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2:22 pm
August 29, 2014
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EAM: On to the Next Level

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Providers of Enterprise Asset Management systems explain how their solutions for today’s challenges set the stage for a more mobile, data-rich future.

By Rick Carter, Executive Editor

The day is coming when the still-too-common view of industrial maintenance as an isolated plant function of uncertain value is overtaken by the larger concept of its key role within the scope of enterprise asset management (EAM) systems. If you’re in one of the industries where the use of EAM software has been a key part of business strategy for some time—typically utilities, oil & gas, mining—you probably already see it that way. As the aging workforce slowly migrates out of service, and asset-focused standards like ISO 55000 gain worldwide acceptance, EAM will not only become more common across industry, its mobile-friendly capabilities are certain to evolve with increasing pace.

The challenges

To get there, EAM system providers are addressing a host of issues—some involve pulling experienced users forward, while others involve push new technologies into the EAM arena that will help users meet tomorrow’s demands more efficiently. Not surprisingly, a current pressing issue is the need to effectively address the industrial knowledge drain.

“A main challenge from our perspective is the loss of knowledge going out of the maintenance world,” says Victor Lough, Product Manager for Schneider Electric’s Avantis brand. “At the same time, there’s the trend toward predictive maintenance, which everyone has been talking about for some time. How can we bridge that gap? is the question we ask ourselves. And the next question is, how do you sustain the systems when they’re commissioned? This is what we’re focused on.”

EAM provider Ventyx agrees that “replacement of the aging workforce is difficult for many of [our customers] in the U.S.,” says David Humphrey, Director of Product Management for the ABB company. “Finding ways to make the system palatable to new users without disrupting the work of the experienced users is one of the key drivers we’re looking at.”

One of Ventyx’s solutions, according to Humphrey, is to “allow the customer to assimilate the change in process at the correct speed. We have a number of customers who have been using our systems for 20 years, and they’re used to it. At the same time, they have new people  coming in and performing work and finding the old system difficult to use.” To address these “conflicting imperatives,” he says, “we’re using mobile technologies and profile-based workflows so the system addresses the needs of the individual as opposed to it being simply a data-entry stream.”

The distinction, according to Humphrey’s colleague, Steve Deskevich, VP Energy Industry Solutions, is that the company is “not just creating software. We have industry solutions focused from the industry perspective. And we’re moving to technology architectures that allow us to grow and get the technology to where it can expand into newer areas without it being cobbled by the past.” This is why mobility is so important, he says. “Mobility is probably the biggest area of interest to our customers. And we plan to expand its functionality from an EAM perspective.”

As in many other areas of maintenance and operations, mobility plays a key and rapidly expanding role in the product offerings of EAM providers. “It is almost central to what we do,” says Lough at Schneider Electric. In addition to its ability to drastically simplify the completion of tasks, a key mobile benefit is that “it removes the latency in decision-making and reporting, which is really the Achilles heel of maintenance,” says Lough. “Field workers love the idea that once they push that button and head back to the office, they don’t have more paperwork to file.”

Lough has noted some resistance to mobile, but more often because of “management-of-change processes within organizations,” he says. The outdated perception that the use of mobile devices means “Big Brother is watching over you” has been surpassed, he adds, by the great value of reduced paperwork. “Once the organization fully grasps this benefit, it’s a win for everyone,” he says. “Sure there are some old grizzly bears out there who may resist mobile, but younger workers are surprised when they come aboard and there’s anything that’s not mobile. Pencil and paper is a turnoff for them,” he says. “Using the latest technology is a way to attract younger workers.”

Variations on simplicity

Another way to attract them is to keep things simple. To some, this means eliminating several EAM systems in favor of one. “One of the biggest issues we see is companies that run disparate EAM and CMMS systems,” says Patrick Zirnhelt, Vice President, Enterprise Service and Asset Management at IFS. “We talk to many companies who may have one system in the head office running their financials, supply-chain and other enterprise corporate activities, but their field plants run something different. This is a big problem because it means you don’t have one version of the truth or one repository with all the data in one place. And if our customers don’t have the right root data,” says Zirnhelt, “they can’t make the right decisions. And it’s not just maintenance management, but things on the peripheral like not having integrated project-management systems or integrated document-management systems, health-and-safety information, non-conformance reporting audit systems, and other types of related applications. Having that data all over the place creates a lot of inefficiencies.”

According to Zirnhelt, IFS guides clients toward a single solution so they interact with only “one version of the truth, one database and one user interface for many different functions, whether it’s maintenance, supply-chain, financials, project management or HR. It’s all in one repository, one system. This way, you don’t have to be trained on multiple systems and the company doesn’t have to worry about the interfaces for these disparate systems.”

IFS recognizes that not all clients can easily conform to this approach. “In cases where the company has made a heavy investment in a big system and the appetite to move away from it isn’t there, we will work with it and have an interface,” says Zirnhelt. In this situation, the legacy system might be kept running core financials, for example, while the IFS program assumes responsibility for all other aspect of operations.

