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Mon 21 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Software solutions

What's the secret to making the most of your assets?

Software solutions
Asset management software is designed to actually increase the lifecyle of company assets.
Software solutions
Bastian Fischer, VP EMEA at Oracle Utilties.
Software solutions
IFS’ Ian Johnson.
Software solutions
SWCC EAM project manager Adel Alsubhi (second from right) with Benoit de la Tour, SVP and GM, EMEA, Infor (second left).

What's the secret to making the most of your assets?

It's an old story, not only in the Middle East, but all over the world. You have a large utility company that opted to build its own in-house software in, say, the 1990s to cope with various different processes. But fast forward 10 or 20 years and that legacy software is absolutely helpless when it comes to offering all the solutions that modern IT can provide.

While other companies are seeing the impacts of real-time monitoring and the integration of the various arms of their business, your company is lagging behind. So what steps can you realistically take to improve matters?

The onus is on each firm to maximise the use of its assets, whether these are plants or distribution networks, to ensure that they offer the most value and minimise costs throughout their lifecycle.

"So on a macro level, management of this capital asset can be seen as one large project, and the technology used to operate and administer such an industry must allow for full Asset Lifecycle Management [ALM]," explains Ian Johnson, sales manager for IFS Middle East.

"From a complex task like a seasonal shut-down for maintenance and refit, to a small task like the rebuild of a single pump, absolutely everything that happens to this asset must be managed and accounted for in an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) tool, and that EAM tool must tie into the general ledger of the enterprise and with the overarching ALM technology used to administer the asset," Johnson adds.

Typically, a successful implementation of asset management software should be able to actually increase your asset's lifecycle. "You can not only expand that lifecycle, but you can also reduce disruption to your clients," says Bastian Fischer, vice president and general manager, EMEA, at Oracle Utilities, which includes local giants like Palm Utilities and ADWEA in its customer base.

And by optimising internal processes, you can offer your staff more time in which to operate. "This means that technicians do not waste their time in locating the right pieces on the truck or having to go back and forth between the storage location and workplace, but they have resources, tools, machines, and HR integration at the sites where they are needed," adds Fischer. "This means that the best interests of the both the client and the utility are kept at heart."

Time to implementation

Needless to say, the implementation of this type of solution can be a lengthy procedure. It can range from almost immediately - for simpler standalone tools that can be downloaded from the vendor's server, provided with the appropriate data and then put into operation - to as long as 18 months or more for a complex solution that needs to integrate a large number of assets.

UME Focus: The niche productSubstation design is a key factor in the creation of transmission networks. But this process has been complicated by the need to design locations around particular vendors' equipment, and the substation also needs to include a wealth of complex assets, such as electrical systems, wiring systems, control systems, connectivity for the transformers, A-frame designs and so on. Using an amalgam of different software tools to integrate all these elements can make it almost impossible to manage the workload.

"Our Bentley Substation V8i product is the most unique product we have on the energy utilities side of the business," says Bentley's Richard Zambuni. "No-one else has the systems designed to offer the physical design of a substation; everyone else has to do that in multiple products and we do it in one unified environment. Doing the work separately can seriously impact an EPC or an owner's productivity when designing substations."

Bentley's substation design product was launched in July, but it's already receiving strong interest, according to Zambuni.

"We've just closed our second deal on Substation V8i; we have one buyer in Spain and one in Canada," the Bentley executive explains. "So while we've not yet sold any of this line in the Middle East yet, I forecast that this is going to be a very successful product in that region."

UME Focus: The challenges

IFS sales manager Ian Johnson reveals the major control challenges his firm considers when implementing its solutions:

• Life cycle support - quotation through to install and as-built service management - technical and financial data

• Project management and administration

• Resource planning, of design, of installation, or service engineers

• Documentation management, from many sources, in many media formats

• Purchasing of materials/services and follow-up on costs

• Time and expenses reporting and costs of work

• Project budget planning in a fiscal domain

• Progress and milestone reporting

• Sub-contract and outsourcing control

• Service and maintenance

• Spares supply which recognises the    installed network or construction

• Serial numbering of parts with life time traceability.

• Base lining, measurement of accuracy in estimates to actuals.

• Call center for case management and dispatching

• Work Order Management

"Typically, our implementations take between 12-16 months from analysis to implementation, to testing, to final migration and ‘go-live'," observes Fischer. "This is how long it takes for an organisation to adopt such an important change, but it's also important to remember that those times can be drastically reduced by adopting a strict implementation model."

