How Critical is Asset Data to Manufacturers, their Equipment Dealers, and Customers?

As technological advances continue, and machine-to-machine communication becomes more practical, what advantages do those technologies bring to the manufacturer of complex assets?  How important is the asset data now available for collection from these assets?  Who benefits from access to that data? What would they use it for?  In reality, asset data will eventually become the key to success for asset manufacturers, equipment service providers, and ultimately their customers.

What do we mean by asset data, and how is it defined?

In this context, asset data is anything that pertains to a specific asset and how it is utilized in the field. This includes specific entitlements like manufacturer warranties and extended service contracts, as well as performance data, service history, and location—basically all the available data regarding that particular asset.  From its manufacture and original ship date, the asset will have a bill of materials or configuration – “as purchased.”  It may well have a defined product warranty that provides the purchaser with detailed entitlements regarding its performance.  It may have an unusual or unique configuration.  This information creates the baseline or “birth certificate” (if you will) of that asset.  Over the course of its economic life, many things will happen to it. It will receive periodic maintenance, it will age, break down, possibly move locations, maybe be reconfigured, have many different service agreements and new entitlements attached to it, and may be maintained by several different service providers. Everything that happens to that unit will have an impact on its performance, economic output, and the cost of operating and maintaining it.

For equipment manufacturers, access to this data – post sale – is a treasure trove of information.  How is the equipment operating in the field, what is the maintenance history, what parts are failing, at what rates, and why are they failing?  That asset performance feedback can enable research & development (or engineering) to constantly improve the asset design, performance, durability, and overall asset availability or up-time, providing customers with greater economic output at far lower costs.  Unfortunately, in the typical asset-as-a-product sales model, manufacturers rarely have access to product data once it is sold. This is leading many manufacturers to reevaluate their business models and commercial strategies.  The trend to shift to service-as-a-product, outcome-based services or servitization, is one example of this.

In a recent Vanson Bourne(VB) study, 89% of 600 companies surveyed believe that “servitization will enhance the way their industry operates” and 95% of those companies that are not already offering a servitized offering “say that they are already working towards it or planning to in the future.” Outcome-based services offered by equipment manufacturers are quickly becoming a huge trend, because they know and can manage and maintain their equipment better than most and can tailor the appropriate maintenance to the specific performance of the asset in the field.

Manufacturers who are not currently offering an in-house outcome-based service, are working with distributors, dealers, and third-party equipment maintenance companies to provide a more holistic service outcome.  They are building asset “eco-systems” where the services company shares asset performance and maintenance data in return for either enhanced financial consideration, faster remuneration, keener insight into asset performance data, and/or the ability to leverage the manufacturer’s insight on the assets to drive better customer experience.  They are leveraging the manufacturer’s insights to shift from calendarized maintenance to a more predictive model based on what the asset data is “telling” them.  This transition to monitoring the performance of the asset in the field has transformed service organizations. Again, according to VB, 86% of the 600 companies surveyed reported that “the more asset service data is used, the more value it brings”.  Value in reducing the overall amount of maintenance that is performed, and the associated faults introduced through those extra maintenance actions.  Value in improving the predictive capability of asset maintenance and scheduling maintenance during planned outages (unplanned or reactive maintenance costs up to 7 times more than planned maintenance).Service organizations report that “for every $1.00 invested in ensuring that they can automatically collect, aggregate, and analyze asset service data, respondents anticipate that their organization would expect a return of $4.44 on average”.

Finally, customers who are on the receiving end enjoy significant benefits when manufacturers and service organizations leverage asset data to improve the performance of their equipment. Even when they are working with a somewhat immature service organization that has just started to accumulate asset service data, they will begin to see less downtime, more scheduled maintenance, and higher asset economic output. As that service organization continues to mature and gain better insights into asset performance, operational up-time, fewer corrective maintenance actions, and more output will continue.

As manufacturers, who provide services either directly or through dealer/distributor channels, become more adept at collecting, aggregating, and analyzing asset performance data, they will see that offering the output of their product and taking the maintenance back inhouse will enable them to drive significant business revenue and lower risk.  In this way customers pay for flight time, not aircraft engines, they pay for printed output, they do not buy copiers, and they buy electricity, not solar panels.

Asset data will provide greater insight into asset performance, allow for better, more targeted maintenance actions, reduce maintenance costs and increase output.  In the VB study referenced above “(O)n average, respondents believe that their organization’s revenue will increase by 14.15% and their operational costs will decrease by 12.03% over the next 12 months as a result of automatically collecting, aggregating and analyzing asset service data.”

With higher revenue, lower costs, and happier customers, it is apparent that manufacturers and service providers that do not aggressively pursue asset data and everything that flows from the insights they provide will be at a serious disadvantage in their marketplace.  If their competition can leverage this information to consistently drive better performance and a better customer experience, they will be left behind.