Asset management systems (AMS) can provide the accounting equivalent of a comprehensive inventory control, property management, logistics management and maintenance planning system for an electric utility.

In any case, the rationale for having an AMS is that it will answer some basic questions for the utility, such as: What do we own? Where is it? Who has it? When did we buy this item? Is it maintained, and if so, by who? Is the asset connected to the grid? Is it connected to the communications network? Has the item been delivered? If delivered, is the product in use or in inventory? How much does the item cost during operation? How well is the product supporting our business of generating, transmitting or delivering electricity?

AMS form yet another valuable tool in infrastructure management, to use a term put to work by Peregrine Systems, a leader in the AMS market.

The field has become so specialized that there are now companies who limit their market activity to horizontal markets, for example, providing, managing and supporting only software assets. Other suppliers specialize in vertical markets such as utilities. Cartegraph, for example, specializes in assets owned or operated by public works departments. This is a geographic information system (GIS)-based design approach that incorporates physical locations of all assets.

One of the keys to successful implementation of asset management software is to establish a cross-departmental team of advocates, because asset ownership is often a responsibility of individual groups within larger organizations. Nonetheless, a senior financial department or accounting department manager should be a core part of the project team, if not the project manager.

Some AMS providers base their approach on bar coding of all assets owned by the user company or utility. Typically, field assets are identified individually and assigned a unique identifier, usually accompanied by alabel that includes a bar-coded version of the identification number. Other AMS providers base their approach on the type of end users of the systems, with many providing unique software "front-ends" for controllers, plant managers, engineering, project management personnel, maintenance managers and purchasing officials.

IBM's Utilities and Energy Services business unit has maintained a long-term interest in work and asset management software and services. Its core offering, Work and Asset Management System (WAMS) takes an enterprisewide view of assets, involves supply chain members and addresses the needs of customers, employees and suppliers regarding work scheduling and asset management and tracking.

The origins of today's breed of AMS are closely tied in with earlier generations of preventive-maintenance software. Here, it was realized that a comprehensive maintenance scheduling program required information about what assets had to be maintained on a time interval or usage basis.

As stated by the Severn Trent Systems Group, capital efficiency will determine the ability of utilities to remain profitable in the future. This AMS supplier offers 10 modules: maintenance planning, performance management, procurement management, inventory management, information management, monitoring and reporting, scheduling, resource assignment, approvals and work designs.

Overall benefits to implementing AMS include: * Improved ability to meet regulatory demands for asset planning. * Better design and control over the capital expense program. * Standardization of utility asset identification, information and processes involved in asset management. * Reduced numbers and types of maintenance programs and activities in use at the utility.

In turn, these benefits should help increase the effectiveness and efficiency with which field operations personnel perform their jobs.

Logica is another important supplier of AMS tech-nology and related services for utilities. As indicated in various company statements, utilities are waking up to the fact that much of their asset-related information in use today actually resides in the heads of their employees. Such utilities must take a straightforward technical approach to creating a unified AMS if they are ever to obtain a single view of all the utility's assets.

The task isn't as great as is the cultural change that must occur within the utility when the call is sent out to agree on a single name for a particular asset. Often the same asset is known by different terms in operations, engineering and accounting. Uniformity is necessary to eliminate confusion in this case.

Next is the requirement to integrate existing systems under a single user interface. Logica would like AMS interfaces to be more user friendly-preferably more simple to use than a map.

Overall, interest and activity in AMS is rising with each passing year. Estimates from a recent study of enterprise computing trends in utilities indicates that about one in five electric utilities is actively considering implementing a new or upgraded AMS.