An ultimate goal for any farsighted manufacturer must be to fully automate its asset management practice using web technology. This would take the idea of a computerised maintenance management system (CMMS) to its logical conclusion. Once established, such an implementation of CMMS could allow the fundamental maintenance objectives to be integrated with all internal company systems, as well as external supply chains, trading exchanges and other shared web environments. Leading analysts like AMR repeatedly predict that collaboration will be a key aspect of manufacturing companies use of the web. They foresee the furthest reach of business-to-business e-commerce being an integrated supply chain – effectively covering all internal and relevant third party operations. And this is where optimal return on investment levels can be reached. Yet many challenges stand between the perception of these benefits and their achievement. The digital economy means velocity, so remote asset management will be a cornerstone to being competitive. If you do not know the operational status of your entire enterprise, how can you guarantee that an increasingly just- in-time (JIT) business model will be executed efficiently? John Ellison, vice president of European sales at enterprise asset management (EAM) system provider Datastream, neatly describes this situation: “Remote asset management creates a challenge for many companies. These environments are dynamic with a great deal of change. It is critical to understand not only the reliability of the asset, but also its fitness for use in a functional assignment.” Ellison believes it is paramount to understand the life cycle costs of assets – and their specific roles and usage – within the context of productivity management. For this reason, users must be able to review key performance measures, tasks, pending procurement needs and vendor information in one central view. A web-based solution enables management of these daily activities collaboratively. This collaborative commerce approach reduces transaction costs, brings about volume purchasing discounts and provides an integrated procurement vision, according to Ellison. While vendors such as enterprise software (ERP) firm Intentia state that they are selling maintenance systems based on the web paradigm, there remains the view that it is only over a three to four year period that such methods will be adopted on a mass level. One inhibitor is the cost of communications systems and hardware, but it is also worth admitting that the long march to the web-enabled, fully integrated supply chain has to be made step by step. Take the example of Honig, the Dutch food processing company. Honig has made progress down the path of automating maintenance management, according to company director Emile Bongers. At present the firm is running a system called Ultimo, where maintenance orders are created and followed up. The system also registers an inventory of technical material. It is based on a PC network from a local supplier. Honig is also in the design phase of the implementation of Intentia’s maintenance module, part of that company’s Movex ERP suite. However, before the web enablement of its maintenance system can be considered, Honig has plenty of groundwork to do. The company has a goal achieve – to integrate the maintenance process with other business processes. “Our problem at the moment is to get enough resources available in the organisation. And because it is no longer a stand-alone system the coding of items and work centres must all be changed,” says Bongers. Apart from the necessity to link up all parts of the operation, the cost of entry might be prohibitive to many smaller manufacturing firms that want to get into collaborative working. For instance, the leading company in a supply chain could start dictating the standards and processes involved. To offset this need for radical change and the allied formidable investment, a centralised and hosted asset management might just be the answer. So managed solutions might become a popular trend, both for the smaller firms and bigger manufacturers with a large number of small sites. In particular, the food processing industry fits this profile. The best practice derived from what is now called the ‘traditional’ business model should not be cast aside in the rush to get everything onto the web. The most successful implementations are still those that are well thought out and not a knee-jerk response. Asset management and maintenance systems have been developed gradually within the manufacturing industries. And these systems may not have been perfected in their first incarnation. The advantage to be gained from IT is still permeating through layers of complexity that remain to be sorted. Yet the future is bound to the web as far as we can see it. Developing a strategy now for how to take asset management to the web medium might just prove to be a smart business move.