As utility asset management practices and technology continue to evolve, more focus has turned toward the user experience and consumption of relative information visualized in real-time. Historically, asset management information was unidirectional. That is, information from the field typically flowed in one direction, and those providing the information were not able to experience the impacts of the data. This, in turn, created the potential for disengagement, and even disbelief that the data being collected though maintenance and field inspection was even being utilized at all. Today, the need to have bidirectional information has never been more apparent.
Managing assets requires front-line employees responsible for operations, maintenance, and data collection to have readily available information at their fingertips. Decisions need to be made quickly and actions made swiftly to ensure a higher level of service provided to customers is sustained and even enhanced. Therefore, focusing on the user experience as a primary design characteristic to support bi-directional data flow has impacted the business environment, as the tools need to be designed with this in mind. This article will explore how California Water Service (Cal Water) is focusing on user experience and the impact it has to evolve Enterprise Asset Management (EAM).
Humans are wired to consume data more effectively in certain ways, whether it is the way it is oriented, colors, shapes, intensity of contrast, and so forth. What all of the variations come down to is data visualization. Andy Kirk, author of Data Visualization: a successful design process, wrote, “Visual analytics is the representation and presentation of data that exploits our visual perception abilities to amplify cognition.”
What Kirk and many others have identified as key to growing data-rich processes, such as EAM, is the ability to present them in a manner that creates a desired response or action. At Cal Water, the Asset Management Team focuses on data visualization to consume the bi-directional information in the field. An example of how data visualization has been implemented is showing a status change of a valve maintenance work order, such as it being recently completed, spatially on a map. The information uploaded is stored and simultaneously returned to express how that single work order affects the reliability, functionality, and relationship of a larger system. The desire of visually appealing data has created a positive impact by providing information in a fashion which can be understood by a broad set of front-line employees with minimal training. However, it also requires more upfront design and increased iteration to ensure optimal visualizations across a diverse population are met. Not only is data visualization key, but the quality of the data also takes on a new level of importance.
Creating a positive user experience and increasing data quality are top priorities across the utility. These priorities have highlighted the need to integrate systems, as disparate data systems detract from the overall user experience in two primary ways. First is repetitive data entry; without integrated and synchronized data systems, users are often required to enter duplicate data into multiple systems. Secondly, due to entry errors or lack of synchronization, users may be presented with conflicting data points. This results in reduced confidence in the data and, ultimately, frustration from the user. Cal Water is using system integration to reduce this potential to obtain accurate, synchronized data.
The first wave of integration will includes integrating Cal Water’s EAM system with its geographic Information System (GIS) along with its mobile workforce system. This will enable field technicians and maintenance personnel to access asset data on-demand, in the field, and to enter maintenance data directly. Through integration and controlled synchronization, relevant data can flow to other systems and business units without additional user input. Using integration between EAM and GIS, with data fed from the mobile devices, provides data maintenance technicians need to work efficiently and allows data to be collected directly from the source. Just as data validity has taken on a new importance, so has the experience through process monitoring and control for service level management.
Gone are the days when electromechanical devices operated until failure and, ultimately, process interruption. A new era has arrived with the introduction of real-time process monitoring and control to ensure service levels are being met. Very small transducers can be placed strategically to gather process and machine data. The data is stored locally for intermittent gathering or streamed real-time and analyzed by complex algorithms to track, trend, and allow quicker predictive and corrective actions. This information has benefited the operators by needing the user experience to be similar to manually controlled processes and represented logically. Bi-directional data, in this case, has a heightened necessity, as even small deviations could pose process problems. As such, the physical integration with managing and monitoring asset performance and condition has been incorporated into the user experience design. As operators, technicians, and employees are physically engaging with assets, the data input is providing a digital representation of current conditions or trends. This interception of physical engagement through kinetic means needs to be closely aligned with the expected experience to empower and provide effective means of asset utilization. Data visualization, data validity, and the physical, digital interception of work and asset data create a plethora of information. Therefore, identifying key measures to assess and promote action culminates in an effective user experience in EAM evolution.
Most organizations practicing EAM are utilizing their data systems to produce useful key performance indicators (KPIs), with the goal being to improve and enhance strategic asset management practices and procedures. Some of the more common use cases for KPIs across the utility vertical include quality assurance validation, compliance reporting, and work completion management. Another benefit of implementing KPIs is improving practices through data visualization as indicated earlier.
In the examples below are three different KPIs. The KPI on the left shows the work completion numbers on the day the KPIs were published. The middle KPI shows the work completion trend throughout a year. Finally, the KPI on the right shows the work completion numbers after one year. It is clear from the before, and after view, once the data was exposed to the workforce, they monitored each KPI trend, sought out opportunities for improvement, and consequently triggered the numbers across the board to steadily improve over time.
Data visualization is proving to be an effective tool to engage, encourage, and motivate an organization’s workforce into improving their data integrity and work completion practices.
User experience as a means to evolve EAM at Cal Water has shown to be a successful accelerator in deploying tools to effectively manage the asset life-cycle of more than $1 billion in water utility infrastructure. By implementing data visualization, ensuring data validity, integrating systems for effective synchronization, intercepting physical activities and data, and tying these all back to KPIs that are shared with both management and employees, the approach beginning with the end user in mind has proven successful at Cal Water and will continue to be a focus of bi-directional data flow as a means to achieve positive user experiences. This will enable Cal Water’s Asset Management team to meets its goals to optimize asset life-cycle accountability and in turn ensure quality, service, and value to over 484,000 customers.