What impact is the cloud having on asset management and condition-based maintenance?

Cloud-based technologies are connecting plants, people, and machine data in new ways – but is the cloud right for you?

By Thomas Wilk, Editor in Chief

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Why move to the cloud?

"Rather than start by learning how to move into the cloud, I would suggest you want to figure out why you want to use the cloud," says Emerson's Boudreaux. "Cloud technologies move people outside of their normal capabilities, so you don't necessarily want to go to the cloud just because it's there."

One point of resistance is that management often is “afraid” of maintenance, says LNS Research’s Miklovic, in the sense that “they view it as a cost center, and the IT part of it is what they need to pay to keep the plant running, so CFOs and senior management have been reluctant to force maintenance to look at cheaper and better ways to support getting their job done."

"This question is one of the reasons why JMA Wireless is investing in this space," says Landry. "At present, this question doesn't have a single perfect answer to it. People need to think about the cloud as a range of different services, meaning that it can be cloud computing, it can be cloud networking, it can be cloud-based wireless and voice services. We have the organization that can help answer, 'What are you really trying to accomplish?' and then identify the right partners and ensure that we put in the right systems so that it actually works."

"I think there's a lot of benefits to be had from a customer's perspective from efficiency gains, without necessarily reaching the goals that we've been talking about along the way, where you have these huge data sets that you can bring together, says ABB's Benders. "It's those benefits that are going to start getting customers to start moving toward the cloud, things like the ability to use software more as a utility rather than as something that you have to buy and then run yourself."

ABB's Lyndon adds: "Customers are also really interested in benchmarking their own data. They don't want to just know how their pump, drive, turbine, transformer is performing in their plant; they want to know how it compares to other customers who are using the same solution in a similar setting and with the same type of asset. How is it performing for them, and which vendors' equipment is performing better than others? We at ABB are starting to provide those kind of analytics for our customers so they can do that kind of analysis, and as you go to the cloud, the ability to run those analytics across other customers is really interesting."

IFS' Veague suggests that mobile access and collaboration will play an increasingly strong role in these decisions, regardless of the plant team's size. "On any given day, what you thought you were going to do to optimize your business results and meet your compliance requirements and your SLA commitments may be very different by 9 a.m. just based on how the day unfolds," he says. "If you're not in constant contact with where your maintenance or service force is or what they're working on, whether they're ahead or behind, or simply what they need, you then can't really optimize what they do for the rest of the day, and it makes it very difficult to achieve your business objectives."

In the end, says Smartware Group's Paul Lachance, it may be as simple as recognizing the “Eureka!” moment when it happens. "Plant teams realize that they simply need Internet connectivity and a device – whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, desktop, or laptop – and they can get started (in the cloud)," he says. "The low TCO helps, too. At this point, unless an organization has serious security restrictions, everyone should be considering the cloud."

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