Dave Powers

What professional sports (and avocados) can teach utilities about asset data

Love him or hate him, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is doing something remarkable. Last season, at 40, he became the oldest quarterback to play in a Super Bowl. One of the biggest factors he touts as the secret to his continued peak-level performance is his very specific nutritional regimen (as humorously demonstrated by his superfood power couple avocado + toast costume).

So what’s that got to do with utilities? Just as healthy nutrients fuel the body of elite athletes, data is the superfood required for a healthy asset management strategy. Asset health must be actively monitored and maintained to operate at peak performance; but, without robust data, an asset management strategy will not provide optimal results.

In my previous post: “What personal health strategies can teach us about utility asset health,” I discussed how a healthy asset management strategy involves a proactive and strategic approach. Reactive maintenance strategies are simply no longer acceptable. Fortunately, with technology advancements today, we have seen dramatic improvements in the accessibility, quantity and quality of available asset data.

Asset management is not a new concept, what has changed?

The evolution of personal health technology (like activity trackers and mobile fitness apps) has put vital data such as heart rate, activity, weight, etc., literally in the palm of our hands. We can use this data to make real-time decisions about what we eat and what activities we perform to improve our overall health. For some elite athletes, access to significantly more data (from sweat composition analysis to kinematics) is helping them achieve peak performance well beyond the age when others have hung up their cleats.

Similarly, asset-intensive industries like utilities are seeing an increase in connected devices, sensors and the Internet of Things (IoT) that can provide immediate data on the health and status of assets. This data can be used to make informed, risk-based decisions about operations, maintenance and even replacement of key assets. For the most successful organizations, advanced analytics can help optimize performance, and extend the productive lifespan of their asset investments.

The key to successful asset management is understanding how to best consume this data and put it to work.

Key components of asset data health

  1. Data quality – just as a healthy diet improves overall health, healthy data provides organizations with the fuel required to visualize future asset health and make confident asset investment decisions.
  2. Data integrity – a healthy asset management system requires assurance that its data is maintained at a consistently high level of accuracy for the entire life of its assets.
  3. Data availability – access to real-time data “in the palm of our hands” now allows us to make health improvement decisions faster and with a higher level of confidence. A healthy asset management system is no different―quality data must be available to our asset stewards when and where they need it―and on any device they happen to have in their hands.

Leveraging data for peak performance

In professional sports, new players are stronger and more agile than ever before, forcing veterans to continually evolve and play smarter in order to compete at a high level. Established utilities face a very similar challenge. The velocity of change in the industry today―as emerging digital technology fuels innovation and competitive pressure―requires organizations to perform at higher levels. It is no longer enough for companies to provide reliable service at competitive prices; they also need to increase efficiency and reduce costs, while delivering a convenient and transparent customer experience (the familiar “do more with less”). This requires a “healthy” asset management strategy.

This doesn’t mean that you have to run out and grab a fitness tracking device and some avocados. It does, however, mean developing a clear plan for managing your assets based on data that is well-maintained for quality and integrity. As new sources of asset data become available, part of your plan should be finding ways to incorporate that data into your overall strategy by asking, “What new insights and actions can be taken with this new data?”

A healthy asset management strategy also takes risk and impact into account, using data to understand not just when an asset or system is at risk of failure, but to assess the impact of that failure throughout the organization. If a utility pole goes down, for instance, it may not only cause a local power outage or possibly injure someone, it could also potentially lead to larger, widespread power outages in the system. Going back to the football example, another key component to any top-tier quarterback’s success is a smart and agile left tackle: someone who can read, understand and respond to risks in real-time, protecting the team’s most valuable asset from literally being blindsided. Coaches and owners understand the strategic importance of this skill set, which may be why left tackles remain among the highest paid players in the sport. Similarly, a healthy asset management strategy is critical for an organization to maintain peak operational efficiency while anticipating and protecting against unseen risks.

While they may not be drawing up X’s and O’s to win a championship game, today’s stewards of critical enterprise assets now have access to technology that provides the ability to see the current state of their critical assets. But it is all dependent upon the availability of good data. Putting the technology in place to capture, massage, transform and visualize vast amounts of data collected by numerous synchronous and asynchronous sources is paramount to enabling sound business cases and investment plans.

I invite you to read more on this topic in our white paper on Active Asset Management: Enabling utilities to gain a competitive edge.

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