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Use service relationship management to maximize IIoT investment and uptime

While managers in many industries have been leveraging automation and the industrial internet of things to monitor their assets for several years, the question must be asked: Are they getting real and sustainable value from the data they’re collecting?

Perhaps not. While managers in many industries have been leveraging automation and IIoT to monitor their assets for several years, it’s becoming increasingly clear that IIoT does not always deliver on its promise of raising uptime and productivity. In fact, Cisco reported this year that 75% of IoT initiatives fail.

That has not stopped management teams from becoming dependent on connected sensors and IIoT deployments to enhance and improve their maintenance processes in many fields, from manufacturing to transportation, big agriculture to mining. Connected sensors can track everything from temperature readings and pressure gauges to asset utilization and more. They can provide valuable information to be used to predict failures before they occur. All of these benefits can be critical to keeping operations running without a hitch. But eventually, something will go wrong.

Just knowing that something is wrong, however, does not ensure effective service management. An alert is just an alert; it may notify a manager that something’s amiss, but ensuring this information is actionable and integrated directly into the actual repair process is often quite a challenge.

When an alarm sounds or a light turns on, it’s not unusual for teams to respond with a flurry of phone calls and emails, all the while searching for warranty, service history, build details, maintenance status and other asset information. This is true whether it’s a combine sitting in a field, a tractor-trailer parked by the side of the road or an assembly line that’s shut down.

Once a technician, mechanic or engineer is dispatched, work orders and inspections are written on paper forms, requiring (error-prone) data entry. The teams can spend more time trying to track down, decipher and share information than they actually spend fixing the problem — a huge drag on productivity.

Transforming the service and repair process

Effectively maximizing utilization and performance of equipment, reducing unwelcome downtime and accelerating repairs requires a better approach. Adding a layer of communication and collaboration on top of — not replacing — existing applications, including IIoT and other diagnostic equipment, can transform service and repair processes. Instituting a closed-loop service event management process, known as service relationship management (SRM), can reduce downtime and repair costs while improving productivity and efficiency.

An SRM platform enables managers and maintenance teams to quickly access connected sensor data and turn it into sharable, usable, actionable information. For instance, maintenance managers can quickly engage contractors and equipment manufacturers around technical questions by sharing pictures, service history and diagnostic information. Repair teams have mobile access to inspection information, wiring diagrams, build details, recommended repair plans, predefined labor operations and required parts.

SRM unifies the management of service events. It enables rich, role-based user experiences that combine in-context access to detailed equipment information, real-time communication and collaboration, business intelligence tools and integrated diagnostics from IIoT applications.

Intelligent information sharing

A few years ago, an article by Josh Bersin in Forbes highlighted the importance of connecting systems of engagement and systems of record. Adding a new intelligent layer of connectivity with back-office applications has only recently become truly feasible.

Information can be used simultaneously in both the SRM and legacy environments in support of service management. For instance, if an asset management system is already managing maintenance schedules, preventive maintenance-due information can be shared with the SRM platform. Then the information for the service can be captured via mobile devices to ensure successful completion of maintenance operations. The updated data on the asset, event and completed work order can then be shared with systems of record when the service activity is completed for further processing and analysis as required.

In the case of IIoT sensors, information gathered by these sensors is fully integrated into the service and repair process with an SRM platform. All service-related communications, as well as asset information, is made actionable through the capture of information from multiple IIoT sources and components; designated users are automatically notified, creating a collaborative electronic workspace. Information can include everyday operational performance data, failure alerts, fault codes and other sensor alarms, which can be categorized by severity levels based on user-defined parameters. This information can be accompanied by suggested repair and triage plans and prescribed labor operations and parts based on IIoT source, type and severity.

By connecting the people, processes, technology and information across the service value chain, participants can access the information they need, when and where they need it.

Delivering sustainable value and real ROI

According to Grandview Research, IIoT spend will reach more than $933 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 27.8% between now and then. To ensure a great ROI on that investment, industries need to leverage SRM.

The ever-increasing number of connections between assets, data, people, technology and processes has inspired the creation of new terminology — connected assets and smart factories, for instance. No matter what the terms or the industry, managers should not get caught up in the hype and just add IIoT sensors to their equipment without a clear path to success.

The key is to focus on the business value and outcomes that can be achieved when the words are actually turned into action. That means improving communication and decision-making, both internally and externally, creating new levels of visibility and transparency, and ensuring process consistency and receiving actionable feedback for continuous improvement.

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