The Information Challenge
Accurate, actionable information is the holy grail of asset management. We all want it. We are all trying to get our hands on it. Work order data, equipment histories, inventory lists, vendor records, purchase order data: the list goes on. We need complete, accurate, and up-to-date information so we can make informed business decisions that will improve asset performance, reduce risk, and lower costs.
Over the last twenty years, many asset-intensive organizations have invested heavily in information systems (such as EAM, CMMS, and ERP) to help manage their assets and improve operational efficiency. Such investments typically include new software systems, revised work processes, and organizational changes, all aimed at providing better information so that the asset management functions—maintenance, operations, procurement, and the rest—can make better decisions. Yet, despite considerable expenditure, many organizations complain that benefits have been slow to materialize and are difficult to measure, and many managers say that they still do not have access to the information they need.
If everyone is after it, why is good information still so hard to get? What are we missing?
Good asset management information is a product of several things. We have all heard people, process, and technology cited as key information drivers. That is true: those three elements are critical to getting ROI out of your information system. But that popular trinity is missing a key component. There is a fourth element that is essential to creating good asset management information but is often overlooked. That element is content.
What Is Content?
Content refers to static data structures that are stored in the information system. It includes master data (such as the equipment master, materials catalog, and vendor master) and coding structures (such as work order types, failure codes, and equipment classes).1
Master data provides a standardized library of information about an organization’s assets, materials, vendors, and other business objects. Coding structures are used to sort, group, and filter data. These two types of content are distinct, but they share a key characteristic: both are loaded into the system as opposed to being created by the system. As the term “static data” suggests, content does not change unless it is intentionally modified by users.
An asset information system contains several layers of data. These include content (master data and coding structures), transaction records (such as work orders and pick tickets), and reports generated by the system from other data. Content is the bottom layer—the base on which transaction records and reports are built.
Content is foundational because it must be referenced when the system completes other tasks. When an operator submits a work request for a piece of equipment, the system must reference the asset’s record in the equipment master. When a technician puts in a request for a part from the storeroom, the system must reference the part’s record in the materials catalog. When a maintenance manager generates a report on work orders in progress, the system must reference work status codes. In fact, content is the starting point for everything the software system does. Thus, developing good content is crucial if you want to pull useful information out of your software.
1. In general use, the term “content” has varying definitions. It sometimes includes transactional data (i.e., records of transactions conducted in the software system). It may also refer to unstructured data such as manuals, drawings, contracts, and other materials that would be stored in a document management system. In the context of this article, “content” refers specifically to fixed, structured data that is pre-loaded into the information system.