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May 18, 2011

Opportunities for KM

One of the first things that came to my mind when we were given the PMA was that it was going to be really hard to identify appropriate ways to implement knowledge management for certain types of asset management, such as within certain areas of Facilities Management, or Environmental Management (EM), which was the one I had planned to work on. I chose that to work on because I find it a really engaging area, and I couldn't immediately see how KM might be best applied. I wanted the challenge, and it made sense because I had already done quite a lot of work on EM within the in-module work.

Obviously, because it is a tricky area, I decided to mitigate the risk of choosing it, by only allowing myself a few hours to work on it, and if some relevant ideas had not been presented in the literature, I would abandon it, and move to another area. Fortunately, this has not proven to be the case - there are so many opportunities for KM within EM. In fact, good KM is pretty much a requirement for many EM tools such as Life-Cycle Analysis (different to Life-Cycle Costing), where you need a huge amount of data in order to estimate product impacts over the life-time. Additionally, another vital use for KM comes in the design stage, when you need a multi-disciplinary team composed of designers, engineers, manufacturers, executives, marketers, etc to come together and share and communicate a huge amount of data and information, to develop successful products within a Design for the Environment framework.

I think one of the big challenges of this PMA will be to find good examples of how this has been done effectively in industry, and also examples of where such initiatives have failed.


April 13, 2011

Asset Management and Lean

I was thinking earlier, that asset management is effectively everything you have to do in business, that isn't directly what you are trying to do in business! What I mean is, it is everything but the product or service that you offer, and the processes or functions that support it. It is one of the most important business enablers, and to do it well is something of a skill. In fact, the Institute of Asset Management has this to say:

"Asset Management is the art and science of making the right decisions and optimising these processes."

Also, "the management of physical assets (their selection, maintenance, inspection and renewal) plays a key role in determining the operational performance and profitability of industries that operate assets as part of their core business."

So with all this in mind, I started thinking about all this in the context of lean, which admittedly I don't know much about. The way I understand it, the purpose of lean is to minimise waste in the system, such that anything that is not directly adding value to your product in the eyes of the product should be avoided. My question is, does this have implications for excellent asset management, or are you having to compromise on an excellent approach because it is not directly improving products for the customer? If this is the case, what is the point of expending money on things like health and safety, or better security, which I happen to think ARE necessary, but don't seem to add value.

Maybe I have some misunderstandings about lean, but it seems like an interesting area of conflict. I feel like I must be wrong, because Toyota seem like a pretty excellent company to me, and were also of course the creators of lean production. But, I bet there are also plenty out there who are actually reducing their own capabilities too.


March 31, 2011

To manage assets, you must manage knowledge.

I stumbled across one of the major links between knowledge and asset management today. It might sound really obvious, but assets generate information! To effectively manage assets, be they property, machines, people, etc, you need to have a way of dealing with the flows of important information surrounding them, and of converting that into knowledge that is useful, and an aid to your decision-making processes. This is where the Knowledge Management comes in.

It's not just that you're managing assets based on knowledge and theory (which you should be anyway of course - theory is the basis for action), it's that the assets themselves need continuous monitoring/maintenance/support and all of this generates information that must be handled appropriately for effective use later. For example, for a single component of a machine you own, you must: record the decision-making process that led to purchase, the cost, market and book value, likely depreciation values, how often it needs maintaining, what kind of maintenance is required, its productivity, etc. Now, if you scale that up, that needs to be repeated for every machine you have. In every factory you own... that's a LOT of information, and this is just one small area of asset management!

Even then, as we have previously discussed, that's a small part of the battle. It's fair to assume that you require more than just one person's input in your asset management. If you had a small operation and you didn't, life might be a little easier. But, assuming you do, because the operation is big and there is too much for one person to consider, then you have fresh problems, because it is no longer just about making sure the information is collected and occasionally used; no, you have to get past communication barriers. And we know that while this isn't too tough with explicit information, it's much tougher with tacit information. Even with just two people managing all assets, an incredibly high level of communication would be required for effectiveness, and with every extra person involved in the process, it becomes even harder to sustain!

And yet it is vital that you do have a lot of people involved, or else, you completely lose access to the huge volumes of tacit information within them, as well as their buy-in and consequent compliance or interest in 'your' (not 'their'/'the company's') asset management policies.

So it appears this is the challenge: Knowledge and Assets are inextricably linked in this way, and you need to manage both effectively to succeed. Wow... good luck to us all... no wonder KBAM seems so big!


March 29, 2011

It feels different this time…

Group work for the KBAM project has begun... and it is daunting. Asset management is HUGE! Knowledge management is also a vast topic, but I haven't quite got there yet ;-) Of course, we know that this is like a PMA; with 40 hours each (so, 200 as a group), you can only go to a certain level of depth. It is clear though, that you could easily make a full-time job out of any of the aspects we have discussed briefly today.

As for the task itself, well I think I have a bit of a Leadership hangover. Volunteering for leadership of this task may prove to be a great decision, it may prove to be a bad one if I can't cope with everything and let the team down. That is unlikely - I think I am stronger than that, but something about this module feels different to previous ones. I don't know what it is. Perhaps the positional power that comes with the task, and has my team members looking to me for direction (which I like), or perhaps it's the extra responsibility I feel for the overall outcomes that we have to deliver in a few weeks (which I also like, and in fact, I thrive on). Perhaps it is the fact that the scope of the task is just so much greater than anything else we have come across on this journey to critical autonomy. By the way, with this task, and how most of us have dealt with such an open-ended, real-life parallel, situation, it is clear that we are well on our way to having developed this responsibility. I'm reminded of what Paul told us yesterday - last year, this is where the students found everything coming together.

So far, it is going well. We have discussed the background of our company, and almost all of us have now directed ourselves to areas of interest, for further work. We have briefed each other on our achievements, and we seem to have developed a good working structure - I think this will be of great benefit to us as time elapses. I'm relaltively pleased with my role in that so far - I learned a lot from LE, and am trying to put it into practice. I've made a point of planning our time, short and long-term, and I've done my best to make sure everyone understands what we have to do (vision), and is happy about how we are going about it, through asserting my timings, but giving everyone the freedom to work in a way that is best for them. 

I am also really pleased with our team - it is solid, we have a good work-ethic, and I already feel confident that we will be pleased with the effort we've put in, and the results we've achieved, when the time comes to self-assess.

One thing I have really been trying to push is our wiki-usage. I think, this task, there is no way we can be successful without excellent knowledge management of our own. There is just too much information to handle otherwise. And the irony of the challenge is not lost on me; we only have to communicate and keep control of this vast amount of information for three weeks. Real organisations have to do it for as long as they plan to operate... and there is a lot more at stake there too!


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