Artificial intelligence (AI) will transform asset management (AM)– are we ready to lead the change?

Industry 4.0 is happening. Businesses need to digitise to thrive. What will this mean for the future of asset management? 

Will there still be a need for structures and processes like asset management strategies and plans, or will machine learning and cognitive technologies take the lead in driving an agile approach of strategy to action? 

Save us from process paralysis

Today, operationally focused asset management organisations are already demanding more from their asset management systems. They don’t want to be bogged down with heavy processes that hamper efficient decision making. They want the right amount of information, at the right time in the right format to make a quick decision that improves operational KPIs to delight the customer, whilst aligning to their strategic objectives. 

The field of asset management must keep pace with change and evolve to support more effective and efficient decision-making and action-taking. As asset management professionals, we must lead this change. But, how do we ensure our asset management approach is lean and fit-for-purpose in this rapidly evolving world of ever-advancing technologies and ever-increasing customer expectations? 

Data overload to information clarity

Understanding how best to utilise data and technology in asset management is key. For example, IIOT and cloud computing are enabling real-time monitoring and collation of multiple big data streams, which is taking asset monitoring to a new level. But in an information-omnipresent society, distilling all this information into a clear output that doesn’t overload the decision-maker or over-simplify the result is vital. Not over-informed or under-informed - the ‘Goldilocks data-information’ solution is fundamental to good decision support in asset management. 

But fancy dashboards and decision support tools still just essentially provide the decision-maker with problems to solve. They provide information, not the answers. Advances in agile cognitive computing technologies will have an impact on asset management, but how far do we want this to go? 

How far will digital asset management evolve into decision recommendation, decision making and action-taking? It’s got to depend on the criticality of the decision, the environment you’re operating in and how you get the data you need to make your decision. These are the things asset managers of the future need to be leading.

Stand in the Vision

We can probably all imagine how Industry 4.0 could transform asset management from an inspection and maintenance perspective – digital twins of entire asset systems monitoring themselves connected to a swarm of intelligent autonomous robots that carry out inspection and maintenance tasks etc, but how about strategic-level asset management? Imagine a world where artificial intelligence (AI) asset managers programmed with the ISO 55001 framework learn and adapt the most effective asset management approach for their organisation. These AI asset managers track data on asset performance linked to decisions and business outcomes over time and learn from trends that appear, creating the optimal asset management approach linking strategy to action for that organisation.

Now imagine if similar organisations running similar assets from all over the world shared this data! Our AI asset manager could crunch the relevant numbers and provide us with a robust options analysis and decision recommendation based on a wealth of data far greater than we could comprehend as humans. A decision recommendation that optimises operational as well as strategic decisions based on an algorithm that learns and improves itself every day and checks its own alignment to the organisational objectives!

Some might consider this a digital paradise and others a dystopian future! How feasible is it? There are clearly many challenges to tackle; technological, commercial, ethical to name a few, but AI is already being used in many industries. As the capability of AI evolves from narrow intelligence (specific tasks) to general intelligence (autonomously solving problems) and even super intelligence (scientific creativity and social skills) we have the option to embrace it and establish the benefit in asset management or get left behind. 

Adapt and thrive

This future vision relies on trusting the data and technology, but with widespread adoption in our homes and personal lives, each generation that joins the workplace has increased levels of acceptance and trust of data and tech. So, it will infiltrate our businesses and we must be ready for it. Does this mean the end of process-led asset management, or a new era of process-agile data-led AI asset management? 

Change is happening fast. Asset management needs to digitise to survive and we need to consider how we will be paving the way for it to adapt and thrive. Are you ready to lead the change?

Technical Director at Amey Strategic Consulting