Building the future on tech foundations

Advanced enterprise software that integrates different systems is making life easier for companies that monitor and manage vital infrastructure.

Building the future on tech foundations

The world is changing faster than ever, and every business must plan for the future.

Imagination has become a strategic management tool. The ability to envisage the future is vital to any organisation or business that owns or operates critical assets - things such as road, rail, electricity grids, water utilities, ports, tunnels, factories and airports.

In particular, the owners of "asset-intensive" organisations - ones that have physical assets as the bulk of their business - need to assess their ageing infrastructure and be on top of exactly when they will have to replace them - and how.

A recent study for the Australian Local Government Association - the National State of the Assets Report 2015 - identified $47 billion of public assets that were in poor condition and seven per cent that were classified as "poor functioning".

Jeff Roorda, general manager of strategic asset management for ASX-listed enterprise software provider TechnologyOne, says the report revealed that the way assets in Australia are being managed is unsustainable. It recommended a national and consistent approach that would bring the management of assets into line across all levels of government and establish a plan to identify when upgrades or replacements are needed.

Roorda says that asset owners who look to the past for answers will not find an accurate predictor of what's needed in the future.

He says technology is the most efficient way by which asset owners can keep up with planning and look to the future.

TechnologyOne, which is the biggest enterprise software provider in Australia, offers a technology that uses real-time information on asset performance, he says. The information, based on service levels, can help predict future scenarios and future costs.

The technology, he adds, can also track trends in the way people use those assets - and predict how they may do so in the future. This enables organisations to make better strategic investment decisions about how they will need to invest in their vital assets.

Managing assets throughout their life cycle involves a combination of different skills, including planning, engineering and finance. These speak different technical "languages".

Roorda says this can lead to problems when data and systems fragment - especially for businesses that operate in highly-regulated sectors and in critical services such as energy and water.

When a business has to compile a report or meet regulatory requirements, the difficulties with aligning its “separate languages” become apparent - and can have far-reaching consequences.

Roorda says that enterprise software can bring together the different operations with a common language - a “single source of truth” that's able to demonstrate how assets are really performing and are likely to perform.

With this approach, business functions no longer need to be concerned that their priorities will be overlooked, or misunderstood, by separate departments or even lost in translation during the process of reporting and data consolidation.

It can also have a greater benefit. By creating accurate asset data, the technology can connect costs to future scenarios, allowing businesses to make decisions that will have a significant impact for years to come, Roorda says.

When an energy distributor has a "single truth" about how its network is performing and is likely to perform in future, it can develop scenarios to manage changes in technology, customer demographics and government policy, as well as emergencies such as storms, earthquakes and fires.

TechnologyOne's enterprise software harnesses all the available knowledge - past, present and future - and allows managers to look at various scenarios and make informed judgements.

The company provides enterprise software to manage high-value, critical assets for industries such as utilities, airports, ports, road, rail and mining.

TechnologyOne works with around 300 councils and more than 100 water companies in Australia. It also provides enterprise software to the Australian Rail Track Corporation, the body delivering the inland rail project. This is the largest and most significant rail infrastructure project for decades.

In New Zealand, TechnologyOne is working with the City of Wellington on "capacity building" to meet its future infrastructure needs.

Roorda says we need to transform our thinking on how to manage our towns and cities.

“We have built cities around cars and carparks. What happens when driverless cars appear? Will that infrastructure become obsolete? What other considerations are there.

“We have a lot of infrastructure that was built in the Baby Boomer period."

The long lifespan of many of those assets - "between 50 and 80 years" - is nearing its end, he says.

"The questions will be, when do you have to replace that infrastructure? What will you replace it with? What will those needs be? Infrastructure investments are long-lasting and have long lead times. It is important to get it right, you can’t just say oops we got it wrong."

Enterprise software can help organisations with that forecasting, Roorda says.

“You have to be able to collect and analyse a lot of data. There are big changes in technology and a lot of the underlying data is changing very quickly.

“But most important is having up-to-date and real-time information otherwise you are planning with information that is already out of date.”

Learn more about TechnologyOne's work with asset-intensive business at www.technologyonecorp.com/assets

Originally published in The Australian Financial Review on 17 May 2017

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