IT'S NOT ALL FUN AND GAMES when a utility embraces an asset management model and decides to rework its business processes. Developing an integrated business process is an experience I've had firsthand and Editor Rick Bush asked me to share my thoughts.

Converting data to information to make business decisions is the foundation for effective asset management. To accomplish this an enterprise software system is imperative. SAP is the only system I have had exposure to, so I cannot rate it against other products. As with all software, it is hated by some and loved by others, but what I will say is that it does do what it says it will do. It is a very powerful integration tool.

Implementing enterprise software requires integrating associated processes with all aspects of the business including but not limited to work management, materials management, logistics and financials. Implementation of these processes can and will drastically change the way work is approached. I want to be very clear that an enterprise software is a tool to facilitate the business. Note, I say facilitate the business, not drive the business. Customers (served using T&D assets) drive the business. But processes need to be consistent if we are to effectively use software tools to integrate all aspects of the business. The basic work management processes of identifying, planning, scheduling, executing and closing are not unique to any one software but are fundamentals for any enterprise software and work management system.

So how does an enterprise software system come together with the business processes to create an asset management organization, and how is an asset management organization defined? From my experience in an asset management organization:

  • Asset management defines what work is going to be done based on analysis and the condition of the assets.

  • Engineering defines how work is going to be done.

  • Planning and scheduling defines when the work will be done.

  • Maintenance and construction does the work.

  • Closing is a joint effort within all affected groups.

A key element in any successful asset management organization is analysis at the front and back ends of the work process so we spend the right amount of money on the right things at the right time. I led an initiative to develop the integrated business process using an asset management model. With a team consisting of representatives from T&D wires and substations, planning and scheduling, the asset management group, engineering, project management, finance, materials management and supply chain. Executive management sponsored the project and key leaders from each department were selected to be team members.

The team took a theory and developed an integrated business process that facilitates the management of work based on the requirements of the customer and the assets required to serve the customer. A key deliverable for the project team was to integrate the maintenance program into the business using the enterprise software and work management to facilitate the process. The fundamentals to the management of this program was to identify the criticality of the assets and ask three questions when processing maintenance work:

  1. Is the work being planned generated from a maintenance plan order (a condition monitoring task or planned maintenance)?

  2. Is the asset functioning, and if not, was it an unplanned failure of a critical asset or was it an asset defined as “Run to Failure”?

  3. If the asset is functioning, was the work identified from a condition monitoring task?

The answers to those questions create the foundation for a maintenance program. You can have a maintenance program without asset management, but you cannot have asset management without a maintenance program.

A utility considering embracing an asset management strategy should expect difficult days as the organization is shaken up to put best practices in place. But if you persevere, your customers will be better served. And isn't that at the core of why we are all here? We have an obligation to look at all the forces pressing in on us. Let's make sure we understand the threats and opportunities facing us as we prepare to meet an uncertain future.

LARRY VOGEL has spent 35 years in the utility industry, with 30 of those in T&D operations, 25 in some level of supervisory/middle management and the last five working with the work management process group.