When It Comes To Information Always Take Shortcuts But Never Cut Corners

    January 10, 2013 12:49 PM by Stephen Heiser

    Never confuse short-cuts (which maximize efficiency) with cutting corners (which is laziness that jeopardizes information integrity and increases risk).

    When working with information systems, and just about everything else, there is a natural human desire to get more done with less effort. Some call this working smarter not harder. Others call it maximizing efficiency. I call it going to work every day in the real world.

    Sure, some people are perfectionists who focus on every detail with laser-like intensity. There are also those workers who are more focused on sports and leisure (my polite way of saying they have a less-intense work-ethic). Still, both of these species of professionals are in the minority. Most nuclear professionals are decent, hardworking people who want to do a good job but would just as soon do things the easy way rather than the hard way. I count myself among this more mundane and less colorful breed.

    Since the lever and fulcrum were found to be useful gadgets, workers have looked for ways to make every task easier. And why not? Seems silly to waste a perfectly good fulcrum. Fast-forward to today and we have software solutions that accomplish more in the blink of an eye than 10,000 librarians could have done in ancient Rome. We have applications that enter, store, and retrieve our nuclear knowledge so easily that they literally save millions.

    However, these systems cannot be taken for granted. In order to keep them running safely, efficiently, and economically we must be sure that everybody knows the difference between shortcuts and cutting corners.

    Short cuts are great! They get us exactly where we intended to go in less time and with less effort than we would have used going the long way. And don’t think you’re cute if you are about to tell me about the time your uncle Bob got the family station-wagon stuck in the river with one of his famous shortcuts. If the route gets you lost, stranded, or back to where you started it is either A – not a shortcut or B – the person at the wheel doesn’t know how to read a map and/or follow instructions. Neither of the events above can be defined as shortcuts. Shortcuts are examples of efficient engineering.

    Cutting corners, on the other hand, is the product of a lazy person who has no regard for data integrity or the consequences of their actions. Cutting corners is the act of calling a task complete despite the fact that critical work was not performed. Cutting corners is what got that beautiful, wood-paneled station-wagon stuck in the mud. The person who wrote the instructions forgot about the river, didn’t consider the fact that it hadn’t rained in eight months, or didn’t know how to read a compass. That person could have created a shortcut, but opted to be lazy and cut corners instead.

    When we work with nuclear knowledge, we have opportunities to create shortcuts for others every day. We can make it possible for those who come after us to get where they need to get more quickly and easily than we did (or at least just as fast). By documenting something in the context of a working process, and flagging items for future observation, we make shortcuts. Because someone took a few seconds to link a knowledge item to its related component, an engineer may be able to update a drawing in minutes instead of hours. Now that’s a shortcut.

    Modern information management systems make it easy for professionals to create shortcuts. Simple interfaces and easy-to-use tools take the burden off of the user and keep track of changes to boot. Yes Virginia, we can make shortcuts into even shorter-cuts today! The really nice bit is that these shortcuts can be documents, calendars, studies, email exchanges, drawings, and anything else that can be represented in little ones and zeros. Finally, our use of shortcuts actually supports efforts to organize, categorize, prioritize, and assign significance to our critical information items. Shortcuts can actually make it easier to prioritize our nuclear information elements and make our information more relevant.

    So if we want to maximize our efficiency we should all get into the habit of contributing, doing our fair share of the work, and helping to blaze the trails that will create shortcuts for those who will come after us. Adding knowledge items, inserting dates, attaching notes, and making corrections and observations is so quick and easy with modern software tools that a few key strokes will yield tremendous time and effort savings for those who come later. Professionals working at older facilities will be jealous of the number shortcuts available to future engineers. If these systems were available 40 years ago virtually every part of every system of every facility could have its own shortcut today. Sounds like a pretty good objective for tomorrow, so we better get started today. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find the map to that secret fishing spot.  

    Check out how Bentley helps you make shortcuts with their knowledge management capabilities!

     

    Your Nuclear Knowledge Should Be Treated Like a Living Being

    November 14, 2012 12:37 AM by Stephen Heiser

    Nuclear knowledge should be looked at as an organic entity if we want to maximize our investments of time, money, and resources.

    I just finished reading a White Paper by Hilmar Retief, a product manager at Bentley Systems, about knowledge management in nuclear facilities. It’s called “Knowledge Management - Solving the Nuclear Industry’s Brain Drain: How to Capture and Manage Your Company’s Institutional Knowledge for Immediate Action.” Hilmar brought up some very good points and I recommend the paper as a good read.

    One point in particular that really resonated with me concerns living-knowledge. Hilmar writes:

    The creation and refinement of knowledge is continuous. Therefore, the solution must be dynamic and managed through change, while also being timely. It must be able to identify, manage, and bridge the critical knowledge, while making it easier to find, easier to understand the context, and easier to access. And, due to its sensitivity, the information must be kept secure.

    Rather than bury information in a static document, a better approach to managing institutional knowledge is to integrate it with accessible operational processes such as records management activities, master data list management, modification packages, procedure and drawing updates, and corrective action. This approach also allows and encourages current employees to contribute additional knowledge items, which is the foundation of a “living” knowledge management system. Employees can continuously learn from and contribute to this type of system, diminishing the fear of information loss and obsolescence and providing an encyclopedia of tribal knowledge upon which to draw.

    My take away from all of this is that Hilmar is absolutely right. We need to stop thinking of knowledge as cold, lifeless data. If we really want to grow and develop, we need to think of knowledge as a living, breathing organism capable of growth, development, and even thought.

