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Author's profile photo Nick Ruddock

“Beam Me Up, Scotty. There’s No Intelligent Documentation Down Here ! “


Paul Kurchina, a prominent contributor to the SAP community, encouraged me to prepare an article summarising a paper I recently wrote discussing how ISO 55000 presents a unique opportunity to re-imagine the role of engineering and technical documentation in asset management (click here to access the full paper). In the paper I argue that few firms make good use of technical information resources and suffer reduced maintenance efficiency and effectiveness as a consequence.

My original paper cites published commentary from John Woodhouse of The Woodhouse Partnership Ltd. I wrote it unaware of John’s enormous contribution with “The Asset Management Imperative – Getting Ready for ISO 55000″ series. I offer my deepest thanks to Paul for encouraging me to contribute a few thoughts alongside such illustrious company as John. My focus looks specifically at technical documentation issues against a backdrop of ISO 55000, but I hope to faithfully build on the foundation already provided by others.

Woodhouse notes that ” ISO 55000 is the first worldwide attempt to capture the generically applicable ‘must do’ items for the management of any asset type….. the new standards will also provide significant opportunities to re-examine and refine asset owner and service provider relationships, governance and regulatory frameworks and insurance, customer relations and other stakeholder confidence. ” In this powerful understatement, Woodhouse asks us to re-examine every aspect of our thinking in relation to asset management, to challenge our assumptions and use the moment to seek end-to-end improvements. He observes, ” While it is nothing new to ask everyone to squeeze out costs, asking them to think about how to manage assets in a more thorough and sophisticated way can have a much higher return because it spurs creativity in how to think about assets, the value obtainable from them, and how to re-engineer processes to release that value.

Does this have anything to do with mundane manuals, drawings and parts books? Surely we already have sufficient access to enough technical documentation? Haven’t we got Document Management Systems in place and pdf files hidden in every nook & cranny? Surely this is not an example of ” more thorough and sophisticated ways … (to) … much higher return ” ? In any case, are the returns worth the effort?

In his article, “Setting a good standard in asset management”, Woodhouse cites several examples of tangible benefits from better asset management – for example, “Nuon Holland: 30% ‘total cost of ownership’ savings”. In relation to technical documentation specifically, during the late 90’s Kennecott Utah Copper reported a 10% overall maintenance productivity improvement achieved through implementation of comprehensive access to technical documentation for all maintenance staff! These are non-trivial numbers and should, at the very least, attract some C-Suite attention.

Before putting the whole elephant on the grill, so to speak, let’s try a ‘sniff test’ with a  couple of simple questions: Would we allow a welder to use a new type of welding electrode without ensuring the MSDS sheet is available and understood? Would we ask a welder to repair a cracked frame or hub without providing the crack repair instructions suited to that component?

If we are honest, we should voice a resounding “ No ” to the former and a hesitant “possibly” to the latter. Why ? In both cases, the element in question is just information. If we assume the welder in question is properly trained, she could be assumed to know the risks associated with welding fumes and to understand how different materials react to weld stresses.

In the first example, the health and safety risk is obvious and regulations dictate obligations for the supervisor. In the second example, an inappropriate repair might ( only ? ) lead to repeated cracking or component failure.

If it is obvious that we must provide the information to reduce health risks to individuals, why is it not equally obvious that we should provide relevant information that might impact the health of our assets? If it is obvious why we must ensure employees understand safety instructions – for example, by providing them in a relevant language, why is it not equally obvious to ensure that technical information is relevant to the specific component in question?

Now, let’s expand our horizon from the simple example and envisage a normal plant: hundreds or thousands of equipment items, each made up of ever more complex components. Suddenly the challenge of providing accurate and configuration-specific information across all equipment and components, available to all asset maintainers is manifestly different.


Moving from paper manuals to digital media is a great first step. However, have we simply replaced the old project office stuffed to the ceiling with archive boxes bulging with manuals and drawings with terabytes of pdf files bulging with the same – now digital – documents?

Is it sufficient to hold a 300 page pdf file in our DMS that includes a warning that cracks in the frame or hub of a component cannot be repaired by welding? What if there are different variants of that component, some suited to weld repairs, some not? Do we expect our theoretical welder to find that warning in the pdf file and determine if it applies to this specific component?

Data is not information, information is not knowledge … Providing a link to a large, complex document is a little like providing the raw data and asking maintainers to analyse it and draw conclusions themselves – each time a task is performed! If we are seeking those ‘higher returns’, then the answer is clearly, “ It is not good enough ”.

In his “Introduction to ISO55000”, John Woodhouse discusses the concept of “line of sight” as an alignment between strategic objectives to detailed maintenance actions. I think it is a fair extension of the concept to consider line-of-sight as including a direct connection between an equipment item, or task and explicit, supporting information.


By creating a LoS between an equipment item or task, we potentially remove errors from using incorrect information and we can capture the effort of converting ‘data’ into ‘information’.

The LoS concept illustrated here is enabled by software, but it is not about a software system or software product. If it was a pitch for a tool, it would have no place in a discussion about ISO 55000.The LoS concept here is about outcomes and, arguably, within the scope of the re-imagining ISO 55000 should stimulate.

Technical documentation is typically created (and maintained) externally – by OEMs, suppliers, EPCMs, etc. It represents a vast body of information and knowledge, often freely available. OEMs and suppliers are continually looking for ways to deliver increasing value with their products (albeit at low costs to themselves); we can confidently assume that bi-directional information partnerships will emerge in the future that would be seen as unwelcome intrusions today.

So, do we need to wait until our plant and equipment is available in active holograms hovering above our desk ? Do we need to wait for U.S.S. Enterprise to arrive in orbit to beam us up into the future ? The illustration below is taken from a live example where an active library of refined technical documentation is typically less than two clicks away for all operating equipment and tasks.


ISO 55000 presents a potent opportunity to ‘re-examine and refine asset owner and service provider relationships’. The example above shows how much can be achieved with even small, but determinedly innovative steps today.

The time is right to move forward. ISO 55000 is ready – it sets the framework and provides the roadmap. The software tools are ready – and available straight off-the-shelf. The time is right to take that first step.

What are you waiting for ?

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