Why your asset management system is not just a piece of software

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John Woodhouse

In John Woodhouse’s continuing series on the science of asset management, he identifies why a system to manage assets is so detrimentally-confused with a simple maintenance program 

One of the biggest mistakes made in trying to improve asset-intensive businesses is beginning to think that an asset management system is simply a software solution.

Yet is it surprisingly common to find people who think that, because they have enterprise asset management (EAM) or computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) software that holds a register of assets and helps to plan and schedule work orders for maintenance, it somehow equates to an “asset management system”.

An asset management system is a coordinated and integrated system of management – like a quality management system.

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While it is good to have an EAM or CMMS tool to be able to track assets and control work, an asset management system is a much higher level construct – a governance and coordination layer that involves alignment of strategic business objectives with the contributions you’re getting from each of the asset systems and the life cycle activities that are worth doing.

Asset management is about getting best value-for-money from assets, not just maintaining them. By looking at things from a maintenance perspective, you’re leaving a lot of the opportunities and benefits of asset management on the table.

Here are a few things that asset management does that go beyond what asset maintenance can do.

Asset management looks at the whole asset life cycle

This involves considering at the design stage how to eliminate the need for maintenance, how to improve operability, or how to extend the achievable life cycle.

In the environment of ageing assets, when a maintainer’s concerns are usually “How do I keep these assets going?” an asset manager’s viewpoint would be “How should I manage the risks?”, and, “Is enhanced maintenance worthwhile or should I replace the assets, and if so, when, and with what?”

Asset management makes value realisation the primary, shared goal

This works in contrast to the siloed objectives of separate groups fighting each other such as operations “sweating” the assets, finance trying to cut costs, and project management seeking “on time and under budget” whatever the consequences for others.

Value manifests itself not just with asset performance and financial success, but also through satisfying other stakeholder expectations – such as safety assurance, brand reputation, and environmental responsibility.

Appreciating and dealing with trade-offs

Value realisation involves handling competing priorities, and asset managers have to understand and deal with various trade-offs to find and demonstrate the optimal compromise.

Such trade-offs include costs versus risks versus performance, short term versus long term, capital costs versus operating costs, and so on. An effective asset management system aligns business objectives with what gets done day-to-day.

Values are clearly defined and quantified, including risks, criticalities, and decision-making criteria. The entire organisation has the same agenda: everybody is part of asset management. Asset care (maintenance) is an important contributor to this, but is only one dimension of asset management.

Similarly, while an EAM or CMMS system can be a powerful tool for information management and work control, such technology is just one of the enablers for better activity and resource coordination, process integration, and data-driven decision-making.