    Living-knowledge embodies change, both of the information and of the people who work with that knowledge. For the nuclear professional this means two things.

    First we need to take care of it and nurture it. All living things require something to sustain them. The more we feed information into our living-knowledge system, the stronger and healthier it will become. Living beings need to be fed a variety of elements in order to be healthy and strong. Things like proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals are needed on a regular basis. Likewise, our living information entity needs to consume documents, graphics, historical data, calendars, and schedules. These elements then become a part of the entity, making it stronger, more durable, and making it capable of doing more work. In short, the more (high-quality) food it consumes the more it will be able to help us. If it was a work-horse, it would be able to help us plow more fields for crops. As an information system, it will be able to give us vital information where and when we need it (saving time and money).

    Secondly, we all need to interact with it. No living thing can thrive in a vacuum. Our living information entity is no different. Nuclear professionals need to interact with our living-knowledge entity as much as they can. This interaction is actually a symbiotic relationship. The more the person interacts with the knowledge entity the more they both develop. They become a team. They learn from each other and teach each other. They both grow and become more valuable assets.

    So what do we get from a living information system that makes all of this work worth the effort? Well one thing we get is actionable knowledge. You can have a knowledgeable person put a ton of information in a spreadsheet and save it on a hard drive, or print it and put it in a filing cabinet. But that doesn’t really do anyone any good now does it? In order to get the most out of your knowledge that information has to be available and linked to the process, component, or document it is related to, in a format the worker can understand, and brought to their attention at an appropriate time. This is what living-knowledge brings. The knowledge becomes relevant, available, significant, and actionable.

    This living-knowledge offers a level of usefulness that goes beyond simple text on a page. Bentley has a solution for nuclear knowledge management that incorporates a type of information object called a knowledge item. This knowledge item can be created by anyone with access to the system, and linked to whatever other information it relates to, so when that document, or physical item, or drawing is looked up in the system that knowledge item will appear as well.

    Does this sound like science fiction? Well 100 years ago the thought of splitting atoms sounded like science fiction too! Check out the Bentley solution for nuclear knowledge management!

     

     

     

    Keep Your Friends Close

    October 8, 2012 8:00 AM by Stephen Heiser

    Information Management Systems Can Grant Your Stakeholders Access to Critical Information While Also Restricting Access to Proprietary Business Information

    The nuclear industry today has redefined security for modern collaboration. In the old days the practice of restricting access was fairly straightforward. You kept your secrets secure from the bad guys and made sure that the good guys had access to absolutely everything that might help them succeed.

    Things were as simple as an old black & white John Wayne Western. There were the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black hats. Who needed a color TV for these classics? Today, things are a bit more complicated. In the digital age there are sneaky bad guys who want to get a hold of your digital assets, and it can be surprisingly easy to do now that we’re not talking about pieces of paper in locked filing cabinets. There is also a third group. There are the good guys that we cooperate with in some areas and directly compete with in other areas, so they’re only allowed to see certain things.

    As I mentioned in an earlier blog, nobody beats the nuclear industry when it comes to sharing knowledge. This environment of sharing makes things safer, more compliant, and more efficient for everybody every day. And for that I am quite comforted. But how do you protect your cyber assets from the bad guys while still sharing them with the good guys…inside or outside your organization?

    Making matters more complex (because clearly they are not complex enough yet) is the fact that nuclear companies from different nations are now cooperating, sharing knowledge, competing, and developing new technologies. So corporate espionage concerns get to mix with actual espionage concerns.

    Think that’s the worst of it? Nope. Because all that data is constantly changing, so even if the good guy has the file, you need to be sure it’s the most up to date and accurate file.

    Welcome to the junction of big business, nuclear safety, and cyber security. The fact is that we are combining multi-billion dollar projects with nuclear fission. Peoples’ lives, businesses, and national security are literally at stake here so we need to get this access to information thing right on our first try. Share too little and safety margins are reduced for everyone. Share too much and you lose your job or give away secrets to the bad guys.

    What to do?

    Fortunately there is a really good vehicle to solve all of these problems. Comprehensive information management systems give nuclear industry professionals the ability to precisely configure access to sensitive information. This ensures that the information can be accessed easily and efficiently by those who have the authority to do so, while sensitive cyber assets can still stay safe and secure from inquiring eyes.

    The good news is that some of these systems can be configured right out of the box to provide scalable security and access control parameters. Others can be customized for added layers of access control when special needs arise.

    Sensitive information can be tracked as it evolves, changes, and/or correlates to other data. Companies can keep track of who accessed what information, when it was accessed, and where it was accessed from. As information is reclassified it can be flagged and proactively organized. Specific users can be dynamically alerted when important changes are made. This can be anything from a design change to a regulatory change.

    Keep in mind that access control is not just about keeping unauthorized people from seeing sensitive data. It can be just as important to make sure that the right people have easy access to the information that they need to do their jobs. This is why we call it access control and not access restriction. Again, the difference between sharing too much and sharing too little can be significant. Just putting everything into a steel box and putting a padlock on it could pose as much risk as posting information on the internet. It all depends on the information and who needs to see it and who can’t have access to it, regardless of what color cowboy hat they may be wearing.

    Check out this NuStart Energy Case Study and Cyber Security White Paper from Bentley…they’ve got a configurable system that will help you make keep track of your cyber assets and the guys in the white hats.



