Strategies for Digital Asset Management

James Kovacevic, Eruditio

Imagine for a moment, or maybe you don’t have to imagine, that you are tasked with building a business case to replace an asset. In order to build the business case, you need to know the age of the asset, the original project cost and perhaps some recent audits done on the safety system to see if it is up to current codes.

You check the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and find that the asset cost field is blank and that the asset was installed in 1991. You search the CMMS but can’t find the audit reports. You decide to tackle the cost first. You contact the finance department, and they provide you with some information that reveals the asset was put on the books in 1984 and that the cost was $1.5 million.

Now you have conflicting ages and a dollar figure from finance, but you feel something is not right. So, you go to project engineering and ask them for the original project documents. Since most of the team is new, only one person remembers that project. He digs through his personal stockpile of documents. After some searching, he finds the project file. You open the project file and discover that the cost was documented as $1.2 million and the actual installation date was1983.

At this point, you wonder which information is right? Why are there differences between all of them? You decide to dig into the differences to sort it all out and build the business case based on data, which is exactly what the company mandate is.

After much investigation, you uncover the differences. In the CMMS, the year 1991 came from when the CMMS was implemented, as it was deemed too expensive to convert all the data in the existing CMMS and there was no cost in the original CMMS.

The project was actually completed in 1983, but finance was going through a restructuring at the time and did not create the assets until late 1984. During that push to get the assets created in 1984 and catch up, finance decided to include auxiliary systems in many of the assets, which explains the high cost in the financial ledger.

Now you finally have the correct cost and age, but what about that report? The engineer who was leading that initiative left the business and never saved anything on the company’s shared drive. When he left, his computer was wiped clean with all related files.

A call to consulting engineers who developed the report yielded the information. So, instead of being able to gather the required data in a few minutes, it took almost three days. How is an organization supposed to make data-driven decisions when data is not readily available?

This is where a digital asset management strategy comes in. A digital asset management strategy is the foundation to managing an organization’s digital assets and information. Yes, documents, images and information are assets to an organization and require a well-thought-out approach.

This approach will indicate how the digital assets and information will be handled, stored, used and disposed of, which results in an information repository with a single source of truth for all functions. A digital asset management strategy is a prerequisite for data-driven decision making, which is a key enabler of holistic asset management and is even called out in ISO 55001.

What exactly is a digital asset management strategy? It is a systematic approach to managing all the data and information that an organization will use to implement and execute its asset management system. The digital asset management strategy will specify what data is included within its scope and may include but is not limited to:

  • Images
  • Manuals (operating, maintenance, etc.)
  • Drawings (mechanical, electrical, civil, etc.)
  • Certificates (safety, operating, inspection, etc.)
  • Reports (audits, inspections, engineering, etc.)
  • Project files (business cases, project plans, commissioning documents, etc.)
  • Asset information (nameplate data, age data, cost data, operating data, etc.)
  • Operating information (process data, maintenance records, risk registers, etc.)
  • Market-demand information (production forecasts, stakeholder analysis, etc.)

An abundance of data is needed to make informed decisions about how the assets will be managed through their life cycle. In order to make the data usable, it must be controlled. The digital asset management strategy also will specify who has access to modify the data, who can view it and how long it will be kept.

In addition, the digital asset management strategy will specify how all the data will be stored and the different systems integrated. By controlling the integrations, a single source of truth will exist and will minimize double entry of data, which may lead to errors. With a single source of truth in place, compliance reporting also becomes easier, as the proper information can be obtained with ease.

The digital asset management strategy should be structured in a way that enables the digital landscape to mirror the real world. This essentially means that for every physical document, there should be a digital copy linked to the digital record of the asset. The digital asset management strategy also specifies how the organization will prepare for Industry 4.0 and the industrial internet of things (IIoT), whether it is being implemented now or in the future. A well-designed digital landscape ensures all relevant data and information are not only available but fully integrated between the different systems used in asset management.

Unfortunately, digital assets often are not thought of when developing and deploying an asset management system, which leads to an ad-hoc approach to the storage data or a scramble to get a proper system in place after the fact. The following will explain how to develop a digital asset management strategy to ensure your organization has the right information at the right time.

Creating a Digital Asset Management Strategy

To create a digital asset management strategy, organizations will be required to invest in their internal systems. A digital asset management strategy is more than just a software package or a naming convention for documents. It is a complete business system, including business processes, systems, standards and more.

To create a digital asset management strategy, there needs to be cross-functional collaboration that is supported from high up in the organization. It does not mean that the maintenance department can’t put their house in order without the rest of the organization. However, to realize the full value of a digital asset management strategy, it must be organizational wide.

