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Vendors meld SAP systems with EAM tools

A group of best-of-breed vendors are filling a gap in SAP as companies use enterprise asset management software to meld data from several SAP systems.

The enterprise asset management (EAM) market hasn't yet been consolidated by the giant ERP vendors and SAP customers are seeing the benefits of analyzing and automating plant maintenance processes through best-of-breed vendors.

EAM software allows companies to track physical assets, such as equipment and facilities. Most asset tracking has been done on paper, according to experts, but some businesses are looking at shedding disconnected homegrown systems. Part of the automation includes integrating asset management with main ERP systems to gather some financial analysis.

"If you look at the people who run facilities, such as paper mills and chemical plants, it's all about the financial control and visibility of costs," said Warren Utt, CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based EAM integrator, Impress Software. "Accuracy of that information is important, and we believe we help enable SAP-centric EAM organizations."

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Best-of-breed EAM vendors are vying for SAP customers. SAP partner vendors include Toronto-based NRX Global Corp., Lisle, Ill.-based SmartSignal Corp., and Roanoke, Va.-based Meridium Inc., which have products that can be integrated to add advanced maintenance management functionality, said Alison Smith, a senior analyst with Boston-based AMR Research Inc.

Impress' niche is in integrating data from Microsoft Project Management and Primavera Systems Inc. software with SAP Plant Maintenance and SAP Project System modules. SAP PM and SAP PS enable companies to use data from geographical information systems, and computer-aided design systems for maintenance projects.

While SAP partners with some EAM vendors, it is working to increase functionality in its PM module, which will add pressure on the industry, Smith said.

"The nature of [SAP PM] skews it toward financial reporting rather than efficient business process support for maintenance personnel," she said. "ERP vendors are jockeying now to eat as much of the market as they can, and SAP is part of that movement.

Smith said sophisticated analytics are also being developed to run on top of conventional EAM software, ERP and production systems.

SAP's purchase of Lighthammer in June has resulted in a composite application called Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (SAP xMII). SAP xMII adds EAM functionality for SAP manufacturers, according to Smith.

"It's being used to present a nice role-based interface that can do the coordination between production planning and the asset data that is coming back," she said.

SAP could also expand its partnerships with niche vendors to increase its EAM functionality. San Leandro, Calif.-based OSIsoft, currently markets PI, a software product that captures data from automated control systems, and also includes analytics and an intuitive user interface.

Impress' own market study of nearly 100 EAM executives at mostly SAP firms found that financial control, timely visibility into project costs, and status and accuracy of project information are among the biggest challenges. While the information gleaned from the study isn't staggering, Utt said it does confirm that many firms are dealing with multiple systems, overlapping data and in some cases, manual labor.

"Today, there is a lot of double data entry and it's not real time; it increases your accuracy risk," Utt said. "Eventually, they're going to want to bring in a high level summary of their work into SAP PM and accounting, but at some point a lot of this information has to come over from the project management system into SAP."

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