July 1, 2021
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6 mins

As an SME what solutions exist to manage my tools and equipment? How do I choose?

A man hesitating in front of vending machines

This month marks the end of the restrictions which have blighted UK businesses for over a year. Similar easing is being witnessed across Europe as cases continue to drop.

It’s far too early to see what this will mean for small businesses. The near-record rates of growth in key sectors of the economy are likely to have a trickle-down effect; on the other hand many companies remain mired in debt and won’t return to the black for several months.

What we do know, however, is that SMEs will need to find new ways to manage their tools and equipment. Although many companies have reopened their offices, it appears few are ready to return to the old way of working. In fact nearly 90% of European companies plan on adopting a hybrid strategy, blending remote and in-office working, in the months to come. These companies will have to manage their assets remotely, and invest in solutions that allow them to oversee their operation across multiple locations.

This transition creates a clear use case for Enterprise Asset Management, or EAM. This technology often leverages the Internet of Things (IoT), a world where everything is connected, from cars to fridges to warehouse doors. Connected devices, buildings and other inventories collect data as they are used, and this is wirelessly fed back to a human operator who can use the information to make changes as necessary.

At a business level the opportunities are potentially transformative. Real-time updates on all sites, assets, teams and stock, delivered in clear reports, open the gateway to huge efficiency savings. Maintenance times, absences and upgrades can all be managed much more effectively, reducing downtime and freeing up resources for other areas of the company. Given that 26% of the average employee’s working day is currently wasted on avoidable administrative tasks, this is particularly important.

Predictions are that the EAM market will increase by 17% year-on-year until 2030, and this may end up being a conservative estimate.

Wealth of options

However, while it’s easy to get carried away by the potential of EAM and IoT technology, it’s important to remember that each small business is completely unique: its client base and operating model are totally distinct.

Take a property like a hotel or villa. The owners have assets that are maintained individually, such as a prized piece of furniture, and in mass quantities, such as towels or cutlery. The former has to be tracked so it is available for customers; the latter has to be tracked so the company doesn’t run out. Then there are the challenges around equipment maintenance, a particular headache during peak season, and the issue of vehicle maintenance, which can be burdensome for larger sites and companies with large amounts of staff cars.

This company’s needs are going to be completely different from those of, say, a haulier, which is constantly worrying about new parts for its vehicles. Or a book shop, which is constantly updating its inventory in response to customer demand. Or a food delivery business, which may only have small physical premises but needs to be able to locate its drivers, and vehicles, at any given time.

So each company faces its own specific challenges when choosing EAM technology, and must be aware of all the potential solutions available. So let’s look in detail at each of the main alternatives:

Inventory management

This form of EAM software allows companies to track and manage their equipment across various channels, providing essential information about the inventory that’s on order and ensure that spare parts are readily available. Inventory management software is particularly useful for companies with large amounts of small equipment.

Asset tracking

As the name implies, the key benefit of this branch of EAM software is the ability to track assets in real-time, preventing potential downtime and providing essential information about the performance of the fleet. Asset tracking software is particularly useful for sectors such as manufacturing, whose companies often have assets spread across several locations.

CMMS

Computerised Maintenance Management Software provides all the key maintenance benefits of EAM. As well as keeping inventory management up to date, a CMMS system will automate the maintenance scheduling process and allow a company to streamline its work orders. This is particularly useful for firms in heavy industries like oil and gas, for whom maintenance is an essential part of the day-to-day operations.

Fleet management

Any company which operates a vehicle fleet, from delivery companies to van rental firms, will know the value of effective fleet management. To achieve this goal, a dedicated branch of software has sprung up within the EAM realm: these fleet management products pull in all the company’s vehicle data, including information from third-party sources. Then, they turn this data into a plethora of insights, from monthly maintenance spend to reminders about drivers’ medical checks.

Facilities management

The maintenance of a facility requires a huge amount of information, from work orders to invoices, environmental data to health and safety clearances. With a facilities management system, a company can harmonise all this information to allocate resources across multiple sites, ensure maximum compliance and deliver consistent standards across all sites and buildings.