     
     

    Let Me Tell You A Little Bit About Bentley

    September 20, 2012 8:00 AM by Stephen Heiser

    If you were to read the boiler-plate copy at the bottom of a Bentley press release you would find the following text:

    Bentley is the global leader dedicated to providing architects, engineers, geospatial professionals, constructors, and owner-operators with comprehensive software solutions for sustaining infrastructure. Bentley’s mission is to empower its users to leverage information modeling through integrated projects for high-performing intelligent infrastructure. Founded in 1984, Bentley has grown to nearly 3,000 colleagues in more than 45 countries and over $500 million in annual revenues. Since 2003, the company has invested more than $1 billion in research, development, and acquisitions.

    While this is very impressive it is a bit humble with regard to Bentley’s cool software for nuclear facilities.

    People working in the nuclear industry know that there are 435 nuclear reactors providing electricity around the world, with 66 new plants under construction in 14 countries. In the U.S. we have 104 nuclear power plants that supply the country with about 20% of its power, with new plants under construction. Oh, and by the way, Uncle Sam hasn’t come by with a truck yet to collect the spent fuel.

    There is, however, another interesting dynamic shaping the nuclear industry. I speak specifically about nuclear plants being in service for much longer lifecycles than originally expected. The plants in our national fleet are being licensed to run for decades longer than originally planned…which just goes to show you that our parents really did build things to stand the test of time. Granting a 20-year license extension to a power plant is a badge of supreme accomplishment! It also means that somebody has to keep the plant running at peak efficiency for two more decades! This is not easy. This is where Bentley comes in.

    Bentley provides Asset Lifecycle Information Management (ALIM) software for nuclear facilities. Their ALIM  solutions, by the way, are also used by nuclear research facilities, fuel processing organizations, companies involved in nuclear remediation, and engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) companies involved in new builds. In short, they enable nuclear organizations to keep their facilities and processes running safely, efficiently, and economically (as a customer I appreciate this one). In addition, they help keep these organizations up to date with government and industry oversight regulations that are prone to changing and evolving.

    Does this sound complex and confusing? It is. Which is why the solutions that Bentley provides are so important.

    ALIM covers a number of critical areas including: configuration management, document control, records management, project information management, and nuclear-industry-specific compliance solutions. The funny thing about nuclear fission is that, unlike most other industries, there isn’t a lot of wiggle-room in any of these areas. When you run a nuclear facility you’re kind of expected to get this stuff right all the time.

    The engineering, design, operations, and maintenance of nuclear infrastructure assets present many challenges. For one thing, nuclear facilities have very, very unique safety and security needs. These facilities control and sustain fuels, processes, and protocols that are not shared by any other industry. These facilities are hugely complex with layers upon layers of systems, subsystems, and networks. Finally, (as I mentioned earlier) these facilities have life spans that are measured in decades, not years. To top it all off, this is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world.

    So how does Bentley help? Well, they have software for every stage of the lifecycle, including design engineering and simulation, piping and structural analysis, configuration management, knowledge management, and corrective action…I’d need half a dozen blog posts to cover them all! Essentially they help create information and then enable that information from all stages of the lifecycle to be accessible, accurate, and managed through change. They call this information mobility. I’m not talking mobile phones and iPads here folks, they’ve taken interoperability to a new level – making sure that the right people can create the right information, and then get to it in the right format at the right time. More on that in their annual report.

    Major Tom to Ground Control

    September 13, 2012 8:45 AM by Stephen Heiser

     

    Working in a nuclear facility is a lot like directing air traffic control at a busy airport

    If we take a step back and think about it for a moment, operating a nuclear facility is a lot like air traffic control (ATC) at a busy airport. The similarities get more obvious the more closely you look.

    Both systems are very safety-intensive, both systems are subject to intense governmental oversight, both systems are highly complex, and both systems rely on critical- information being accurate. Some of you nuclear history buffs might even know that nuclear-powered aircraft were seriously studied as far back as the 1940s. Now that would be a very complex and, I suspect, a very heavily regulated way to fly.

    So what makes nuclear facilities and ATC systems first cousins? I am so glad you asked. Both are highly-engineered, incredibly complex systems that serve critical roles in our world and keep dangerous systems safe on a daily basis. Further, both play critical roles in our national security, daily living, and our economy.

    Now any engineer can tell you that because of differences in size, scheduling, speed, altitude, and trajectory the chances of two flying objects ever colliding are astronomically low. That is unless you force them all into narrow air-traffic lanes and compel them all to take off and land from a limited number of locations. Hence the need for ATC.

    Making matters even more difficult is the fact that these heavy, high-speed objects are perpetually changing speed, changing trajectory, changing altitude, entering the system, leaving the system, and typically moving at very close proximity to one another. In addition, many of these changes are occurring on the fly. Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist the pun! Finally, the engineering rules are pretty clear that no two of these objects are ever supposed to make physical contact with each other (in the air or on the ground).

    All of these processes need to be managed to achieve each and every second of safety. And it only takes one error to cause an accident. Sounds a lot like a nuclear facility now, doesn’t it?

    How do they keep these systems safe enough to operate 24/7 consistently? The answer is simple: meticulous information management.

    Neither ATC nor nuclear facilities could function today without high-quality information acting as the backbone of every runway light, communications channel, control rod, or safety process. Interestingly enough (to me anyway), the organizational information systems don’t get any of the accolades that the sexy, science-fiction-like systems receive. Now don’t get me wrong. All of the bells and whistles work hard and should get the recognition they deserve. I wouldn’t want to fly without real-time sensors and displays and wouldn’t want my nuclear facility technicians to check pressure and temperature rates just on an occasional basis.

