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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Maintenance Evolution

Most companies go through the following phases when it comes to managing expensive equipment and other assets:
1. If it breaks, they fix it.2. They do scheduled maintenance on the asset (such as changing the oil in a car every 3,000 miles).3. They do preventive maintenance based on knowledge about the condition of the asset as reported by a sensor. This saves time and money by avoiding unnecessary scheduled maintenance.

“The new system allows us to automatically forward [the work order] to someone else,” he says. Maximo tracks how long it takes for the maintenance crew to respond to problems of all types. Level 1 problems, the most serious type, must be addressed within four hours. With Maximo, Shingleton’s team can show that average response time has been much shorter than that. “It’s the first time we have been able to prove that we are responding better than our SLAs [require],” he says.

Sensors on the Scene

Some of the most exciting new EAM applications are based on sensors for remote monitoring. In an industrial environment such as a warehouse, gas pipeline or oil drilling station, it would be impractical to use cable to connect sensors on each asset. Wireless is the only way to go for these types of applications.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology could be used in such settings, but it’s not the only option. Mesh networking technology could also be used. A mesh network is a series of low-power “motes,” or radio transmitters, that are connected wirelessly. “You take a load of these little sensors, and you distribute them in a particular area so they can talk to each other and decide how to communicate,” says Smith. The oil and gas industry is an early adopter of mesh networking.

The potential for wireless sensor networks is limited only by the imagination. Connaughton cites a hospital doing a pilot project to manage intravenous machines and wheelchairs.

“They’re setting up a wireless network in the hospital and tagging the assets with an RFID tag. They can track the asset and see where it is,” says Connaughton. “There is so much redundancy in hospitals today. There are a lot of assets within a hospital that are not tracked closely. [Tracking] helps with optimizing the inventory levels in the hospital and as well as theft reduction. Both help cut costs.”

Several decades after it was invented, EAM technology is being used far and wide, in environments that were unforeseen just a few years ago. CIOs contemplating a first step into the world of asset management should “look at it as more of an enterprise challenge as opposed to a one-off Band-Aid solution,” advises ARC’s LeRoy. “If a CIO is looking to become more efficient in his operations and improve the overall bottom line, EAM is one strategy that has a lot of impact.” With the new wireless sensor applications, that is more true today than ever before.

Gibbons Paul is a freelance writer in Waban, Mass. She can be reached at

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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