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Why the World Economic Forum describes asset traceability as a “profound paradigm shift”

Finlay McPherson
Mar 19, 2024

Welcome to this short series on the future of Asset Management.

In this first blog, Finlay McPherson, Asset Management Lead at Capgemini Invent looks at the increasing role asset traceability is playing in the achievement of key business and sustainability goals for energy and utilities organisations.

The crucial role that asset traceability can play in achieving global economic and sustainability goals has caught the attention of governments, regulators and businesses alike.

Its significance was rubberstamped when the World Economic Forum (WEF) published its landmark white paper Digital Traceability – a framework for more sustainable and resilient value chains.

The report’s authors described the development as “the traceability transformation”, “the next supply chain revolution”, and a “profound paradigm shift”.

They believe that organisations that achieve traceability across the value chain can reap substantial rewards, notably operational resilience, efficiency and sustainability, enhanced security and lower risk, cost and carbon footprint reductions and regulatory compliance.

Crucially for the energy and utilities sector, given its pivotal role in our collective efforts to achieve Net Zero targets, when these benefits are unlocked in combination, the WEF believes this has a multiplier effect on their impacts.

Why our history matters

The WEF acknowledges that achieving successful, comprehensive traceability is complex and difficult. At Capgemini we have seen a rapid increase in commissions to support our clients to develop traceability strategies and operationalising them, and then implementing and delivering the associated  action plans, as part of wider asset management engagements.

As ever, energy and utilities businesses have additional levels of complexity baked in, not least because their vast, historic estates of physical assets – in many cases these assets are critical national infrastructure where availability is crucial. Alongside the huge volume of existing assets are the new capital construction programmes, where not only are physical assets being delivered but robust digital components are also being established, transforming day-to-day operations.

In our sector the history really matters. For example, the safe decommissioning and demolition of large physical assets, such as a nuclear power station, requires analysis of a forensic level of detail, about the site, design and construction, the provenance of equipment and materials used, as well as repair and maintenance records.

In many cases, we discover that these documents going back many decades do exist, but in various paper formats in filing cabinets.  Fortunately, not only can these documents be digitised, but we can apply specialist AI and machine learning tools to enable the vital interrogation of this material to provide the business intelligence on which to base informed decisions.

Assets can be physical, digital and intellectual 

Given the challenges that come with traceability programmes, the WEF’s white paper emphasises the need for sound strategic thinking and comprehensive, end-to-end expertise to be deployed from the outset, to ensure successful outcomes and maximise value and return on investment.

It’s vital to establish a baseline understanding and definition of what constitutes an asset, which ones needs tracing, why and where to look, and to map these against organisational objectives, the law and regulatory requirements.

In the energy industry there’s the example of a welder working on a construction site who did not have the necessary qualifications for the task, undermining the management, quality assurance, safety and governance of the entire project. In this circumstance, the welder’s validated professional training record becomes a vital asset, without which a major project was jeopardised.

Recycling and reusing assets is now commonplace. But while water engineers will no doubt be reassured that a pump recovered for re-use is from an original equipment manufacturer and has passed a quality inspection, what they also need to know is where and how that pump was last used.

It’s not a great idea to use equipment previously installed in a sewage treatment works to pump drinking water to customers’ homes. As you can see, the devil’s often in the detail.

Unlocking benefits now and for the future

Fortunately, the digital revolution has provided an array of enabling tools and technologies for us to transform an organisation’s ability to trace and create a detailed and comprehensive inventory of its assets, as well as the many integrations and interdependencies associated with them.

Alongside digitisation platforms, AI and machine learning, blockchain technology enables the creation of an advanced asset database, a fully secure, immutable, automatically updated ledger of assets, their origins and histories. And with today’s technology-driven traceability, every time a new asset is plugged into the ecosystem its unique profile and identification details can be acknowledged and automatically added to the database.

Historically, the value of tracing and establishing a complete picture of all of an organisation’s assets was often undervalued, a nice-to-have in a world where there was an acceptable level of waste, an unavoidable byproduct of large, sprawling enterprises.

Now enlightened organisations have different values and cultures, with operating models designed to maximise efficiency and sustainability. And those organisations know that, by putting in place a comprehensive, living and breathing asset inventory, they have created a new and powerful resource.

Because this priceless mine of data isn’t something for the future. It’s creating value right now, improving asset performance, cutting costs and waste, and providing a level of business and commercial trust and confidence that governments, regulators and citizens appreciate.

To talk to Capgemini about how we can support your asset management needs, contact Finlay McPherson and connect on LinkedIn

Coming up in the ‘Future of’ series…

Throughout these blogs, we’ll explore how digital technology is revolutionising the way utilities operate – providing a snapshot of what is already being achieved, enroute to a fully connected and optimised business model. Stay tuned for more insights, expert opinions, and actionable advice on issues like the hyper-personalised energy class, how to collaborate with your consumers to dive meaningful change, and how to foster a digital culture.

Explore our ‘Future of Series’ blog page, click here to learn more.

Meet our expert

Finlay McPherson

Asset Management Lead, Capgemini Invent
Finlay leads Capgemini’s asset management capability within Energy Transition & Utilities, working closely with clients on both improving asset performance and extending asset life. Finlay is a chartered mechanical engineer with over 15 years of asset management experience, he spent 10 years working in the oil and gas industry prior to joining Capgemini where he was responsible for a global asset base, improving asset availability, and reducing total cost of ownership. Since joining Capgemini he has advised on some of the largest UK construction projects and supported operational improvements across a variety of clients.