Asset Management Differences in SAP S/4HANA vs. SAP ECC

The Difference Between Asset Maintenance in SAP S/4HANA vs. SAP ECC

SAP S/4HANA® is SAP’s next-generation ERP, but here’s a little secret: Transactions in legacy SAP ERPs—such as SAP ECC—can be just the same in S/4HANA. Does that mean running asset management with S/4HANA is the same as running it in SAP ECC? Not quite, and the fact that S/4HANA is optimized to run on the SAP HANA database is a key differentiator.

“I hear comments that S/4HANA asset maintenance is the same as ECC, but SAP HANA is why certain things are only possible in S/4HANA,” says Karsten Hauschild, Solution Manager at SAP, who spoke at the SAP-Centric EAM conference this week in Austin, Texas.

The SAP Fiori Impact

Hauschild points to S/4HANA’s user experience, which is driven by SAP Fiori applications such as Request Maintenance and SAP GEO Framework. The former drives maintenance request notifications, while the latter taps into SAP ESRI to run SAP plant maintenance transactions via maps.

“The user experience from a workflow/work order perspective is vastly different from SAP GUI (SAP’s transaction code-driven user interface),” says Hauschild. “That’s from feedback we’ve gotten from current customers—that SAP GUI is ugly.”

There’s also a S/4HANA-specific maintenance scheduling application which is meant to replace SAP Multi Resource Scheduling (MRS) for scheduling individual technicians.

HANA-Driven Intelligence

The case for an improved user experience is about expanding the number of employees that can access the data in the SAP system, Hauschild adds. SAP GUI screens that aren’t part of Fiori apps have also been updated to look more like Fiori.

Beyond an interface that is prettier to look at, S/4HANA is also utilizing its in-memory database to drive embedded analytics and what SAP calls “Enterprise Search”—a keyword-based search function. The embedded analytics provide visualizations directly on S/4HANA transaction screens, while also providing automatically calculated KPIS.

Enterprise Search allows users to find transactions and information within the SAP system regarding a term—rather than looking up by transaction codes or work order numbers.

The Same, But Different

As an example of the similarities between the two ERPs, Hauschild says all plant maintenance transactions that exist in ECC are in S/4HANA, and have been since its launch. Overall, an SAP customer moving to S/4HANA from ECC doesn’t have to change business processes, it’s just the way SAP supports those processes from a user experience and analytics point of view—with Fiori, embedded analytics and enterprise search—that is different, he explains.

Now, that doesn’t mean that it will be a guaranteed breeze for customers to move old transactions onto S/4HANA—that process can still be arduous. Fortunately, that’s where Vesta’s EAM Codex solution comes into play, to speed up that transition to modernized SAP enterprise asset management.

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Asset Management Differences in SAP S/4HANA vs. SAP ECC 2018-04-19T23:10:34+00:00

GIS Blog Series – Part 10: Regulatory Reporting Challenges

GIS Blog Series – Part 10: Regulatory Reporting Challenges

This is the tenth and final part in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

Regulatory Reporting Challenges


Introduction

Regulatory compliance can take on many forms. Organizations whose asset network is spread over a large geographic area will often share common types of regulatory related challenges with regard to maintenance of an asset network such as a pipeline, electric, or rail network. This post will take a look at some of the cross industry regulatory activities and address some of the ways that integrating SAP and GIS platforms can save time, money, and ensure all operations are executed in accordance with all regulatory requirements.


Identification of Regulated Work

Organizations with an asset network that travels through different areas with specific regulatory requirements will often have business processes in place to identify and acquire the requisite permits to perform work against the assets in these areas. This could include permits required for work performed in environmentally sensitive areas, areas where a Right of Way is present, and land owned by indigenous populations. With the integration of GIS into SAP using SAP’s Geo Framework (GEF), planned and unplanned work can be rendered on a map, layered on top of regulated areas.  This work includes preventive, corrective, regulatory, and inspection work. can be rendered on a map and layered on top of regulated areas that are represented as polygon features. Work orders falling within these boundaries can be set up to have the relevant permitting operations automatically loaded into the work order, setting the permitting process in motion automatically. Not only does this save time in the permitting effort up front, it also ensures the permit procurement process is not overlooked. This type of planning can prevent crews from being turned away from work sites or avoid fines due to completed work without the required permits.

In addition to the permitting process, the same assets within certain areas may require different inspection and maintenance schedules than those outside. In these cases, preventive maintenance plans and inspection schedules can be automatically generated or updated for assets falling within these maintenance or inspection zones. For example, natural gas transmission pipeline assets that travel through areas where people tend to gather in large numbers such as schools and churches, as well as areas where population density is high, will require more frequent inspection and maintenance. As the population grows around these pipeline locations, pipeline companies must constantly reassess the population density and adjust the maintenance and survey plans manually. Bringing in the results of the population analysis from the organization’s GIS, in the form of geometry, will allow SAP to automate the analysis, adjustment, and creation of these maintenance and inspection plans. This not only saves time and effort by pipeline integrity groups within the organization, but takes out the element of human error in the adjustment of the maintenance and inspection schedules.


Regulatory Reporting

Periodic regulatory reporting imposed by regulatory bodies is a fact of life in many industries. The scale and complexity of these reports can vary widely, however the major challenges are generally the same:

  • Gathering data across multiple systems is inefficient and time consuming.

  • The data collected from the different systems, representing different aspects of the same assets, rarely line up.

  • Data in either system may be old and potentially inaccurate.

In an organization whose GIS and SAP systems operate without an automated interface, gathering the data to drive compliance reporting is only half the battle. The task of getting data from separate systems to match up can be a daunting task. The reason for the additional effort can be attributed to any number of reasons, however the most common reasons relate to the differences in the way data is maintained in each system, as well as differences in the business processes influencing the data maintenance. These inconsistencies can manifest in something as simple as a typo in one system that is not reflected in the other, to something as complex as the precision and detail at which the data is required to be stored in each system.