Like its competitors, IFS seeks to bring more information into systems and match it with a high degree of analysis. “We’re spending a lot of time [improving the ability to] capture big data and collect and use as much of it as possible to look for trends,” says Zirnhelt. While IFS does not offer predictive maintenance tools, he adds that “any predictive tools out there depend upon having a collection of good maintenance data. So our ability to collect the data is very important.” IFS is also moving toward in-context analytics, he says, “which means being able to look at transactional data in real time—maintenance, supply chain or anything else—and on the same screen have analytical data or reports to help improve immediate decision making.”

Zirnhelt says cost pressures alone are enough support this approach to EAM, but adds that growing regulatory-compliance requirements make it even more important. “A fully automated system that can produce compliance reports quickly as needed is extremely valuable,” he says. It eliminates the need to “fish for a lot of information,” he adds, “which can save weeks of time for just one request.”

While EAM providers agree on the need for their systems to efficiently gather and analyze large amounts of data, not all agree on the best way to do that. Ventyx, for example, does not take “a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Deskevich, which he acknowledges sets Ventyx apart from its competitors. “We’re not mobilizing 100% of our existing solutions because we feel that’s a waste of time,” says Humphrey. “There is a lot of functionality in our system that is deep and rich and required, but is impractical at best and useless at worst on a mobile device.”

Instead, Ventyx is “picking key business processes that make sense to have done at the point of work for the worker, and mobilizing that,” according to Humphrey. The result: “Mobile solutions that are precise for the work they do and are able to be useful in the field. And since the solution is specific to the work task, we’re able to address things that are not easy to address with a desktop system, such as volume of data entry, data-entry method, and the ability to leverage device functions such as GPS, weather, voice-to-text and Google Glass,” says Humphrey. “This is what we bring to specific business functions, as opposed to broadcasting over the breadth and depth of the solution.”

This approach suggests that the solution must be customizable, a benefit Humphrey prefers to call “tailorable.” “For me,” he says, “customizable means someone can go in and do something to the solution that will make it difficult for them to take the next release of our software. Tailoring, on the other hand, allows them to personalize it based on the workflows they need, but is in line with and leverages the strength of the system so they can easily take the next upgrade. And a key thing we’re looking at regarding tailorability is making the system easier to tailor,” he adds, “by making the tailoring a customer is able to do more extensive so they can better address their needs.”

Ventyx is also migrating its technology to the cloud, says Humphrey, a process that requires a careful balance of assimilation among customers. “Our older workforce generally knows how to use our system very efficiently,” he says. “So we’re balancing their rate of change in this regard. We’re learning how much our experienced users can accept and how quickly they can accept it without resulting in even a temporary loss in efficiency. We’re trying to increase efficiency, not disrupt the organization. And our partners have been extremely valuable helping us find that balance.”

The look ahead

EAM providers foresee fundamental changes ahead, both in how their products are used, and why. Lough at Schneider Electric sees the release of ISO 55000 as a key driver for greater integration of EAM programs across many platforms. “It will help define [the EAM] industry,” he says, noting that, at the very least, ISO 55000 underscores the value of having a tested, standardized approach to asset management. “Many clients don’t know how to get started” with an asset-management system, he says, and don’t realize asset management is more than just maintenance. “It encompasses processes, people and, importantly, analyses of how well everything works over time,” says Lough. “ISO 55000 will be a good benchmark to enable them to see how well they’re doing in their maturity cycle. It should drive the process forward because it’s also a standard that senior executives can’t ignore. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes commonplace.”

Mobile EAM devices remove latency in decision-making and reporting, and relieve field workers of tedious paperwork.

Mobile EAM devices remove latency in decision-making and reporting, and relieve field workers of tedious paperwork.

As far as the types of technology EAM users can expect, Deskevich offers Ventyx’s new Asset Health Center (AHC) product as an example. A convergence of “operational and information technology, AHC hits at the heart of the need reliability managers have to manage this aging infrastructure that we’re in,” he says. It pulls information from condition-monitoring systems, control systems, maintenance systems, historical programs and equipment-reliability programs. “Then, using an analytic engine, it can help the engineer draw conclusions and patterns that you wouldn’t necessary see unless you were very experienced,” says Deskevich. “This means reliability engineers would have the ability to see from either a fleet view or very specific view, for example, how their assets are performing.”

He also points to Ventyx’s efforts to integrate 3D with EAM. “This is becoming more prevalent,” he says, noting that in a recent prototyping project, the company created a scenario-driven training exercise where a worker could walk through as an avatar and undertake a work assignment in the 3D model, based on a work order in the EAM system. “The idea is to bring these two worlds together to facilitate training,” he says. “Then the next step is to use the 3D model to better plan maintenance. If the work-order package says the job should be done in a certain order, for example, feed it to the 3D model and have the model walk you through it to determine if there’s anything different in the plant from the last time this job was done. This optimizes the maintenance strategy.”

Deskevich adds that there are “plenty of other technologies” for EAM to grow into. “As we move toward Google Glass and 3D rendering, for example, we’ll want to leverage mobile technology in a way that these elements will give you access to all types of information that could not be stored on a device. We want to bring the richness of the mobile world we see in the consumer market to bear on the business side. Yes, there are cybersecurity issues to deal with,” he says, “but we definitely see EAM moving into that world.” MT

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