As an owner of a complex physical asset, you’re relying on large numbers of humans to keep the asset productive and safe. Unfortunately for you, humans aren’t as sophisticated as some other species in their ability to collaborate together to deliver the best results.

The concept of eusociality describes the innate ability of some species such as ants and bees to work together very effectively for the common good. It’s “the highest level of organisation of animal sociality” according to Wikipedia but sadly, as we’re all aware, humans just aren’t that sophisticated.

The hive mentality is what enables bees to do unbelievable things and the colony of ants marches on because of similar natural tendencies. Let’s not even begin to discuss the social construction skills of termites. That just puts humans to shame.

Anyway, if we accept that humans are limited in their ability to achieve results socially, we can begin to look at some steps we can take to increase the likelihood of more moderate success.

Much of what goes on in complex facilities is just fallible humans attempting to make the right decision. In fact, decision-making is probably also what distinguishes humans from ants and bees.

So how can we improve the quality of the decisions that need to be made?

A centralised reference model that provides a single source of truth

The first thing to do is to make sure that all of the information is available to all of the people all of the time. This is the easiest way to enable better decision-making.

The problem in most facilities is that knowledge silos have built up over time. The information that can guide decisions is locked away in disparate systems, or worse, in specific individual’s heads.

The responsible asset owner will have two versions of the asset: The physical asset and an exact copy of it in digital form – This is the centralised reference model.

Make the model more than just 3-D and BIM

Importantly, this reference model should be more than just the 3-D model overlaid with some BIM data. The best model is one that also overlays all kinds of additional pertinent asset data and metadata onto the 3-D model. Equipment manuals, inspection and maintenance history and every other piece of relevant information about the facility should be linked to the 3-D model and made available to decision makers.

Build a hive and empower non-linear decision making approaches

The traditional approach to decision making follows a linear path with one person, or a small group of people, pulling together information from different (perhaps disconnected) systems to create a view of reality that can be used for decision-making. Collaboration is limited to those points when enough information has been gathered to enable an informed view.

More tactical decision making involves more collaboration and this is enabled by common access to data and a networked approach to solving problems. If small groups of relevant people can come together around reliable data (even if they are separated by distance), then a discussion can ensue about the best tactical approach to manage the situation that needs a decision.

Use expert knowledge to best effect

Experts are essential to great decision making but their skills are often difficult to take advantage of when they’re most needed. Collaborative phases of decision-making need access to the right group of people at the right time. A centralised source of truth makes it possible for real-time collaboration to take place based on the data available. This approach has a positive effect on operational effectiveness as the process becomes defined and refined.

Make the data visual

Providing access to information in a visual environment provides context to the decision maker. Rather than using the traditional linear approach, a connected visual environment provides the required view of a facility backed up with contextual information. By offering this approach the right people in the team can now be involved in the analysis.

The way forward is to pull experts together into a single, maybe virtual, room to review a situation, manipulate the data and decide on the best approach to resolve a problem and then a smaller number of team members are tasked to execute the outcome.


Collaborating early with access to a more complete data set is likely to result in better decision-making, reduced time pulling data together to be ready to make the decision and a more agile team. It also more effectively uses the expertise of your key team members.

We’ve never going to beat the ants and the termites, but at least we’ll be heading in the right direction!