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Q&A with Industry Leader Dr. Carla Boehl

SNC-Lavalin is a global fully integrated professional services and project management company and a major player in the ownership of infrastructure. SNC-Lavalin recently acquired Atkins, one of the world’s most respected design, engineering and project management consultancies.

Q: Dr. Boehl, how would you describe asset management?

It is a management system that focuses organizations on their purpose and what their priorities must be. It also enables to better create assets in line with stakeholder and business requirements so optimized investment decisions for the life of an asset can be made. As a system, it becomes an enabler for the critical line of sight of communicating direction, priorities, risk management and outcome focus between executive management, middle management and the workforce as a two-way street. It creates the environment that fosters cooperation and specific collaboration across all functions in an organization that are involved in the development, creation, sustainment and optimization of assets and their value to the stakeholders.

Q: Why is asset management important to organizations and the market(s) they serve?

The intrinsic focus on business and stakeholder critical outcomes creates the common framework for responsive decision-making during the useful lifecycle of assets. This enables the reliable provision of services or products at optimum unit cost. Managing assets in this way creates not only a stronger competitive position and potentially increases market share, it also gives investors incentives to support such organizations.

Q: With asset management playing such a critical role in today’s industry, why was this not in practice long before now?

Assets were managed successfully over the last couple of millennia. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century created a different dynamic within industry. This trend has accelerated through the ever-increasing speed of changing demands in a global market and now through new technology. Today’s larger organizations serving the larger markets require better structures to remain profitable and effectively deliver the goods and services stakeholders and consumers require.

Q: What is new in the area of asset management? What changes have you experienced?

What is new is that the ISO55000 series describes what asset management is all about and provides common reference for the constituent parts of asset management and the asset management system. It is through this standard and the competencies defined in the asset management landscape that publicly accountable organizations, in particular, have started to look at their long-term vision and planning. It is notable that the power, water and transport industries have begun to transform their ways of managing current assets and how to justify investment.

Q: The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and artificial intelligence are making significant breakthroughs in the industry. How has this affected asset management in the organizations that are utilizing this technology?

Through the rapidly increasing computing power, there is greater tendency to use and emphasize analytics and analytical interpretation of data. New sensor technologies enable more and better collection of data that should be fully aligned to business needs and provide the basis for the analytical aggregation of the raw data. Asset management potentially receives a boost through this technology as the considered data analytics enable the creation of a better foundation for decision-making across the business and asset lifecycle. OPEX, as well as CAPEX, optimization should result, as well as greater transparency in asset governance and management.

Q: What is the relationship between competitiveness and profitability in asset management?

An organization can be competitive, but at the same time, may not be profitable. A well-defined and designed asset management system enables the creation of a balanced outcome in respect to both competitiveness and profitability. It enables the optimization of strategic, organizational and tactical activities through the strategic asset management plan (competitiveness) and the asset management plan (profitability). One describes the business direction and, therefore, identifies objectives for assets and their management. The other identifies the cost of operations and managing the assets, directly influencing asset and organizational performance and, through that, the profit margins.

Q: How is that relationship related to risk management?

All activities undertaken in business bear inherent risk. Managing risk could be seen as the key requirements in managing any business. The statement of competitiveness an organization may wish to adapt in the market, therefore, requires careful identification and appropriate management. On the other hand, profitability is directly influenced by this vision for the competitive place, hence, the decisions taken to boost one or the other can lead to undesired outcomes. Balancing the competitiveness versus the profitability desired can be positively influenced by a well allied asset management system.

Q: In 10 years, where do you see asset management? What benefits will result from the present-day asset management strategy?

Reflecting on today’s uptake of an ISO55000 based asset management system, I think infrastructure and public utilities are on the forefront of asset management expertise and success in the future. It should provide full transparency of spending public funds that ratepayers and taxpayers desire and enable justified investment in these assets and services according to public need. In private business, a similar benefit could be achieved through a change from short-term planning to a strategic view of the business, fostering adaptive thinking in management to consistently improve outcomes based on the foundation of the asset management system.

Q: How has the Internet of Things (IoT) changed modern asset management strategies?

IoT devices could have a profound impact on the development and implementation of asset management strategies. It allows asset managers to move away from a sole reliance on inspection based modeling techniques to the use of real-time data to support real-time decision-making. The same accurate, real-time data can be used to support the development of accurate asset investment and renewal plans through regular updates of asset degradation models. Asset management strategies need to take into account how IoT devices can be integrated into major infrastructure assets and how the capacity of IoT devices to add unprecedented levels of accuracy can be integrated into maintenance strategies.

