How healthy are your assets? That sounds like an obvious question to ask of managers who supervise plants and equipment worth many millions of dollars, but its prompts a salutary way of thinking, according to a new study by The McDonnell Group Inc. The Georgia-based energy marketing and communications firm, working with Ventyx, an ABB firm, recently surveyed utility executives and operations and maintenance managers at 100 major North American utilities that are focused on transmission and distribution substation management.
The main result of the survey, says The McDonnell Group, was the development of the concept of "asset health," a way to bridge the conceptual gaps between information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) functions in the organization—the problem of "siloed data." The study concludes, "Ensuring the reliability of aging assets is not just a top priority for utilities—it is also a regulatory mandate. Siloed data reduces productivity and contributes to difficulties in meeting this mandate. It also represents one aspect of an even larger problem: the cultural and organizational divisions between information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT)."
The McDonnell study cites several examples of "IT-centric functions," such as "software systems related to work operations and maintenance management; dashboards based on real-time data of existing systems; analytical tools giving better situational awareness." Examples of "OT-central functions" include "engineering analysis of failure root causes of key equipment; deployment of automation systems and related sensors and controllers; short and long-term O&M planning and decision-making."
The concept of asset health, says the study, addresses the need to integrate the IT and OT functions, "a need that the utilities interviewed for this study have either begun to address, or consider a top priority for the next two or three years." Asset health, says McDonnell, "is not a 'product' or a 'solution' for any particular area. It represents a holistic approach that encompasses a vision for the future of utility asset optimization through effective maintenance and operations."
Those surveyed said they view integrating IT and OT as a key to improving utility O&M and guiding capital spending. According to McDonnell's Peter Manos, "Virtually all respondents believed that eliminating organizational and technical boundaries between information and operational technologies is imperative" to managing asset costs in the future. "I expect we'll see most utilities gradually adopting asset health as a risk assessment strategy in the next several years."
Among the survey's findings:
- Less than a third (29%) said they feel the current level of IT/OT integration is either excellent (12%) or very good (17%).
- The majority (53%) said ensuring the reliability of aging assets is the top strategic priority for their company and 94% said it is one of the top three priorities.
- About a third (35%) said they are already beginning to adopt the asset health approach; another third (30%) said they foresee adopting it within five years; a final third (35%) said they believe it would take at least five years to implement the concept.
Said one executive to the survey team: "We will target specific infrastructure first, and look at our O&M maintenance trends to see what has value and what does not." Another said, "Maintenance dollars are not increasing, experience level is getting lower, and the only way we can continue to keep the system afloat is to have better information and evaluate and analyze it more thoroughly, enabling us to target the resources we now have."
—Kennedy Maize is MANAGING POWER's executive editor.