overall program. The gap analysis identified the asset information that was missing, with critical assets as a priority. Not only did this assist with developing an overarching strategy for the Municipality’s asset management program, but it was an effective communication tool to explain to council the importance of asset management and showcase the disparity in what the data was showing and actual available funds.
Staff used the information from the gap analysis to walk council through examples of their road network and compared the total cost of necessary maintenance to the reserve funds that had been set aside—showing a gap that would build overtime, making it difficult for the Municipality to fund all necessary projects With council having a better understanding of the asset data, they were more open to prioritizing asset management, a critical component to ongoing program development.
The Municipality has already seen tangible results from focusing efforts on asset management and specifically their asset data. Foremost, the Municipality has been tentatively approved for two large sums of money that would not have been approved if they were not able to effectively showcase their asset data. They will be using their asset information to create multi-year funding plans that will provide a concrete understanding of what the maintenance budget needs to be and make the budgeting process year-over-year easier to manage. Further, the available condition information is being used to inform the 2021 budget. The goal for the budget process is to add new purchases based on the available condition rating, prioritizing those assets who have a low rating and are in need of immediate maintenance.
STEFANIE FISHER, MA received her Honour’s bachelor’s degree from King’s University College at Western University in Political Science and her master’s degree from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. As a part of her master’s research she looked at municipal critical infrastructure and the different regional infrastructure funding programs such as the Ontario Gas Tax Fund. In her role at  PSD, Stefanie keeps up to date on pertinent policy and legislative changes for municipalities, as well as assists with the completion of grant applications. Stefanie has extensive experience in providing informative briefings on grant programs and legislative changes for municipalities, and received her Institute of Asset Management Certification in 2018. 
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