A common example of this is reporting on lengths of assets located within tax jurisdictions. In some cases, the length of assets are recorded and stored in GIS as the length of the two dimensional shape on a map.

On the other hand, SAP may contain a length that was calculated by the actual footage of the material installed, accounting for the additional material used due to elevation changes along the length of the asset. When trying to compare the footage of a given asset between SAP and GIS, the numbers will not match. If these conflicting numbers make it into the same report in different locations, it will give regulators the impression that none of the data is correct, spawning costly audits and possible fines. With the preceding issues in mind, reporting that marries work-related data in SAP with location-based data in GIS can pose quite a challenge.

The implementation of an automated interface between enterprise wide GIS and SAP can mitigate the pain points above by ensuring the records created, modified, or removed from one system, are automatically reflected in the other system. Looking back at the previous example, integrated systems would be able to reflect the correct geometry from GIS while pulling in the correct length values from SAP, resulting in reports that will easily reconcile between the two systems.

As long as the full set of data required by the report is shared by both systems, a user no longer has to request data from each system and combine the data into a single report, solving the second pain point listed earlier. Instead, the user compiling the report simply needs to be able to find the data in either SAP or GIS. Since there is no longer the need to go to multiple systems to compile the report, there is no longer the need to make sure the datasets agree with each other since there is now a single, reconciled dataset available for reporting.


Proof of Regulatory Compliance

Reporting on the fact that your organization is compliant is one thing, but what if you are asked to prove it? A great example of this kind of proof of compliance reporting is inspection work. Going into the field and inspecting infrastructure on a periodic basis is something that many companies must comply with. From a compliance perspective, there are rules in place that require some infrastructure to be inspected more frequently than others. These inspections are often driven by public safety and the records of these inspections are the first place investigators will look if something goes wrong. With the proper processes in place and tools in the field, proving an inspection took place when and where it was recorded is much easier to prove.

In this case, GEF opens up quite a bit of new functionality in SAP, as well as opening up new possibilities for existing tools within SAP. Work, for example, can now be rendered as geometry within GEF. This geometry can be pushed to SAP Work Manager, SAP’s mobile work management solution, giving a field user the exact location of the assets to be inspected. While preforming the inspection, Work Manager can capture the device’s coordinates at a defined interval, creating evidence of the exact location of the inspector at the time of the inspection. This data can be attached to the work order and recalled as part of the work order history. The image on the right illustrates how the location of the inspectors, during an electric transmission tower inspection, is captures and saved with the Work Order as additional proof of inspection. This data can also be used as a form of quality control within the organization to ensure the most efficient inspection routes are being utilized. This data can also be published to the GIS system, giving auditors easy access to the time and location of inspection rendered next to the relevant assets on a map.


Conclusion

The critical nature of regulatory compliance designates it as a high priority across all industries. Identifying, reporting on, and providing evidence of work falling within the bounds of regulatory compliance are challenges that all many organizations face. Although there are many more challenges related to maintaining regulatory compliance, we believe the three aspects of regulatory compliance outlined in the preceding post would see benefits in gained efficiencies in regulatory related planning, reporting, and audit response by the integration of SAP and GIS platforms within organizations maintaining networks of assets spread across a geographic region.

 

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GIS Blog Series – Part 10: Regulatory Reporting Challenges 2017-12-12T19:31:13+00:00

GIS Blog Series – Part 9: Inability to Optimize Maintenance Routes Due to Lack of Spatial Data

GIS Blog Series – Part 9: Inability to Optimize Maintenance Routes Due to Lack of Spatial Data

This is number nine in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

Inability to Optimize Maintenance Routes Due to Lack of Spatial Data


The Benefits of Route Optimization

For geographically dispersed asset maintenance, travel represents a significant portion of the overhead cost to a company. The time and cost required to travel to field locations is one area where companies could suffer, or become more profitable with superior planning and route optimization. Companies are recognizing that they can leverage Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and GIS systems together to create efficiencies, not just in fuel consumption savings, but other areas as well. We will identify some of these areas in this blog. 


Routing Without the Spatial Dimension

Without the spatial element, routing can be planned using other factors such as the duration of the job, criticality of the asset, or regulatory priorities. In this scenario, a better term would be “sequencing” since the elements of distance and location are not taken into account. Routing, for our purposes, occurs based on the content of the work and the location of the work. Non-spatial factors are still important, but adding in the spatial dimension unlocks significant optimization potential.


Keeping the Human Element

It should be noted that in non-spatially planned maintenance scenarios, field workers often route on-the-fly depending on the way work is dispatched, and the extent to which they can self-manage. It is often a challenge to maintain the field workers’ desired level of autonomy whilst introducing improvements to the way field jobs are dispatched and executed.

In fact, there is an advantage to keeping some of the “human element” to field routing and decision making. Field technicians gather intangible knowledge about their service areas over time that can provide invaluable input into the routing process (eg. Traffic patterns, or knowledge of a reoccurring long train crossing delay). It is also important to retain some human flexibility in field execution when dealing with customer related jobs (eg. Being able to return to the job in an hour at customer’s request).

A good solution still allows for flexibility with human input.


Address Locations and Precise Geometry

Traditionally, only addresses would be used to specify job sites. The use of only addresses for routing can be problematic. As an example, the writer was riding along with a utility crew, and after turning onto the street, over 30 minutes was spent just finding the site where a meter removal was to be performed. This was due to the inability of GIS mapping software and apps to accurately identify where the address was, or a suitable ingress point. This is the nature of addressing, and it may never improve.

Furthermore, some rural locations or new construction site may not even have precise address information. Likewise, a particular asset may not even be linked to a specific address.

Properly integrated ERP/GIS systems can eliminate the inaccurate representation of job locations. When assets are created in ERP/GIS with accurate geometry (ie. Pin-point “place on earth” coordinates), the use of addresses for routing and navigating can be relegated to a secondary option.

