Located 26 kilometers southwest of Edmonton, the Town of Devon, Alberta is situated along the banks of the North Saskatchewan River with a population of 6,578. The Town of Devon’s history began in February 1947 when Imperial Oil discovered oil at the Leduc Number One Discovery Well. Located just to the north of the well, Devon was created to meet the lodging needs of those working with Imperial Oil. In March of 1950, Devon became an official Town and was labelled as Canada’s Model Town as it was the first community in all of Canada to be approved by a Regional Planning Commission.
Today, the Town of Devon is known for its many attractions, such as the bird sanctuary, Devonian Gardens, and its network of paved country roads and unpaved mountain bike trails, frequented by cyclists. The Town has experienced a 10-year population increase of 5.1 percent. With consistent growth, Devon has witnessed firsthand the importance of prioritizing asset management. In 2017, Devon began developing its asset management plan (AMP) as part of a broader initiative to build a sustainable asset management program. Within its asset register, Devon currently manages 399,725 meters squared of roads, 35,120 meters of sanitary mains, 23,690 meters of storm mains, and 38,269 meters of water mains.
2. Key Insights
Devon’s asset management journey has been ongoing since initiating its asset management program development in 2017. Although Alberta municipalities are expected to work towards the development of an asset management plan (AMP), there is no provincial mandate that requires Devon to develop an asset management program, making the Town a part of a small number of municipalities that want to be proactive in building out their asset management capacity.
Devon sought to tackle asset management through a holistic roadmap approach, establishing a governance framework, sophisticated data activities and frameworks, policies, and plans. The establishment of a robust asset management program is a difficult task, requiring a significant amount of staff commitment and expertise. The Town faced several challenges, however, through the hard work of staff and support from third-party experts, it has established an asset management program that will assist in managing its assets for years to come.
The following case study will outline the process that Devon went through in order to establish its current asset management program and plan. Further, it will go into detail on how the Town was able to overcome challenges faced by many municipalities looking to put a similar asset management system in place in their respective community.
3. Devon’s Asset Management Challenges
As the Town of Devon began its asset management journey, it understood that it would face several challenges. Foremost, it was met with aging infrastructure, coupled with a lack of funding and diminishing service levels. Further, the organization had a shortage of in-house expertise and staff capacity to build a comprehensive asset management program to address these challenges.
Devon looked to capitalize on available funding – both federal and provincial – in order to assist with aging infrastructure. However, available federal and provincial grants are not able to fully bridge the infrastructure funding gap and there is significant regional competitiveness for these grant programs, making it a challenge to access all funding opportunities. The Town also struggled with how to balance allocated funds – both budgeted funding and grants – between new growth and existing assets. These challenges – common to so many municipalities across Canada – showcase the need for an asset management program that assists with developing comprehensive strategies for identifying priority infrastructure projects and funding scenarios.
The intricacies of building an effective and sustainable asset management program require significant expertise and staff resources to implement. This is something that Devon struggled with as it has a small staff, limiting the ability of any staff members to champion asset management as a portfolio. As a result, Devon was unsure of the most effective way to roll out asset management across the organization and how to transition into more mature practices.
These are challenges that municipalities commonly face when trying to put an asset management program and team in place. By using a phased asset management roadmap approach, Devon was able to develop a comprehensive program that assisted in mitigating the above listed challenges.
4. Triumphs in Asset Management
Throughout the process, Devon has achieved several significant milestones for its asset management program. There is more work to be done, but the Town has already seen the following improvements in its asset management program and processes:
- Devon implemented a Strategic Asset Management Policy that integrates other important strategic documents for its municipality. The Policy has since been approved by council.
- A data gap analysis was conducted that assisted in identifying necessary data work. Through this renewed understanding, the Town began to improve the data present in its asset management system through linking assets within its GIS system and asset management system and setting specific asset attribute data.
- A condition assessment program has been initiated to better coordinate condition assessment work and improve the availability of condition data in Devon’s asset management system.
- Risk frameworks were developed for core asset classes (road network, natural gas distribution, water distribution, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer), leading to an overarching risk analysis, which assists in prioritizing infrastructure projects.
- A lifecycle framework was developed for core asset classes (road network, natural gas distribution, water distribution, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer), contributing to an asset prediction model that assisted in annual capital cost avoidance.
- A level of service dashboard was created that factored in influencing social, economic, and environmental trends (i.e. climate change, aging infrastructure, uncertainty in growth forecasts, etc.).
- Financial strategies were developed that enabled staff to present to council different spending scenarios to optimize use of budget dollars.
