Harness the Power of Foresight with 4-SYTE
With the continued trend towards renewable integration, it’s never been more important to have a proactive strategic plan in place to maintain the safety and integrity of the critical components of our traditional power generation facilities. The price volatility of the wholesale energy market in which many of these facilities must compete in has resulted in budgets cuts, extended planned outage intervals, and higher employee turnover rates. With this, basic safety and reliability maintenance items are being pushed to the side in order to compete in the market. Unfortunately, because these traditional units are operating in a manner they were not designed to operate, they are exposed to mechanical, thermal, and cyclic stresses acting in conjunction with one another. As a result, we are seeing reduced life expectancy and increased risk of failure of the critical components of these facilities.
I speak with many professionals in the Utility industry throughout the course of the year and therefore I hear first hand many of the frustrations and concerns of the individuals working day in and day out in these facilities. I am increasingly saddened by the state of our Energy market which underlines the importance of providing solutions to these providers in helping them make the strategic use of their budgets and time to ensure the continued safe and reliable operation of their units.
That being said, I received an email recently from a once potential client that was particularly upsetting to me. His email was laced with regret in his decision to purchase one of my competitor’s software-based solutions for inspection and data management. Why was this particular email so disturbing to me? Shouldn’t I be delighted to hear that the competition is not living up to the standards they are touting? Honestly, in some regards, it does provide a certain amount of personal validation. However, and more importantly, it makes me incredibly sad for my “would be” client. Understanding that budgets are tight and resources are limited; a decision whether to opt for a “SOFTWARE” or a “SERVICE” based solution for asset and inspection data management is crucial. Moreover, once this ruling is made, you are stuck with what you have for many years to come, making the right decision imperative. Consequently, this particular email was disturbing to me because it forced me to question whether I had done my job in providing enough information for this prospective client to make a truly educated decision.
Over a decade ago, I was tasked with developing a solution to a problem that was plaguing many of our customers. This issue, which centered around the job of managing the safety and integrity of critical assets, all the while maximizing budgetary dollars, was a common struggle we consistently witnessed with our clientele. Many power plant professionals are affected by this issue, which has been exacerbated by deregulation and renewable integration, creating an industry requiring high levels of competitive availability. To add to the challenge, the ever-changing landscape of personnel turnover and reduction in staffing to meet the competitive environment placed the incredible burden of responsibility on fewer and fewer resources. Perhaps you can relate to this struggle?
So in my efforts to develop a solution to this problem, I went on a journey to understand just exactly what tools were being used to address the issues and what the pitfalls were of those tools. I interviewed several of our Utility clients who were using existing software-based programs that were on the market at the time. The software programs were intended to help manage and organize previous inspection and repair history to help the user better understand what had been done in the past so they could determine what needed to be done in the future. In these interviews, one of the most common complaints I heard about the existing programs was that the Utilities did not have the internal resources to upkeep the software. Whether they felt the software was not user-friendly, or they simply did not have the dedicated human resources to apply the efforts needed to input and maintain the data, one theme was common, the software was outdated and not being used as intended. Lastly, many of them were experiencing high turnover rates, resulting in additional requirements to train new staff on the software. Because of this high level of dissatisfaction I heard as a consequence of a software-based solution, I went to work creating a solution that solved these, as well as a multitude of other, problems. The result is 4-SYTE, a SERVICE-BASED asset management solution that has been successfully integrated for over a decade in the Energy sector.
Why does a SERVICE-BASED solution solve the problem?
- When using a software-based solution, it is difficult to ensure data entry consistency and integrity. Because data management is so highly reliant on the manner in which the data is entered, the lack of a “data entry protocol” ends up causing major issues down the road because search results are not accurate if the data is not entered in a specific manner consistently. This can lead to thousands of dollars of incorrectly allocated funds as well as potential safety infractions due to decisions made on the basis of inaccurate information.
- When using a SERVICE-BASED solution, data entry and integrity is regulated by a protocol to ensure accuracy, consistency, and viability. This protocol results in accurate a trustworthy search results reducing the amount of error in budgeting and forecasts.
- When using a software-based solution, many companies often underestimate the amount of time and effort required to create, maintain and update the records of their asset management program. Because they are unable to allocate the necessary resources to the task, reports and documents pile up, and the system quickly becomes outdated. Companies that successfully integrate software-based asset management program do so because they dedicate full-time resources to the project. This person’s sole job is to maintain the integrity and updates of the data. Unfortunately, most companies do not have the budget to dedicate a full-time staffer to the maintenance of the program. In many instances the program, in time, becomes obsolete.
- When using a SERVICE-BASED solution, companies can leverage their resources by using the program’s data experts to manage, update and maintain their records. These highly trained experts routinely interact with the program making them extremely efficient and accurate. Because the service is contracted annually, the program stays up to date with the most recent inspection, repair, and replacement history. This information is continually and readily available, allowing companies to utilize their resources in a more valuable manner.
- As we all know, learning to use any software can many times be confusing and frustrating? To complicate the matter, when using a “software” based solution for asset management, you not only need to learn how to navigate the program, you also need to learn how to create records, update fields, manage users and permissions, upload and attach files, etc. As with anything, if these tasks are not performed on a regular basis, the skill is quickly forgotten. The result is wasted time and resources. We have found that companies incur tens of thousands of dollars in unforeseen costs associated with the training and facilitation of software-based solutions.
- Because the interaction with a SERVICE-BASED solution is simplified, the training is straightforward and minimal. The goal of a “service” based platform is to minimize the end user’s need for program expertise and simplify the functions required to obtain pertinent and valuable information. Ease of use is the foundation of a SERVICE-BASED solution.
- Let’s face it, ultimately it all comes down to dollars and cents in any decisions made in a competitive market. All too often I see decisions carried out without taking into account the collateral damage of those decisions. Human nature is reactionary by design. We look to resolve the immediate “need” or “pain” rather than look towards a pro-active solution. Sure, purchasing software is less expensive and is easier to justify in the short term. Thus easing the pain and addressing the immediate need. However, unless you have the internal resources to support the constant influx of data management responsibilities and expertise to analyze that data, purchasing a software-based solution will eventually cost you much more than you could have imagined.
- On the other hand, purchasing a SERVICE-BASED solution provides you with known costs upfront that can be planned and budgeted for. Thus providing real solutions to the “need” and “pain” without creating collateral damage.
In conclusion, choosing a software-based inspection and data management program may just be that hindsight that there is no turning back from. The decision of what asset and inspection data management program you chose will have long-lasting effects at your facility. Make those effects positive by seeking real solutions using a SERVICE-BASED PROGRAM which addresses the “need” and “pain” without creating collateral damage. Moreover, by all means, do your due diligence, learn the pros and cons of each solution you are looking to purchase before signing the dotted line.
For more information, please contact:
Expert Panelist, ASME Technology Advisory Panel
Executive Power Plant Cycling Committee Member, ASME
Director of Development & Operations, 4-SYTE Asset Management Programs
Thielsch Engineering, Inc.