Now, mobile maps can generate driving directions to the asset’s actual coordinates instead of an address, which may be a large spatial area in itself. Even when addresses are accurate, the ability to pinpoint the asset location within property boundaries, is highly beneficial. The advantage becomes only more profound when dealing with underground or hidden assets.

It is also important in emergency situations to route first responders to the precise asset location (e.g. Gas valve) instead of the nearest address. Addresses can also sometimes be non-unique. A number of years ago, a mid-western utility was told of a gas leak. The supplied address turned out to be problematic as there were two identical street names within the same city. The first responders went to the unaffected house first, and unfortunately a serious incident occurred as a result. The example serves to highlight the flawed nature of the street address system and its impact on the routing process and sometimes, public safety.


Remote Asset Locations

Having precise asset geolocation is also important in situations where the asset is located in remote locations that may not even be serviced by roads. Many utilities, for example, visit job sites by helicopter or all-terrain vehicles and traditional GPS unit navigation will not necessarily be useful in these situations.

A real-life example would be that of a west-coast based Utility running a new mobile app. Within their mobile application they knew the location of where they needed to get to. It happened to be a mountainous area of the state. In addition to using driving directions on the app, they were able to switch to an aerial view showing where they were located (using GPS) and where the asset was located (fed from backend ERP/GIS). Using the satellite view they were able to find an unmarked old dirt road that a vehicle could still be driven down. In this one example, the dirt road provided a considerable short cut to the asset.


Using Shapes for More Efficient Sequencing

In cases where the work being performed covers a spatial area and not just a single location, geometry can be used to optimize the sequence of work. Consider an inspection that follows a street route, such as a gas leak survey. If the geometrical description of the work is the planned route of the surveyor, then by definition there is a start and end point. If the start and end points of the job are known and stored or accessible in ERP, then they can be efficiently sequenced with other jobs by comparing the end point of one job with the start point of other jobs.

Likewise, when work is described by a polygon (eg. Vegetation work), it’s more effective to plan spatial work with accurate geometry than an approximation represented by a point.


Routing Based on Value Return

Sometimes spatial data can be mashed up with financial “return on visit” information to impact a company’s bottom line in more ways than just travel cost. Consider a Credit and Collections department of an organization that provides cable or utility service. This department will schedule and dispatch people into the field to either try and collect overdue payments or turn off services due to non-payment.

Route optimization could use criteria such as how much a customer owes and how long they have been overdue. For example, your algorithm could be designed to go after the highest owing customers first. However, if you’re not factoring in customer locations you may be sending field workers all over the service territory in an inefficient manner.

If you do however factor in location, you can now cluster customers and their potential return value. In doing this, you can create groups of aggregated customer locations and evaluate the financial impact in visiting that area on any given day. As an example, there may be a group of customers who owe only relatively little, however, they’re all residents of the same apartment complex. Traditionally these customers may not be approached for payment (or disconnected) for a month or more. With intelligent spatial algorithms, it could actually be more cost effective to send collections workers to this apartment complex.

The image above illustrates the locations and dollar range of delinquent customers. The advantage of knowing the locations of these customers allows the collections group to prioritize clusters of accounts that have higher outstanding payments due. One such cluster is circled on the map. This ensures field collection crews are dispatched to areas where the value of their work is maximized.


Conclusion

We have listed many aspects of route optimization, from simple fuel cost savings to turning your tabular data into powerful geospatial routing parameters. It is important to understand that these concepts are only possible with a strong foundation of integrated backend systems and accurate data. When this foundation is in place, routing becomes much more effective as antiquated addressing is replaced by highly accurate asset geometry. In the end, it comes down to perfecting your organization’s knowledge of where your assets are, and reaping the benefits of efficient work routing and execution as a result.

 

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GIS Blog Series – Part 9: Inability to Optimize Maintenance Routes Due to Lack of Spatial Data 2017-12-08T18:51:32+00:00

GIS Blog Series – Part 8: Performing Spatial Analysis of Field Work

GIS Blog Series – Part 8: Performing Spatial Analysis of Field Work

This is number eight in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

Performing Spatial Analysis of Field Work

Since we have already covered the advantages of integrating GIS and SAP systems with regard to planning and executing work, this post will focus more on the benefits of spatial analysis as it applies to analyzing completed work.  As we have been preaching throughout the series, the ability to integrate SAP data with an organization’s enterprise GIS offers many benefits including: 

  • The ability to identify trends surrounding different aspects of asset maintenance giving management a powerful tool to identify and understand ways to more efficiently maintain assets.
  • The use of spatial analysis to help understand where time and money are being spent across an organization’s asset network. This analysis is paramount in being able to identify trends in the ways these two resources are being utilized. 
  • The location and attribute information of completed work can provide significant benefits to forensic work following any unforeseen incident within an asset network.

Let’s explore these benefits in a bit more detail.

Identifying Trends

Aggregating and reporting on the cost of maintaining a specific piece of equipment, or many pieces of equipment in a given functional location is a common practice and can be used to identify trends.  However, these reports tend to be very complex and although trend analysis using tabular reporting can easily identify spending trends for a specific equipment or functional location, it is difficult to identify trends in groups of objects that share the same geography.  Creating a spatial representation of Work Orders though integration with GIS allows dollars spent on maintaining infrastructure to be plotted on a map, easily uncovering trends and relationships between corrective maintenance and location. These analyses allow an organization to fine tune preventive maintenance schedules based on location to quickly identify chronic maintenance issues based on location, improve reliability, and ultimately save money on corrective maintenance costs. 

A popular method of displaying this data spatially is by using a heat map.  A heat map is created using point data.  In our example, we will use the location of completed work orders.  A continuous surface is created by analyzing either the density of the point features or based on an attribute value associated with each of the point features.  In the heat maps we use for our example below, the total cost of the work for each work order is used.  The example later on uses the amount of time spent above and beyond the planned time for each work order operation.

