The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is being embraced as a major driver of growth and productivity. Logically, the integration of physical assets and information technology systems makes a lot of sense. Sending asset specific, machine generated data over the internet to data bases provides real-time granular information that enables enhanced modeling, analysis and decision making. To appreciate the future, we should reflect on the past.

In regards to Asset Management, let’s start with maintenance systems. Twenty years ago manual maintenance systems were the norm. One of the first spreadsheet applications, Visicalc was released in 1978. Then SuperCalc in 1980. Another competitor was IBM’s Multiplan in 1982. It was followed by others including Lotus 1-2-3 in 1983. Lotus was replaced by Excel in 1985 and this seems to be the accepted norm today. Maintenance professionals realized the value of these tools and adopted them for their use. Throughout this period spreadsheet based manual maintenance systems evolved and are still in use today. It is not uncommon to find a CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management Software) in use with a spreadsheet system also maintained and relied on.

The first CMMS were introduced in the 1980s. Their initial functionality focused on integrating work order management, spare parts inventory management, preventive maintenance scheduling and asset records. Many companies still use legacy CMMS with none to little to some integration with today’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems.

EAM (Enterprise Asset Management) was developed in the 1990s and provided a more comprehensive set of tools for asset management including some root cause analysis, predictive maintenance and financial costs/asset lifecycle analysis. EAM’s intention is to maintain and sustain an organization’s assets.

EAM and CMMS are often used interchangeably today even though their focuses are different. CMMS are the lifeblood of a maintenance organization for work assignment, documentation, preventive maintenance practices, work planning and scheduling, inventory management, equipment histories, etc. EAM is more focused on managing the optimal life cycle of the physical assets. Today, there is overlap between these two systems.

The role and function of plant maintenance has evolved also. Maintenance was initially reactive. When something breaks, fix it. This normally advances to a more proactive preventive philosophy. Some action is taken on a regular interval to hopefully reduce failures. As capabilities increase they might move to being predictive. Analyses are conducted which dictate any interventions required. You fix it before it breaks. During this same time maintenance department became reliability departments.

This all leads to the early 2000s and the appearance of the Internet. And that has led to the IIoT. Now assets can communicate in real-time thermal, lubrication, vibration, amps, and other characteristics of their health that can be analyzed to address potential issues before the asset fails.

To make all this happen, can mean for some organizations, a significant investment in IT infrastructure, security policies and embedded sensors / metering. Bringing an organization from spreadsheets / basic CMMS with technologically stranded assets and a reactive / preventive workforce is a significant challenge for an organization to face on their own. This calls for outside skills and focus to guide an organization and enable them to evaluate, plan for and capitalize on this opportunity. The faster an organization can seamlessly integrate both physical and digital assets supporting operational processes the greater the benefits and the greater the advantage over competitors.