Asset data quality – why it matters

Mark McNameeMark McNamee of Northern Ireland Water explains why asset data is vital operationally – not just financially.

Asset data gets a bad press. When you talk to people who work on the operational side of most utilities – such as maintenance managers and field engineers – it’s clear that many of them think of asset data quality as a dry, abstract, or even irrelevant topic. They know that poor data quality can have regulatory and financial repercussions for the company as a whole – but they often don’t see how it has a connection with their own roles.

In part, this lack of regard for the importance of data quality is in itself a result of poor-quality data. In many cases, maintenance teams actually expect the data in the system to be inaccurate. After years of being sent out to fix assets that aren’t broken, aren’t where they are supposed to be, or no longer exist, the attitude becomes:

“We know what we’re doing – but the system doesn’t have a clue.”

The truth, though, is that high-quality asset data is absolutely fundamental to every aspect of efficient maintenance. If you know where all your assets are, what they are, what condition they are in, and when they were last serviced, you can give your maintenance teams all the information they need to work more effectively. This not only leads to a higher level of asset availability at a lower cost; it also makes the work much more satisfying and rewarding for the maintenance personnel themselves.

When undertaking a data quality improvement initiative, it’s critical to help the operational side of the business understand this. Without the support of the maintenance teams themselves, the chances of success are very limited: they are the people who really know the sites and assets, and if you don’t work with them to harness that knowledge, the results are not likely to be good.

So how can you go about getting their buy-in? The key is communication. There needs to be a continuous dialogue between the data quality improvement team and the operational teams. If you are going to run an asset audit on a site, you need to discuss why you’re doing it, when it will happen, how disruptive it will be, and what you have done to mitigate that disruption. Once you have collected the new asset data, you need to sit down with them and get their input on how to put together maintenance plans that not only meet top-level objectives and policies, but also make practical sense for the people on the ground.

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By keeping the lines of communication open, and stressing the operational benefits of accurate asset data – not just the financial and regulatory benefits – you can turn a data quality initiative into a goal that everyone is working towards, rather than something imposed on maintenance teams from outside.

Once the initiative gains momentum, it is possible to create a virtuous circle: if accurate data becomes the rule rather than the exception, field engineers are more likely to rely on it, and therefore there will be more incentive for them to report and remediate data errors as part of their day-to-day work.

Equally, since field managers no longer need to spend so long checking and correcting problems in their maintenance schedules, they can focus on designing better, smarter schedules that drive a more proactive, predictive approach.

With a sound asset record and a workforce that understands the importance of continuously improving data quality, the results will be better for the whole organisation. Ultimately, with the right data in place, day-to-day operations become smarter, more transparent and more cost-efficient across the board – which is a big win for finance, compliance, and operations teams alike.

Northern Ireland Water and AMT-SYBEX worked together to develop a set of Bulk Upload and Data Integrity (BUDI) tools based on AMT-SYBEX Affinity Systemreach software. Read about it here