Heat map based on relative dollars spent on corrective work order operations where blue is lower spend and red is higher spend.  Looking at tabular data alone may show a list of objects with higher than normal spend, however, hotspots of dollars spent on corrective maintenance become obvious when viewed on a map and may be associated with the location in which they are installed, prompting further investigation.

Another way to use completed work order data to identify trends is by analyzing actual time spent on specific work order operations displayed on a map to determine if the location of work is affecting the time it takes to perform the same type work across a larger service area. Seeing this data visually will quickly reveal areas that require additional time due to any number of factors.  Although further investigation may be required, identification of this trend by seeing it on a map is very intuitive and far quicker than trying to find trends though complicated tabular reporting.  A slight variation on this analysis can be based on the number of occurrences over a given period which would identify whether a problem is getting worse, or better.  These discoveries can result in the adjustment of the planned time to complete specific operations on preventive maintenance plans in specific areas.  Updating plans with proven data will lead to more accurate planning, scheduling, and budgeting for work in these areas.

In addition to identifying areas where things may be going wrong, the same analysis could be used to determine where things are going right.  In organizations where different regional offices have some level of autonomy around managing their own territory and crews, trends that appear to be going in the right direction could indicate process improvements by territory managers in one territory that could be leveraged and made into a companywide initiative to improve processes across all territories. 

Heat map based on deviation from planned vs. actual time spent on work order operations where blue is a minimum deviation and red is a large deviation.  Immediately it is apparent that jobs that take place in more rural areas took longer than planned in general.  In addition, there is a clear anomaly in the center that will warrant additional investigation.  Given that there are quite a few areas where more time was spent than was estimated, the anomaly in the middle of the map would not stick out in a tabular report.  However, on a map, it is obvious.

Forensic Work

Something that we haven’t touched on much in this series is the idea of an integrated GIS and SAP system lending a great deal of valuable input to many types of forensic work.  Let’s take a look at an example from the rail industry.  In the event of a derailment, the question on everyone’s mind is “why?”.  Using asset and work data displayed in a GIS, along with reference data from other GIS sources, forensic analysts can find the answers to questions like:

  • When and what work was done in this area?
  • What known defects were present at the time of the derailment?
  • When was the last automated test run for this section of track?
  • What materials were used in this section of track?

In keeping with the environmental factors theme in an earlier blog post, answers to the following environment related questions can be added to the overall investigation to shed additional light on the root cause:

  • What were environmental monitoring devices reading at the time of the derailment?
  • Were there any recent weather/temperature events in this area?

These are all questions that will contribute to determining what did or did not cause the derailment.  With the SAP-GIS integration in place, the work-related data is readily available for any spatial analysis required to answer these questions, minimizing the time required to determine root cause.  Additional spatial analysis can then be used to determine where else along the rail line the same conditions exist, allowing maintenance crews to be proactive and address the root cause in other areas of track, mitigating the risk of an additional derailment.

In summary, the spatial analysis of completed work can greatly benefit any organization with assets spread over a geographic area.  This data will drive the identification of trends in asset failure, work order cost, and work order operation duration with relation to surrounding geography, ensuring these issues will no longer go undiscovered.  Finally, this data will greatly reduce the time spent on root cause analysis of asset related failures, including being able to take the results of the analysis and identify any other areas through the asset network with similar conditions, thus mitigating risk of additional failures and costly repairs.

 

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GIS Blog Series – Part 8: Performing Spatial Analysis of Field Work 2017-11-09T18:31:20+00:00

GIS Blog Series – Part 7: Enabling Material Traceability with GIS & SAP

GIS Blog Series – Part 7: Enabling Material Traceability with GIS & SAP

This is number seven in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

Material Traceability is defined here as having traceable, verifiable, and complete data.  For assets, such as gas transmission pipelines this set of data could include:

  • Material attributes and manufacturer’s batch attributes
  • Test / inspection results
  • A history of inventory movements from Manufacturer, to Supplier, to Storage, to Job site, to its precise location in a pipeline network
  • Please see PHMSA excerpt at the end of this post for exact requirements

Having the ability able to quickly access this information digitally as opposed to dedicating a small team to manually search hard-copy documents is often seen as a wish list than a reality for many well-intentioned organizations.

Successful implementation of a material traceability solution involves documented business processes and cross-functional coordination.  Primary applications critical to a robust material traceability program include an ERP system such as SAP, and GIS for exact location information.  Additionally, key digital documents should be kept in Document Management System for easy access

An end to end process would include the following high level steps:

  • Establish Materials to be tracked in Batches and those to be Serialized
  • Procurement of Materials
  • Receipt and Storage of Material and Quality Inspection results
  • Consumption of batches and serialized materials via Work Order
  • Pass material and batch quantities as well as material and batch characteristics to GIS via Interface
  • As-built process in GIS mapping features and attribute values without re-keying data supplied by Interface
  • Passing of features and attribute location back to SAP from GIS via two-way interface
  • Creation / change of Functional Locations and Equipment with LAM values including batches as linear characteristics via SAP – GIS interface
  • Ability to report serial number history
  • Ability to track batch movement including return to SAP with precise location of batches throughout network
  • Use of both SAP and GIS for critical reporting
    • Serial Number history
    • Batch inventory movements and location information
    • Spatial Analytics enabling batch performance vs. location / environmental / climate factors

Role of each system in Material Traceability 

Primary Benefits:

  • Meet compliance / regulatory requirements
  • Standardize business processes across functions
  • Support where used and where in network reporting
  • Avoid usage of unapproved materials
  • Create traceable, verifiable, complete records
  • Spatial Analytics of Material performance vs. climate, environmental factors
  • Scalable solution for future initiatives

Summary:

If Material Traceability was easy, many more companies would already have well-established processes.  If your company is embarking on a such a program and you own SAP and a GIS application, a robust solution may not be as far off as first thought. 

Companies must still work with Suppliers for proper labeling / barcoding of material.  Discipline must be established to track batches and serial numbers for all physical movement from receipt to storage, to job site, to precise installation location.  Even scrapped or leftover remnants must be accounted for.  Mobile devices and label scanning is virtually a must. 