- Now, Devon is working towards finalizing a comprehensive asset management plan that will help guide its asset management program and activities moving forward.
5. Building an Asset Management Roadmap
There are several approaches to building an asset management program. Devon took the approach of a phased roadmap. This model was effective for the Town as asset management was a relatively new concept for the community, therefore, it was able to build out its program over a longer period, entrenching practices amongst its staff and in day-to-day processes. Through the three phased roadmap approach, Devon was able to assess its current state of asset management maturity, identifying gaps in its overall asset management program and data. Identifying gaps enabled the Town to better prioritize asset management activities and use its limited resources most effectively. Once identified, the team was able to put a comprehensive plan in place and develop models and frameworks that enabled them to implement comprehensive strategies and plans for their municipality.
The Town prioritized raising its asset management maturity by first improving its overall asset inventory and data and then by developing sophisticated risk models and lifecycle and levels of service frameworks. Further, the Town put in place an overarching governance framework, supported by council and tied to other important municipal plans and strategies. This ensured continual buy-in and support of asset management within the community.
6. Devon’s Asset Management Journey
The Town began building its asset management program through a series of maturity analysis exercises and by establishing a governance framework. The implementation of an asset management policy was critical to ensuring council and staff buy-in and giving a high-level overview of how the program would be implemented. Further, the policy was tied to other strategic documents for the municipality, ensuring it coincided with existing principles and priorities.
The Town completed data improvements within its asset management system: CityWide Asset Manager (AM). It focused on building out its condition assessment program and moving away from relying on age-based condition in favour of assessed condition. In addition, the Town worked on standardizing its data structure within the AM software and integrating assets within its GIS system. With newly collected data from the condition assessment program, Devon was able to assign specific attribute data to its assets, leading to better organized and updated asset information within its systems.
With improved data on its assets, Devon was able to switch focus to developing risk and lifecycle frameworks that would assist in better prioritizing infrastructure projects, ensuring that municipal dollars were spent in the most efficient way. The Town focused on its core infrastructure assets: road network, natural gas distribution, water distribution, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer. In developing the risk analysis, Devon identified its assets most at risk of failure. The following risk equation was utilized:
Probability of Failure x Consequence of Failure = Risk
This equation enabled Devon to identify and categorize the assets in very good, good, fair, poor, and very poor condition. From this, the Town discovered that the majority of its assets were in very good to fair condition. By identifying those few assets in poor condition, the team was able to better prioritize infrastructure projects, as well as demonstrate to council and the public why these are priority projects.
The development of a detailed lifecycle strategy allowed Devon to create prediction models at the asset level. With these models, and by using lifecycle activities as opposed to only end of life replacement, the Town was able to find an annual capital cost avoidance of $100,000.
In addition to developing these frameworks, the Town began working on a level of service dashboard for its roads, bridges, and buildings. Level of service is a tangible way for the Town to determine the expectations of its residents and how to adequately maintain, raise, or lower current service levels. Devon uses trends such as climate change, aging infrastructure, uncertainty in growth, and socio-political expectations to determine levels of service.
Using all of the acquired information, Devon was able to begin developing detailed financial strategies. These strategies used different scenarios, based on financial capacity and optional funding streams, to determine how to best spend municipal funds. With this, the team was able to bring several recommendations to council. Further, these financial strategies will be integral in the development of the final AMP document that Devon is currently working towards completing. Devon has dedicated a lot of time and effort since 2017 to build out a sustainable and comprehensive asset management program. The final AMP document that they develop will be a tangible tool for municipal staff and council to use well into the future.
The process of building an asset management program can be extremely difficult. Devon has come a long way since embarking on its asset management journey in 2017. Overall, the Town feels it has seen tremendous growth in the knowledge of its assets, the asset management process, engineering, and operating methodology. Further, it has captured a significant amount of important information through collecting data that will assist with developing its asset management plans and strategies in the years ahead. While it is easy to be discouraged by the challenges encountered in implementing asset management, every step is key to the overall process, and the benefits to the organization and the community it serves are priceless.
Asset Management Champions
Sean Goin, Manager of Infrastructure, Town of Devon, had a champion role in taking existing infrastructure data and uploading into the Citywide program. This process required the coordination of expertise from all areas of the organization which were brought together to ensure assets are accounted for, install dates completed as well as condition and risk assessments.
Alvin Allim, General Manager, Corporate Services for the Town of Devin, offers financial expertise, integrating findings from the asset management plan into Devon’s long-term financial planning and budgeting processes.