    But what about the unsung heroes? The fact is that information management systems do just as much to keep us safe as the air traffic controllers, nuclear control room operators, and all the engineers along the way. If a plane is instructed to land on runway “A” instead of runway “B,” it is because an engineer calculated how many feet of runway are needed to land that plane safely and that information has been disseminated to those air traffic controllers who need to know. Likewise, if a cooling pump needs to flow at a given number of gallons per minute, it is because an engineer calculated how many gallons were needed to operate that cooling system safely and that information is accessible to the nuclear facility staff maintaining the pump.

    Good information is the foundation that both of these systems are built upon. With good information, safe platforms and procedures are constructed and then improved. Good information is the key to answering questions before they become problems and solving problems before they become events.

    As we move forward, the demands placed upon our ATC systems and nuclear facilities will get more intense. These systems will have to scale-up while becoming even safer, more reliable, more efficient, and more economical. This increase in safety and productivity will come about not from decisions made in the control room, but rather from better decisions that are made based on accurate, accessible information.

    So the next time you’re at the bar, buy a beer for the air-traffic controller, the nuclear facility control-room operator, the engineers, the information systems manager, and the person who wrote the software too. Because they all work to keep you safe and they are all heroes.

    Check out this information about Bentley’s solutions for configuration and change management!

    Sharing is Caring Because What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

    August 23, 2012 1:37 PM by Stephen Heiser


    Sharing Nuclear knowledge saves lives and increases safety at nuclear facilities every day

    I don’t know who coined the phrase that “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” but whoever it was clearly didn’t work in a nuclear facility and was not raised properly (and may have been an idiot).

    OK Steve, how could child rearing possibly have any impact on nuclear safety? The answer loyal reader (as with so many of my answers) comes down to getting back to basics. In this case: manners. Manners, you ask? Really? Manners make us safer in a facility where atoms are being fissioned in the most highly complex reaction known to science? What do manners have to with nuclear safety?

    It’s quite simple really. As human beings our natural tendency is to want to keep everything for ourselves. However, those of us who were brought up properly were taught basic manners. The first thing that we were probably all taught was to share.

    Knowledge is the thing most people are reluctant to share (at any age). Knowledge is more valuable than toys (and sometimes more fun). Toys entertain us. Knowledge, on the other hand, gives us power. People with manners share information in an effort to help others. People with no manners withhold information on everything from where the best parking spaces are to how to work the printer.

    Much to their credit, professionals in the nuclear industry must have been brought up correctly because they share knowledge consistently and eagerly. The benefits of well-designed information management systems greatly improve the ease and efficiency of this knowledge sharing. These systems enable professionals from every part of the industry to rapidly share the latest information and resources. These systems permit nearly instantaneous sharing of incident reports, drawing modifications, regulatory changes, maintenance history, configuration information, and so much more. Further, these systems enable this sharing to propagate in secure environments while improving worker and equipment safety, ensuring management of change, reducing project and operational risk, and supporting regulatory compliance.

    The nuclear industry, unlike many industries, is cooperative instead of competitive where knowledge sharing is concerned. Communities of Practice like the Corrective Action Program Owner's Group (CAPOG) and the Nuclear Information and Records Management Association (NIRMA) work hard to share knowledge between facilities and industry organizations. These organizations take on this knowledge sharing challenge to make nuclear operations safer for everyone. In addition, they do this at their own expense and expect nothing in return. The result of this culture of knowledge sharing and ever more sophisticated information management is an industry that gets safer for its workers and its customers every day.

    Professionals working in nuclear facilities benefit from many sources of knowledge sharing. Government and industry oversight organizations provide regulatory guidance and facility/process reviews, manufacturers provide asset and component information, and peers within the facility and across the industry share best practices and lessons learned. Information management systems can provide a platform for sharing all of this knowledge…making it available in context when it’s needed.

    If a piece of equipment fails at another plant, we find out because somebody shared that knowledge and we can take proactive action on the matching equipment in our plant. Likewise, if new software becomes available that can turn 10 hours of work into 30 minutes of work, we find out because somebody shared.

    As technology evolves and spreads, the practice of knowledge sharing becomes easier, more widespread, more accurate, and more secure. Finally, as our personal and professional worlds continue to grow together we will see better sharing, increased safety, and more rapid reactions to events and anomalies. In the end, the nuclear industry’s culture of selfless sharing, combined with the industry’s adoption of information management technology, make atomic power one of the safest forms of energy today.

    Now if you’ll excuse me there, there is a box of animal crackers on my desk and I need to get to the kitchen before all the milk is gone.

    Check out the great nuclear asset lifecycle information management technology that Bentley Systems has to offer at www.Bentley.com/AW-Nuclear.

    Inside Hank's Head

    August 9, 2012 7:41 AM by Stephen Heiser

     

    Getting at the knowledge inside the heads of our most experienced people is not easy, but it is well worth the effort

    Who is Hank? Hank is the guy or gal who’s been working at the plant since the end of Prohibition. Hank is the person who never makes the rookie mistakes and the engineer everybody runs to find when things get complicated or don’t go as planned. When somebody tears down a flange and can’t get the silly thing back together they call Hank. When someone rebuilds a pump and has parts left over, Hank’s cell phone starts ringing in a rather urgent way. Hank is the person you get the thumbs-up from before you switch the toggle to the “on” position (even though the manual says that everything is fine). In short, Hank is the one who has been around, knows all the quirks, knows all of the important details that the manuals didn’t publish, and generally has more experience than ten Ph.D. egg-heads.

    Why is the information in Hank’s head so important? The quick answer is that we live in an imperfect world. Despite how well-intentioned our suppliers and manufacturers are to provide specifications about their products, they are not perfect. Despite our attempts to document all the changes we make to the plant, details get missed.

    This is where experience comes in. There is a Hank at every nuclear facility and there is a good reason why. Hank is the one that EVERYBODY turns to in order to fill in the blanks, get the system up and running, and prevent accidents that are 100 percent avoidable if you know the history of the system.

    Hank is indispensable and irreplaceable. The information in Hank’s head can greatly improve safety while saving the company a ton of money. However, Hank is a human-being. This means that the information in Hank’s head cannot be tagged, searched, and/or printed with a mouse click. This also means that Hank is prone to going home at the end of the day, taking vacations, and could get sick, change jobs or eventually retire.

    “OK Steve, I was having a good day and now you’ve made me nervous. How do I collect this information so it’s accessible and usable? If we lose Hank we could be sunk!”

    Fortunately, I’m not the type of person to point out a problem to you without having a handy solution for you. I’m not that mean. The fact is there are now information management systems that feature applications designed to painlessly extract knowledge from Hank’s head and put it to work in the facility.

    The key is getting a solution that makes it easy for Hank to add the knowledge and everyone else to find it. These systems integrate Hank’s knowledge with existing workflows everyone’s already involved in, and give it relevance and meaning by putting it in context. Finally, good knowledge management can unleash the power of a learning organization, supporting a culture of constant improvement and providing actionable knowledge from all of your existing Hanks as well as future Hanks.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, Hank promised to show to me how to catch catfish without getting my feet wet.

    Check out this Bentley white paper on Knowledge Management …they know how to get inside Hank’s Head!

    Just Changed My Status to “Fissioning U-235”

    July 26, 2012 11:49 AM by Stephen Heiser

     

    We Should Treat Our Nuclear Information Management Systems Like Facebook Pages

    We could get so much more out of our nuclear facility information management systems if we attacked them with a fraction of the enthusiasm we exude when we rush to update our Facebook pages (I refer of course to those of us who have Facebook pages). While many people reading this do not currently have Facebook pages, I am confident that if you work in a nuclear facility and make use of technology you know what a Facebook page is. In short, you have NOT been living under a rock (an underground laboratory in a bunker perhaps, but not a dusty old rock).

    For those of you who think that I have been out in the sun too long just bear with me. For those of you who see my genius and who stand ready take the plunge with me let’s get this ride started.

    Information Management (IM) systems in nuclear facilities do not have to be dull. While I don’t recommend uploading a picture of your cat into a file that will be copied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, we can still enjoy what we do and still keep a strong professional image.

    Facebook and nuclear IM systems actually have a lot in common. They both have written content. They both have artwork and they both have comments that are sometimes critical for the reader. One key point about the content posted to both nuclear IM systems and Facebook is that both are intended more for the reader than the poster. Nobody posts to Facebook to tell themselves what they already know. They post to inform other important parties about events, circumstances, and details that they want others to know.

    Common interests are key areas where nuclear IM systems and Facebook are very much alike. Both platforms are used because the people interacting with them have common interests. People post, edit, revise, and comment because they have the same interests. Sure you say to me “Give me a break Steve. People go to Facebook to share their common interests because they get it for free. It’s free entertainment. It’s not work!”

    Good point noble reader. And it is true that getting something for nothing is an appealing way to share common interests. However, my rebuttal is that while getting something for free is cool, getting paid to do it is even cooler. While Facebook is fun, they don’t pay you. Using your IM system at work, on the other hand, is a way to indulge your common interests and get paid to do it! Many people I know that work in the nuclear industry really enjoy their jobs, really like the people they work with, and really do enjoy interacting with people who share their interests.

    The most salient similarity between nuclear IM systems and Facebook is the richness of their offerings. Some Facebook pages have very little content and are subsequently not very interesting and/or useful. On the opposite side of the spectrum there are amazing pages that go deep with their content and really help people grow in ways that they want to grow.

    Nuclear IM systems are the same way. Some have less content than they need and create more confusion than they eliminate. While others are well organized, easily navigated, and give the user the opportunity to relate resources and go deep into critical information.

    The interesting dynamic that links these two examples is the same resource: the quality and the quantity of the information that some people took the time to upload. In both cases, the superior Facebook page and the superior nuclear IM system are extraordinary because of the people who entered the data, contributed the content, uploaded the artwork, and took the time to make cogent and thoughtful comments for others to read. Facebook would be nothing if nobody took the time to upload information. Nuclear IM systems are fantastic assets because hard-working people take the time to selflessly go beyond contributing the bare minimum and actually include information that could make a significant difference for someone that they may never even really meet. That is so much cooler than a jpeg of a cat wearing a paper hat.

    So, in closing it becomes clear that getting the most out our IM systems at this point simply means putting more into them. In the end we all win, we increase safety, we all become part of scientific growth, we all increase efficiency, and our nuclear IM systems give us good practice at organizing our thoughts for social media. Now if you’ll pardon me I need to see who answered the invitations for my lightwater reactor’s birthday party.

    Check out AssetWise from Bentley Systems…it’s a great asset lifecycle information management system…think of it as a Facebook timeline for your nuclear facility!

    See it in 3D! The Hottest Trend in Nuclear Information Management: In theaters and Nuclear Facilities Now!

    July 9, 2012 11:15 AM by Stephen Heiser

    Comprehensively Managing the Three D’s – Documents, Data, and Designs – improves safety, economics, efficiency, and regulatory compliance.

    Get your popcorn and 3D glasses ready because this week we are using 3D movies as a metaphor for modern information management in a nuclear facility. There is a reason why people put on silly looking glasses and wait in line for 3D movies. 3D appeals to us because it is more immersive.

    In 3D, critically significant things pop-out at you, significant things are in the near background, and less significant (but still important) things are visible in the far background. In addition, just like in the movies, the perspective, focus, and landscape are always changing.

    3D is how we see things in real life and it is also how we organize our thoughts and our lives. In the real world there are three dimensions. As a result we think in three dimensions. In our thoughts we put more significant things in conspicuous places and less significant things in places where we can find them if and when we need them. Because of the way we think we need an environment that lets us intentionally and constantly redefine relevance and significance. That is why post-it notes are bright yellow, clocks have alarms, and scheduling software has reminders!  

    If the 3Ds are not organized, accessible, and accurate then you have a flat screen where everything has the same level of significance. And while I am all for equality, in a nuclear facility I really want to know what’s critical and what can wait if it needs to. This is where the safety comes in. When we are working in a nuclear facility everything we do involves safety. The 3D approach has the capacity to make safety considerations the most significant and relevant dynamics in every task, process, and decision.

    The use of a 3D approach can also help us to stay open minded. Many of us are naturally drawn towards documents as our first source of information. Documents are convenient, easily searched, easily shared, and easily updated. Still, we need to keep an open mind and give all 3Ds our attention. Sometimes the critical information is in document form, sometimes it is in data form, and sometimes is in design form. Making sure that the right D gets to the right person at the right time is what 3D is all about.

    Using a comprehensive asset information system, professionals can see how components relate to each other in meaningful ways. For example, an electric motor is related to a cable in a facility. In a flat information environment you would see flat information about the motor and flat information about the cable. However, in a 3D approach we can not only see that these two assets are related, we can see how they are related and get in-depth information about their functions, capacities, and histories. This level of knowledge makes the information relevant and significant.

     In the movie theater 3D is all about a bouncing ball coming straight out of the screen at you. In a nuclear facility 3D is all about making sure that nobody drops the ball. Using a 3D approach in a nuclear facility makes the information you need really conspicuous and much harder to overlook. Information that is not managed and organized looks more like a Where’s Waldo game than a 3D movie. This lack of significance and context wastes time, decreases efficiency, and increases fatigue…putting people and equipment at risk.

    The good news is that we have 3D in the real world. Being able to quickly access and update documents, data, and designs is not just a cool theory, it really exists. There is empirical evidence that managing your 3Ds for significance and relevance can enhance safety while producing quantifiable economic gains. For example, Southern Company recently improved its efficiency and safety with a Data Quality System. According to the utility, their deployment and use of a comprehensive Asset Information Management could generate savings of up to $4 million per 100 workers at the company. That kind of money can pay for the movie tickets, the popcorn, AND a soda!

    Get your 3D glasses and check out this webinar about the Southern Company Data Quality System.

    Be Cool…Stay In School

    June 14, 2012 9:34 AM by Stephen Heiser

     

    When it comes to adoption and deployment of new nuclear facility Information Management (IM) systems at the user level, are we our own worst enemies? I hear it all the time from IM managers. “The new system has all the features that we have been demanding for ages. But it’s hard to get the users to do the training and adopting the new system takes forever!”

    So why is it that these hot new systems are not eagerly attacked like a child tearing the wrapping paper off of a present? I blame society. And, sadly, as a member of society that I means that I have to put some of the blame on myself.

    Be cool...stay in school is something we teach to kids but don’t want to do ourselves. We teach kids that there is nothing more important than a good education, but sadly most of us don’t lead by example, and we should.

    “But Steve, I learn new things everything day! I learn all about technologically advanced systems, hardware, and software. I consume knowledge like a Vegas hotel guest at an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

    And my answer to that is that your kids are leaving you in the dust in this arena. We think that we are so smart because we can use VPN and Wi-Fi, or use Bluetooth so we can talk hands-free in our cars. But the fact is that when we can’t figure out how to do something on a smartphone we look for a teenager the way African animals look for water.

    Today’s kids start using new-fangled technology before they can walk. They are smarter than we are and learn more quickly than we do. We all know that. When was the last time you bragged about how smart somebody was that was that wasn’t a kid? Ever been to the water cooler and heard “My brother-in-law Phil is the smartest manager in his department!”? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. (Sorry Phil, here’s a gold star on your quarterly report, take that home and your wife will put it on the fridge with a magnet.)

    Be cool...stay in school has never been about getting kids to apply themselves to learning about the things they find exciting and cool. If high school were all about getting good grades in complicated high-tech applications, networking systems, and the use of high-speed communications systems and devices, the drop-out rate would plummet. The slogging starts when they have to learn math, history, and English.

    Be cool...stay in school is, and has always been, about getting kids to apply themselves to the subjects that most of them find boring but still need to learn (and learn well). It’s about encouraging kids to get through these subjects because once they know them a bunch of things will be easier to do and understand (just like that new software system you’re resisting).

    The fact is that, although we tell kids how important it is to get A’s in these subjects, we didn’t like them when we were in school any more than they do now. Truth be told, our parents probably didn’t like them any more than we did.

    Many IM professionals have a hard time getting a number of their people to learn new systems and absorb new features. Learning new stuff can be tough! And I’m no different from the rest. I recently realized that I was blaming my peers for dragging their feet when I was just as guilty. I can point out the new features and benefits and parrot the text from the marketing materials with the best of them. I realized that I had become part of the problem.