The key message here is these two systems (GIS and SAP) are entirely capable of enabling and supporting Material Traceability.

Note: [Docket No. PHMSA-2012-0068], Pipeline Safety: Verification of Records

An owner or operator of a pipeline must meet the recordkeeping requirements of Part 192 and Part 195 in support of MAOP and MOP determination. Traceable records are those which can be clearly linked to original information about a pipeline segment or facility. Traceable records might include pipe mill records, purchase requisition, or as-built documentation indicating minimum pipe yield strength, seam type, wall thickness and diameter. Careful attention should be given to records transcribed from original documents as they may contain errors. Information from a transcribed document, in many cases, should be verified with complementary or supporting documents.

 

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GIS Blog Series – Part 7: Enabling Material Traceability with GIS & SAP 2017-11-09T18:38:07+00:00

GIS Blog Series – Part 6: The Challenge in Linking Asset Health to Environmental Factors

GIS Blog Series – Part 6: The Challenge in Linking Asset Health to Environmental Factors

This is number six in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

It is mostly common sense that tells us environmental factors will have an impact on asset health.

Just think of car batteries in cold weather climates such as Northern Minnesota.  It’s not unusual for outdoor parking lots to have outlet plugs available to keep batteries charged. 

Beside cold temperatures, other climate and environmental factors can influence asset health and asset longevity such as:

  • Extreme heat / arid conditions

  • Freezing and thawing cycles

  • High wind areas

  • Earthquake zones

  • Mountainous regions

  • High vegetation areas

  • Geographical locations prone to snowstorms, landslides, tornados, hurricanes, etc.

  • Fresh or Saltwater shorelines

  • Underwater

Without spatial analysis, maintaining and prolonging asset health and integrity can become somewhat of a guessing game.  If climate and environmental factors are ignored it can be a forgone conclusion that asset health will decrease and/or asset risk will increase at an unacceptable rate

When SAP and GIS are integrated, layers of environmental data can overlay asset location to highlight factors affecting asset health.  In summer seasons for example, the hotter it becomes, the more power-lines expand and droop. By overlaying temperature or temperature forecast over your service territory, you know where to go out and inspect more often to make sure that your power-lines have adequate clearance.  Similarly, high forest growth areas may also need more frequent inspection than urban areas due to the increased likelihood of vegetation encroachment.

  

GIS DATA LAYERS

Many different types of data can be integrated into GIS and represented as a map layer. Examples can include: streets, parcels, zoning, flood zones, client locations, competition, shopping centers, office parks, demographics, etc.

When these layers are drawn on top of one another, undetected spatial trends and relationships will emerge. This allows us to gain insight about relevant characteristics of a location.

 

 

 

Underground assets, such as metal pipelines, can be prone to corrosion.  Soil conditions can have a direct impact on corrosion rates.  Knowing these conditions, pipe can be pre-treated with a protective coating designed to inhibit corrosion.  Likewise, pipelines can be installed in conjunction with additional equipment designed to protect against corrosion (cathodic protection) to prolong asset health and mitigate asset risk.

Having SAP as your system of record for asset maintenance means that the system can be used for routine inspections, preventive maintenance, and corrective maintenance.  When assets need to be maintained or replaced, SAP provides the ability to capture a great deal of information in a Maintenance Notification.  The information captured is most valuable for analysis when it can be recorded with simple codes as opposed to plain text.  Standard SAP code categories include Cause and Damage.  As assets are repaired and replaced over time, cause and damage factors should be recorded.  SAP Maintenance Orders can automatically capture material and labor costs.

Now armed with spatial analytics tools: causes, damage, frequency, costs, etc. can be compared with climate and environmental factors listed above.  Ideally, companies would strive to only locate their assets in environmentally favorable or neutral locations.  However, due to customer locations and/or resource availability, that may simply not be feasible.  Nevertheless, knowing detailed asset history and the impact of the climate and environment, maintenance engineers should be quite capable of designing an inspection and prevention plan that will maximize investments and prolong asset health.

 

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GIS Blog Series – Part 6: The Challenge in Linking Asset Health to Environmental Factors 2017-11-09T18:06:51+00:00

GIS Blog Series – Part 5: Inability to Provide Asset Data as well as Spatial Data to a Mobile Workforce

GIS Blog Series – Part 5: Inability to Provide Asset Data as well as Spatial Data to a Mobile Workforce

This is number five in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

For those who are sufficiently long-in-the-tooth, think back to a time before smart phones…before GPS…before mobile maps. 

In those days a cross-country trek, a trip to a neighboring state, or even a short drive to a new location nearby required careful planning and preparation.  Even with printed maps and notes, it was still very common to become lost and then need to stop and ask a local for directions.  The whole process was difficult, error-prone, and stressful.

Many present-day maintenance technicians and engineers still live in this world.  In the office, they have access to their SAP EAM tools, and they have access to their GIS, but out in the field they may not have either.  This leads to challenges that impact their ability to inspect and repair assets:

CHALLENGE

SCENARIO

“What asset am I looking at?” Worker is next to an asset, but does not know which one it is.  There might be a label or name plate attached to the asset, but those can be destroyed or damaged over time.
“What work needs to be done on the asset in front of me?” Worker is next to an asset, but does not know what work is needed.
“What work has been done here in the past?” Worker does not know what work has been done on the assets at their location.
“What other assets are nearby that I can work on, while I’m here?” Worker does work on one asset and wants to know if there are others nearby that require inspection, maintenance, or repair.
“The asset I’m looking for is missing!” Worker has an assignment to inspect or maintain an asset, but can’t find it in the field.
“There is an asset here I wasn’t expecting!” Worker finds an asset in the field that is not present at that location according to the system.

Through the adoption of a mobile work management platform that pulls data directly from integrated SAP and GIS systems, we can help our maintenance engineers with these challenges. 

