Organizations have assets. From their earliest beginnings long before the age of computerization, all corporate entities, machines, equipment and things have been classed as assets. From horse-drawn field plows right through to rack servers running digital cloud-based services, everything is an asset.
It is from this core truth that today we get field service management, enterprise asset management, and the less-acronym prone sister disciplines of work order management and inventory control. All these elements of asset-centric work often end up traversing through and residing in an enterprise resource management system, and thankfully, at that point, our initialisms end, for now at least.
IFS (Industrial & Financial Systems) works specifically in the FSM, EAM and ERP space. Dedicated to serving a set of key markets with pronounced use of asset management and field service requirements, IFS has pledged to stay within its chosen six industrial verticals. To list them here, these independent but similarly asset-allied industries are energy and utilities, service industries, telecoms, aerospace and defense, manufacturing, and construction and engineering.
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IFS Unleashed, heat off the hook
Now describing itself as a global cloud enterprise software company, IFS used its user gathering this month to explain where its platform is going and how its software tool set is developing. The unashamedly named IFS Unleashed conference was staged in Miami’s South Beach area this October 2022.
The 2022 autumn iteration of its software is the company’s second biannual release cycle. The central technology proposition from IFS comes down to a promise to help global companies connect operations across sites, functions, people and assets.
Speaking to a closed press and analyst group during his company’s annual show this year was Christian Pedersen, IFS’s chief product officer. In a discussion designed to move us away from thinking about FSM, EAM and ERP, Pedersen admitted that he would happily ditch these terms, largely because every IFS customer solution is composed of elements of each.
“We won’t get away from these terms, and there’s no need for me to try and claim that IFS doesn’t do ERP, because we do,” said Pedersen. “But, when we think about the way we build solutions for our customers’ assets, we identify areas of application and data functionality from across our IT platform and create exactly the right combination of services—then, that’s what we sell them.”
Pedersen realizes that asset-centric automation is happening at every level and explains that his team works with customers to help them audit their operational frameworks and examine where they are on their personal automation curve. This includes a process of looking for what could be comparatively simple business functions, such as scanning an expense report, for example, that are still carried out through manual data entry.
What this road to automation breaks down to is the difference between asset data versus process data, and the IFS platform exists specifically to be able to span both worlds and capture data from both sources. If we understand the difference and relationship between these two data realms, then we can apply automation to make business systems work in a way that is more efficient and, quite simply, more slick.
Asset data vs. process data
Resonating with the asset reality stated at the start of our story here, Pedersen explained asset data is data related to corporate “assets,” where an asset itself could be an edge device, a server, a factory forklift truck or an aircraft—anything. When we look at asset data, we are tracking the system status of the asset in order to know that it exists and is deployed, to understand what shape and size it is, and to know what function it exists for inside an enterprise.
Equally and conversely then, process data is information related to what the asset has been doing. Typically subject to telemetry analysis to gain readings from an instrument, device or thing, process data works to tell us how efficiently the asset is operating and performing.
But, process data goes further. It also encompasses information related to how a device or other asset is maintained, fixed, updated or replaced. Further still, process data also extends to tracking which engineer or engineering team has the best track record of fixing or updating an asset based upon its current needs.
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This latter measure of “best fix” would be a factor drawn from a list of criteria that an organization lays down to measure its asset maintenance tasks. That list of factors could include cost efficiency, time spent on the job, the time needed to next update or fix, and ultimately a measure of customer satisfaction in relation to how and where that asset is used.
Paper to process chasm
As much as this is automation, there is a chasm to be crossed here. Organizations looking to move to this type of technology implementation with IFS or its competitors will be moving from paper to electronic process.
To cover some of the product specifics IFS has updated and newly launched, the company detailed how its human capital management capability can now help organizations manage global absence limitations. The software works to set and manage absence limits based on any given country’s absence requirements legislation, providing global human resources teams with a full absence view from multiple countries.
In the service management space, IFS has rolled out software tools to expand shift planning capabilities. This helps ensure the right individuals with the right skills are available for scheduling, including on-call scenarios, with enhancements to the dispatch console for managing in-flight work.
In aviation maintenance, new IFS software enables a reduction in aircraft maintenance turnaround time with the introduction of a new solution for maintenance: repair and operations service providers performing third-party line maintenance.
“As businesses grow and branch out into new international markets, they face a range of new challenges around regulation, market practices and operating approaches,” said Pedersen. “Our October release of IFS Cloud provides businesses with the capabilities they need to navigate these challenges and thrive on the global stage. Through our IFS Cloud solution, we deliver software that can flex and evolve to meet the growing needs of our customers both today and long into the future.”
Every asset has an ‘edge’
Coming full circle then, in the post-millennial age of cloud, mobile and the Internet of Things, every time we think about an asset and its life inside a business or public body, there is likely to be an edge device.
Driving the information stream that creates process data for the higher-level asset data pool in an organization, edge devices have a crucial role here. Through this discussion with IFS, we can perhaps now think of edge devices as a more directly influential cog in the wheel of business. We may soon talk about field edge asset requirements without fear.