Seeing and Dealing with the Real Elephant

Each of the interfaces in the owner/operator’s AIM environment must be reviewed to identify opportunities for better information sharing/reuse.

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Asset information is produced and consumed by every activity in the asset lifecycle. Information created in one stage for a specific purpose, such as establishing the requirements for a purchased component, is often used by others performing different tasks, such as evaluating the suitability of lower cost, alternative maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) materials. This ability to reuse asset information has significant value because it enables a company to leverage its previous efforts and investments. When information cannot be conveniently reused, the company wastes precious time and money.

Asset information management (AIM) in some ways calls to mind the parable of the elephant and the blind men, in which each man touches a different part of the elephant and reaches a different conclusion as to what the elephant must look like. When it comes to AIM, the real elephant is the situation that asset owner/operators must endure. Their operating, engineering, maintenance, planning, purchasing and administrative staffs must rely upon information created by various external sources to develop strategies for effectively managing the facilities. And their internal groups create additional information, on an almost continuous basis, that is of value to other internal groups and external parties for maintenance, shutdowns and upgrades.

The technical information produced by Engineer, Procure, Construct companies (EPCs) is a common focus for AIM discussions. While vitally important, this provides only one view of the asset—“what it is”—in terms of the equipment’s capabilities, characteristics and configurations. While this may define “asset information” for a project engineer, other groups have different questions that require different asset information. Engineering information is used to create operating, maintenance and safety manuals, and MRO bills of materials. Reliability engineers need to combine engineering information with operating and maintenance history to determine the appropriate maintenance and replacement strategy.

The value of an AIM system that collects, manages and enables rapid, role-based access to asset information can be enormous. For example, a 2004 study by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) estimates that owner/operators in the U.S. Capital Facilities Industry lose $10 billion annually due to poor information interoperability.

Eat an Elephant

AIM is clearly an elephant-size problem for owner/operators. Fortunately, recognition of the problem has grown, and several groups are actively addressing certain aspects of the overall AIM challenge. Studies, such as the one conducted by NIST, have spurred development of certain AIM standards. Fiatech, the non-profit construction industry consortium (www.fiatech.org), has developed standard eXtensible Markup Language (XML) schemas for handover of information created during the Design, Source and Build lifecycle stages. More recently, Fiatech has been working with POSC-Caesar Association (www.posccaesar.com) to accelerate deployment of the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 15926.

We applaud all of these efforts, but have to ask why no one is addressing the complete AIM challenge? Is the sharing of some of this information insignificant? Are we overestimating the costs to owner/operators for poor AIM in the areas not being addressed by standards? Do comprehensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions already manage the information sharing well enough?

So how does one resolve these questions? Again, the elephant provides some useful guidance. “One eats an elephant one bite at a time.” Each of the interfaces in the owner/operator’s AIM environment must be reviewed to identify opportunities for better information sharing/reuse.

Sid Snitkin, ssnitkin@arcweb.com, is Vice President and General Manager of Enterprise Advisory Services at ARC Advisory Group Inc., in Dedham, Mass.

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