Make your IT assets more profitable simply by linking

There are feature rich back-end in use in the offices, but the field operations are still managed by the printed papers or documents inteded to be printed. The majority of information is managed by people. Moreover, the entire information is document oriented and produced by independent, typically discipline specific departments. Format of the documentation is more driven by the producers than consumers.

The use of mainly human readable documents has lead into poor usage, because constrained or missing meta information prevents efficient searches. Concentration on the human readability neither supports efficient linking of related information. Finally, the traditional, document and hard copy oriented distribution introduces obsolescence and availability risks. As a result, information is scattered, independently published and difficult to access. Same applies for the field status, which is currently either missing, constrained or in human understandable format only.

The quality of information transfers may be improved easily by adopting a dedicated approach for the purpose. The Data4Profit approach may be easily deployed by initially based on the existing documents and identification principles. The first benefits will be achieved by stand-alone use and the benefits may be gradually expanded by improving IT integration with back-end systems according to the customer specific requirements and opportunities.

Current way of working

Current approach in the management of information transfers to the field is relatively traditional. While documentation management systems have been evolved, they are still used for producing traditional documentation. Information contents is most often divided tightly into discipline specific entities – documents of mechanics, hydraulics, electrics and automation are fully independent of each other. In addition, human readable operator’s, user’s, spare part, etc. manuals are typically produced separately.

”Focus is still in the individual documents”

Most often the documentation is distributed as printed hard copies or corresponding PDF documents stored into various storage media, such as CD, DVD and USB-stick. Support for field service have typically been implemented by means of special documents, e.g. troublshooting guides, checklists and spare part manuals. Common characteristics for entire documentation is, that everything can be printed into paper, as in the past. Even if there were a document sharing site, where the same documents may be searched and downloaded for local storage and printing.

”Transmission media has evolved more, than information sctructure”

Traditional approach for following up the field operations covers various intentionally written reports covering e.g. travels or troubleshooting sessions. Essential is, that such information is written in a free human understandable format and intentionally for human consumers only. Various exceptions are also reported in a less formal way by phone calls, emails and other kind of messaging services. It is also typical, that such information is provided into many persons of receiving organization, depending on the available contact information and personal relationships.

”There is potential for improved systematics”

Due to the traditional documentation and sharing approach, checklists and other kind of service reports – which are systematically stored – are first printed, then manually filled and finally scanned and stored into a corresponding back-end system. In most cases the scanned document is the only piece of information and in some cases some information will be stored also in a machine understandable format.

”Processes do not utilize the all potential supported by the existing tools”

In the modern systems, some telematics information is stored over an uplink into a server, where it can be analyzed. Typically such information is produced by onboard control system. Most typical is to store only signal value updates for further analyses with focus in e.g. performance and mechanical wear. However, the signal values contain some inaccuracy, which introduces some constraints to the accuracy of the analyses. Most often only the symptoms clearly affecting on the behavior or performance may be identified.

Constrained potential of current approach

Main problem in the information sharing to the field is, that the information is intended to be printed. Such often means, that consuming persons are assumed to understand some basics, such as product and documentation structures in order to find out the required information. Furthermore, hard copy oriented contents typically means constrained or missing meta information, which limits the searching capabilities. Hard copy oriented documentation does neither support follow-up, who accesses the documentation, when and where. Such makes it difficult to unambiguously detect inconsistencies and missing documents as well as missing or unauthorized accesses. So, there is no feedback for the documentation usage, quality and availability.

”Hard copies have serious constraints in usability”

It is obvious, that the main problem in the current approach is, that only a part of the available information is systematically collected. In addition to the information available for the control systems, there exist variety of information, which can be provided by corresponding persons. Far before affecting to the system performance or behavior, e.g. system operators can identify mechanical wear and minor leakages. Important is, that such may be detected before they’ll affect on the system behavior, when control system is able to detect them. It can be summarized, that successful predictive maintenance requires indications from both persons and control systems.

