A good support plan ensures customers meet their EPMS and SCADA system goals for years after installation and commissioning.
An interview with Allan Evora, President of Affinity Energy.
Why are system integrator support plans important?
SCADA and EPMS aren’t set and forget systems; they’re dynamic. If you want to maximize the return on investment and keep your system running optimally, some level of support should be considered. You decide if you have the expertise and resources to do it internally or need help, but at the end of the day, someone needs to check systems to ensure they’re operating properly.
We often see customers who don’t have the staff to deal with system administration, applying security patches, interrogating the alarm list for nuisance alarms, etc. That’s where Affinity Energy’s support plan comes in.
Isn’t a support plan the same as a warranty?
Support plans and warranties are two different animals. When you buy a car, a bumper to bumper warranty still doesn’t cover owner responsibilities that ensure the investment is running properly, such as oil changes, windshield wipers, or tires.
Support plans are rarely part of the scope of supply on construction projects. Most consulting engineers clearly delineate expected warranties on products and services, but support is almost always absent from specifications. There may be software maintenance support, but comprehensive support that includes onsite preventative maintenance, configuration management, system administration elements, etc. is not typically addressed within SCADA or EPMS bid packages.
Isn’t a support plan just software maintenance?
No, a support plan should go beyond access to software upgrades and problem resolution. It’s a comprehensive approach to keeping a system running well. After a system is turned over to an owner, if no maintenance is done on the system, the performance of the system will tend to drift.
This drift can take many forms. It can mean slower response time due to faulty devices on a network, operator distractions due to nuisance alarms, or system downtime due to computer resource issues such as high CPU, memory and/or hard drive utilization. It also means doing regular maintenance activities such as making backups so that you protect the information within the system.
We often find that the data itself can be worth more than the hardware. The networks and software that comprise the system, as well as the data, is what allows an owner to make decisions that improve facility efficiency, safety, and reliability.
What’s one of the main reasons to get a support plan?
End users depend on EPMS and SCADA systems to be available and responsive every day, but don’t look at them every day. If you use your car every day, chances are high you’ll notice if something is wrong. However, if the car is parked for months between uses, the chance it won’t start at all is greater.
The more important the system, the more frequently you or your system integrator partner should check to ensure it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing.
If an owner spends $100k to install a system, putting in an extra few thousand each year to make sure this system continues to operate and make the facility more reliable, safe, and efficient, is a worthwhile investment.
What makes Affinity Energy's support plans unique?
Unlike other system integrators who jump from construction project to project, continuing to support and provide more benefits to existing customers is key to our company strategy. For that strategy to succeed, customers must have a good experience with their system for years following commissioning. End users with support plans are more likely to achieve the goal they hoped for when they originally commissioned their SCADA or EPMS system.
Because not every owner has the same needs, Affinity Energy’s support plan balances a formalized procedure with customization of varying support levels. Some customers with access to IT wish to make their own backups or check for virus attacks. Others have no access to IT and require Affinity Energy to complement their staff.
Most of our plan elements don’t require the engineer originally involved in the system’s installation. This means we can train individuals to conduct remote maintenance, such as checking the hard drive to ensure it’s not filled, checking memory utilization to ensure there are no runaway services on the host system, and checking alarm logs for a high number of alarms.
Why don't other system integrators offer support plans?
Most system integrators are happy to ad hoc support plans on a per-customer basis. These reactive “plans” are site/system-specific, which also means they’re more expensive for the end user and don’t include many important long-term maintenance items.
Affinity Energy delivers support as a proactive, full-blown product. Instead of throwing it together, we’ve invested in its formalization. Each of our support plan customers have access to their own support ticket portal. They have instant access to not only submit support tickets, but also view the status, resolution and notes related to current as well as previous tickets.
What’s one benefit of a support plan with Affinity Energy?
A phrase I hear often is, “We’ll just engage with an integrator when we need one.” But when the problem occurs, if resources are busy servicing new projects or other customers, they’re often not given priority.
Affinity Energy support plan customers get top priority. We have SLAs within our plans to ensure issues that are reported through our automated ticket system are responded to immediately. Another unique benefit for gold or platinum customers is bundling OEM software maintenance into their support plan. For example, a VTScada customer can choose to incorporate Trihedral’s support plan, which can also include time for Affinity Energy control system integrators to install software upgrades which contain important benefits or security enhancements.
What industries benefit most from support plans?
Mission critical systems in which the loss of control function or loss of visibility into equipment would significantly impact safety, reliability, or the efficiency of productivity. In our business, that means data centers, healthcare facilities, and manufacturing facilities.
- Data centers: It’s crucial to know if there is anything within the UPS that will put the data center at risk, especially in financial, telecom, and co-location sectors.
- Healthcare: Knowing whether you’re able to produce the correct amount of chilled water to prevent the spread of infectious disease, or that there aren’t abnormal generator conditions preventing a generator from starting are crucial to patient safety and compliance.
- Manufacturing: When the product itself is under tight regulations (e.g., pharmaceutical) and/or the facility is producing a high dollar product (e.g., semiconductors), billions of dollars could be lost if there is generator power loss or malfunctioning UPS.
Are there any types of systems that don’t require a support plan?
All systems require a support plan. Not all systems require an Affinity Energy support plan. To continue to receive the benefits of your system and keep it running smoothly, owner’s must have a plan for how to do this. Whether or not you refer to it as a support plan and whether or not you do it yourself, outsource it or do something in between, all systems need to be taken care of.
Allan D. Evora is a leading expert in control systems integration and president of Affinity Energy with over 20 years of industry experience working in every capacity of the power automation project life cycle. With a background at Boeing Company and General Electric, Allan made the decision to establish Affinity Energy in 2002. Allan is an alumnus of Syracuse University with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, graduate of the NC State Energy Management program, and qualified as a Certified Measurement & Verification Professional (CMVP).
Throughout his career, Allan has demonstrated his passion for providing solutions. In 1990, he developed FIRST (Fast InfraRed Signature Technique), a preliminary design software tool used to rapidly assess rotary craft infrared signatures. In 2008, Allan was the driving force behind the development of Affinity Energy's Utilitrend; a commercially available, cloud-based utility resource trending, tracking, and reporting software.
Allan has been instrumental on large scale integration projects for utilities, universities, airports, financial institutions, medical campus utility plants, and manufacturing corporations, and has worked with SCADA systems since the early ‘90s. A passion for data acquisition, specialty networks, and custom software drives him to incorporate openness, simplicity, and integrity into every design in which he is involved.