    I realized that that the only way I was going to change their attitude was to change mine. I was a bit intimidated by the notion that I might not feel as smart while I was doing this and totally missed the point of the new IM systems. Hardworking professionals spend countless hours analyzing older systems, studying real-world challenges, and interviewing people just like me to learn what we need in our new software. It’s not about the buttons and clicks, its about how, once I learn the system, it’s going to make my life easier…and make me look and feel smarter in the process! I would be on the honor-roll! The honor-roll at a nuclear facility! How cool is that! Next stop…astronaut!

    Suddenly this wasn’t a boring mandate – it was a chance to grow personally and professionally, be more productive, make things easier and better. And in the end I was the winner…once I realized this my attitude changed and the people that I worked with got caught up in my excitement. They wanted to know what this system did that made me so excited.

    So if you are having a tough time getting people excited to adopt the new software, check your own excitement level. Go beyond the “click here,” and “enter that” and look at the bigger picture.
    In closing, let me just share what I tell my kids all the time:

    1) When you really study the boring subjects sometimes they can become fun and exciting.
    2) Homework is only a chore if you make it a chore.
    3) Yes, you do need to learn this, even if you think you’re never going to use it in real life.
    4) Your teacher does not hate you.
    5) If you get an A I will take you out for ice cream!

    Check this out…Bentley has tons of training options for their software applications!

    Control Your Information Or Be Controlled By It

    May 31, 2012 10:00 AM by Stephen Heiser

     

    When speaking about power in any form it is important to bear in mind that the only difference between a productive force and a destructive force is control!

    We all know that well-managed, well-communicated knowledge is power. See my blog post on this topic if you have any questions. Now that the self-indulgent part of this post is over, I can start getting to the point.

    Yes, information is power. So is nuclear energy! And so is a nuclear bomb. Whether splitting hairs or splitting atoms the one constant is that power can do great good or great damage and the only thing that determines which result we end up with is control.

    So it must be with information. If we control our information we will accomplish great things. If we lose control and/or let the information control us we invite risk. That risk could come in many forms, including compromised safety, regulatory noncompliance, equipment damage, and economic losses.

    When you are controlled by information, managing knowledge is a lot like chasing a piece of paper around on a windy day. Jumping from application to application, opening information silo after information silo and then trying to relate crucial connections in your head and trying not to forget anything.

    Primitive, reactive methods for information management are a lot like primitive, reactive methods for getting food. They basically involve hunting and gathering. State-of-the-art, proactive methods for information management are a lot like state-of-the-art methods for getting food. You pick up the cell phone and get dinner delivered. This means much less work on your part resulting in the delivery of food you want that is already prepared and ready for consumption.

    When you control the information the knowledge comes to you. The different knowledge elements are presented to you in a comprehensive and rational way. The connections between related information elements are not only automated they are highlighted and even prioritized. These days information elements like schedules, reports, specifications, and designs can be connected and linked to each other in meaningful and productive ways. This lets the nuclear facility professional perform more efficiently, avoid costly mistakes, and work with greater confidence. This level of knowledge management gives you something you can’t get reliably from wildly chasing information. This level of knowledge management gives you control!

    The key to control is getting the information into an interoperable system.  Once the information is in an interoperable system, it can be stored, retrieved, accessed, controlled and put to work for the benefit of everyone. Think of the information as a railroad car. The steel wheels fit the track perfectly and allows for the efficient transportation of just about anything. However, if there was a second railroad car with wheels that were further apart, it would not run on the same track. You would need one set of tracks for the first train and a second, completely different set of tracks for the second train. Now imagine that you need to move some crates of perishable-food from the second train to a location only accessible by the first train. Now you need to get a truck, a forklift, and a lot of workers. If only both trains ran on the same tracks?  If only they were in an interoperable system. Now imagine a third train that is too tall for certain tunnels.

    In our train scenario we see that the railroad owners are being controlled by their rail cars, tracks, and tunnels. They adjust their efforts to accommodate their equipment in order to get their perishable food to market. This is wasteful, inefficient, costly, slow, and could damage the food. They have the power to get everything done but they don’t have control. Further, this lack of control jeopardizes many operations and exposes the owners and operators to a number of unnecessary risks.

    Modern trains all run on the same type of tracks. Ironically, nuclear power plant information management technology, which came along some time after the locomotive, definitely does not run on the same tracks. However, here there is some hope. Today there are software solutions that can get disparate nuclear facility information systems to run on the same tracks (and you don’t even need to take the wheels off!). Utilizing these solutions can enable nuclear facility professionals to finally stop being reactive hunters and gatherers of information and start becoming more proactive and get their information delivered and ready to consume (gratuity optional).

    Check out this white paper from Bentley talking about the benefits of an Interoperability Platform.

    What Went Right?

    May 17, 2012 8:47 AM by Stephen Heiser

     

    It seems odd to me that so many in the nuclear industry only focus on the negative. Now before you start jumping up and down and bludgeoning me with examples of nuclear professionals touting the benefits of nuclear power, let me explain myself.

    When I say we focus on the negative I am not talking about the image of the industry, how the media views the science, or any of the other Hot Topic nuclear power talking points.  I am talking about the day-to-day performance of a safe and reliable plant.

    In this business, everyone showers attention upon the problem child who gets into trouble.  In the case of a nuclear facility the problem child could be a leak, a failure to report something, or a design flaw.  This child gets the spotlight!  The media swarms, the owner-operators rally and race to take control, and the government makes its presence known (lest anyone think that the government doesn’t care). The problem child gets all the attention.  And, even after the event is over, it is the problem child who is analyzed, written up in reports, and spawns new changes.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the problem child needs all of this attention and gets his ample share.

