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Are Construction Companies Making the Most of Their Assets’ IoT Data?

Automaker Tesla is almost as well known for its technology innovations as it is for its high-performance electric vehicles. For evidence, look no further than the way the company uses the internet of things (IoT) and connected sensors to handle certain product updates and recalls.

For many years, the status quo for vehicular software updates has been a physical connection from the vehicle to a PC or other specialized equipment. Vehicular recalls have tripled over the last five years due to the increasing number and complexity of the vehicles’ computer systems—so this issue is clearly one that must be addressed aggressively by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Tesla has changed this paradigm by issuing over-the-air (OTA) software updates to fix overheating chargers and suspension issues. Neither of these cases required car owners to take their vehicles in for service. Owners continued to drive without missing a beat. Meanwhile, Tesla did not have to incur the time and expense associated with in-shop repairs.

Tesla’s self-fix approach could be the future of connected vehicles and a sign of things to come for construction assets. The technologies that Caterpillar, John Deere and others are using to track asset performance and machine operations provide an existing wireless connection to remote assets. However, only a very small percent of assets in the field have the ability to remotely update the software in the assets’ electronic control units (ECUs).

Broader coverage, however, is not far off. But even OTA updates are not a silver bullet for all repairs. Tesla can attest to that. In April, the company issued a voluntary recall for a parking brake problem.

This is not to say that a Tesla-style self-fix is not achievable. Issues that can easily be resolved OTA, including software updates and clearing codes, lend themselves to remote, wireless maintenance.

OTA updates hold great promise across the service value chain but some challenges still need to be addressed. For instance, when can the asset be updated? It’s important to avoid causing issues when the asset is active on a construction site, especially if the download of software fails the first time. Also, it’s important to capture data from OTA activities and ensure it is part of the asset’s service history. There are also security concerns that have not yet been fully addressed

Most importantly, with any new technology-driven process comes the challenge of ensuring effective management. The old adage “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” is a good bellwether. Once some of the core OTA technology issues have been addressed, the next step is to ensure that construction executives have the people, process and technology in place to track, manage and measure the desired outcomes.

As more construction equipment becomes part of the internet of things (IoT) ecosystem, a tsunami of connected asset data is being collected. The question becomes how to best leverage sensor data to its fullest and most valuable extent. For maintenance-related benefits, this means that data must be put into the context of the entire service event management process. Construction companies should not assume that just because they have data and OTA capabilities they have found nirvana for equipment repair and 100 percent uptime.

Stand-alone “health portals” (as well as siloed legacy solutions or other single-purpose applications) that are not directly and seamlessly integrated into the repair process may actually inhibit the service management process and introduce unwanted inefficiencies that add to asset downtime. By not being tied directly into the repair process, these systems can only trigger a series of phone calls, emails, paper shuffling and other coordination efforts to try to find the people and information necessary to actually repair an asset.

Knowing that something is broken or going to break does not ensure effective service management or increased uptime. In order to make a positive impact on service management, diagnostic information (along with other critical information such as service history, maintenance status, pending work, build details, operational performance, etc.) needs to be integrated into a closed loop repair process where the information is directly actionable. OTA updates can be an important tool in this process.

Service relationship management (SRM) is a strategic business approach that incorporates, among other things, OTA updates and diagnostic information to optimize service value chain efficiency. This drives better decision-making, cost reduction, ensured service event consistency, and maximized asset availability. SRM unifies the management of service events by enabling rich, role-based user experiences by combining service process management with in-context access to required information, including diagnostics, real-time communication and collaboration, and business intelligence tools.

An SRM-enabled process captures previously siloed information and provides a complete and cohesive picture of all relevant data. Connected asset and sensor data is directly integrated into the repair process workflow and immediately accessible by every member of the service supply chain. Alerts are accompanied with automated application event creation, details that help determine the root cause and severity of a problem and suggested repair plans that can be added directly to the work-order. For situations that support OTA updates, the platform, based on roles and permissions, can facilitate the scheduling, communication and delivery of the updates and capture the entire process as part of the asset’s service history.

Despite great advances in IoT capabilities and the hope that Tesla promises, in-person repairs remain inevitable. A brake job cannot be completed by a simple OTA software update, nor can repairs to an overheated engine. However, by eliminating unnecessary in-person repairs and greatly reducing unproductive time associated with other repairs, an SRM solution can integrate IoT data into an actionable repair process that enables the construction industry to reap the true value and ROI from their IoT investments, and keep their equipment on the job.

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