GIS Blog Series – Part 2: How to mitigate the increased risk of having incomplete information on a given asset
This is the second in a series of blogs designed to address Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in conjunction with SAP. We will do this by addressing the most important customer challenges.
How to mitigate the increased risk of having incomplete information on a given asset.
Any organization required to manage and separately maintain two complimentary asset management systems containing data on the same assets, one system being SAP and the other being an enterprise geographic information system (GIS), will run a very high risk of maintaining an incomplete or inaccurate view of an asset due to either system containing inaccurate, incomplete, or contradicting asset data. Asset maintenance programs, compliance reporting, and an organization’s overall confidence in the asset data are just some of the areas within the asset management group that can be negatively impacted by asset data within the GIS and SAP systems being incomplete. Although the explanation of the data inconsistency between the two systems can be caused by myriad of reasons, the risk of self-inflicting these types of data issues is greatly reduced with the introduction of an automated interface between the two systems.
Data is the Foundation of Efficient Asset Management
Before getting into the pitfalls of manually maintaining the same asset data in multiple systems and how an automated interface can mitigate many of the risks associated with this approach, it is important to note that we are ultimately trying to protect the integrity of an organization’s asset data. Nothing is worse than pulling an asset summary report from SAP and GIS for the same asset types, just to compare the numbers and find that the systems do not agree with each other. This can have demoralizing and sometimes financial impacts. For example, a pipeline company may need to compile a report summarizing miles of pipeline meeting different criteria. Often the data for these reports is compiled from multiple systems. If the different mileage summary reports do not equal each other in terms of total miles of pipe in the ground, a regulatory body may trigger costly audits that will dig deeper into the data and uncover even more data discrepancies that were not known to exist.
To ensure the asset attribute data remains accurate across the datasets in both systems, it is also important to acknowledge the spatial component that a GIS system brings to the table. With the release of SAP Geo Enablement Framework (GEF), SAP can utilize spatial data maintained within SAP or consumed through an interface with GIS, as a way to visualize the location of an organizations assets, as well as the location of work on or around those assets. Since many organizations require an internal group of GIS professionals just to keep up with edits to the spatial location of assets with the GIS, it is often too much additional work to ask an SAP user to maintain the spatial locations in assets in SAP in parallel with the GIS group. This may lead to spatial updates in SAP falling behind updates in the GIS. As capabilities like mobile work management are utilized, the inaccurate location of an asset in SAP could send field maintenance crews to the wrong location causing frustration and delays.
In some industries that rely heavily on the spatial location of their assets to drive compliance reporting, a lag time in spatial updates in SAP may lead to an asset being assigned to a maintenance plan whose inspection cycle is not compliant with regulations based on its location or proximity to other objects. For example, in the natural gas transmission pipeline industry, proximity to inhabited structures will drive the maximum time between inspection and maintenance cycles. If the asset is assigned to the wrong inspection cycle in SAP due to delayed or missed asset creation in GIS, the organization who owns that asset is no longer in compliance with government regulations and can be heavily fined for the mistake.
Inefficiencies of Dual Asset Maintenance
At Rizing, we can typically attribute many data mismatches between SAP and GIS to a few general areas. The first of these areas is the complex and often convoluted business processes that are required when manually maintaining multiple systems. In these cases, the same asset data is stored and maintained separately in both systems. We call this dual maintenance of asset data. To cope with this requirement, the data maintenance business process will diverge into two separate parallel paths to accommodate data entry in both GIS and SAP. This is where the process typically breaks down and the systems may become out of sync due to the following reasons:
- Updates to asset data make it to one data maintenance group and not the other. In these cases, the data updates simply "fall through the cracks".
- Enough data available for one group to proceed with data entry, while the other may require additional clarification, causing delays.
- In some cases, there are no formal business processes and the "tribal knowledge" of who to pass the data to within which group vanishes as people move within, or move on from a company.
- Human error. As different people manually enter the same data into different systems for different uses, the likelihood of data mismatches increases due to things like typos or people interpreting the same data differently.
Mitigating Risk Through an Automated Interface
So, how do we mitigate all these data integrity risks through the use of an SAP - GIS interface? Probably the most significant change that organizations will notice is the idea of a single system of data entry. Whether it is GIS or SAP, the majority of the data should only need to be entered in a single system. Once entered and validated, the data can then be sent across the interface to the other system, ensuring the SAP and GIS asset datasets remain synchronized.
As a single system of entry is defined, many organizations see the complexity of the processes governing asset data maintenance in SAP and GIS becoming greatly reduced. Typically, one group will take over most the data maintenance duties. This allows the knowledge of required asset information and interpretation of as built and installation documentation to be consolidated within the single group responsible for the data integrity across the SAP and GIS platforms. Although this doesn’t eliminate the need for data specialists within each system, it can greatly reduce the effort required to maintain the data on both sides of the interface. This leaves more time for activities that will reinforce data integrity, such as data validation and verification.
Since we have placed such an emphasis on the quality of an organization's data, it would probably be appropriate to mention that an interface between SAP and GIS will not solve all of an organizations data quality issues. After all, data quality and maintenance is a never-ending process that requires constant review and improvement. One such improvement that we have been able to implement once a GIS - SAP interface is in place, is what we like to call a "Catch and Correct" program. This program utilizes the SAP Work Manager mobile application that allows users in the field to verify the characteristics and location of assets in the field. A user can stand right in front of an asset and verify that it is located in the correct place and that it has the correct attribution such as serial number, specifications, manufacturer information, etc. If any discrepancies exist between what is in the field and what is in the system, the asset is flagged in the system and the correct values are input for review and eventually updated in both GIS and SAP. Although programs like these do not necessarily require an SAP-GIS interface, the efficiency surrounding the propagation of data corrections is greatly increased with the presence of an automated interface.
In the end, the foundation of any effective asset management system is the data it is built upon. An organization can employ the most cutting edge technology and apply unwavering dedication to their defined business processes, however, if the data isn't accurate and complete, everything falls apart. The many risks associated with incomplete or mismatched data between an organization’s SAP and GIS systems are greatly reduced through the implementation of an automated interface that can pass data to and from each system. This ensures data required by each system is complete and synchronized, ensuring that the data can be trusted, reporting out of each system matches, and users of each system have access to accurate data critical to their daily tasks.
About the Authors: The GIS blog post series is a collaborative insight channel, brought to you by the Rizing GIS experts: