Drones and SMAC – the EAM shape of things to come

Putting the assets together

Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) might not seem the sexiest topic in the world for business and IT strategists, but at particle research giant CERN in Geneva, it has overwhelming importance. EAM keeps the largest machine and scientific experiment in history running, and maximises the Large Hadron Collider’s efficiency and uptime.

Onsite at CERN, 1,200 EAM users are based across every department except HR, dealing with two million pieces of equipment, 900,000 related documents, 13 million tech parameters, and over 100 million separate components, each of which is logged in the system from the moment of its manufacture to its (hopefully planned) end of life.

The failure of any one of these could shut down the science, and so visibility of, and insights from, the vast number of items logged within the EAM system are critical. All of this takes place in a vast campus that crosses the border between Switzerland and France, in which everything has a barcode and an equipment number. [See this separate diginomica report for full details on CERN’s use of EAM.]

So what is the tech industry perspective on this and other large client relationships? Are there unique problems or opportunities in working with large, complex organisations, such as CERN? Kevin Price is Infor’s director of product management and product safety for EAM. He says:


Yes, you have PhDs using the system! You’ll see a school, which is cleaning the premises for the next round of students to come in, using the exact same EAM system as is being used at CERN’s particle accelerator. The deployment is different, but the same system is there, so you have to make it scalable back and forth [between these two extremes]. And in an environment like CERN, you have PhDs or PhD candidates that are doing checklists and calibration functions. These are difficult, complex tasks, but I also need to serve the level of sophistication that’s in a school trying to wash the floor.

So how big a focus are large, multinational science and technology programmes for Infor? These types of research programmes are proliferating worldwide, such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) program (not an Infor customer), the international radio telescope project that is also generating petabytes of raw data.  These are supermassive data projects, and rely on the safe management of millions of separate pieces of equipment. Says Price:

They are growing. Some are classified, but some – like CERN – are very open. The very definition of the organisation is to share information.

This preference for openness works both ways, according to David Widegren, head of CERN’s Asset Maintenance and Management Unit. He says:

A big difference we see compared with other vendors is that Infor is really available to listen. They may not be able to do it immediately, but at least they’re open, and in many cases that results in something that we actually want to have. That willingness to listen is something that we really appreciate.

Infor also counts the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (which ensures the safety, security and reliability of the US nuclear arsenal), the US Navy, and the team managing the UK’s nuclear arsenal among its other large – if more sensitive – customers.

So how does the relationship with clients like these work? Is innovation driven primarily from the ground up by the user, or from the top down by the vendor? Price says:

All the above. We’ve learned so much from CERN. Some of the work they’re doing with EAM Light [CERN’s cut-down, proprietary version of the application, which it uses in self-service storerooms] is astonishing. Some of the areas where they have EAM as the master record, and incorporate other capabilities into the system give us a much clearer idea of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. We learn from customers like that.

“And we learn from others, such as New York’s Mass Transit Agency (MTA) and Hertz, so they’re a definite driver. But we also have directives that come down from executive management: there are new features and functions, such as the Infor Xi platform. That’s a new technology that we’re trying to drive as standard.

Infor Xi is part of the vendor’s focus on industry-specific applications, blending mobile-first design with a consumer-type experience and analytics: a user-focused mix that many prefer to the ‘featuritis’ that plagues some enterprise applications. Cluttered interfaces eat up valuable time for people whose focus isn’t always on asset management – such as research scientists.

Road ahead

So what else is on the roadmap for EAM? Among the “key digital levers” for Infor at its EAM Summit last week in Geneva were social, mobility, analytics, and cloud (SMAC), combined with 3D manufacturing and artificial intelligence/machine learning. Infor EMEA VP, Frédéric Russo, said:

We are moving from product to a real customer experience. We can follow a business object in the same way that you follow a friend on Twitter.

Further drivers behind EAM across some industries will be: visualisation (a picture is worth 1,000 words); robotics; the Internet of Things (IoT); wearable devices; gamefication; virtual and augmented reality; bio- and neuro-technology; and nanotech. Ultimately, everything will be about information exchange between devices/components and people – with the dividing lines between the two merging in the years ahead.  An older technology, CAD, is also relevant in EAM development, with Infor partner CAD Service combining EAM data with 3D drawings.

Drones have an important role to play in the mix, too. Being able to fly a smart, sensor-packed device to inspect a vital piece of infrastructure is safer, quicker, cheaper, and more efficient – especially when supporting infrastructure, such as scaffolding and trucks, isn’t needed. All of this can be linked with the EAM system.

While CERN’s campus may be the size of a small town, other clients span entire cities, such as the New York MTA: a feather in the cap for NYC-based Infor, whose technology manages the city’s critical infrastructure, including “every tree in every park”, according to Infor SVP Global Public Sector, Kevin Curry.

In the future, smart cities will increasingly rely on EAM, just as CERN does today. It will help to manage and maintain their critical infrastructure, plan implementations, and – just as importantly – budget ahead for the replacement or upgrade of tired equipment.

So what is the most difficult challenge for Infor.  In particular, what are the key challenges when working with organizations as vast and complex as CERN or a smart city service provider? Says Spicer:

Time! There is so much that we want to do. And unfortunately, when you have thousands of customers around the world, you can’t roll things out as fast as you’d like. We can do small additions, small changes, small updates, relatively quickly. We rolled out Case Management recently.

But if there’s a problem, it needs to be triaged, it needs to be evaluated, and that takes time. So the biggest challenge we always have is the amount of time it takes, because we want to develop an application that everyone can use around the world. When you have three or four hundred customers, it’s not hard, but when you have thousands it’s more difficult, as you don’t want to upset any of those implementations.

[At CERN], when you look around the sites and you see barcodes and equipment numbers on everything, you can really see the scale of what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to get it done. That helps. And they’ve been using the system since 1989, so if they can’t figure out a way to do it, then it can’t be done!”

My take

Maybe not sexy, but important stuff – EAM should be an agenda item for IT decision-makers.

Image credit – Freeimages.com/Dirk Ziegener

Disclosure – At time of writing, Infor is a premier partner of diginomica