A mobile solution that pulls data from SAP and GIS, and lets users enter and update data, modernizes and empowers maintenance workers.  Their challenges are now addressable:

CHALLENGE

SOLUTIONS USING MOBILE SAP & GIS

“What asset am I looking at?” User can look at a mobile map view where assets are identified and labelled.  Reference layers in the map can help the user confirm the asset.  (e.g., “The railway signal at the end of this bridge is the one I want.”)
“What work needs to be done on the asset in front of me?” User can view Work Orders and Notifications for the asset on the mobile device.
“What work has been done here in the past?” User can view work history for the asset / location on the mobile device.
“What other assets are nearby that I can work on, while I’m here?” User can access a list of nearby assets and check for any inspection, maintenance, or repair tasks needed.
“The asset I’m looking for is missing!” User can make an update to the asset record on the mobile device to tell the back office that it is missing.  Back-Office can then investigate and correct the data.
“There is an asset here I wasn’t expecting!” User can create the asset on a map view at the correct location, enter in any available data, and send to the back office to trigger creation of a new asset record.

In addition to enabling and empowering the field engineer to complete work, an integrated SAP-GIS mobile solution, such as SAP Work Manager, can also increase data quality.  Cases where the real world layout of assets differs from the system representation can be identified, documented, and corrected.  For example, if a storm knocks over a utility pole, a new one may be stood up, but possibly in a slightly different location.  A field worker at that location can note the actual assets and positions right on a map view in the mobile app, and push those updates back to SAP and GIS. Then, through a fully-automated or user-controlled process, the corrected data can be updated in the system.

Mobile GIS-SAP applications like SAP Work Manager can assist with the connectivity challenges faced in the field through offline and synching capabilities. These applications have an offline store local to the device and can transmit data back and forth between backend systems. This enables a more robust mobile solution that can handle working underground, extreme weather conditions, device issues, etc. 

Data from the backend system can be sent to the device while the user is online and stored on it.  The user can access that data, even while offline, to see maps, assets, and work required.  While offline, data entered by the user is stored on the device.  When the user is back online he or she can perform a sync to send updates to the back-end system.  The user gains the benefits of having geospatial asset information in the field without requiring a continuous connection to the back-end systems.

So, whether it’s data flowing out to the field, or in from the field, we can see that providing asset and spatial data through mobile solutions fully realizes the power of SAP-GIS integration.  Assets in the real world can be matched with assets in the systems for efficient and effective management.

 

Subscribe to our Newsletter below and stay tuned on the future GIS blog posts focusing on topics such as: Data Maintenance and Data Integrity, Influence on Planning and Scheduling, Mobility, Spatial Analysis, and Material Traceability.

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GIS Blog Series – Part 5: Inability to Provide Asset Data as well as Spatial Data to a Mobile Workforce 2017-11-09T19:30:24+00:00

GIS Blog Series – Part 4: Challenges in planning work with ability to view spatially

GIS Blog Series – Part 4: Challenges in planning work with ability to view spatially

This is the fourth in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

Planning for the maintenance of assets includes parameters like:

  1. How often should I inspect or service assets?
  2. What tasks are involved in the maintenance of the asset, and on which maintenance cycle?
  3. What materials and/or tooling are required to inspect or service the assets?
  4. How should I group maintenance work?

When dealing with geospatially dispersed assets, planning takes on additional importance, particularly with items 1 and 4 above. Costs associated with inspecting or repairing remote assets are increased due to travel, time for asset-locating and environmental conditions. Therefore, optimization of maintenance activities can be very attractive to planners and the C-Suite alike.

The good news is that when SAP and GIS are integrated effectively, geospatial planning becomes a powerful tool, not an obstacle to overcome.

Take for example, electric utility distribution poles that may have a wide variety of inspection intervals. In times past, poles would typically be grouped by a plat map number – from a simple grid that covers the service area. Consider the geographical and man-made features within each plat map that would potentially inhibit timely inspection of these poles: rivers, mountain ranges, interstate highways etc.  In addition, if individual poles had been replaced, the newer poles may be on a different inspection cycle than other poles that are nearby. This example can be seen in the below illustration:

Maintenance planning with geospatial awareness enables assets to be grouped according to how they may be most efficiently worked, including the following factors:

  • Geographical obstructions (e.g. Rivers that are difficult to cross)
  • Man-made obstructions (e.g. Interstate highway with no local over/underpasses)
  • Municipal or county lines
  • Plant regions/Work centers/Corporate divisions
  • Different access requirements (e.g. Helicopter vs automobile)

As a result, maintenance can also be more accurately planned for the workforce. Maintenance plans can be more consistently balanced, compared with the highly varied asset composition of the plat map approach (eg. inspection work orders that may take a few hours to execute, or a few weeks).

Geospatially aware planning requires a GIS tool that can automatically, or with human assistance, create shapes on a map, and have assets within the shapes extracted and put in SAP maintenance plans.

It is important to note that this process also lends itself to good “asset based maintenance” practices. For example, in the case of pole asset inspection, each pole has a time-stamped and detailed historical record assigned to it, rather than the system saying “this polygon area was inspected”.

Of course, the life cycle of new and retiring assets needs to be managed in this scenario, so that maintenance plans are always accurate for the spatial area they cover (and every asset belongs to a maintenance plan).

Let’s take a look at some of the tasks that might be required to move to this approach, including adjustments to perhaps outdated geospatial planning methods.

Below are key roles and business units in an organization, and some of the considerations in moving to a geospatial, asset centric planning solution.

GIS/Mapping:

  • Breaking down plats to assets
  • Ensuring data accuracy (both existence and location of assets)
  • Implementing geospatial selection tool
  • Drawing new shapes (planning work geospatially)

SAP:

  • Establishing an interface to accept GIS-planned work
  • Configuration of standard SAP PM objects
  • Enabling new features such as measuring points as a method for recording inspection results

IT/Governance:

  • Create an initiative or project
  • Align software decisions with corporate direction
  • Software procurement if necessary

Business:

  • Identifying regulatory needs and internal reporting requirements
  • Establish cutover plan
  • Adjust compliance/reporting processes

In summary, planning for the maintenance of assets requires intense consideration for various asset related parameters. However with SAP and GIS integrated properly, geospacial planning becomes a powerful and efficient tool for your business, not an obstacle to overcome.

