Bruno Lhopiteau on predictive maintenance
Water treatment Digital Solutions China Bruno Lhopiteau

Bruno Lhopiteau: Cutting through the Gordian knot of predictive maintenance

Bruno Lhopiteau
Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Bruno Lhopiteau recently faced his very own “Gordian Knot” challenge to deliver an eight-minute speech on predictive maintenance as part of the smart water platform.

The overly complex, Gordian knot

I was recently invited to give an eight-minute speech at the China-Europe Water Platform conference. The topic was “Predictive Maintenance in the overall Smart Water Platform: lessons from Europe & Asia".

Talk about delivering an ambitious topic in a short time!

To take on this challenge, I saw myself as Alexander the Great, reaching Gordium. As the history buffs will know, entering the capital of Phrygia, Alexander was dared to untie a wagon from an overly complicated, entangled “Gordian knot”. He drew his sword and sliced the knot in half with a single stroke.

So here I stepped, armed with my proverbial sword (slides), to convince the crowd and cut through the digital hype.

For the first minute, I threw many mandatory keywords (risk management, O&M, HSE, predictive maintenance, machine learning, BIM).

I then set the stage by stating that predictive maintenance was, nothing new, despite the recent hype. I explained that it sets the wrong expectations, wrong project directions, and leads to the inevitable disappointments that everyone in the room had already experienced.

Two approaches, both disconnected

One example. Some projects start from the Internet of Things (IoT) angle, with random start-ups under the illusion of becoming predictive maintenance unicorns after discovering this “new” discipline last year. Such projects often take the form of a proof-of-concept (POC), a prototype or small-scale trial. From experience, POCs seldom develop into real-scale implementations.

“Some start-ups are under the illusion of becoming “predictive maintenance unicorns” after discovering this discipline.”

Meanwhile, other projects start from the “smart water” angle, with giant consulting or IT firms, a project timeline long enough to outlast the board of directors and a top-down “let’s impress the bosses” strategy. In contrast, this outcome is seldom very operational.

The two approaches suffer from being disconnected. The IoT sensors do not talk to the smart management platform, not in a meaningful way. More critical, these IT-driven projects tend to be disconnected from the water company’s overall O&M strategy, which is why they often fail to achieve operational benefits.

A sensor-to-boardroom concept

I presented two counter-examples: a public-private-partnership (PPP) in the South of France and a government bureau in South China. Both projects focused on combining O&M strategy, IoT and the overall smart water management system.

In my opinion, they both made sure not to ignore the human component and put O&M workers in the loop using a mobile solution. This is very significant. The ISO 55000 Asset Management standard acted as a framework to align all aspects.

“A sensor-to-boardroom approach gave project owners agility to start small and expand based on the initial success.”

A sensor-to-boardroom concept, with its main success factor deriving naturally from the O&M-driven approach, was delivered. The initial IoT scope covered only certain equipment types, for which a predictive maintenance strategy was established.

This gave the project owners the manoeuvrability and agility to start small and later expand based on the initial success, already demonstrated from field technicians to top managers.

Never ending “smart” water projects

Did I convince anyone? Or did I sound like Alexander’s great horse Bucephalus, or perhaps one of his elephants, rampaging the proverbial China shop?

I only had eight minutes to cut through the proverbial Gordian Knot, which was a significant challenge! Right or wrong, I think that time is of the essence in the fast-changing water market. That said, feedback, in the form of questions received after the conference, was mostly positive.

Many in the audience could relate to my story, having been through the never-ending corporate “smart” water projects and the countless POCs. Some have even won Smart Trophies – a phenomenon that deserves its own article, as it contributes to the multiplication of disconnected projects.

For me, the feedback from a VP of a major water company summed up the main obstacle we face, as an industry: “Your approach is interesting, but our IT policy won’t allow it.”

What’s your example of a Gordian Knot challenge?

Bruno Lhopiteau

Bruno Lhopiteau

Managing Director
Siveco China

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