Assets build the foundation for any business - no matter if it’s the axe to chop down a tree or a robot that assembles a car. The last posts in this series were focused on business (like how to launch an asset management project in Manufacturing or how to calculate the asset-turnover-ratio) and fundamental concepts. Today I'd like to create the awareness that an asset management system is only developing its full potential if it is seen as a connected component within the much larger organizational information technology landscape.
Standardization paved the path for system integrations
Recently, I was invited as a speaker to the HxGN LOCAL DACH+ congress in Germany which is yearly organized by Hexagon, a trusted and valued corporation which I support in international projects for more than a decade now. Their customers in the field of utilities and communications have very special demands on software solutions to plan, operate and maintain structures like the network of gas pipelines. They have assets as small as a valve and the health of those assets is crucial for a network. A special flavor on top of the mass of assets is that the "where" matters a lot and the demand for a geographic information system (GIS) is usually higher than for an asset management system. System of this kind, e.g. Hexagon’s geospatial network information system G/Technology, are designed to work with spatial objects, their relations and their analysis.
Are we now talking about geospatially enabled asset management systems or asset enabled geo information systems (GIS)? The truth is that it's an overlapping area and that one system cannot replace the other. It's much more the fact that there's a demand on integrating each other - and this is what we did for the HxGN LOCAL DACH+ event 2019. So some expectations were defined:
- SAP ERP is the "master system" in the organization
- Hexagon G/Technology is the specialized system to plan, operate and manage the energy network
- Every asset must have one owning system
- An asset type is classified as either master-data or special-data (i.e. not of interest for the whole organization but crucial for some departments)
- The master system is "owning" the workorders to maintain the assets but the workorder effort is based on information from G/Technology
To demonstrate the feasibility to create a connected system, we defined a real-life inspired workflow and expressed it as a user story according to scrum methodology: "As a novice user without special knowledge of SAP or GIS, I want to see all detailed assets for the functional locations in SAP so that I can create inspection workorders with efforts calculated by the special geo information system."
A sustainable solution architecture allows the outside world to talk to SAP
In particular, we used the SAP Gateway and the SAP Cloud Connector to expose SAP Plant Maintenance Objects and processes (Functional Locations and Workorders) in a secure way to the outside world on SAP Cloud Platform. There we created a SAP Fiori application to visualize those business objects and to provide a space for the G/Technology parts.
These components were treated as generic application modules embedded in the Fiori application. With this architecture, based on open standards, we proofed that a lightweight, web based and integrated solution is feasible and affordable.
This practical proof of concept for the utilities and communications sector is an excellent example that asset management cannot be treated as an isolated software or solution. Considering "assets" as master data means that this information needs to be made available, it needs to be shared and it needs to be used within an organization. And this is solely possible if a flexible system architecture and a smart technology strategy with key values in mind is introduced in the organization.
Given the fact, that nothing is as constant as change, I'm excited to see how you'll unleash the full potential of your organization so that it reaches the next level! Enjoy the screencast of this short proof of concept, get inspired and stay tuned for more: You’ll see an SAP S4 system with some functional locations and you’ll see how the SAP Cloud Connector connection is verified. This connection then allows the Fiori app to pull the functional locations using Ajax-requests (=https) and you’ll see how the location-selection then brings in all the network assets from G/Technology and how Fiori allows to create a workorder in SAP. Finally, you’ll see the result persisted in the SAP S4 again. Such a basic task like creating inspection orders can now be performed by “normal” employees and not just the few ones knowing how to work with SAP transactions and understanding the G/Technology.
What’s the take-away for today?
No matter where you are reading this post, no matter why you are reading it: Take with you that modern standards and -architectures help to bring ideas to life which were unreachable in the past. Bring fresh ideas to your organization and start integrating the isolated information systems to unleash the full power of your data. And most important, don’t stop at the border of your SAP, your CRM or your G/Technology - they are all just parts of an enterprise-wide information system that works best if all the systems are cooperating!