"For utilities customers, IFS likes to break the implementation of the solution into a number of phases - normally lasting between three and six months," indicates Johnson. "The number of phases in any particular project and the length it takes to implement is based on a number of crucial issues, including required functionality, complexity, organisation size and, of course, customer requirements."

Assessing the regional market"In the Middle East, you have two very interesting things going on," says Richard Zambuni, global marketing director - Geospatial for Bentley Solutions. "You have a very fast-growing population, and there is, as a result, a dramatic need to build out infrastructure. That infrastructure will range from transmission distribution infrastructure and will include towers and wires, as well as substations and connectivity to premises."

"The second issue is that the grid itself is being transformed," Zambuni continues. "The concept of the ‘smart grid' is becoming more and more real, meaning that networks have to cope with integrated multiple sources of power, including renewable energy and, increasingly, micro-generation."

Zambuni believes that the only obstacle currently holding back micro-generation is the lack of storage ability. But as research and development continues, this is likely to change in the near future. One of the major concerns of local utilities will be the ability of the platforms they buy today being able to cope with the technology of tomorrow. "We support the re-engineering of the electricity grid to allow for all these new technologies," Zambuni outlines.

This need for flexibility is also embraced by Oracle. "What's important to our clients is not only to have processes set in stone for now, but also to have a built application to implement further requirements as well," says Fischer. "Another reason that clients opt for Oracle is because they know we have other applications - project management and analytics, for example - that they can choose to integrate at a later date if it suits them."

So it's not just a case of having your new solution implemented and then resting on your laurels. The product you choose needs to be able to move not only with the advances of software science, but also with the changes that you make to your organisational structure in the future as well.

The good news for regional utilities is that competition in this particular segment appears strong, forcing software companies to ‘go the extra mile' to resolve your specific concerns.

UME Focus: The end-user

In the 1990s, Saudi Arabia's state-owned desalination authority, Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), developed its own in-house computerised asset management system. However, as the sector evolved and the need for better understanding of assets and the integration of existing sites became paramount, the agency understood that an upgrade of its systems was crucial.

"We had a lot of problems with our own system - both functional and technical - which is unsurprising given that it was more than 20 years old, and the cost of support had become too high," says Engineer Adel Alsubhi, SWCC's EAM project manager. "There was no effective equipment history for our assets, and estimating accuracy was poor. Furthermore, we had no way of integrating budget management into the system, and no way of carrying out predictive or preventive maintenance."

In addition, SWCC's old system was unable to integrate with newer software products and lacked archives. "So we sat down with our maintenance managers from the various plants [Khobar, Jeddah and Shuqaiq] to work out what they needed from the new system," adds Alsubhi. "We knew we needed automated procedures, real-time evaluation, management decision support and self-improvement - i.e., a maintenance system that allows access from anywhere at any time, at a low cost of total ownership."

SWCC selected Infor EAM for a number of reasons, after studying and analysing a number of solutions provided by the various global software giants. "Infor was simply the best choice for us; it was the right fit in terms of size and experience in the utilities sector, the cost of implementation was low, and crucially, the availability of local support was on hand as well," says Alsubhi.

The Infor EAM solution was initially implemented at the Khobar plant in 2003, and was integrated with 135,000 pieces of equipment and more than 300 users. The process took three months, during which SWCC staff worked exceptionally long hours to complete what Infor has since certified as the earliest, fastest and largest implementation of its kind in the Middle East. The product was added to SWCC's plants at Jeddah and Shuqaiq shortly afterwards.

"I think our biggest problem was with data; if the data is not ready to emigrate to the new system, then the system won't work," explains Alsubhi. "In this case, we spent a lot of time revising and uploading the data, and then Infor provided us with reports that helped us correct any errors that might have been made.

"Another issue we had was convincing some of our engineers and foremen - who founnd it difficult to accept change - of the benefits of using such a technical system. Nowadays, however, if the system is interrupted for any reason, you will find that they are the first to complain."

All in all, SWCC's experience with the Infor EAM solution has been an altogether positive one. And, as Alsubhi adds, with the company in the middle of a privatisation programme, the product is a strong and flexible asset to have on board. "With Infor EAM, we can now manage the long-term maintenance of all of our assets - including turbines, our huge boilers and other large pieces of equipment," the SWCC executive concludes. "In the future, we are planning to integrate the product with our other solutions - such as the Oracle finance product - which will provide the end-user with powerful and relevant information at the touch of a button."

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