Break down silos, both data and people

May 16, 2022
Asset stakeholders across the organization shouldn’t be going about their work in isolation.

Editor's Note: This post was sponsored by Lloyd's Register.

Operators may use a variety of tools and techniques – hardware solutions, software packages, sensor technologies – to monitor for and manage different aspects related to the performance of their plant. But are they compromising their pursuit of net-zero goals or asset performance if they’re not integrating that effort into their overall management of individual assets?

Oswaldo “Oz” Rodriguez is a technologist with a background in software engineering, and is currently the head of product Go-To-Market strategy with Lloyd’s Register Digital Products. He recently spoke with Plant Services editor in chief Thomas Wilk about why it’s time for industry to come together to promote sustainability and protect the planet.

In this special Industry Perspective, Rodriguez explores the potential gains of a layered approach to asset management.

Q: When it comes to asset management, there seem to be as many approaches available as there are assets in the field. What would you say is one challenge that all asset management professionals have in common?

A: Everyone has an angle when it comes to managing critical pieces of infrastructure within a plant. The integrity professional is managing the asset from one distinctive perspective, while it’s likely that others will have a specialist focus on areas such as safety, reliability, productivity and environmental impact.

But if they’re managing their remit within a siloed structure – with no common platform where they can quickly share data to expedite decision making – then is each discipline operating under a degree of avoidable constraint? And does that in turn mean the asset itself is not being run at optimum efficiency?

Operators of course manage their plants in the round; every element of a system is part of an interconnected process, and implementation of discrete maintenance and repair regimes for each of those in isolation would never prove successful. It makes perfect sense. If you go to the doctor with an ailment, they’ll check the bigger picture – medical history, other health issues, allergies – before prescribing a remedy that not only targets the problem but also factors in your overall wellbeing.

Those same principles should apply if you narrow the focus down to an individual piece of equipment. Each discipline with a stake in its performance and wellbeing shouldn’t be going about their work in isolation either. With access to all asset data, they’d be equipped to make fully informed decisions not only in the context of their specialist layer but also in the best interests of the asset, and the business as a whole.

This is a topic that’s interesting to us at Lloyd’s Register, not least because of how it has the potential to help deliver on global sustainability goals in the wake of the COP26 Climate Change Conference: an asset’s optimum working performance will embrace its energy consumption and emissions levels, amongst other factors that affect the overall asset health and support your key initiatives.

Q: You bring up the very real challenge of data silos preventing teams from obtaining actionable information from their machine health data. What are your thoughts on the organizational silos that also exist, that keep people across teams from working together effectively?

A: I stated at the outset that the integrity expert has a particular focus, but any integrity failure has potential consequences in a much wider context – across areas ranging from safety and productivity to environmental. Their counterparts in those disciplines, meanwhile, have their own specific responsibilities and indicators which constitute good performance. They all use specialist technologies and practices to deliver on their remit, but not necessarily as part of a complete plant strategy. They’re deploying the right tools and making the right decisions within their own scope of duty, but could they too be impacting the other areas of asset performance?

It’s a scenario that presents the possibility of wider challenges arising; of someone, at some point, missing something of operational or commercial significance.

It’s also why we’re now exploring technology-led concepts with our partners which could serve to underpin a new approach, allowing businesses to focus inspection and maintenance where it counts and address risk beyond that of just what its known. You might call it a layered model, fully aligning the various disciplines and offering a shared, centralized view of all areas of asset activity.

Q: And this layered model would facilitate improved communication and collaboration across stakeholder teams?

A: Creating a centralized view not tied to certain technologies or vendors that anyone in an organization can access at anytime, anywhere would eliminate the shortcomings associated with this form of tunnel vision, offering every stakeholder full and live visibility not only of their own data but also the changes and decisions others are making. An instant oversight of the impact – positive or negative – that production variations have on energy use or emissions management, for example, can only support optimum performance. Having full oversight enables people to make smart use of data, to speak the same language as their assets and unlock their knowledge.

More broadly, it would better inform strategic business decisions on asset maintenance or replacement. Managers could better understand where their best long-term options lie. Do the prospects of much enhanced energy consumption and emissions performance, for example, outweigh the cost of investing to replace aging assets? Or is the current repair and maintenance program still the best route to take in efficiency terms?

Through adopting a higher level of understanding of their assets as a whole, operators can identify and quantify opportunities for business performance improvements, as well as better, safer operations.

The concept of interconnected layers would also facilitate the introduction of new elements if necessary, and that’s perhaps significant given that many operators are looking to introduce new emissions and energy consumption-specific tools in pursuit of net-zero objectives, allowing them to drive better business value in both digital and energy transitions.

Q: What are the obstacles that would need to be overcome with this kind of asset management approach?

A: Bringing new technology onboard without integrating it into the full asset performance structure may undermine its power: just another data point, not contributing to the complete asset strategy to its full extent because not every factor is being considered. Certainly, the new application might help in monitoring and controlling emissions, as an example, but the production regime, energy use, integrity programs – all of these are part of the bigger net-zero picture.

Lloyd’s Register is working with partners and customers to assess the layer concept for asset performance. The digital transformation journey has delivered numerous industry gains, but it is our experience that people are still to a large extent working in isolation – albeit with more advanced solutions at their disposal. We believe there’s an opportunity to harness the power of digital to fully connect asset layers with its corresponding actors.

This story originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

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