The first step in creating a digital asset management strategy is to establish a steering committee, which should include all functions such as maintenance, engineering, finance, information technology (IT), operations, etc. This will ensure all functions within the organization understand the purpose behind the digital asset management strategy and all concerns with the data will be addressed, such as which system is taken as the truth.

With the steering committee established, the vision of the digital asset management strategy and the data must be created. This will be used to provide the high-level goal for the data and how it will be used. The vision should take into account not only the current state but also any future goals involving the IIoT. By considering future IIoT goals, decisions can be made to accommodate the influx of data and prevent costly rework or new software implementations in the future. The foundation of a digital asset management strategy is based on the IT infrastructure to support asset management excellence.

The steering committee also must make some hard decisions. These include defining what data and information will fall under the scope of the digital asset management strategy and which data will not be included. This is vital, as there is a cost to manage and govern the data. If the organization tries to manage everything, it will be a massive undertaking and may not provide as much value.

But if the steering committee decides to focus on the key data and information, less resources will be needed and the value of the digital asset management strategy will increase. Remember that the data collected and governed must have a purpose and a defined use. There is no point in collecting data that does not or will not have a use.

Another barrier the steering committee will have to overcome is the security permissions. These are essential, as they control who can create, edit and view the data. Creating and editing the data may come to down to specific roles within the organization or a data-governance team in a larger organization.

The global fields may be controlled by the data-governance team, while the local fields may be edited by specific functions at the site level. This is known as a governance process. It ensures the existing data and all new data meet the requirements set forth in the digital asset management strategy and the various standards.

The digital asset management strategy will reference other documents that the organization will use to manage digital assets. These typically include a digital asset standard, engineering document naming standard, project handover standard and various other standards. The digital asset management strategy will also specify the document management system that will store all the documents and integrate into the various systems, along with who is responsible for managing the IT systems, controlling those changes and enabling the steering committee to have input into the decision made.

Lastly, the digital asset management strategy is a key enabler of allowing organizations to deploy mobile solutions, as all information is organized and easy to access. Without a data structure, mobile solutions will not yield the benefits expected. Once a digital asset management strategy is in place, an organization can be assured that all relevant information is readily available, making the maintenance and asset planning process much easier.

Digital Asset Standard

The digital asset standard is the go-to place for all information on what data is required, in what format and in what fields it will be stored. The digital asset standard plays a key role in defining the specifics of the data required. It will include data-quality definitions and guidelines that specify how data will be measured and monitored. Common metrics for data quality include the following:

The required data-quality targets may vary by data type (asset, materials or failure data), which is usually based on the risk of not having specific data points.

Depending on the organization, the digital asset standard may include a complete data dictionary or reference various other standards, such as the asset master data standard, materials master data standard, maintenance and failure data standard, or process and operating data standard.

The asset master data standard details how asset hierarchies will be built, as well as how assets will be named and classified. The standard will also define the asset boundaries and which data points are required for each asset. Typically, the data points are classification, attributes and operational.

Classification is the ability to segregate equipment into logical groupings. Within classification, you may define the class of equipment (e.g., valve) and the type (e.g., gate).

Attributes are the specific design characteristics of the equipment. This could include the materials from which it is made, performance specifications, manufacturer, model number, serial number, etc.

Operational data includes the equipment’s specific characteristics based on where it is installed and how it is used. Within operational data, you will find criticality and location.

The materials master data standard contains the information for how parts will be named and classified as well as what other data points are required, such as attributes, lead times and pricing.

The maintenance and failure data standard contains the requirements for how maintenance activities such as breakdown, corrective and proactive tasks will be captured and recorded. Data points may include total manhours, planned downtime, unplanned downtime, failure codes, etc.

The process and operating data standard details the requirements for all process and operating data such as flows, pressures, speeds and all condition monitoring data. The standard calls out how the various systems will be integrated and linked to the assets. They may choose to utilize existing data fields in the CMMS, such as measurements and counters for the condition monitoring data.

Each of these standards will spell out the data point, field where it is recorded, if the data is mandatory or optional, as well as any specific formatting requirements, such as for dates (DD-MM-YYYY or MM-DD-YYYY).

Engineering Document Standard

The engineering document standard is not focused as much on specific data points as the digital asset standard but rather on identification and organization of the documents, manuals, drawings, images, etc. The purpose of this standard is to define the guidelines for creating and maintaining the maintenance and engineering document library. This document provides a standardized system to the greatest extent possible given the complex and varied nature of the engineering and maintenance documentation.

Traditionally, this document will explain the method for how documents will be named. It is based on several criteria, such as the type of document, name of the document, the asset to which it is related and a unique identifier.

