MRO Magazine

Who owns asset management?


November 15, 2021
By Cliff Williams


Photo: WrightStudio / Adobe Stock

Previously, we discussed why and how asset management came to be – with the explanation of the need to derive value from the assets. We looked at how it should be built using tools such an asset management policy, a strategic asset management plan, and then specific asset management plans. We also veered off into how the developers of ISO 55000 may have forgotten a very important word in ‘accountability’.

Building on those, in this article, we look at how and who pulls all of these things together, and try to answer a very challenging question for most organizations; who owns asset management?

The starting point for answering this question is your current state; your resource, your knowledge, your authorities, and perhaps the most important, your level of engagement and commitment as an organization. For most organizations, adopting asset management principles will require some form of change or modification of the current culture.

It’s pretty simple really; if you don’t need to change the culture (my definition of culture is the agglomeration of the behaviours of those in the organization, as driven by the leadership through the goals they provide), then it means you have the correct behaviours and the correct measures, and so you are already practicing asset management, even though you might not call it that.
Many organizations are choosing to involve consultants in the process of building their asset management program – this can help speed up the process, but great care must be taken when setting the scope and expectations for the consultants. The consultants will provide you with tools, methodologies, structure, etc. – but only in response to what has been asked of them.


If we assume that we need to change the culture as explained above, then this needs to be included in the scope. To achieve the outcomes desired from the hiring of the consultants, there needs to be a clear understanding of current state, so that the focus can be on those things that are going to help you move forward to the desired state. This can take the form of an audit or a survey, but must include roles and responsibilities, and not just processes, tasks, or duties. This is key because these are the things that will enable you to enact change and achieve your goals, and it is most often found that there is lack of clarity in
these matters.

Having confusion around roles and responsibilities quickly leads to the biggest problem that we mentioned earlier – accountability – or more correctly, lack of accountability. It’s very difficult to hold someone accountable for something if we, or they, are not really sure they are in fact responsible for it, or even worse, that they don’t have the authority to do what needs to be done.

Now, everything we’ve said is required when hiring consultants, applies equally to when the program is being built from within – it’s just now you will be doing everything yourself, and so, you will need a very comprehensive roadmap, broken down to detailed tasks for moving along the map before you start trying to implement the program.

This brings us to the question of ‘who owns asset management?’ because how you now proceed to make the changes necessary as guided by the consultant’s plan, or your own roadmap, will determine the answer to this question. For those of us who live in the maintenance and reliability space, this same sort of discussion crops up when we talk about centralized or de-centralized maintenance – who owns maintenance? Similar to the question around maintenance, there is no specific guidance as to which is the better option, but it’s a decision that needs to be made very early on, as this will drive the training and infrastructure required to sustain asset management.

To describe the centralized model, it is one where a department is set up and given responsibilities for all things, asset management along with the resources, expertise, and authorities to deliver them.

The de-centralized version is one where asset management is spread across the organization, and everyone has the training, skills and knowledge around asset management for their particular role and department, and in their little world become the asset managers.

Each of these scenarios will present risks that need to be considered and addressed for success. In the centralized model there is quite often the challenge of finding the resources, as this is a ‘new’ department, the level of expertise may not be available withing the organization, meaning new hires, and the biggest risk is that everyone else in the organization assumes they have no part to play in asset management.

In this scenario, when we ask other departments about asset management plans or measures to drive improvement in value, most of the departments will defer to the asset management group – they don’t see the connection between what they do and the asset management program. This is why we need to make sure that we understand the current idea of roles and responsibilities so that we can make the connections for them, and have them understand their input into deriving value for the organization through asset management.

The de-centralized model runs the risk of asset management being considered conflicting with current duties, and so, is not the focus of what people do. It requires training of everyone involved and this usually it ends up as a problem, and so people do not actually have the training, skills, or knowledge to do their job. The biggest risk is that if fully de-centralized, there is no oversight of how the asset management program is doing, outside of looking at the high-level results. Although on the plus side of this model, when done correctly, you are not adding people and you are going to get greater engagement in the asset management program.

As with most choices between two very different approaches, the middle ground is usually where the most appropriate path lies. Let’s think about safety in the work place, when we ask ‘who is responsible for safety’, we get answers and examples from the progressive organizations that clearly shows that they not only say it – they live it.

They can show where every job description contains an element of safety responsibility and measures, and results are communicated often and with transparency. These organizations still have a safety director or manager, but their role is not ‘practicing’ safety; their role is ensuring that everyone else is ‘practicing’ safety, and providing guidance and support to help them succeed.

These organizations usually have very good safety records, especially when compared to those on the other end of the spectrum. More often than we should, we get the answer to the question of ‘who is responsible for safety’ as the safety director or the safety department. People know that they need to work safely, they know that we don’t want accidents or incidents, but they don’t see it as an integral part of their duties – they see safety as something that is a different topic to their responsibilities.

The big difference between the two scenarios is that the those in the progressive organizations consider safety to be a part of their job, whilst the others consider safety to be apart from their job.

If we replace the word safety with the word environment, then everything we just said applies – so the question is, why would we take a different approach to asset management? Asset management is focused on the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, so why not proceed the same way?

So, as you move along the journey to sustainable asset management, why not answer the question ‘who owns asset management?’
Why not give the example of the hybrid approach, which falls somewhere in the middle of centralized and de-centralized approach. Why not have it so that asset owners understand and take responsibilities for the day-to-day performance of asset management in their area and are supported, guided and influenced by a central asset management group?

Exactly, how it will be set up will depend on the individual organization – how many people will be in the asset management department? Where do their goals end and the department heads begin, etc.?

As you begin the building of the program, don’t forget to take advantage of the opportunity to involve the asset owners in process – if they are included in designing and creating the documents, plans, templates, etc., they are much more likely be prepared to play their part in owning asset management. What path is your organization taking? MRO
Cliff Williams is author of the bestselling maintenance novel ‘People – A Reliability Success Story.’ He is a maintenance and asset management educator, and a keynote speaker at conferences around the world, who believes success is achieved through people. Currently Cliff shares his knowledge and experience as an advisor on maintenance and reliability for people and processes, and asset management with TMS asset management and is a facilitator for PEMAC’s Asset Management Program.