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.

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EAM’s broader reach is the result of an expanding definition of the term asset. “Almost anything could be an asset. There are financial assets, knowledge assets, people assets, fixed assets, capital assets,” says Houghton LeRoy, an analyst at ARC Advisory Group Inc. in Dedham, Mass. “Assets are anything of value to you.”

“It’s all about the asset. You need to know where it is, what state it’s in and whether you need to do something about it,” adds Alison Smith, an analyst at AMR Research Inc. “Whether you’re talking about a freight car, a building’s HVAC system, a computer network, a factory floor, a container of oranges being shipped from Mexico to New York, or tissue samples going from a hospital to a lab, the bottom line is there is a need to track and understand the state of those assets.”

Though EAM technology is unquestionably mature, its adoption has been hindered by a culture that settles for reactive, rather than proactive, maintenance, according to Patrick Connaughton, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. Industries other than manufacturing are for the most part stuck in firefighting mode.

Asset management silos also present a problem. Most large EAM users have multiple departmental or localized EAM systems. “Even the largest companies are still trying to centralize the management of all their assets and get a centralized view,” says Connaughton. Enterprise-level reporting of asset performance is the key to unlocking the real value, he adds. “It’s about seeing a picture of your assets in their current state, in their current value, across all different locations and geographies,” he explains.

Broader Applications

In addition to manufacturers, transportation/logistics providers were also early EAM adopters, using the software to track on-the-go assets instead of fixed assets. “There is overlap between EAM and what’s typically referred to as fleet management and tracking,” says Connaughton. Traditional EAM vendors have entered the fleet-tracking business as a natural extension.

“They’re starting to cross over into telematics — the ability to monitor things like the temperature and vibration levels — thanks to sensors placed within a truck or a trailer,” he adds. These systems can also be tied to GPS tools to track the locations of trucks.

This opens up the potential for interesting applications, especially in “cold chain” distribution, or the fresh-food supply chain. For example, if a lettuce supplier buys from growers in Nicaragua, it could use advanced fleet tracking to monitor the temperature in the body of the truck to be sure the logistics provider is meeting service-level agreements (SLA). If it turned out the trucks weren’t kept at the proper temperature, the supplier would know in advance that the goods might be spoiled and would have time to make alternate plans. This could be a huge boon to an industry where wasted goods represent a very expensive problem.

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