by Leonard Hayes
Leonard Hayes of AMT-SYBEX looks at how mobile technology needs to evolve in asset-intensive industries
Asset-intensive industries share a common goal: providing reliable, always-available services to their customers. To deliver, they have traditionally depended on the ability of skilled engineers to build, manage, maintain and extend the useful life of relatively “dumb” assets.
That’s because unlike the manufacturing sector, which has been using sophisticated industrial control systems for decades, it has never been economically viable for energy, water or transport companies to fully automate their vast, nationwide asset networks.
Instead, the industry has concentrated on equipping field workers with the right information and tools to improve the efficiency of manual asset inspection, maintenance and repair processes. In particular, AMT-SYBEX has focused on providing agile, flexible and powerful mobile solutions, such as Fieldreach for mobile asset data capture and work management, and Geofield for mobile mapping and GIS integration.
Evolution, not revolution
In the short- to medium-term, a revolution in this engineer-centric approach to asset management seems unlikely. Full-scale industrial automation of millions of assets scattered across the country remains a pipedream. Utilities, transportation infrastructure and other asset-intensive companies should expect to rely on their field teams’ skills and experience to handle the majority of asset management tasks for years to come.
Nevertheless, as technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, new possibilities for a more automated approach will gradually emerge. The introduction of smart metering systems, for example, forced the industry to solve a number of technology challenges around large-scale networking, data ingestion and rising customer expectations. Now that those key problems have been solved technically, opportunities for smarter networks are opening up in other areas too. For example:
- Asset vendors are building sensors, actuators and processing units into everything from water pumps to electricity substations.
- Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are becoming more scalable and robust, making it possible to build networks of millions of devices and collect data from many sources.
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being embedded into small, low-cost devices at the edge of the network.
- Companies are building “digital twins” of their physical assets to simulate real-world situations, leading to better network design and smarter operations.
Providing insight for better decisions
These innovations won’t immediately replace the need for skilled engineers to visit, inspect and repair assets. However, by providing richer information, they will enable those engineers to make better decisions and help organisations analyse their asset networks and plan for the future.
One of the key goals is to make this new information available in a form that people can easily absorb and use while they are in the field. That’s where we believe the next generation of mobile asset management solutions will really add value.
For example, integrating real-time data feeds from IoT-enhanced assets and remote sensors into handheld mobile apps will empower field engineers to better monitor asset condition, diagnose problems, and even initiate and resolve repairs while they’re on the move.
Meanwhile, displaying this data via new wearable devices and mixed reality technologies will make it easier for them to navigate sites, locate equipment, and work hands-free while they’re inspecting and repairing assets. This all leads to more efficiency and productivity—and crucially, it helps businesses ensure the provision of reliable, always-available services to consumers.
Integration powers innovation
To move into this data-powered future, our mobile software platforms will evolve. Currently, most mobile solutions are only designed to integrate with a small range of enterprise asset management (EAM) and geographic information systems (GIS). In future, they will need to integrate with all kinds of third-party applications.
That’s why, at AMT-SYBEX, we’ve embarked on an ongoing initiative to continuously evolve the integration services for our Fieldreach and Geofield mobile solutions. By building a powerful, open integration layer into our products with advanced, open APIs, we are removing proprietary barriers and enabling microservices architectures, unlocking a world of new opportunities for our customers and partners to drive innovation in their mobile asset management practices.
Thinking outside the box
One example of how integration can open up new possibilities comes from work we have been completing with our sister company, Capita Secure Solutions & Services and their ResponseEye application. They’ve built a solution that can remotely capture live video footage from the camera of any smart device. When a member of the public reports an incident, such as a water mains leak that is causing flooding, response personnel can send a one-time link to access the camera on the person’s device to gain an instant eyewitness view of the situation on the ground. From this they are able to make a first-hand assessment of the scene to determine the level of response required.
Using the integration layer, we can integrate this same video sharing technology into our mobile applications and provide a unique field engineering solution. One use case identified is peer-to-peer assistance: when an engineer encounters an issue that they’re not sure how to solve, they can use ResponseEye to connect with expert colleagues, show them the problem via live video, and get a second opinion and support. This will dramatically increase first-visit resolution rates and get assets back online more quickly.
Taking mobile asset management into the future
ResponseEye is just the first of many microservices examples where our open mobile architecture will enable easy integration with powerful new technologies—enabling our clients to leverage the API economy and take full advantage of innovations from across the utilities and transport sectors, as well as other industries.
We’re looking forward to working with our clients to apply innovation and technology to build a new generation of flexible mobile services that will help their field engineering teams work smarter as their asset networks evolve. To learn more about our plans for the future of mobile asset management, please reach out to us today at firstname.lastname@example.org