Based on open standards and designed to abstract the business process layer from the underlying technology, Services-Oriented Architectures (SOA) are breaking down the barriers between people, processes, and information, enabling a high degree of business flexibility. An outgrowth of SOAs are the Packaged Composite Applications, known in SAP parlance as xApps. These are hybrid applications that snap onto the existing system landscapes and integrate functionality from multiple underlying applications in a unified or “composite” environment. SAP xApps establish an access layer that decouples business objects and processes from underlying systems data structures. For example, a piece of equipment in a plant may be represented in the system landscape by information and documentation from several different sources. The SOA layer serves as a consolidating point for that information. This layer renders the information accessible in a standardized way to those putting together business process oriented applications that impact the equipment (such as work order management).
This decoupling signals a fundamental shift of focus: from the technology components to the business process. xApps are based on a model-driven architecture that separates the application model from the application technology and the user interface. As a result, business application composition is less rigid, allowing more process adaptation and improvement by providing a set of objects and components that package all the core business rules, otherwise known as the “model”. This new-found agility empowers business innovation and competitive advantage, while at the same time helping companies to lower the Total Cost of Ownership in the IT infrastructure through easier integration of existing and new system investments.
Enhancing SAP Plant Maintenance usability
As a Packaged Composite Application powered by SAP NetWeaver, the VIP xApp from NRX harnesses the flexibility of the SOA to enhance the functionality and usability of SAP’s solution for Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) and its core module, Plant Maintenance (PM). VIP’s simple-to-use interface and tailored views of common maintenance functions such as notifications and work orders improve the usability of PM and empower casual and power users to make more productive use of the EAM system.
VIP provides engineering, maintenance, operations and supply chain users with configurable role-based access to work and materials management business processes and information such as MRO procurement (Maintenance, Repair, Organisation). Relevant functionality and content, such as specific SAP R/3 transactions (e.g., work order, notification create, update, search) or real-time performance information can be surfaced and organized into tailored role-based “worksets”. Each workset contains a series of standard and configurable iViews, a feature of SAP NetWeaver’s component SAP Enterprise Portal on which the VIP xApp runs. VIP includes roles for a variety of functions including planners, operators, and mechanics. Roles can be easily configured to suit the work processes within a particular customer environment. Routine maintenance tasks including the creation of notifications or work orders are streamlined and simplified. Improving the interaction of users with the information and functionality allows work processes to be optimized, and substantially improves the use of the system.
These improvements allow companies to increase the adoption and productive use of the SAP solution – potentially increasing usage from less than 5 per cent of the potential user base to higher than 80 per cent. At a recent implementation at the power generation company Conectiv Energy, VIP enabled broad adoption of the Plant Maintenance module among the maintenance user community.
While VIP can increase shop-floor maintenance productivity, the solution also gives the top-floor the visibility required to optimize decision-making. VIP leverages the SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW), to enable greater transparency into maintenance productivity. Organizations can extract key metrics from work histories (such as planned versus breakdown maintenance work, recurring equipment failures, or maintenance spend by equipment or production process) to enable improved cost analysis reporting. This robust reporting capability in turn supports maintenance process optimization.
Asset information integrity
While an accessible and simplified user interface is critical to user adoption, maintenance workers will only use a system if they can trust the information it contains. The successful execution of plant maintenance work requires a wide array of information including OEM parts books, operating and maintenance manuals, materials safety data sheets, master materials records and more. Without accurate and complete information, planners and craftsmen can waste up to 60 per cent of their day searching for information or undertaking costly reworks. The cost of inaccurate information, moreover, can quickly soar. At one NRX customer, the administrative burden alone associated with incorrect part sourcing was calculated at $500 per part. Downtime from equipment failure due to poor maintenance can be revenue-threatening – and the human price in terms of compromised shop floor safety presents a different kind of risk altogether.
To address the asset information challenge, NRX has developed an asset content management engine known as ACM that integrates seamlessly with the VIP composite application. ACM is a collection of project management and data management tools and methodologies. The solution supports plant or warehouse audit, the build-out of an electronic equipment and material library, the mapping of technical documents and parts books to equipment and materials, as well as other related activities geared to capturing and managing complete and accurate information on equipment and parts. ACM can then be used to organize that information in a highly intuitive visual format. ACM is fully integrated with SAP R/3 to support the build and clean-up of SAP R/3 master data, and the coupling of technical documents and parts books to SAP R/3 equipment and materials. ACM provides full support for the identification, collection, verification, assessment, electronic conversion, publication and use of equipment and material data. The result is high-integrity, equipment and parts information that maintenance workers can trust.
Information delivered in a workflow context
Information integrity, however, is only one piece of the equation. For plants to leverage information effectively, they must also be able to deploy that information intelligently within its specific workflow context. Historically, collaboration has been hindered by bottlenecks in the flow of information. Information technology ecosystems tended to segregate critical data, functionality and business processes into inaccessible transactional application silos that offer little if any interoperability across systems.
This is where composite applications shine: by allowing companies to break down these silos, leverage information from disparate sources, and deliver that information to the right people at the right time within the context of defined business processes. Thus, the integration of ACM with VIP provides a solution that unleashes the full power of information by delivering it in context. Contextual deployment of high-integrity information is critical to maintenance productivity. With fast, easy access to equipment and parts information, maintenance workers spend less time searching, and more time engaged in high-value wrench time.