Whole-of-life approach

With the roads ever more cluttered with photographs of bright enthusiastic Mayoral candidates of all shapes and sizes, my mind recently returned to a topic of close personal interest - that of rates and the money we offer up to our Local Government Authorities (LGA) every month ‘in trust’ for them to use as they see fit to build, operate and maintain our local public facilities and community assets. The prudent use of ratepayer’s money has been a hot and often steamy subject for generations with differing views and opinions from those seeing a need for more space to walk their dogs to others pondering why the parking spaces at a number of swimming pool complexes are so small (maybe they picked up the idea from the person who designed the TPG Christchurch office parks?).

We all know that a whole-of-life focus is fundamental to making sound investment decisions. We like to think that Councils seek to achieve an optimal balance between the financial ability to provide a service and meeting the community's expectations in relation to present and future levels of service. A whole-of-life approach also positively impacts quality. Many of us have experienced the leaky building issues that have plagued New Zealand (NZ) over the past 20 or so years. Driving increased focus on designing for minimal maintenance and upkeep, and optimising the use of operational budgets should help eliminate these issues. As far back as the 1990s, project delivery models have considered increasing focus on operational maintenance as part of the design to improve project and financial outcomes, as well as enhance the benefits to the community – but to be honest, little seems to have actually changed.

In Australia and the UK, it is now commonplace to see facilities management services incorporated into construction contracts, and encouragingly, we are starting to see the same here in NZ. Understanding the whole-of-life costs necessary to deliver, operate and maintain a community service or project enables councils to better discuss the issues and options with ratepayers. Of course, adopting a whole-of-life focus to procurement has its challenges, not least the historical focus on capital spending with little regard to maintenance expenditure. As the property and facilities management industry will attest, maintenance is so often seen as the first thing to go when cash is hard to find. And what's the result? Poor performance of facilities, plant and equipment, reduced customer satisfaction and a significant increase in backlog maintenance; all risks associated with 'putting it off to a later date'.

Thankfully, the trend towards a whole-of-life approach is set to continue. The government remains focused on adopting new methods of project delivery like 'design-build-operate' which address issues of sustainability and resilience, and transfer risks of failure over the life of an asset to those involved in design and construction, making this an important consideration for all local authorities. As this change occurs, we are also seeing tools emerge to make it easy to adopt a whole-of-life approach such as 'Soft Landings' (which help to solve the performance gap between design intentions and operational outcomes), increasing levels of early contractor engagement, the involvement of facilities managers in design and Building Information Modelling (BIM) as an enabler to collect multiple layers of project data from different sources.

In the end, making better, long-term investment decisions requires a change in mindset, from a focus on upfront costs, to a whole-of-life perspective that is consistent with a council's asset management plans. The risks of not adopting a greater focus on whole-of-life can be summarised quite simply - unhappy ratepayers and waste - something that we all know every LGA is at pains to avoid.

I don’t have a dog, but I do take my kids swimming every week and last week had to enter my car through the passenger side door, thanks to another parent in a hurry to get their kids in the pool.

Let’s hope my kids don’t have the same challenges getting out of their car with my Grandchildren.