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Asset managers crave location data

Michael S. Goldberg | Sept. 30, 2014
Visually seeing and tracking your company's assets can help save money, time and trouble.

Each of the concrete and steel wharfs at the Port of Rotterdam, Europe's busiest shipping hub, hosts the loading and unloading of billions of dollars in goods over its useful life. Managing and maintaining these waterfront structures so that the world's largest cargo containers can dock at them means the difference between collecting revenue and watching ships sail elsewhere.

The scale of this challenge becomes clear when you look at a map of the Netherlands coast. The port snakes along a 42-kilometer stretch of the Nieuwe Mass tributary system, with the tail near the historic city center and the mouth jutting westward into the North Sea. An expansion called Maasvlakte 2, which reclaimed land from the North Sea, opened for business in June; it gives the port a land and water footprint about twice the area of Manhattan.

So it makes sense when Erwin Rademaker, a program manager at the port, explains that his team worked for several years to develop PortMaps, a georeferenced asset management system. It tracks locations of ships in transit as well as fixed assets including quay walls, railways, roads, energy pipelines, buildings, shipping terminals and more.

Development took time, not only because there's a lot going on, but also because Rotterdam has been an important port for centuries. There have been many methods for collecting and reporting data over the years. Reinventing old business processes and developing tech to support them took time.

What's different now for Rotterdam's IT and asset managers -- and for other enterprises adopting new location-enabled asset-management systems -- is that they can use an advanced set of technologies that record location data from more vantage points, and with greater precision, to be analyzed and visualized, says Randy Rhodes, a Gartner analyst. ("When we think about assets,overhead infrastructure or physical buildings, or roadways, tunnels, harbors -- all of this now can be precisely understood by a wide variety of sensors," Rhodes says.

Another factor is that the end-user population has high expectations for easy-to-use applications because of the wide proliferation of smartphones and tablets. With so many smartphone users holding a map in their hands, there's a rising interest among users to see what's involved when a work question includes "where?"

Rhodes says this demand presents a challenge for IT organizations not prepared to make the shift to user-friendly apps, particularly with geographic information systems (GIS) and their historic technology cousins, computer assisted design (CAD) systems, deployed for asset management. "Not everyone understands how to manage GIS or CAD environments," he says. Those technologies have been quiet within businesses "and now [they're] front and center because of the upswing of mobile devices," he adds.


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