”Hard copies have serious obsolescence and inconsistency risks”

When the service systematics is based on the printed checklists, there is a significant risk of e.g. using copies of old version with missing tasks, too easy marking of skipped tasks done and erroneously re-written checklists after losing the original one. There may also exist missing details in the old checklists, which are expected by the latest back-end version, typically leading into the use of ”well known” values. The scanned checklists together with the free form supplemental information have not enabled systematic and detailed analyses of the service actions. In the upper level, one of the most significant problems is, that there are multiple back-end systems, where various information shall be stored. Typically each back-end system expects slightly different set of information, which causes confusion among the service personnel.

A new Data4Profit approach

Main advantage of the traditional approach is, that such enables flexible adoption of new, more systematic approaches. In the simplest case, more comprehensive field status may be managed without significant IT integration by utilizing the existing principles. In order to provide improved systematics, various identification labels in the systems shall be supplemented by machine readability. The task is easy, because the label contents are typically managed somewhere – at least in a spreadsheet or in some kind of more sophisticated management IT system. However, in both cases it is relatively easy to export a list of such identifiers for label production.

”Data4Profit can just replace the fooling around with pens and papers”

Another advantage is, that the documents can be utilized by the improved sharing approach without any changes. So, the start-up will be easy, does not require big investments and start providing advantages immediately. Due to the constrained meta information of traditional documents, linking cannot be supported without some supplements. After getting the linking into use, the documents may be divided into smaller entities, which improves the operational efficiency via smaller file sizes causing shorter access times. In addition to the smooth initial deployment, such enables continuous improvement of operations in parallel with improved operational efficiency.

”Further advantages may be achieved gradually”

While the Data4Profit approach utilizes the labels as an interface, more complex connections between the IT systems are not necessarily required. Where possible, the existing lables may be supplemented by QR-code or NFC format tags. The worst case scenario is, that the labels shall be updated. Natural approach is to start using the new, machine understandable labels in new products. For mature products it may make sense to start by updating the most critical labels in order to maximize the profit/investment -ratio.

”No changes required to the existing process and back-end systems”

The traditional approach for storing the field status as a document into corresponding back-end system works similarly with the Data4Profit approach. The main difference is, that a machine understandable document will be stored instead of the scanned, human understandble one. Such does not require any additional IT integration work, but still enables further development in the information analysis. One should notice, that same document may be simultaneously both human and machine understandable, which provides excellent backward compatibility with the old approach. More usable information will provide significant advantage by supporting strategic decisions with systematically collected information. Further consequence may also enable adoption of the existing back-end features, which were not earlier usable.

”Integration may be improved step-by-step”

After getting the improved field information management working as a replacement of printed papers, the operational efficiency may be improved by furhter IT integration. It is up to at least license models of back-end systems and number of transactions, when it makes sense to develope further integration. One should also notice, that due to the more comprehensive monitoring of field operations, the Data4Profit approach is capable of producing much more information than the traditional approach. It naturally means, that full utilization of the more comprehensive field status may require additional IT integration, which will typically replace massive manual operations. Depending on the organization, such operations may exist in various parts of the organization.

Conclusions

Moving from the traditional field information management into a more systematic Data4Profit one will not automatically lead into massive IT integration projects. Instead, the initial advantages may be achieved even with a stand-alone use of the new approach. If the corresponding information already exists in a back-end systems, traditional file export and import based integration will provide drop-in compatibility with the traditional, hard copy based way of working. The use of the import and export integration keeps the systems so independent of each other, that the effort caused by changes in either side are minimal and do not introduce significant economical and technical risks.

”Drop-in compatibility enables immediate profit”

All existing documentation may be distributed directly with the new approach. In order to get the all advantages in accessing the documents efficiently and context sensitively. Minor improvements may be needed in order to achieve all advantages resulted by information linking. It may also be possible, that there are existing but unused features in the back-end systems, which may be taken into use together with Data4Profit, without a need for replacing the back-end system.

”Deployment may be performed in manageable steps”

It depends on the organizational structures and used processes and tools, when it makes sense to implement full IT integration between Data4Profit and back-end systems. Thanks to the use of protected hyperlinks, IT integration with Data4Profit may be kept very simple and implemented gradually, when required. Essential is, that Data4Profit is flexible and able to provide significant advantages from the very beginning.