Introducing the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy (VDAS)

The release of the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy (VDAS) heralds a new era of asset management for Victoria’s major digital and physical public assets.

It’s no secret the Victorian Government is delivering an aggressive infrastructure program across the state. To ensure a consistent, integrated and repeatable approach to the delivery of this program (which is valued at approximately $9B per annum for at least the next two to three years), the government has developed the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy (VDAS).

By way of introducing the VDAS, which is the state’s first digital asset strategy, the VDAS Strategic Framework was recently released by the Office of Projects Victoria, under the aegis of Victorian Chief Engineer Dr Collette Burke (February 2019).

Victorian Digital Asset Strategy (VDAS)This Strategic Framework defines the VDAS as “a holistic and strategic approach for the application of digital engineering (DE) to Victorian Government physical assets”. The strategy “seeks to improve the value and utilisation of both physical and digital assets … across the entire asset life cycle: planning, creation, operation, decommissioning and divestment phases”.

The VDAS also recognises the importance of greater integration between government and the private sector, as well as federal and state collaboration around digital engineering and its importance for infrastructure.

In this post we’ve provided a short overview of what is a rather complex and comprehensive digital asset strategy, plus shared our thoughts on what needs to happen next.

However, we strongly encourage government suppliers to download and read the VDAS Strategic Framework (it’s very well written!), which outlines some of the steps government is taking to build stronger partnerships with industry. You also need to be aware of the growing importance of government data – and how it’s being used.

The VDAS Strategic Framework can be downloaded from the website of the office of the Chief Engineer. To obtain further information or provide feedback, the office of the Chief Engineer requests you use its ‘contact us’ page.

Some VDAS background

Support for the Victorian Digital Asset Strategy was first announced by the Victorian Government on 29 August 2018. According to the VDAS Strategic Framework:

“At the core of the VDAS is the aim to improve public infrastructure assets, public sector capability, promoting innovation and digital efficiencies, delivering effective and efficient public services, and driving toward more sustainable outcomes”.

The VDAS is founded on the application of digital engineering, which is the industry term being used to describe the convergence of emerging digital technologies (such as building information modelling (BIM), geographic information system (GIS) etc) that enable more productive and integrated methods of managing assets through their life cycle. The core elements of DE include a standardised classification system, open data format, object-based models, spatially located data, and common data environment across all asset phases.

The VDAS and application of DE will be scalable, commensurate with the project/asset size, complexity, and High Value High Risk (HVHR) assessment. The strategy looks at all elements of planning, delivering, operating and maintaining major Victorian infrastructure projects and assets, including:

  • traditional physical assets – such as roads, transport infrastructure and buildings; and
  • digital assets – such as telecommunication infrastructure, critical business systems (water and wastewater etc) and traffic lights.

At the heart of the VDAS are directions to government, industry and the public on reforming information management, processes and data to deliver best value to the state. This includes recognising the value of digital data, information creation and management, and utilisation of DE data and information.

The strategy applies to all stakeholders involved in delivery and operation of Victorian public assets – including industry, supply chain, project practitioners and project management leaders, asset owners and operators.

The launch of the VDAS Strategic Framework will be followed by the staged release during 2019 of technical and non-technical guidance, procedures and templates for government and industry to apply the DE principles within a consistent VDAS approach.

The VDAS Strategic Framework also includes a five-year plan that considers a competency framework, education map (including the roll out of relevant BIM TAFE courses in Victoria), and closer collaboration with the supply chain. It also recognises the need for implementation and integration of innovative technologies, such as real-time sensors, Internet of Things (IOT), augmented reality, virtual reality, and predictive maintenance.

“DE, underpinned with emerging technologies and open data services, will enable ‘Smart Cities’: the integration and connectivity to support our way of life.”

What is needed for success

As mentioned earlier, we feel this extremely thorough strategy has been very well written, particularly given the complex nature of the subject. Its visions are clear, as are the steps and timelines needed to achieve them. The strategy also makes it clear what is required technically to achieve its vision.

However, and as recognised within the strategy, for the VDAS to be successful it also requires changes to the governance of an asset (from inception to transition) within government. Success requires:

Clear and ongoing support across the government. Data and information assets need to be shared across agencies, instead of sitting in silos. Thus cooperation and collaboration are a must.

Leadership, accountability and clarity in a business strategy. The VDAS has been developed to increase the value and performance of digital and physical assets. This requires the definition of project objectives, benefits and alignment of these to the business strategy. In turn, strong alignment is needed between this defined business strategy and organisational and asset information strategies.

Data leadership and accountability. Echoing the sentiments in the Government’s Data Reform Strategy, data leadership and accountability must be shown across the four stages of data planning, data acquisition, data operations and data disposal/archive.

Consistent application and governance across each stage of the asset life cycle. The VDAS states that the value and utility of asset information is maximised when the strategy is applied consistently and strategically across all asset phases. Typically, there are a number of stakeholders involved across the life of an asset, often resulting in changes of ‘ownership’ or accountability of that asset. An overarching governance structure needs to be applied to that asset, across the life of that asset, rather than changing ownership and accountabilities as the asset moves across project stages.

Stronger and earlier cooperation with the private sector. Industry is a key stakeholder in the successful application of the VDAS. The VDAS supports working collaboratively with the private sector, as well as alignment through a common data environment (CDE), clearer specifications, supply chain integration, and consistent formats and tools. This will require changes to procurement approaches, allowing early contractor involvement (ECI) and a greater focus on business need and objectives, rather than definition of the design of that asset (particularly when considering digital assets).

Changes to our procurement approaches. The strategy accepts that we need closer and earlier engagement with industry, with concepts like Front-End Engineering and Design (FEED) to reduce project risk and increase certainty of project outcomes. But this can only be realised with some fundamental changes to how and when government engages the market to provide ongoing and earlier advice on its planned assets.

Data as an open and shared asset. DE not only looks at sharing data, but also concepts like open design and design re-use.

Why VDAS relies on strong governance

The above dot points all relate to governance: governance of a business need, data governance, project governance and ultimately governance of an asset.

While the VDAS acknowledges the need for an improvement in stakeholder skills and competencies, and a change to the way we (government, industry and the public) work, I think it needs a stronger focus on governance.

The VDAS considers an asset as an output that delivers a benefit, rather than a product. This changes the way government thinks of an asset – how it defines, procures and then delivers it. It also changes government’s approach to asset ownership.

Ownership (and hence accountability) is a key facet of governance – from project inception, through delivery to operation and disposal. To ensure its objectives are met, VDAS needs to be integrated within a governance framework, where a single accountable officer has ownership for the entire life cycle of the asset. This single owner would be accountable for maximising the value of government’s investment in an asset, with a constant focus on ensuring the benefits are delivered and maximised, while minimising risk.

Complex and new processes like digital engineering can be adopted very successfully across government, so long as there’s proper governance at senior levels to ensure these processes are incorporated consistently and appropriately.

Overall, the VDAS is an exciting opportunity for businesses to be innovative in how they design and deliver assets in partnership with government. While the Office of Projects Victoria continues to roll out the framework to enable VDAS and digital engineering, industry can join the dialogue on the best approaches to deliver these assets, spanning procurement, governance, design (including human-centric design) and digital engineering.


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