How to fast track critical asset operational resilience
Insights > Industry Insights

How to fast track critical asset operational resilience

Embedding greater agility and better decision making into daily workflows.
Danie Blom
Managing Director
23 November 2020

Enduring success in business is becoming harder to maintain. Companies don’t always adapt to market and technological changes quickly enough, and a global economy means the impact of economic shocks, natural disasters, and public health emergencies—like the coronavirus pandemic—are widespread. Services normally taken for granted suddenly become essential for businesses to operate, employees to work, and for a country’s economic survival.

Organisations that manage complex networks of critical assets, such as telcos, towercos, and utilities understand better than most how essential it is that business-critical operations can recover and adapt quickly because for them, the cost of downtime, data breaches, and poor service are significant. For society, the services provided by these companies are also becoming more and more a necessary and fundamental part of daily life.

In this context, building operational resilience is paramount. How you manage and invest in your network matters, but operational resilience also requires embedding greater agility and better decision-making into daily workflows.

Why has resilience become so critical?

While resilience is more commonly understood as an attribute that individuals develop: the ability to cope with, and bounce back from, hardships. At the organisational level, it’s about being able to evolve as business conditions change or shift dramatically.

Resilience has become more critical as business conditions have become more volatile.

Resilient organisations are better able to ‘take a hit’. But they don’t simply withstand difficult times—they’re prepared for inevitable disruptions and ready to respond. How? By taking a holistic approach to creating the right conditions for survival and long-term success.

When the systems that underpin your ability to operate can adapt well in the face of threats or disasters, you suffer fewer losses. You may also be able to gain a competitive edge. A recent example is organisations who were able to quickly pivot to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic or reorganise their processes to launch new business models.

Asset managers are expected to emphasise resilience

Organisations managing the assets that provide a foundation for how we live and work cannot overlook the importance of resilience. Unplanned disruptions to critical services such as internet, phones, and power aren’t simply an inconvenience, they put lives and economies at risk.

The devastating bushfires that raged across many parts of Australia in the summer of 2019-20 highlighted vulnerabilities in telecommunications networks that rural communities depend on in an emergency. Some towns’ residents and fire services were left unable to communicate after mobile phone towers were knocked out.

As a result, the Australian Government committed millions of dollars towards better connectivity and resilience, primarily by upgrading battery back-up power at base stations and backhaul transmission redundancy.

Telcos and utilities have always developed networks with contingencies—such as alternative routes and back-up generators—but the pressure is on to become even more proactive.

Resilient systems provide more certainty in managing critical assets

You can’t be 100% confident about what the future will bring, but you can feel more assured that your systems and team are flexible enough to perform well in the face of uncertainty.

We believe the future of asset management will hinge on more intelligent networks and devices.

For instance, software-defined networking—where computing devices can be dynamically configured, using software, to perform a particular function. Soon, we may see assets that can self-heal and use data to determine what purpose they should serve within a network.

One of the key ways we help customers build resilience is through systems that allow them to remotely monitor and manage assets. Improved visibility of assets is key to operational resilience—you can’t depend on a network if you don’t know problems exist. Using technology is also faster and more accurate than sending out field technicians to check physical condition, battery health, fuel levels, and other measurements.

Linking and coordinating activity across back-up generators and batteries means our customers can also investigate innovative approaches to powering their network. Being able to remotely switch to battery power at peak times would potentially lead to enormous savings. We envision customers having a clear picture of how power is being consumed and the control needed to make smart decisions to compensate for the unreliability of the power grid.

Seven strategies to build operational resilience right now

Operational resilience is more than having a robust network, or business continuity planning.

According to Deloitte: “We think of resilient operations as ones that can withstand major shocks to revenue (scale up or down), are cyber-secure, are hedged against major risks (e.g., geopolitical), and are data-rich, detecting problems as soon as they happen.”

Planning for the greatest risks and disasters is important, but you can immediately apply many strategies day-to-day to create a more resilient operational environment.

How you manage people and processes plays a role. As does your ability to anticipate and evolve to address the broader implications of customer demand, technological advances, regulatory change, and industry alliances.

Here are seven ways we think utilities can increase their strength and adaptability:

  1. Champion resilience from the top: Resilience needs leadership. You won’t achieve operational resilience if the Chief Operating Officer doesn’t make it a priority. Organisations capable of pulling together in times of crisis are also more likely to have their processes and people aligned to a clear, high-level vision and a culture that encourages forward thinking.
  2. Normalise talking about risk: Like all operational activity, policies and procedures can be put in place but you also need to rely on individuals to act in the best interests of the organisation. An openness to discussing issues and risks must be cultivated if you want a realistic grasp of where your business is potentially exposed. This includes reflecting on mistakes with a genuine effort to learn and of course correct for the future.
  3. Encourage innovation and curiosity: Carve out dedicated time and space for creative thinking and where possible fund experiments and pilot programs to test new ideas. Businesses that get too comfortable can more easily be superseded by disruptive start-ups. Build resilience by anticipating future challenges and actively looking for ways to reinvent, rather than simply refine existing approaches.
  4. Give employees more control: Autonomy gives employees more ownership of their work and the consequences of their decisions. If skilled employees, such as your engineers, have the freedom to make decisions and take some calculated risks they can more confidently embrace more agile ways of working that will benefit the organisation.
  5. Build in redundancy, variation, and modularity: Long-lasting systems include functional redundancy, multiple avenues to respond to stresses, and individual elements that can fail without affecting the whole system. Redundancy doesn’t have to come at the expense of integration—informed design choices and effective architecture and equipment can enhance the ease of achieving elegant and resilient solutions.
  6. Take a systems approach to technology investment: Digital transformation can underpin agility but not all technologies help you adapt in meaningful ways. Technologies you deploy should drive improvements that ensure your systems are both robust and flexible. Prioritise tools that help you clearly understand how systems are functioning—using reliable data.
  7. Bring in diverse viewpoints when needed: Build resilience by getting a second opinion or a broader industry outlook. Work with trusted third parties, like accesstel, to challenge your plans and approaches, or boost your capacity. A key risk to any company’s long-term success is pursuing approaches that don’t match your capacity or play to your strengths—often business leaders can be too close to recognise shortfalls, which is where external experts can help.

The speed of change and unpredictability of economic, environmental, political, and social forces that affect business makes achieving resilience more difficult. However, operational resilience is within reach by adopting these organisation-wide approaches to managing your systems, people, and processes.

Our solutions help our customers to know the health of their critical assets, predict failures before they become a disaster and to automate the management of support systems for these assets. This creates outcomes that enhance operational resilience.

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