By Caitlin Frank, Debra Henderson and Adrian Larreal
The adage that experience is the best teacher is certainly true when it pertains to asset management and the need for risk mitigation. Unfortunately, in the case of utilities, learning from experience can be the result of one or more catastrophic failures that put people and property in jeopardy and interrupt normal service to customers.
It's not only imperative that we learn better ways to mitigate risk but that we heed the messages of both governmental regulators who demand increased safety measures and the growing public pressure for more reliable service. Both are reasonable expectations.
Leading utility companies are now turning toward newer international standards and frameworks to bolster data collection procedures throughout the entire asset management lifecycle. We believe that clear and complete information is essential to formulate workable risk mitigation strategies for the future. It is a process that extends throughout the complex landscape of a utility company's basic business operations, from project conceptualization through asset decommissioning. We ensure that risk management becomes a more collaborative, cost-conscious and, ultimately, more effective process when we understand that data collection is the key to making wise decisions.
Black & Veatch analysts discuss the topic in-depth in an article published by the Utility Analytics Institute. Here is a brief overview, in which we highlight four vital areas that require renewed data collection efforts.
Planners must always account for all work across the entire network, maintain an overview of impacted assets and the downstream effects of work being performed and balance efficiency and safety against the cost to minimize downtime and maintain effective customer service.
Employing standardized procedures helps, particularly targeted field data collection efforts, along with the development of comprehensive threat evaluation criteria, risk ranking systems and plausible risk mitigation ideas. Without a centralized view of all work, it is all too probable that there will be more incidents like the 2018 Merrimack Valley gas explosion. That single incident highlighted the disastrous consequences of incomplete asset information.
The cost was high, in terms of human casualty, asset loss, public confidence and actual dollars.
In the past, the importance of the field technicians' role in ongoing asset operation has been downplayed as it relates to risk mitigation. In truth, however, field personnel are the "boots on the ground," capable of providing needed early warning of anything that might go wrong. Field technicians are also critical first responders in emergencies.
They must be equipped with a new set of standards to perform necessary evaluations. They must also be empowered with the flexibility to respond in new ways to help reduce failure, improve asset quality and mitigate risk. Advanced data collection platforms are designed to deliver consistent asset condition data to decision-makers. What is necessary now is an effort to provide more flexible mobile solutions that will serve to empower field technicians in new ways. They must be able to perform needed repairs safely and quickly, to update incorrect data based on actual field observations and to better use available technology to identify and mitigate asset risk. In that way, through collaborative efforts, higher-level decision-making should become more successful.
Access to consistent data that can easily be analyzed is a game-changer that allows for fact-based decisions across the entire range of operations, including risk mitigation, predictive maintenance and infrastructure investments. With high-quality data, utilities are better able to develop strategies that prioritize necessary actions, protect assets, reduce potential threats to people and property and minimize the risk of service failures.
High-quality data management provides the analytical framework needed to optimize operational effectiveness, plan long-term maintenance and maximize infrastructure planning and investment initiatives. Over the long-term, it is this kind of data that will boost profits as well.
Technology is the major player in this new framework of risk mitigation. It is the key to the adoption of comprehensive management procedures that will benefit utilities in the coming decades. As should be obvious, access to data and the reliability of that data will drive the improvements we envision for the future. This is not a frivolous projection. In important ways, it is an overdue shift in the way utilities should approach daily operational commitments. We recognize that better methods of collecting and analyzing data are also needed.
As we continue to grow and to diversify, it is more important than ever before to integrate all data fields, to identify data inconsistencies and to create viable action plans to address issues, handle data storage needs and deliver the right data to decision-makers at the right time to facilitate both planning and emergency response. This responsibility is in the hands of Asset Management professionals across organizational boundaries.
Mitigating Risk with a Holistic Response
While this might be considered simplistic, it is this intertwined, 360-degree view that can lead to better identification of the factors that influence risk and that, in turn, contribute to better governance, faster response to potential problems and higher levels of reliability.
Limited budget funds must be allocated wisely in the identification and prioritization of threats against utility networks, and it is only through the honest appraisal of the condition, operation and ongoing maintenance of utility assets that such assessment can be completed.
We believe that this multi-faceted approach is the best way to improve risk mitigation efforts. By developing those "repeatable, justifiable and auditable processes" that are key to proposals like the ISO 55000 Asset Management Standard, we affirm the belief that solutions require considering people, processes and technology together.
Now is the time to look at all these concerns and to develop an Asset Management Improvement Roadmap. This "big picture" view allows us to look forward to the time when risk mitigation is viewed as a "team activity" across the broad field of utility operation and asset management.
Connect with our experts:
Caitlin Frank FrankCE@bv.com
Adrian Larreal LarrealA@bv.com
Debra Henderson HendersonD@bv.com