Is Your Content Debt Getting You Down?

Arnout de Beurs and Linus Hakimattar

Reading Time: 6 minutes

We all know about financial debt, and how important it is to manage that debt. Left unchecked, interest costs can quickly make a small initial debt balloon out of control.

The first step in controlling it is recognizing where it’s coming from so you can stop the bleeding. But that alone won’t cut it. You also need to pay down the principal, otherwise your debt will continue to cost you money as interest piles up.

The same applies to content debt…but what is content debt? Simply put, it’s the difference between the asset and process safety information you should have to safely and reliably operate your facility and the data and documents you actually have.

Content debt is simply the difference between the asset and process safety information you should have to safely and reliably operate your facility and the data and documents you actually have

Just like financial debt, there are valid business reasons why you may initially accept a certain amount of content debt.  Often, the need to get a facility operating and generating revenue drives the acceptance of content debt.

But how do we get into content debt? There are two major sources of content debt:

  • The biggest debt is incurred at the point of information handover from EPCs to the owner operator. We’re often in a rush to close out EPC contracts; people on the project are leaving the project to go onto other work, and there is little or no audit of the information that is handed over by the EPC firm. Missing documents, inconsistencies, and lack of compliance don’t get identified till much later. We have seen many examples of missing or wrong vendor documents, incomplete datasheets, drawings without signatures, and redlines that are not managed effectively.
  • The second source of content debt is ineffective management of change during the life of the facility where documents, drawings, and procedures aren’t updated when they should be.

What is content debt costing us? Like paying interest on a loan, the cost of content debt appears over time as value leakage, as shown below:

Best measure of value leakage is cash operating costs per unit of production. For process companies, value leakage is significant and is the sum of efficiencies, avoidable costs, and production losses. Examples of value leakage include:

  • Incident could not be mitigated because key information was out of date resulting in more severe consequences
  • Asset failure and unit shutdown because wrong parts were installed
  • Potential damage to equipment because design data/safety operating windows/drawings were not available/correct
  • Maintenance delays because wrong part was ordered due to issues with master data
  • Loss of production because plant engineer did not have the information needed to quickly diagnose the problem
  • Loss of staff productivity searching, validating, and correlating information and addressing information inconsistencies

Unlike financial debt, where you can quickly see the interest payment on your bank statements, the cost of content debt is mostly hidden.

Unless you reduce your contend debt, you will continue to pay for it over the lifetime of your facility. More significantly, your content debt places a ceiling on the benefits you can achieve through digitization and implementing new technologies or processes.

How to address content debt

Just like financial debt, the first and most obvious solution is to avoid taking on the debt in the first place. Recognize there is a problem and stop the bleeding. Implement processes, training, and systems to stop adding new content debt during your capital projects.

Next, take steps to reduce the amount of content debt you’re carrying.

Remember, you don’t need to pay down all your debt at once. Focus your efforts where it matters. Just like paying down a high interest credit card over a low interest loan, not all content has the same value. Identify critical tags and information and use that to prioritize how you address your content debt.

Identify what good looks like through measurable and enforceable standards and align the Engineering and Operations worlds of the facility. Once that’s in place, you can use CAPEX projects to incrementally reduce your content debt.

Finally, keep track of your progress. Develop meaningful KPIs that will allow you to measure the current state of your information and monitor trends over time to see whether your content debt is increasing or decreasing.

While the task for addressing your organization’s content debt problem may seem daunting, ReVisionz has worked with clients to develop roadmaps and programs specifically tailored to address their problems.

Arnout de Beurs is a partner with ReVisionz. He has over 20 years of experience in the process industry helping with clients with their asset and process safety information management challenges. (For more, please see LinkedIn profile.)

Linus Hakimattar is a partner at ReVisionz and leads the company’s Strategy and Consulting group. He acts as a bridge between what our clients aspire to and where they are today by providing them insights, best practices, and actionable business capability and technology roadmaps. His mission is to help companies avoid value leakage by making better data-informed decisions regarding process safety and their physical assets.