For example, the naming of engineering documents might be: type – item document description – asset number – quantifier. This ensures all documentation can be quickly found based on the variety of information. The type of document is predefined from a list such as the following:

When the document type is combined with the rest of the naming standard, organizations will have all documents such as:

  • MTC – Centrifuge Maintenance Manual – 865732 – 01
  • PTG – Shaft Damage – 865732-01
  • PTG – Shaft Damage – 865732-02

In addition, the engineering document standard will specify where the documents will reside, whether electronic or hard copies. For example, electronic engineering documents may be linked within the CMMS to the appropriate equipment, functional locations or materials through the approved document management system.

Hardcopy engineering documents may be maintained within an onsite library that ensures all documents removed from the library will be signed in and out. The library could also be assigned an owner and have an organization system established to facilitate quick access to the documents. All documents maintained in the library may even be included on a document register.

With an engineering document standard in place, the organization can be assured that its documents and manuals can found when needed.

Document Management System

The document management system is a key piece of the digital asset management strategy. This digital library is the platform that will host all the documents and integrate with the various systems such as the CMMS, CAD systems, etc.

The document management system is critical, as it can store all documents and digital assets in an organized manner. The system also provides capabilities to track, manage and store documents, as well as reduce paper. Most systems are capable of keeping a record of the various versions created and modified by different users (history tracking) while also offering a method of change control and editing restrictions.

Although many enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have a built-in document management system, they generally lack some of the key functionalities required by organizations. As such, there are numerous options available, with some of the more common systems being OpenText, EQMS and eFileCabinet.

The key element to look for in a document management system is the ability to integrate with the wide range of systems used in an asset management system, along with change control, mobile application support and records retention support.

While this is an IT system, it should be chosen with the cross-functional steering committee, as each function will have unique needs that must be accounted for or the organization runs the risk of certain functions not using it.

Project Handover Standard

This standard is one of the most vital pieces in the ongoing sustainment of the digital asset management strategy. The project handover standard indicates what information will be collected, cleaned and uploaded to the various systems as part of the project. This ensures the project cannot be closed until the data and information are correctly captured and verified. This standard may even require the vendor or contractor be responsible for the data work and will not be paid for the project until the data is accepted.

The project handover standard will list the information and documents that must be collected, verified, uploaded and approved to the various systems. It will also provide a means to allow operations, maintenance, finance, health and safety, and any other required function to sign off on the acceptance of complete data and information.

It is not the job of a planner to gather all this data once a project is turned over. The data must be collected during the project, cleaned and uploaded to the various systems before the project is handed over to operations and maintenance.

Implementing the Digital Asset Management Strategy

Once an organization has a digital asset management strategy along with the supporting documents, standards and systems, how does it go about implementing it? Aside from all the usual change-management activities, there are some key things that the organization should consider.

The first item that should be considered is a content audit. This audit will evaluate the current state of data against the documented standard and determine all data and information that are missing or suspected of not being correct or complete. This will enable the organization to build a realistic timeframe and resource requirement to close the gap.

While building the project plan to collect the missing data, it is vital that the organization consider the cost to collect the missing data versus the value it will bring. There must be a business case and an understanding of the risk of not having that data. Sometimes, it is better to leave the legacy data as it is and have the standards apply to data moving forward from a point in time.

Additionally, it may make sense to start implementing the digital asset management strategy in phases. Start in a pilot area, collect the data, clean it and upload it. This will identify better ways of collecting and cleaning the data, and most importantly, show all those involved the value of having the right data and information.

Future of the Digital Asset Management Strategy

Without a digital asset management strategy, organizations are putting themselves behind the curve for adoption of the latest trends, such as Industry 4.0, digital transformation, artificial intelligence and the IIoT. Although this may not be a major issue right now, it will separate those organizations that can leverage data, make the most cost-effective decisions and thrive versus those that will miss out on the opportunity to make data-driven decisions.

With the appropriate data and information captured, organizations can leverage and fully utilize tools such as life-cycle costing, capital planning and risk-based inspections. By having all the information, organizations can truly evaluate capital plans and justify capital deferment and maintenance decisions. This provides a new level of clarity and trust between the organization and its shareholders, stakeholders and regulators.

Further Exploration of the Digital Asset Management Strategy

For those readers who are interested in learning more about the various components of the digital asset management strategy, there are numerous references and resources available. The digital asset management strategy and supporting documents are ideally structured in a way that ensures all requirements of ISO 55001 are met. To do this, you must look to the Global Forum on Maintenance & Asset Management (GFMAM) Asset Management Landscape document. It provides an outline and various supporting documents required for an enterprise digital asset management strategy while meeting ISO 55001 requirements. 


SAP. (2016). Digital Transformation of Asset Management. SAP.

This article was previously published in the Reliable Plant 2019 Conference Proceedings.

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About the Author

James Kovacevic is a passionate and driven Asset Management Professional who is based in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Throughout the span of over a decade, he has gained extensive hands-on expertis...