The Age of Assets: Keeping Tabs On What You Have

Enterprise asset management isn't just for heavy industry anymore. Today, CIOs in many sectors can combine software, wireless networks and sensors to keep tabs on all kinds of assets.

When Coast Mountain Bus Co. decided 10 years ago to invest in enterprise asset management (EAM) software, even the executive who approved the purchase could not have foreseen how valuable it would turn out to be. Back in 1996, the Surrey, British Columbia-based company needed EAM to help track maintenance work orders for the fleet of buses it supplies to the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority. Data was scattered across 12 different mainframe and PC-based systems, making it difficult for mechanics to get a handle on repeat problems.

So Coast Mountain Bus bought software from Datastream Systems Inc., now owned by Infor Global Solutions. The software tracks 1,100 buses and their more than 25,000 components. It also schedules repairs and links to GPS data for efficient dispatching of mechanics.

Cost-justifying the purchase was a cinch: Thanks to Datastream’s central repository of repair and maintenance information, the company has already saved $1 million in parts warranty claims — “found money” that previously would have been left on the table.

But why stop at tracking buses? The company says it plans to expand its use of Datastream. “We can use it for buses, IT assets, buildings,” says Jeff Vogstad, manager of client solutions at Coast Mountain Bus. “It not only tracks asset performance; it also tracks inventory, purchasing, requisitions, scheduling of labor — it’s all done in the product.”

Classic EAM has been used for decades in heavy industries such as manufacturing, oil and gas, mining and power generation to wring every drop of utilization out of production equipment. In those markets, the cost of unexpected downtime can reach millions of dollars per hour, and worker safety is at stake. To avoid such problems, companies bought software from vendors such as MRO Software Inc. (recently acquired by IBM), Datastream and Indus International Inc.

A typical EAM system catalogs and models assets and then automates work-order processing and the tracking of unexpected downtime and planned maintenance. Advanced EAM applications feature predictive maintenance tools, which check the asset’s condition (or, more likely, the condition of one of its components) to determine if maintenance is required.

Now, the scope of EAM has widened to include cutting-edge applications — for virtually every industry — that use sensors to add remote monitoring capabilities to the mix. The railroad industry, for example, is experimenting with technology that can track the status and condition of goods in transit. Aircraft makers have started to use technology that can monitor the condition of each component of a jet engine, flagging wear on a bearing, for example, that could lead to disaster if not addressed.

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