Q: How could a utility or company in the infrastructure industry benefit from using IoT techniques?

Implementing IoT devices within existing or new infrastructure assets will allow owners and operators to continually enhance asset performance. Reliability, availability and the cost of maintenance can be all improved through the use of data generated by IoT devices. IoT devices, providing real-time information on asset performance, allow owners and operators to optimize maintenance practices, aligning activities to the demands of the asset. Owners and operators are also well placed to continually adjust maintenance practices to support optimal reliability, availability and cost outcomes as the asset ages.

Q: What challenges do companies most often face with integrating IoT techniques?

The implementation of IoT devices into new and existing assets is often a complex engineering task. However, the greater challenge is the ability of the asset owner to adopt existing asset management and maintenance practices to utilize the data created by the IoT devices. Data is useless if it is not utilized. Utilizing data means a reengineering of the internal business processes to support the effective use of data to drive asset performance outcomes. If asset owners and managers cannot make effective use of the data created by IoT devices, they risk overcapitalizing from investing in technology that does not deliver a return.

Q: Could you explain the concept of a digital twin and why it’s important for businesses?

The digital twin or 3-D platform is used to analyze/interpret data that are captured by digital tools. By doing so, you are transforming data into information and then creating knowledge and identifying insights that are essential to business decisions.

Here at SNC-Lavalin and Atkins, digital means using new technology, combined with our engineering expertise and deep industry knowledge, to deliver greater insights to our clients. As a result, we are driving step change improvements for our clients and ourselves. We combine engineering expertise, deep industry knowledge, digital technology and data across the entire asset lifecycle to improve and consolidate the design, planning, construction, operation and maintenance of physical assets. This results in the transformation of data into insight, which drives:

  • Enhanced engagement, decision-making and planning;
  • Improved uptime, security and safety;
  • De-risked projects and reduced CAPEX/OPEX.

Through a data-centric digital twin, we can provide greater insights about your assets, enabling us to test critical paths for the construction, installation, modification, or decommissioning of projects and scenario plans and models. For example, digital scanning creates a highly accurate 3-D environment of an asset through data capture. The generated digital twin can be used to understand the existing asset’s condition, improve the design approach, verify the as-built situation and provide a digital snapshot for future works. Digital scanning includes a variety of technologies, each suitable for particular uses:

  • Drones, which can be used for localized aerial surveying;
  • 3-D sonar, a radiation tolerant underwater 3-D surveying technique with a seven to 20m range for general use where underwater 3-D mapping is required;
  • Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) for high resolution mapping;
  • Laser scanning and photogrammetry for the generation of 2-D and 3-D digital models;
  • Thermal imagery for when contrasts are best exemplified outside the visible light spectrum.

Q: What emerging IoT trends and innovations should organizations follow most closely?

As developers, owners and operators integrate IoT devices within their assets, so there is a need to be very cognoscente of the direction and development of the market. Indeed, the IoT devices themselves need to be considered as part of the long-term asset management strategy. IoT devices will need replacing during the life of the asset, so technology obsolescence is a significant risk. As such, organizations implementing IoT devices need to carefully track the retirement of aging technologies. Likewise, new technologies will present opportunities to further enhance asset performance outcomes and how these new technologies are implemented will bring their own integration challenges.

Q: One of your passions is mentoring young female professionals in this field. Why is this important to you and what legacy do you want to leave with them?

It is important to me that we are communicating our experience in the business world to the upcoming generations. As a successful person in my field, I want to make sure that females see the way they can make a difference in the marketplace. Our challenges in the business world seem to be greater than for our male counterparts and it is through the success examples my colleagues and I can offer that we can strengthen our position and achieve the balance in gender involvement in industry and public service.

Q: Is there a book related to asset management that you would recommend? What is on your reading list?

From a long list of related topics in the wider field of asset management, there are, besides texts on economics and strategy, a small selection of books challenging critical thinking. A seminal reference book on asset management is “Physical Asset Management” by Nicholas Hastings. Of similar importance are “Creating Public Value” and “Recognizing Public Value,” both by Mark H. Moore. Another related reading of significance is “Reinventing Prosperity” by Graeme Maxton and Jorgen Randers.

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