Asset Performance Management (APM) is going through the same type of transition that so many other enterprise business process areas have seen over the last 15 years. The front office was the first to undergo this transition with the evolution of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications to replace the disparate collection of accounting packages and included some manufacturing planning and scheduling functionality. Other business processes like new product design and introduction led to the combination of CAD, CAM, CAE and other engineering applications into a suite of solutions called Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). This evolution is now manifesting whitn APM as we are seeing the disparate applications associated with predictive maintenance (PdM), condition-based maintenance (CBM), operation inspections, vibration monitoring, and a host of other APM functions being combined into a single integrated platform.
Suite or Platform?
In the early days of consolidation these integrated products were frequently referred to as suites such as an ERP suite or a PLM suite. The solutions being delivered basically were similar to the disparate models but were integrated into a single package and shared a common database. As more and more functionality was integrated into these application suites and data connectivity instead of just storage and became critical, the industry has begun to refer to these more developed applications as platforms, since they do more than just provide functionality internal to themselves. One of the key distinguishing features is they provide a data bus for business process specific data. Therefore, an APM platform will not only deliver the broad range of functionality associated with improving asset performance and reducing both downtime and operational risk, but also serve as an integration bus to bridge between other business process platforms such as ERP, process control or automation, and Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM).
What About Best-of-Breed?
Many companies, particularly those that have a massive collection of disparate applications, profess to follow a best-of-breed (BoB) strategy. Their position is that they've chosen the absolute best solution to solve a particular process pain point and it delivers the maximum value. Too often the reality is the applications were chosen based on the personal preferences of the project leader and, while adequate, do not really deliver BoB capabilities today, if they ever did. Instead they were chosen because of cost, user interface, sales person persuasiveness, or some other reason. They usually are closed and sharing information with other applications can range from doable but not trivial all the way to impossible. In effect, they become islands of information.
This is not to say a BoB strategy cannot work. We have seen companies that are successful deploying a BoB strategy; however, there are very few that can actually make this approach work. To be effective with BoB the business must become very disciplined. This means they must set and enforce specific networking and communication standards, otherwise as the number of connected devices grows the connection paths increase exponentially. They must also establish standards for each application across the enterprise. There must be total agreement as to which calibration package, which RCM tool, what operator rounds tool, and so forth will be adopted across the entire enterprise. Business processes must be standardized as well across the enterprise to gain the advantages of the BoB approach. In my experience only 1 in 20 companies that claim to be following a BoB approach are executing well enough that they see can actually reap the benefits of having truly best-in-class software properly integrated. That means they support full standardization and have the IT skills to manage the integration of the collection of applications and, more importantly, to manage the inevitable cycles of upgrades.
For Most an APM Platform Will Give Better Results
The benefit of an APM platform is that it solves many of the problems associated with the BoB potpourri of applications. Integration, at least in a true platform, comes out of the box so version control and connectivity are not an issue. It also greatly simplifies connection to other applications and/or individual devices. The argument many companies provide for not using a platform is that the larger providers capable of providing a true platform tend to move slower when adopting the newest technologies making usability, mobility, and even in some cases--functionality lag behind what the new entrants and the BoB suppliers are providing. The reality is that the platform vendors ultimately match the BoB performance, sometimes by buying those companies. Therefore the minor loss of not having the latest and greatest can be more than compensated for by the benefits the platform approach offers. So for companies that lack the discipline to do BoB properly the platform clearly offers the fastest way to achieving enterprise-wide and systemic value from their APM investments instead of point solution benefits isolated to a single instance.