How To Find the Right Data System for Equipment Inspections

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Inspection data management systems (IDMS), software programs that organize data in a facility’s fixed-equipment analysis program, have been in use for decades, but choosing the right software can be a challenge. Companies have a range of factors to consider in their search. Determining exactly what they want out of the software, and understanding how each program under consideration fits with their business needs, can make that search and subsequent implementation go much smoother.

Most IDMS software focuses on two primary tasks: creating and keeping track of inspection schedules for various equipment, and recording the results of each inspection for later review and analysis. It assists in assessments of corrosion rates and in-line inspections, among other things. Several programs integrate the methodologies for risk-based inspections with the functionality of IDMS, and these programs have become widely used today.

Speaking at the API Inspection and Mechanical Integrity Summit, Natalie McIntosh said that IDMS software can make it easier to effectively manage a mechanical integrity program. McIntosh, a mechanical integrity specialist at Lloyd’s Register, said that instead of searching through years of data stored in a room, or performing various calculations manually, these tasks can be run through the software. However, there are challenges to its implementation that may lessen a company’s confidence in its ability to positively affect a mechanical integrity program. For instance, data entry processes are not always standardized. Software access may not be properly assigned.

A lack of proper training can also lead to issues with IDMS implementation. McIntosh said there is a learning curve with software programs, but training often boils down to the importance an organization places on it. In-depth knowledge of the software, she said, can only be obtained if companies prioritize formal training programs.

“Do you view training as an investment or an expenditure? Would you just consider it a waste of money? Sometimes training to fully utilize software is not at the forefront. You have an IDMS. You have the developers come in, train a few people, and then your expectation is that the ones you’ve trained will be the ones who train the people coming up afterward. This may be fine to do in terms of getting new people to wet their feet, as it were, but it isn’t always good in the long run,” she said.

McIntosh outlined five steps for companies to take when making the decision on an IDMS: defining the business means, creating a selection list, defining the grading system, grading and comparing applications, then analyzing the results before the final decision.

Defining the business needs means identifying key stakeholders in an integrity management program. McIntosh said that the selection process should involve varied inputs from different departments, including IT, inspection teams, and legal. These inputs can help a company define support requirements because they will ensure that the software chosen will meet the company’s longevity needs without increasing corporate risk.

“Most people would think that, because it’s a software application, maybe IT would be the ones who would be best to choose the application for us. Or, you may think that the inspection team—since they’re the ones who will be using the software—would be the ones best suited to choose the IDMS. However, what research has found is there should be a collaboration between several different teams and users and support functions,” she said.

Support function requirements should be based on a company’s old processes. Instead of choosing an IDMS and changing the way they work to suit the software, McIntosh said companies should choose the software that supports the way they work the best, even if that software is not the cheapest option. This means that, before narrowing their list of options, they should create a grading system with the minimum requirements needed to support their processing. Software that best meets a company’s needs is the best choice.

Live demonstrations of the software are critical once the options have been narrowed down. McIntosh said that the best way for a company to make the final decision on a software program is to run it in simulations that mimic its mechanical integrity program.

“People come and advertise your software in such a way that you may think it’s the best fit for your business, but the only way to know if the software is really the best fit is to score it during a live demo session. You create scenarios that are common with your mechanical integrity program, you have the software in your shortlist, you put them through the same scenarios, and the ones that meet your requirements the closest are the ones you choose,” McIntosh said.



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