Choosing the right model

Ok, so now you may have some idea of the type of EAM solution you require, based on your specific industry and company profile. But even then, there’s a plethora of alternatives to choose from and it’s easy to get sucked into buying something that isn’t quite right.

How do we avoid falling into this trap and ensure we find a solution that’s ideal for our company? Well, as with most aspects of business, it’s best to start by looking at the cost.

Starting prices for packages can run from around £30 per month all the way up to £7,000 or more. For larger SMEs, this can represent a significant outlay. However, there are significant economic benefits once the new software is up and running.

In reality, the cost is less important than cost-effectiveness. And, to gauge this crucial metric, we can assess a solution in several distinct areas.

User-friendliness

As noted by Harvard Business Review amongst others, the successful introduction of new technologies to the workplace hinges on staff understanding the benefits it offers. This will never happen without a user-friendly interface they can pick up and use from the off. Over time, it can also mean the difference between maximum productivity and inefficiency, and prevent mistakes.

Level of flexibility/customization

The world may slowly be emerging from Covid-19, but no-one knows what the new normal is going to look like. Companies are going to face a period of unprecedented uncertainty, but this will also bring a wave of opportunity. In this climate, it is essential that companies can move fast and keep adapting, and their EAM system needs to reflect it.

Mobile version and collaboration

The global office is more dynamic than ever: according to statistics from IBM, the world’s mobile workforce is on track to reach 1.87 billion workers. Against this backdrop, it is essential that our business software is effective on the move – and this is particularly true of EAM software, which provides a way for mobile workers to keep track of their company’s core operations. With tools such as Slack, Zoom and Trello setting new gold standards for digital collaboration, the software also has to facilitate easy interaction among employees hundreds or even thousands of miles apart.

Workflow automation

EAM isn’t just about providing users with vital information, and allowing them to act on it; it’s about offering high levels of automation, reducing the number of routine duties staff need to perform. And this isn’t just about basic jobs. Effective enterprise asset management solutions allow you to create predetermined outcomes, so the software can respond to external changes without an employee having to provide instructions.

Integration to a company’s existing systems

In light of the chaos witnessed over recent months, companies cannot afford to rip up and replace their systems lock, stock and barrel. According to figures from EY, UK Plc is on course to have borrowed £61 billion by the end of 2021, and sooner or later we are going to need to start tightening belts. EAM software needs to mesh smoothly into our existing business software matrix and maximise the benefits of a company’s existing technology, not render it obsolete.

Dynamic and predictive analytics

Dynamic analytics doesn’t just allow companies to monitor the performance of their assets in real-time; it also enables them to see the direction the market is moving and react accordingly. To truly utilise the data that EAM provides, companies need to be able to use it instantly – because if it’s not available now, it’s too late.

Bulbthings and the advantage of all-in-one asset tracking solutions

By now it should be clear that asset and fleet management solutions are made for long-term implementation and business-wide roll out. They should also give companies space to grow and develop services, products and departments. And the software package itself must offer options to modify subscriptions and bring in new functions, or remove redundant ones.

This approach is the only way businesses can thrive in the new reality, where the vast majority of companies operate across various sites or are even fully mobile. Adaptability is now everything, and you need software to match — packages with genuine scalability that can be used even by companies with the broadest and most varied needs.

All-in-one asset and fleet tracking software comes with these principles baked in. As a provider of 360° smart asset management, Bulbthings helps clients tailor their own solutions to specific requirements, every step of the business journey. To find out more, click here.

References

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jun/23/uk-economy-surges-but-analysts-warn-boom-could-be-short-lived
https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20210622005955/en/Owl-Labs-89-of-European-Companies-Plan-on-Having-a-Hybrid-Workforce-Post-pandemic
https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/enterprise-asset-management-market-to-grow-with-17-cagr-by-2030-ps-intelligence-301248436.html
https://www.capterra.com/eam-software/pricing-guide
https://hbr.org/2015/03/convincing-skeptical-employees-to-adopt-new-technology
https://www.ibm.com/topics/mobile-workforce