Subscribe to our Newsletter below and stay tuned on the future GIS blog posts focusing on topics such as: Data Maintenance and Data Integrity, Influence on Planning and Scheduling, Mobility, Spatial Analysis, and Material Traceability.

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GIS Blog Series – Part 4: Challenges in planning work with ability to view spatially 2017-11-09T19:36:19+00:00

GIS Blog Series – Part 3: The System of Record

GIS Blog Series – Part 3: The System of Record

This is the third in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

Almost every customer we work with raises the question of the “System of Record”. What is the “System of Record” and why is it important?

System of Record (SOR) defines the system responsible for maintaining the true representation of an asset or a portion of the asset. This system maintains the “true definition” of the asset for the organization.

  • SOR is vital in defining the most cost-efficient path for system integration.

    • For example, a map based business application like SAP Work Manager should get spatial data from GIS, and asset data from SAP, without intermediaries.

  • To reduce system complexity, data entry should occur in the SOR and flow out to the end users of the system.

Many people could say that their system of record is SAP, or that their system of record is GIS. However, there’s not necessarily a way to govern data without an interface comprising a) a data transfer mechanism and b) data controls on each side.  Data governance ends up being more dependent on training or people following the business process, but sometimes it’s hard to establish that business process or even enforce it.  Even though one system is deemed the system of record, you’re maintaining the data in multiple places.

With an interface, the opportunity presents itself to enforce the system of record by:

  • Identifying the system of record at the individual field level

  • Identifying the source system which supplied the data

  • Creating/updating fields received from the system of record in other systems

  • Hiding fields or making fields uneditable in the non “System of Record” system

  • Programmatically enforcing system of record processing

  • Capturing interface processing for subsequent audit purposes

GIS or SAP: Which is the System of Record?

  • Both systems may own certain attributes specific to an asset

  • In many cases, attributes will overlap across systems

  • Currently, SAP trends to be the System of Record for assets

Sample Scenarios for System of Record

An example for identifying and acting upon the system of record:

The following is a portion of a production mapping table for a live GIS to SAP interface, with the “System of Record” indicated in the LAM Owner column (G=GIS, S=SAP).

Every field passed by the interface resides in the mapping table with the SOR field populated.  The two highlighted fields are examples of system of record ownership.  As can be expected, asset geometry is owned by the GIS system and passed to SAP, where it can be stored in characteristic fields or forwarded to some other GIS reporting system (i.e. GEF).  SAP will not be permitted to update the geometry field.  On the other hand, SAP_ID (i.e. equipment number) is owned by SAP and will never be updated by the GIS system.  The interface program must consider the contents of the SOR field prior to creating or altering fields in the respective systems.  If the geometry entry was inadvertently updated in SAP, the next time that record was processed by the interface program, the correct GIS value would be restored.  The same would hold true in the reverse direction with the SAP_ID.

How to designate the “System of Record”

On the surface, deriving the “System of Record” could be viewed as a simple process, but a great deal of thought and effort must be expended to get it right.  The field mapping exercise should identify all relevant fields passed by the interface, including any transforms required.  Once the fields are identified, the ownership column should be marked accordingly.  Lastly, the interface program should be developed in such a fashion to take the ownership column into consideration prior to creating or updating asset records.  Once all the above steps are completed, “System of Record” identification will assure the correct data resides in both the SAP and GIS systems.

“System of Record” on steroids

Another technology you could apply to the above scenario is master data governance.  Master data governance or a master data governance tool that sits on top of SAP can also control where data comes from and what data gets updated from different systems.  It has the capability to control the master data that gets through the interface, making sure it’s compliant with all the standards, whether that’s system of record, allowed values or anything of the sort.  It enforces those records with both automated and manual checks.  Ultimately, it helps to keep not only the systems in sync, but your business and data standards enforced.

Conclusion

Regardless of your approach (i.e. manual or programmatic) for implementing and enforcing the “System of Record” strategy, the concept is necessary to assure the “true” system that owns the data is identified and that safeguards are implemented to assure the data is never compromised.

Subscribe to our Newsletter below and stay tuned on the future GIS blog posts focusing on topics such as: Data Maintenance and Data Integrity, Influence on Planning and Scheduling, Mobility, Spatial Analysis, and Material Traceability.

About the Authors: The GIS blog post series is a collaborative insight channel, brought to you by Vesta’s GIS experts:

Get the Latest GIS News and Insights in one monthly email.

Subscribe to Vesta’s Newsletter and stay on top of industry news, insights and more.

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GIS Blog Series – Part 3: The System of Record 2017-12-27T15:35:10+00:00

GIS Blog Series – Part 2:  How to mitigate the increased risk of having incomplete information on a given asset

GIS Blog Series – Part 2: How to mitigate the increased risk of having incomplete information on a given asset

This is the second in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.

How to mitigate the increased risk of having incomplete information on a given asset.

Any organization required to manage and separately maintain two complimentary asset management systems containing data on the same assets, one system being SAP and the other being an enterprise geographic information system (GIS), will run a very high risk of maintaining an incomplete or inaccurate view of an asset due to either system containing inaccurate, incomplete, or contradicting asset data.  Asset maintenance programs, compliance reporting, and an organization’s overall confidence in the asset data are just some of the areas within the asset management group that can be negatively impacted by asset data within the GIS and SAP systems being incomplete.  Although the explanation of the data inconsistency between the two systems can be caused by myriad of reasons, the risk of self-inflicting these types of data issues is greatly reduced with the introduction of an automated interface between the two systems.

