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Building an asset management program from the ground up is no easy task. It involves the leveraging of partnerships, establishing a framework and management plan, and defining the core objectives of the program. It also requires buy-in from council, from the city manager’s office, and from various, relevant departments such as finance and public works.

The City of Brampton, Ontario has embarked on just that process. Starting in 2015, the City of Brampton decided to begin overhauling the way it oversees and manages assets and endorsed the recommendations of a Corporate Asset Management Plan. In 2016, the City underwent a major restructuring with an aim to modernizing operations and realizing efficiencies that would help in building a future-ready Brampton. The following is the first entry in PSD’s case study series highlighting new approaches in asset management.

I. A New Mandate

The City of Brampton has decidedly pivoted away from the mandate of the past. As one of the fastest growing cities in Canada, the City of Brampton has long been focused on accommodating a growing community, more than anything else. In conversation with PSD, Pat Moyle, Interim Commissioner of Corporate Services, explained the City’s earlier mindset in managing growth:


[Brampton] is a growing community; it has a very large asset base. My observation has been that 20 years ago, the focus was on growth. The focus was on getting the infrastructure in place to accommodate growth. When I was here initially, we didn’t pay as much attention as we should have; we didn’t have any formal asset management plan then.


As a result of the emphasis on growth management in prior years, the City of Brampton realized the need to re-focus their efforts on managing their assets. Said Moyle:


As a consequence [of overlooking asset management], there’s pressure on the budget to deal with some of the older infrastructure. The lesson we learned from that is “Never Again.” We have to make sure that we have a very good indication of all of our assets, the condition of the assets, the quality of the assets, the lifespan of the assets, the state of good repair budgets that are necessary to prolong the lifespan of those assets. That will help inform the financial plan for the organization. In the old days, it was simply maximizing [development charges] and building things as quickly as possible, and getting the growth-related capital piece to be paid for by the development community and those who were benefitting from it. That was old thinking. And that’s a component of it, but now there has to be an equal effort put to the piece about repair and replacement and renewal of our assets.


Among the new initiatives at the City of Brampton, pivoting towards a new approach of managing assets was a necessary first step towards implementing a comprehensive asset management strategy.

II. A New Governance Structure

Asset management doesn’t file neatly under any one municipal department. It requires the accounting of assets, the assessment of asset condition, the installation, maintenance and renewal of assets, and the oversight of the entire process, in addition to long-term strategic planning. This means that asset management as a practice might find itself under the finance, corporate services, or public works department in any given municipal organization.

As its first order of business in the development of a comprehensive, corporate asset management program, the City of Brampton sought to streamline its governance structure. To establish clarity, the City created a centralized Corporate Asset Management Office (AMO) and – defying convention – located the office under Corporate Services. Pat Moyle explained this positioning:


Asset management is very much viewed as a corporate service. Typically, you’ve seen it in some municipalities and organizations as purely a public works function. The reality is that assets go far beyond public works; it’s roads, it’s transportation, but it’s also buildings like [City Hall]. It’s recreation facilities. It’s the whole menu of assets that are defined in the capital budget. Really, it should be the subject of some asset management discipline. The city manager decided that this function is just that: it’s a corporate service. It’s nested within the corporate services family of services and it’s tied very closely…to finance, but there are connections to [other] departments as well.


Other managers at the City of Brampton cited the importance of nesting asset management under Corporate Services due to the advantage of unbiased decision-making. Said David Sutton, Interim Treasurer at the City: “Because this is all about prioritizing the replacement of our assets and using the funding to the best of our ability, I think it lends itself to the least-biased approach in terms of managing their asset profile.” This point was echoed by Vanessa Chau, Manager of Corporate Asset Management: “I think this is the best governance model because there’s a balance between the finance component and the technical. We provide the unbiased approach and the ability to ultimately demonstrate optimized evidence-based decision making by not being confined to one service area.”

