Enterprise asset management (EAM) is a way of thinking, a discipline, and ultimately a culture that increases equipment life and production uptime.
One of the dichotomies we face when we talk about asset life is the conflict between quality and reliability in the corporate world, and disposability in everyday life. When our new washing machine was delivered from Best Buy, the delivery person said “This is a nice washing machine, but don’t expect it to last like your old one did.” That old machine washed for four daughters, a mother-in-law, dogs, and, of course, my wife and me. Of the 25+ years we had it, we had the repairman out once or twice, but we were assured that the repairs were worth making! Now I am not sure I will need a repairman, as my smartphone can transmit any issues directly to the factory—but is the machine made to last?
So what does this washing machine have to do with enterprise asset management?
The disposable mentality is a part of our current culture. We expect things to last for a while, and then we get rid of the asset and buy a new one. The products are not designed to be fixed, which would cost the manufacturer future sales. However, the same manufacturer producing these disposables needs the equipment it uses for making its products to last “forever.” We no longer take our televisions to a repair shop. When they stop working and are out of warranty, we go get a newer one with better energy-saving features and better picture quality. When it comes to businesses, that strategy is avoided like the plague, because the longer capital equipment is in service, the higher the return on investment. Maintenance people are asked to keep assets running, but are not provided properly installed EAM systems to be more productive. Is this cultural attitude, the disposability we live with every day, the reason management of many companies does not seem to relate to EAM? It may be a strong contributor. Another more prevalent underlying issue is the lack of skills and desire to do data analysis. This requires time, expertise, and management that is responsive to the news this data reveals.
Many maintenance programs have so-called EAM programs that consist of fixing assets when they break. The manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule has been lost over the years as staff changes, resulting in early failures and unexpected breakdowns. Management may have the attitude: “Preventive maintenance or predictive maintenance is something those really sophisticated companies do, not us.” “We don’t have the time or manpower for that” is a typical response from small to mid-tier companies; the businesses that need to manage their assets to remain competitive.
There is an industry-wide shortage of people who can do quality analysis and repair work. No one 18 to 22 years of age is going to college to become a repair person; it is not glamorous. Why is this occurring? For the very reason the washing machine is not going to last 20 to 30 years, the world views more and more things as disposable, and there is not a perceived need for someone to repair something. Even when your automobile gets to 100,000 miles and things start to break, the mechanic will tell you it is probably better to go buy a new car. After all, the old car did not have Bluetooth, USB, better widgets for driver comfort, and the new safety features! Who do you know who is not a NASCAR driver who dropped a new engine and transmission into his or her car in the past three years?
I recently presented the outlook of EAM and its effectiveness to a group of facility vice presidents, directors, and managers, and the forecast was fair to partly cloudy! The forecast was based on the diversity of implementations I have seen over the past decade. Depending on the experience of the responsible manager, when the solution was implemented, and who participated in the process, I have seen good to very poor implementations. While we may agree that software should be intuitive in its usage, most of the implementations that were failures did not fail because of the software. They failed because the implementer failed to define what success will look like!
When I got started in business, I came across a tree swing cartoon that aptly described how clearly we all have a point of view, and how that point of view affects what we see. Many variations of this tree swing cartoon exist online, but the actual creator remains anonymous. The cartoon is replicated in this article. It illustrates several different ways a swing is tied to the tree with captions describing how marketing requested it, how the sales team ordered it, how engineering designed it, how it was manufactured, and how it was installed. In the end, the final tree shows the swing exactly the way the customer wanted it. If I ask each of you what a successful EAM implementation looks like, I believe we might end up with the same variations, so the question that faces us is “is anyone wrong?” Several of the views above provide some functionality, but they have limits. One of the views provides no functionality, but the rider will not fall off the seat.
Implementing an EAM solution is not a one person job. A team view is required to implement any EAM solution. You may disagree, and tell me you know everything there is to know about your business. I may agree when it comes to what assets need preventative maintenance (PM) and the steps for that PM, but I challenge you to identify the data your CFO or CEO will need five or 10 years from now to make solid business decisions. What data do you need to defend your organization from a lawsuit? Where are your documented processes and procedures to assure the quality of data in the system? How did you structure your nomenclature of assets to allow for additional assets, locations, companies, or customers?
You see, the decisions for an EAM solution extend beyond today, and potentially beyond your tenure in the job; it is a company-wide solution. If you decide parts and the associated costs are not important, or the work done by contractors is not important, or labor/time capture is a waste of time, or closing work orders is not necessary as long as the work is done, you are heading down the path of failure!
Some of you will read this and think, “Duh, of course you have to do those things!” However, the reality is I see people who only want to use the system for PM, who say they do not need training, and they will figure it out on their own!
Wake up! You may be smart, but so were the people who designed the tree swings. It is not about the software, it is about the identification of success.
Expert help and training are not just about the software, they are about putting the 5,000 pieces of the puzzle on the table, sorting them out, communicating to make sure everyone knows what the end picture looks like, planning the process to get the outline of the puzzle in place, and developing the plan to fill in the missing pieces. Unlike a puzzle that will reach completion, the EAM solution will never be done. New equipment will be added, old equipment decommissioned, and new technology, new regulations, and new processes adapted to refine and improve everyone’s view of the picture of success.
New players will come into the game, and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) have to be adhered to so data quality is consistent and valid. Periodically, time must be spent to assure that data is good. The other thing I learned early in my career is “garbage in, garbage out.” It still applies, and garbage data leads to many failures of EAM solutions, which is not the software vendor’s fault.
I can cite many examples where the company gave the EAM solution to the production manager, the position changed hands, and the new person felt a new solution was needed, throwing away potentially valuable information! Then in six or 10 months the CFO said, “we have to cut staff; maintenance expenses are too high.” Thus, the manager had no data to support the value of the work his staff had done, and what it will really cost the company to decrease staffing. You see the job is not just to fix things, keep them running, and manage people, it is all about managing data, a fact lost to many!
The real issue
I have pointed out several stumbling blocks to successful EAM solutions: culture, people, the lack of definition of success for the company, the need to look beyond today, and the changing role of the people responsible for EAM. The problem is complex, as the labor force becomes scarcer, as management misreads the value of EAM, as establishing a solution with SOPs and the enforcement of those standards is complicated. The changing regulatory landscape must be reflected in the detail of the work order tasks. It is not enough just to say “PM the machine.” In the end, there are many good EAM solutions, but the real test when looking for a solution is to ask yourself, is the vendor most interested in just selling the software, or does the vendor have the ability to help me map out the path to success? If you engage a vendor that has helped customers map their success plans, that vendor can help you, too. Why go it alone and risk failure? That cost is much higher than the cost of some training and consulting; it could save your career. The real issue is that the world is changing, and if you are not willing to admit you need to change, you are doomed, and your EAM solution will be doomed. After all, the outlook is fair to partly cloudy.