The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

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The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

All Systems Can Go: Do You Risk Losing Critical Information When Staff Retire?

November 21st, 2017 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--

By Tyler Vick, Principal at FLO Analytics
A version of this article was originally featured in CityVision Magazine

Take a minute to think about the staff at your organization with the most experience and expertise. Do you rely on them to provide context for projects and historic knowledge about key assets? Are they your go-to resource for records and data? Do they understand how your internal systems and workflows work—and are they some of the few that do?

If the answer to any of the questions above is yes, you might want to take a look at the organizational sustainability at your workplace. One of the most common issues I hear about (whether we’re working with city planners, public works directors, or CEOs) is how institutional knowledge is stored and shared between staff. Without seamless systems in place to collect, store, and share information, organizations risk reliance on a few key people. A deep and crucial knowledge base is often lost when staff retire—or worse, it becomes inaccessible when unexpected medical emergencies or natural disasters occur.

Here’s an example I often see: a public works department manages infrastructure for a medium-size city. They keep track of their assets using paper maps and notes, and if digital data is available, it is siloed and available to only a few people. Most staff rely heavily on a couple of tenured staff members—often with decades of experience working for the city—for historic knowledge of asset locations, condition, and connectivity.

What happens when the staff member in the example retires? It will be hard for other staff to understand the systems and changes that have occurred over time, find resources, and efficiently manage the system in the immediate future, which can potentially impact service delivery to citizens.

The example above reflects an issue occurring all over the United States. According to a 2015 UtilityDrive.com survey of 433 U.S. electricity executives, the second most challenging issue facing their industry (right after aging infrastructure) is an aging workforce. We know that this challenge exists across many infrastructure sectors, and many utilities and cities are struggling with an incredible loss of institutional knowledge as people simply age out of the workforce. As more and more baby boomers retire, this issue will only continue to be a stumbling block for infrastructure managers.

If your organization faces similar issues and has the capacity to get ahead of staff retirement and begin planning for the future of your agency, consider taking these first steps:

  • Clearly identify what information should and can be captured and maintained (e.g., asset locations and their associated attributes).
  • Identify all your current data sources and their accuracy.
  • Establish a process for resolving conflicting data.
  • Identify your most experienced staff, and implement a plan that transitions their institutional knowledge from inside their brain to a shared space.
  • Create a single source of asset information, and set up workflows that allow you to update it from the field or office as needed.

click to enlarge!

The bottom line: organizational sustainability is about the endurance of a system and the processes that run that system. Good maintenance, systematic inspections and reviews, and access to information and knowledge about the system for all staff will make your organization stronger, more efficient, and more resilient.

Tyler Vick manages operations at FLO Analytics and specializes in asset management implementation strategies for infrastructure organizations of all kinds. For more information about FLO, visit flo-analytics.com.

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