The central asset management body under Corporate Services – the Asset Management Office (AMO) – serves as the primary liaison for asset management across the entire City. The individuals within the AMO act as the “partners and coordinators for all of the city services,” per Manager Vanessa Chau. The AMO works in partnership with the Asset Management Network Team (AMN) – a network of the technical departments of asset managers across all service areas – to coordinate the management of assets in all relevant service area departments. This responsibility includes asset management planning, implementation of the asset management plan, asset management capability development, risk management performance and improvement.


City of Brampton Asset Management Steering Team


As a separate entity, the AMN reports to the Steering Team, which is made up of the directors and managers from all of the City’s major service areas. According to Chau, the Steering Team is meant to provide guidance and direction to the AMN and to steer the direction of the corporate asset management initiative. Guiding the Steering Team is the Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) – including the CAO – which sponsors the entire corporate asset management program. This reorganization is meant to streamline the entire process, while also ensuring that asset management is woven into the fabric of each department.


III. Making a Leader 

For Brampton, part of the motivation for developing a comprehensive asset management strategy is to position itself as a leader in the field. “In terms of our vision as a city, we want to be the global city that people look to and want to replicate. Asset management is one of those areas that we believe we can excel at in terms of that leadership,” said Interim Treasurer David Sutton, adding that a strong asset management program will “increase our competitiveness and attractiveness on a regional, national, and global scale.” Vanessa Chau reiterated the same ideals, remarking that,


One of the successes of the Corporate Asset Management strategy is to implement full, comprehensive corporate asset management here at the City. The organization can then demonstrate that it employs the leading practice and achieve maximum value in the management of assets.


And the City has taken various steps to substantiate its leadership aspiration. As part of its Corporate Asset Management Policy, Brampton is looking towards adopting an international best practices standard of asset management: ISO 55000. The goal for Brampton is not necessarily to acquire full certification for the standard at this stage, but rather to demonstrate leadership in asset management. “By ensuring the evidence-based decision making is optimized and integrated seamlessly across the corporation, it demonstrates leadership through the ISO 55000,” remarked Chau.

Brampton has also engaged others in the field to raise the baseline of asset management best practices in Ontario and facilitate knowledge sharing. Together with the Canadian Network of Asset Managers (CNAM), the City of Brampton took on a leadership role by hosting the Asset Management Ontario working group in late September 2016. The event brought together representatives from a number of Ontario municipalities to share information and best practices. The goal, according to the Working Group, was “to make the connections between the infrastructure, engineering and finance worlds to advance the field of asset management and enhance decision making.” As host, the City of Brampton stepped into this leadership role – a primary objective of its new corporate asset management program.


IV. Next steps

The City is currently in the preliminary phases of its multi-year corporate asset management journey, and there is plenty of momentum heading into 2017. Brampton is poised to position itself as a leader in asset management through the launch of their corporate asset management roadmap, and the AMO is set to present the roadmap proposal to city council in December in the form of a prioritized improvement initiative outlook. It, too, is based on the ISO 55000 framework and outlines both short and long-term, high-priority initiatives for the City over the next few years.

Ultimately, the City of Brampton hopes to have a comprehensive asset management program in place, as per international standards. In doing so, however, the true aim is to ‘do better’ for the residents of the community, and to ensure that there is greater value for the taxpayer in undertaking this corporate restructuring. Ultimately, as David Sutton remarked, “a responsible and sustainable asset management plan is a strong measure to improve residents’ quality of life.” The City of Brampton has taken the first steps in making that possible.


ALEKS DZINTARS is a Research Analyst with Public Sector Digest. He graduated with a master’s degree at the Graduate School of Public Policy and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, with a focus on policy analysis and public policy implementation. Aleks was the project lead for PSD’s ‘An Analysis of Traffic Congestion Impacts and Policy Solutions for Canadian Municipalities’ study released in November. He can be reached at adzintars [at] publicsectordigest [dot] com.