What is at the end of your CMMS rainbow?

Implementing the most applicable computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to better to record, manage and communicate day-to-day operations can be an intimidating challenge due to all the elements and complexities involved. However, it can be done successfully with a well-thought-out plan and help from those knowledgeable and experienced in such things.

Asking insightful questions and seeking help from consultants with competencies in the worlds of software and maintenance can be a great aid in the CMMS selection and implementation process.

A TYPICAL SITUATION

The consultants had joined the management team and discussion began around lessons learned and other opportunities relating to reliability, process efficiency and, most important, overall use of the company’s CMMS.

Things were going along well until one of the managers asked: “What company can we visit that has industry best practices for asset management and is also using the same CMMS software as us?”

A member of the consultant team responded quickly: “That type of client organization may not exist.” Just as quickly, he realized this response fell short of expectations.

Suddenly, a second consultant stood up and drew an illustration on the whiteboard. It depicted a long rainbow that disappeared into a golden pot. The implication was clear: Management’s goal was worthy, but perhaps unrealistic.

THE ELUSIVE POT OF GOLD

The managers in that meeting assumed the consultants had many experiences to share. Thus, if they were as good as they claimed to be, they should be able to point to and arrange a visit to a client site with a bona fide CMMS success story.

The consultant team understood the intent of the question and also knew of many companies with various best practices. Unfortunately, they also realized that no single site encompassed all of the best practices the management team might want or need to see. They encouraged the managers to expand their thoughts.

While the consultants agreed that the type of requested site visit could be of great value, they suggested that some additional questions needed to be considered and clarifications made, including:

  • Because a single company might not exist with all of the desired best practices, which among several companies that meet best-practice criteria should be included?
  • Must the visited companies all be in the same industry as the fleet? Henry Ford came up with his idea for the assembly line when he visited a hog farm. Thus, it can be acceptable for a company to go outside its own industry when looking for improvement ideas.
  • Is the definition for “best practice” clear? If each manager in the conference room were asked to write down his/her idea for best practice CMMS design, would they have similar answers?
  • Creative solutions to complex problems can be found in many places, even outside the prospective client’s own company – sometimes where and when they’re least expected. Examples are applications of newer technology and clever use of a product or software program.
  • If a target best-practices company were to be identified, would that organization agree to such a visit? Or, might that company worry about giving away competitive information?
  • How many people would the fleet send to the site visit? Are the right people available to make such a visit? How would it be conducted and how much time should be allocated to glean adequate information?
  • What questions would be asked? The visitors would need to organize a list of topics in advance. Suggested topics might cover these three key areas:

1. Software

Data content and accuracy, analytical reports, integration, KPIs and error checks.

2. Process

CMMS SOP, standardization, business rules, definitions and advanced processes.

3. Organization

Operation and maintenance roles and responsibilities, buy-in, training, core team function, business analyst, CMMS expert and reliability team.

The visiting team might discover undesirable processes and data at a host’s site. While this would not necessarily be discussed with the host, it could still be instructional as examples of situations to avoid. These might include large/growing maintenance backlog, poor work prioritization and lack of failure analysis, among others.

ATTITUDE AND BUY-IN

Sometimes the best practice is simply one of cultural buy-in. Any organization can install and set up a CMMS, but a lot fewer can get everyone engaged. When it comes to staff engagement and buy-in, many questions can arise:

  • Are all levels aware of the importance of creating a true knowledge base and analytical reporting?
  • Do the skilled trades understand the system’s purpose?
  • Is there fear among some that CMMS is a tool to micro-manage personnel?
  • Are work orders created for all work performed?
  • Is completed work properly documented and closed out?
  • How does management plan to create buy-in?

Some believe the engagement and buy-in process is like raising children. Countless parents have figured it out and their children become respectful, self-motivated and want to do the right thing. Other parents never get the hang of it.

When dealing with maintenance and reliability professionals, it can be important to remember that the best of the best do not need a rule for every field on the computer screen. Work order feedback should be a natural instinct.

THE PURPOSE OF BENCHMARKING

Visiting other organizations for the purpose of mutual self-improvement – one type of benchmarking – is itself a best practice. Most consultants can help with the decision to do this based on the previously-noted conditions. Once the decision to visit another operation is made, the benefits become clear: Visitors will get to see how others implement, use and benefit from their CMMS software.

Other activities can be used to reinforce this knowledge, including:

Research

Read as much as possible about subject of interest in books, trade magazines and on the Internet. Become a student of asset and reliability management.

Training

Attend training classes on specialty topics, such as failure analysis, analytical reporting, advanced scheduling and others.

Virtual participation

View online user forums and follow threads of interest or start your own topics. Be part of a debate.

Attend industry events

These include user-group meetings and trade events. Listen to presentations, take notes and establish new contacts. Ask questions.

THE FUNCTION OF CONSULTANTS

Experience does matter. Over a 10-year period, a seasoned consultant may visit up to 50 client organizations. But even that many visits may not be enough to discover a best-of-the-best site.

The one thing a consultant can usually claim is that he/she has found and documented best practices. It’s with this knowledge base that a consultant can provide extensive thought leadership across all areas of asset, work and reliability management.

Within any consulting firm you will find a mix of managers, programmers and working-level consultants. In many cases, management-level staff began as working-level consultants and, thus, they have knowledge of both software and industry-leading practices that can be of enormous value to clients. The working-level consultants can be expected to have knowledge of implementation and operational challenges based on the real-world events they regularly encounter in the field.

They also would have documented trends and practices – good and bad – and know which advanced processes add true return on investment (ROI).

A formal CMMS review by consultants can take weeks – if not months – as such systems are complex. Even if the software is best-of-breed, the processes surrounding it can be weak.

PRE-VISIT PLANNING

So, on a visit by a prospective customer’s team to an actual client site, how many questions is it reasonable to ask? A checklist can help visitors stay focused.

The visitors should also be careful to not overwhelm the host organization, meaning the review should be completed in a day or less. In today’s busy workplace, it’s hard to get all stakeholders in the same meeting at the same time. Nor would you want a meeting too large.

Consequently, a site visit requires considerable pre-trip preparation by the visiting organization.

While the process of determining sites to visit and questions to ask don’t have to involve a consultant, there can be a value in doing so. Consultants can leverage the experience of others on their staffs not just to come up with a list of relevant questions to ask, but to identify client sites that are open to such visits.

Do the math. A staff of 20 consultants with 10 years of field work each brings a total of 200 man-years of experience to the table. It can also be helpful to have a third-party make the initial contact.

BOTTOM LINE

A strong organization welcomes change. It understands the importance of benchmarking activities and continuous improvement.

A strong organization will also periodically engage consulting services to help its team identify new ideas, discuss trends and review opportunities for improvement.

Consultants expect management teams to ask tough questions. Accordingly, they work hard to be the ones in the room with the best knowledge to solve whatever problems are thrown at them.

Consultants can help your organization find that pot of gold at the end of your CMMS rainbow.

John Reeve has spent 25+ years supporting CMMS/EAM (enterprise asset management) users across a wide range of industries. Today, as a manager and senior consultant with Cohesive Information Solutions (http://cohesivesolutions).com, he serves as practice leader for maintenance and reliability solutions. The company provides asset management software, consulting and systems integration services for asset intensive, highly regulated industries.

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