Data is the Foundation of Efficient Asset Management

Before getting into the pitfalls of manually maintaining the same asset data in multiple systems and how an automated interface can mitigate many of the risks associated with this approach, it is important to note that we are ultimately trying to protect the integrity of an organization’s asset data.  Nothing is worse than pulling an asset summary report from SAP and GIS for the same asset types, just to compare the numbers and find that the systems do not agree with each other.  This can have demoralizing and sometimes financial impacts.  For example, a pipeline company may need to compile a report summarizing miles of pipeline meeting different criteria.  Often the data for these reports is compiled from multiple systems.  If the different mileage summary reports do not equal each other in terms of total miles of pipe in the ground, a regulatory body may trigger costly audits that will dig deeper into the data and uncover even more data discrepancies that were not known to exist.

To ensure the asset attribute data remains accurate across the datasets in both systems, it is also important to acknowledge the spatial component that a GIS system brings to the table.  With the release of SAP Geo Enablement Framework (GEF), SAP can utilize spatial data maintained within SAP or consumed through an interface with GIS, as a way to visualize the location of an organizations assets, as well as the location of work on or around those assets.  Since many organizations require an internal group of GIS professionals just to keep up with edits to the spatial location of assets with the GIS, it is often too much additional work to ask an SAP user to maintain the spatial locations in assets in SAP in parallel with the GIS group.  This may lead to spatial updates in SAP falling behind updates in the GIS.  As capabilities like mobile work management are utilized, the inaccurate location of an asset in SAP could send field maintenance crews to the wrong location causing frustration and delays.

In some industries that rely heavily on the spatial location of their assets to drive compliance reporting, a lag time in spatial updates in SAP may lead to an asset being assigned to a maintenance plan whose inspection cycle is not compliant with regulations based on its location or proximity to other objects.  For example, in the natural gas transmission pipeline industry, proximity to inhabited structures will drive the maximum time between inspection and maintenance cycles.  If the asset is assigned to the wrong inspection cycle in SAP due to delayed or missed asset creation in GIS, the organization who owns that asset is no longer in compliance with government regulations and can be heavily fined for the mistake.

Inefficiencies of Dual Asset Maintenance

At Vesta Partners, we can typically attribute many data mismatches between SAP and GIS to a few general areas.  The first of these areas is the complex and often convoluted business processes that are required when manually maintaining multiple systems.  In these cases, the same asset data is stored and maintained separately in both systems.  We call this dual maintenance of asset data.  To cope with this requirement, the data maintenance business process will diverge into two separate parallel paths to accommodate data entry in both GIS and SAP.  This is where the process typically breaks down and the systems may become out of sync due to the following reasons:

  • Updates to asset data make it to one data maintenance group and not the other. In these cases, the data updates simply “fall through the cracks”.

  • Enough data available for one group to proceed with data entry, while the other may require additional clarification, causing delays.

  • In some cases, there are no formal business processes and the “tribal knowledge” of who to pass the data to within which group vanishes as people move within, or move on from a company.

  • Human error. As different people manually enter the same data into different systems for different uses, the likelihood of data mismatches increases due to things like typos or people interpreting the same data differently.

Mitigating Risk Through an Automated Interface

So, how do we mitigate all these data integrity risks through the use of an SAP – GIS interface?  Probably the most significant change that organizations will notice is the idea of a single system of data entry.  Whether it is GIS or SAP, the majority of the data should only need to be entered in a single system.  Once entered and validated, the data can then be sent across the interface to the other system, ensuring the SAP and GIS asset datasets remain synchronized.

As a single system of entry is defined, many organizations see the complexity of the processes governing asset data maintenance in SAP and GIS becoming greatly reduced.  Typically, one group will take over most the data maintenance duties.  This allows the knowledge of required asset information and interpretation of as built and installation documentation to be consolidated within the single group responsible for the data integrity across the SAP and GIS platforms.  Although this doesn’t eliminate the need for data specialists within each system, it can greatly reduce the effort required to maintain the data on both sides of the interface.  This leaves more time for activities that will reinforce data integrity, such as data validation and verification.

Since we have placed such an emphasis on the quality of an organization’s data, it would probably be appropriate to mention that an interface between SAP and GIS will not solve all of an organizations data quality issues.  After all, data quality and maintenance is a never-ending process that requires constant review and improvement.  One such improvement that we have been able to implement once a GIS – SAP interface is in place, is what we like to call a “Catch and Correct” program.  This program utilizes the SAP Work Manager mobile application that allows users in the field to verify the characteristics and location of assets in the field.  A user can stand right in front of an asset and verify that it is located in the correct place and that it has the correct attribution such as serial number, specifications, manufacturer information, etc.  If any discrepancies exist between what is in the field and what is in the system, the asset is flagged in the system and the correct values are input for review and eventually updated in both GIS and SAP.  Although programs like these do not necessarily require an SAP-GIS interface, the efficiency surrounding the propagation of data corrections is greatly increased with the presence of an automated interface.

In Summary

In the end, the foundation of any effective asset management system is the data it is built upon.  An organization can employ the most cutting edge technology and apply unwavering dedication to their defined business processes, however, if the data isn’t accurate and complete, everything falls apart.  The many risks associated with incomplete or mismatched data between an organization’s SAP and GIS systems are greatly reduced through the implementation of an automated interface that can pass data to and from each system.  This ensures data required by each system is complete and synchronized, ensuring that the data can be trusted, reporting out of each system matches, and users of each system have access to accurate data critical to their daily tasks.

Subscribe to our Newsletter below and stay tuned on the future GIS blog posts focusing on topics such as: Data Maintenance and Data Integrity, Influence on Planning and Scheduling, Mobility, Spatial Analysis, and Material Traceability.

About the Authors: The GIS blog post series is a collaborative insight channel, brought to you by Vesta’s GIS experts:

Get the Latest GIS News and Insights in one monthly email.

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GIS Blog Series – Part 2:  How to mitigate the increased risk of having incomplete information on a given asset 2017-12-27T15:35:48+00:00
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