    However, the problem child has a sibling who goes largely unnoticed. This sibling gets little if any attention, rarely gets praise, and barely ever gets analyzed, written up in reports, and/or spawns new changes.  This is the child who works hard, gets good grades, and never embarrasses the family.  For some reason the child that gets the work done and keeps the lights on gets no respect. Now I expect this from some members of the mainstream media and certain politicians.  However, I think that the folks in our own nuclear industry may be overlooking some hardworking systems that are getting the job done every day.

    Today, owners and operators have fantastic, comprehensive information systems at their disposal to track the performance of some of the most complex systems ever created by science. To use them only to study what went wrong is like only driving the left side of the car. There is a goldmine of information just sitting there on the servers right now of what went right today and to overlook it is tantamount to being wasteful.

    Everyone talks about the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, but nobody seems to notice the other three wheels that did their job quietly and effectively. This is the old, wasteful way of doing business. We are smarter than this!  We split the atom every day to provide reliable power to the most advanced society that ever lived. How much more advanced can you get than that?

    If we were living in the 1400s would we have told Columbus to stay in Spain because we didn’t know what we were going to find at the end of his journey of discovery?  The fact is that we need to commit more of ourselves and our resources to studying what went right today. The nuclear industry’s propensity to share best practices, while not nearly as comprehensive as what I’m advocating, should be more than ample proof that I am right.  Best practices sharing has saved millions and increased safety for the entire global industry.

    However, we need to do more! We can’t just rest on our laurels and only dig into our data when we are looking for something specific.  That’s still the old way of waiting for a problem to present itself before we take any action.  We need to start digging with no specific objective in mind other than to discover what went right today. Then, and only then, will we discover that which we would have overlooked.  We are the leaders! Other industries look to us to blaze the trail for the future! Doesn’t it stand to reason that we should have a comprehensive understanding of the secrets to our own successes?

    Check out this story about how the IAEA is leveraging new media and the internet to enhance training and support their work to champion and use professional networks to advance best practices in diverse areas of nuclear technology.

    Knowledge Is Not Power, Unless It Is Communicated

    May 3, 2012 10:17 AM by Stephen Heiser


    Knowledge is power.


    Sir Francis Bacon, Religious Meditations, Of Heresies, 1597, English author, courtier, & philosopher (1561 - 1626)

    Sir Francis Bacon wrote in 1597 that “knowledge is power.” While I am actually a fan of Sir Francis, I have to confess that he missed the bull’s-eye with this one. If knowledge was really power there would be no crime, nobody would need to pay taxes, and scientists would never have to apply for grants. If knowledge were truly power, our greatest minds would be the leaders of the world. Sadly, we are not there yet. Our world is ruled by politicians.  Herein we see the truth and also a reason for hope.

    Communication can do great things for people, governments, and even nuclear power plants. Knowledge is not the creation of anything. Knowledge is the discovery of what is already there.  About now you are saying “OK Steve, you are getting a little philosophical here for a nuclear blog, and just what does any of this have to with running a nuclear power plant?”

    I am glad you asked. Knowledge, in and of itself, cannot serve us. In order for knowledge to be useful for anything it has to be put into context and then delivered to a person empowered to do something useful with it. Knowledge bottled up in a silo serves no function and takes up space in a perfectly good silo. Actually the silo metaphor works pretty well here. Silos are meant to contain useful things until they are needed and then make these things available to the people who need them.

    Too many nuclear plants have information (or knowledge) bottled up in hard-to-access containers.  Making this knowledge accessible and useful is a process called communication. Simply connecting one knowledge source to another is not communication. Making a connection is networking. However, without added value, networking is not communication. Communication needs context, relevance, perspective, and the ability to compare and contrast.

    Stored data about plant designs, maintenance schedules, and regulations is not empowering. The sharing and comparing of this information in context is empowering. This is what makes communication the real source of power. All the data in the world cannot empower a nuclear plant owner and/or operator if it fails to be contextual, comprehensive, and available in a usable form. Getting the knowledge to the right people at the right time and in the right format is communication and communication is real power.

    With your permission I would like to introduce you to a dynamic that I affectionately call the “Hank’s Head Syndrome.”  (Look for future references to “Hank’s Head” in this blog.)  Let’s take an example of an engineer servicing a critical valve. A different engineer, Hank, may have serviced that same model of valve at a different plant a year ago and discovered that (despite the documentation) the bolts on the outside are metric while the inner bolts are standard. This knowledge cannot be made useful to anyone if it stays bottled up in Hank’s head . However, if this knowledge is communicated widely, this information empowers everyone to work more safely and efficiently. Knowledge is the fuel, but communication is the power.

    The good news for all parties involved is that there are now great tools available that are dedicated to providing this functionality. Configuration Management systems and Asset Lifecycle Information Management (ALIM) systems can communicate knowledge with context, perspective, and meaning. Using these systems stakeholders throughout the plant get all of the disparate pieces of the puzzle so that they can see the whole picture. In short, they get all of the critical details without having to go on a wild-goose-chase to see if there is something that was missed, or worse, completely miss something critical.

    So the next time you hear a friend or coworker quote Sir Francis and say that knowledge is power, please politely inform them that what they mean to say is that communication is power. By simply spreading the word you will be proving the point.

    Check out this white paper on Knowledge Management from Bentley…they get the need to communicate.

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