Africa’s energy utilities are under enormous pressure to efficiently meet growing demand for power from businesses and consumers, while managing a range of security, safety, regulatory and environmental concerns.
They are being asked to do more with less–to squeeze more performance and efficiency from their ageing assets, writes Thabo Ndlela, non-executive director of IFS South Africa.
Many are investing aggressively in new power generation and distribution capacity, even as their business models evolve as a result of corporatisation, partial privatisation, or the breakup of their vertically integrated businesses into separate divisions.
Against this backdrop, it is becoming urgent for utilities to look at how they can use technology to improve their business processes. Enterprise asset management has an invaluable role to play in a business that is as asset-driven as the energy industry.
The business model for the energy and utilities industries is based on the forecast, planning, construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure, with service delivery at a reasonable rate of return.
Thus, to reduce risk and increase productivity, power utilities should manage the entire utilities asset lifecycle as an integrated and continuous process–from upfront planning to plant obsolescence. But without a true integrated extended enterprise asset management solution, utilities have no way to do so.
All too many continue to rely on a disparate base of legacy installations. Often, significant elements of this installed base are no longer supported, insufficiently documented, or not easily integrated with other systems. This makes it difficult to find or trust the data needed to make good decisions about complex projects and assets.
An integrated, continuous process
To address these challenges, utilities should be seeking an integrated solution that marries ERP with comprehensive enterprise-asset management functionality. Such a platform brings those responsible for infrastructure design and construction together with those who will operate and maintain it.
It puts operations and maintenance on a common system that includes ties to real-time automation systems. It supports the informational needs of a wide range of stakeholders. And document management brings structure and control to document-driven business processes.
Here are some features to look for in such a solution:
* Asset design and planning for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) support: Having all project data in one system during design, engineering and construction ensures that owner-operators and EPC work together with current data. Transition to operations is smoother, with equipment data available from the start. The platform furnishes stakeholders with consistent and accurate information regarding asset infrastructure. The result is improved collaboration, decision making and control of critical external suppliers. Construction projects are less risky and easier for owner-operators and EPCs to manage.
* Project management: Project-based solutions deal with the increasing size and scale of capital construction, whether plant or network construction or revamps. Automated collaboration with important sub-contractors and suppliers leads to optimised resource use. Risk management improves via a “review, evaluation and action” process that identifies issues, while scheduling capabilities to improve the management of time and resources.
* Integrated financials and asset management: Utilities need solutions with integrated asset and financial management to drive better decisions. Thanks to equipment monitoring advances, predictive maintenance and reliability-centred maintenance, such solutions can bring structure to asset management programmes. This, in turn, provides a platform for improving reliability, ensuring adherence to safety and environmental requirements, and reducing costs. Maintenance efforts are better directed and inventory control improves with tighter integration with procurement. With reliability-centred maintenance– which establishes safe, minimum maintenance levels–spare parts inventory becomes part of the overall maintenance practice.
* Supply chain management: The solution should support the different steps in the information supply chain that asset-intensive companies follow during projects and revamps. Integrated supply chain management across procurement, inventory and vendors means better availability of goods and services associated with forecasts of planned and unplanned work.
* Process automation integration: Process automation systems that can integrate into enterprise asset management and ERP systems include Distributed Control Systems (DCS), Supervisory Control and Data Acquisitions (SCADA) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This can help streamline maintenance and operations efforts across the business and enhance collaboration.
With their ongoing capital-construction investments, African power utilities need accurate and integrated information from planning, design and construction to operations and maintenance. Legacy systems and manual processes cannot provide the enterprise-wide, 360-degree view of processes and performance value chains need to maximise performance and asset utilisation. Investments into integrated EAM and ERP can deliver excellent ROI for power utilities seeking to drive better performance.