Interview with AgileAssets CEO Stuart Hudson, P.E.
To start the new decade, I sat down with AgileAssets founder and CEO Stuart Hudson, P.E., to get his take on asset management trends in the transportation industry. With Hudson at the helm since 1994, AgileAssets has solidified its place as a leading global provider of transportation asset lifecycle management solutions for government agencies. In previous interviews, Stuart has discussed the books that inspire him and the characteristics he sees in great leaders. Here, he shares his unique insight into how agencies can better navigate the future—from AI and analytics to drones and data quality.
How would you describe the field of asset management as we start 2020?
One word: burgeoning. It’s progressing quickly, and more agencies are really understanding the need for it. In the U.S., federal requirements are pressing state agencies to implement more advanced asset management software. We’ve seen this trend develop over the last 20 years, but some agencies have faced challenges that have made them slower to adapt.
It can be difficult for public entities with limited budgets and resources to adopt new technologies. But even smaller agencies—like cities and counties—are seeing the benefits of using modern asset management practices to get more value from their infrastructure funding. We’re seeing increasing interest from public works organizations that want to improve efficiency, safety, and asset longevity by implementing AgileAssets solutions.
The growing demand is also coming from the private sector as companies continue to invest in infrastructure. We’re starting to see more public-private partnerships. I think that will continue with the expansion of private management of infrastructure. When agencies adopt new technologies, they become more agile collaborators in public-private partnerships.
What are some of the biggest challenges agencies face when trying to improve their asset management practices?
Number one is for organizations to commit to not only invest money but also allocate the people and resources necessary to implement an effective asset management strategy. The organization needs to have buy-in and accountability from stakeholders and staff at all levels.
Number two is data quality. An effective asset management strategy is only as good as the available data. When you have good data, then your budget and performance predictions become more accurate, and the ability to optimize funds across various network assets becomes a lot more realistic.
Number three is what I would call “fly-by-night” competitors in the software industry. Some companies may market a flashy new software that might get an agency’s attention but has no substance. Even big software companies are trying to break into the transportation space, saying they can do asset management. They tell agencies that because their company is big, their software can do anything—which it can’t. Both these types of vendors can set agencies back years.
How have asset management solutions changed over the last 25 years?
It’s kind of like the difference between smartphones now and then. They didn’t exist. When we started, we were doing microcomputer programs and saving them on disks. There was no computer networking or concept of a central database, except for mainframes. When we went into an agency, we had to add client servers to house the software.
Then the web came along, and we were one of the first to jump to the internet and have a web-based system. Now, we are one of the first in the industry to offer software as a service (SaaS). We’re seeing more and more agenices moving to SaaS because of its many benefits: rapid deployment, predictable costs, hassle-free upgrades, and the highest levels of security and performance.
As agencies become increasingly able to put sensors on bridges, pavements, and traffic monitors, we’ll be able to provide ways to use historical data to feed models within the software and use data analytics to improve efficiency. Keeping up with technology is an ongoing challenge for agencies, but we’ve always been a leader in that space.
What changes are on the horizon for 2020 and beyond?
As technology advances, we will continue to improve our solutions to stay at the forefront of innovations. Drones and other technologies are going to come into play to help with asset inspections. With bridge management, I can see agencies putting sensors on bridges that feed out regular readings to help understand the structural nature of the bridge, the deterioration rates, and other aspects needed for predictive modeling.
What I think is really cool is how artificial intelligence can be used to improve asset management. An example is the use of video recognition from traffic incidents and near misses to help predict crashes and improve safety. Computer algorithms are going to look at the video and determine the problem intersections. When the algorithm identifies the problem areas, agencies will be able to more efficiently fix the problems. Information will become more accurate and up to date, allowing agencies to be more effective.