How Utility Telecoms Can Build a Reliable Asset Database: Part 1

Utilities are comprised of diverse technologies overlaid upon increasingly complex telecommunications infrastructure. While the management of assets and their relationships seems like a daunting task, it can be achieved with a strong automated asset management solution in place.

In this three-part blog post series, we’ll discuss how a single, unified, and reliable asset and resource database can enable faster deployments, quicker error resolution, and a greater understanding of utilization.

The Many Benefits of Asset Management

Utilities have a wide range of physical and virtual assets, including telecommunications hardware, racks, and cabling; substation equipment, such as relays, breakers, and transformers; buildings and cabinets on utility sites such as substations; miles of conductors and telecommunications cables; towers and poles; land – leased or owned; motor vehicles; data centers and their contents; software application licenses; virtualized Network Functions (VNFs); and grid designs and engineering standards.

Maintaining a digital inventory of these assets is beneficial to nearly every department. For example, while finance departments require an up-to-date asset inventory to produce accurate financial statements, operations departments must understand the age, condition, and location of each asset for preventive maintenance and efficient workforce deployments. IT departments need to understand the current revision level of all deployed software to know which software must be replaced, and cybersecurity practitioners must understand operational aspects of assets to know when to apply patches to devices.

At the same time, a unified asset inventory enables project managers to define the staff, resources, and budget needed to execute these business-critical tasks. This inventory also helps project managers understand which assets are deployed to individual customers, which is the first step in reducing service interruptions and downtime.

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Four Steps Towards a Unified Asset Database

The first step in building a reliable asset database is to clearly define which assets will be included in the register. Once the scope is defined, stakeholders must be identified – who are the owners or custodians of the assets and services that will go into your database?

Next, collect relevant information about the assets and services that are in scope. There are likely attributes of an asset that are available but don’t play a role in helping you achieve efficient operations. This winnowing of attributes is likely to be a challenge, but it is key to gathering the right information before planning how you will organize it.

Likewise, determine every possible relationship between assets – how the performance of one asset will affect others, for example. Often, these relationships have already been addressed in “n-1” test plans, which can be a valuable input into definition of the asset database. Relationships will help explain what attributes are necessary to capture for each asset, while attributes will give insight into which relationships among assets should be considered.

There are many possible sources of asset information, such as manufacturer information that is collected and stored during asset procurement, application-specific asset registers, excel spreadsheets used as departmental asset registers, fixed asset applications used by the accounting department, enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, test plans for outages and continuity, network maps, interviews with employees that work with specific technologies, asset discovery applications, network management applications, and container or virtual machine metadata.

Ideally, the cutover from legacy systems to the single asset register will occur in phases. We recommend running legacy and replacement systems in parallel mode to ensure that the outputs from both systems are synchronized.

Most importantly, the asset database must be continuously updated to remain in synchronization with the physical environment and logical resources that it represents. Planning migrations, for example, is a recipe for disaster without a current asset register. Planning downtimes for maintenance can also lead to unforeseen complications if the planners do not have an accurate view of current assets, services, and interdependencies. Synchronizing your database with a digital twin is essential for operational efficiency, faster impact analysis, capacity management, and service assurance.

As a digital twin is fully synchronized with the original, dynamic updates reflect real world changes. Changes to a network can be planned first with the digital twin, then executed in the network, and finally verified against the digital twin through data reconciliation. This closed loop principle is integral for high data consistency and optimized operational processes.

In part two of our blog post series, we’ll discuss the common challenges that a digital twin can solve. Part two is coming soon.