3 things you should be looking for in an Enterprise Asset Management solution in 2013
Enterprise Asset Management is the process of managing the lifecycle activities of enterprise assets, including equipment, fixed and consumable assets, IT hardware and software, and facilities, in order to minimize lifecycle costs and maximize the return on investment. An Enterprise Asset Management solution is the technology used to support that process, and the solution typically consists of 4 key elements:
- The database that houses up-to-date physical and fiscal information of assets
- The software that supports the work flow in the business process that captures and updates actionable information about the equipment or asset
- The barcodes that identify the assets; 1D and 2D barcodes, RFID tags, or GPS devices
- The mobile devices that are used to conduct field auditing and maintenance updateing
Technology has gone through significant changes
In the past few years, these key elements of the solution have experienced some significant changes. These changes, outlined below, are reshaping the Enterprise Asset Management solution and redefine the value of the Enterprise Asset Management solution:
- Wider adoption of mobile smart phones and tablet computers that read barcodes. The mobile barcode readers, including handheld scanners, wireless data connectivity, and applications on these scanners, are an integral but expensive component of the Enterprise Asset Management solution. Imagine you need to buy scanners for all your 50 sites at $5000 a piece, which comes to $250k capital investment. What if you can piggyback on the mobile smart phones in most employees’ hands, you may only need to buy ruggedized scanners for 10 sites, and use smart phones in other sites. That will significantly reduce the initial deployment cost and changes the equation for Return on Investment.
- Cloud computing. Deploying an installed software application on premise involves not only the cost of license, but also the cost of hardware hosting the application, the IT resources for maintaining the application, and the perpetual needs for updating the application. Because of that, buying a new enterprise software solution is always a discussion around prioritizing IT resources. Cloud computing has changed that paradigm. Constrain in IT resources is no longer a factor. Now, the need for the solution is a business discussion only, as it should always have been.
- Mobile asset tracking technology is approaching maturity. RFID technologies, started as a niche, are now being widely deployed. The expanding scale has helped to support more innovations and lower prices. RFID tags can now be read reliably in 300 feet range, and on metal surfaces. GPS tracking devices have multiplied in form factors and coming down in prices. Mobile carriers are encouraging the use of these devices, which they call machine to machine (M2M) or connected devices, with low cost and usage based data plans. The development in mobile asset tracking technology has also changed the equation for Return on Investment for asset tracking and asset management solutions.
Democratization of the Enterprise Asset Management Solution
So what do these technology trends mean for the direction of the Enterprise Asset Management solution? The implication is quite significant. I will call it the “democratization of the Enterprise Asset Management solution.” Like any other major technologies, it will make the solution more accessible to small and medium sized companies. These companies have been living with inefficiency and “spreadsheet version control nightmare”, now they can take advantage of the solution and start achieving bottom line savings.
What to keep in mind
For the small and medium businesses that are evaluating enterprise asset management solutions, they should demand a different kind of solution from what has been offered in the past. They should not be looking for a watered down version of the old solutions. They should be looking for the most suitable solution that incorporates the latest technologies. Luckily, the emerging new solutions are better than older ones, in many ways. Some things should keep in mind when evaluating a solution:
- Can this Enterprise Asset Management solution serve as the platform for managing the physical and fiscal information of equipment and assets? “Software as a Platform” is the most efficient solution, and has been made possible with innovations in software designs. It allows easy integration with other applications, eliminates duplicate data entries, and streamlines business processes. The Enterprise Asset Management business process touches all departments in an organization; therefore it is ideally positioned to serve as the “platform”. That means the solution should be designed to support open standard, web based APIs, and easily available SDks to connect to other applications.
- Can this Enterprise Asset Management solution be delivered via the Cloud? It may seem an easy question, “isn’t everything going to Cloud now?”, but most existing Cloud based applications are not yet full scale enterprise grade solutions. For an Enterprise Asset Management cloud application to qualify as “enterprise grade solution”, the application should be able to manage all the activities in the lifecycle management of the assets, including acquisition, maintenance, assignment, and disposal. It should support the management of risks during this process by providing exception based reporting and alerting functions. It should provide enterprise level of security, scalability, and latency. It should support as many users as needed without sacrificing the performance. It should have strict disaster recovery plan to ensure the integrity of enterprise data.
- Can this Enterprise Asset Management solution integrate all the asset tracking technologies seamlessly? You should be able to view all your assets, whether they are tracked by regular barcodes, RFID active and passive tags, or GPS tags, in one screen and one site framework.
- What industry and government standards are supported by this system? It may not mean much to some, but the more that the system adheres to industry asset management practices, the more robust your business process is going to be. Process maturity and capability automation means that basic business processes that save money can be automated easily, can be optimized, and can be utilized to reduce the cost of having an asset management system to begin with. Good centralization of business processes, extending line of sight of assets to handle procurement through disposal, and being able to track true costs of maintenance of assets is one thing, being able to generate actionable data and key process performance metrics as part of the toolset delivered out of the box can significantly reduce costs. Business data that is collected behind the scenes in your asset management system can provide the difference between process success and process failure.
The way that the software system is put together is significant. Look for the unified approach. You should not be viewing different classes of assets in different windows, because that paradigm is inherently inefficient. Some solution providers try to patch together their disparate solutions. What looks integrated really is separate silos of information that becomes hard to integrate into actionable data without significant crafting. Others design the solution so they can integrate the information seamlessly. What seams simple on first look could be costly in the long run. Remember the total cost of a software system is not only the price of the software, but the cost of integration with your business, the cost of having data entered and stored in a way that works for the enterprise. As a result, the user experience and the ease of accessing and analyzing the asset information vary significantly and the true cost of ownership can vary just as significant. That’s where the architecture design of the software solution can make a big difference, so users should make that assessment before they invest in an Enterprise Asset Management solution.