Where do you go for help if you need more information on which CMMS to buy, how to get the most out of a recent CMMS upgrade and how many planners you should hire? Some argue that there are many more options now than there ever were for obtaining information quickly and cheaply. After all, the Internet, social media, webinars, e-newsletters and a host of other electronic offerings give users a wide range of low-cost, easily accessible alternatives when looking for answers. But, in fact, the explosion of knowledge readily available through these channels has produced a different problem. It has become increasingly difficult to:
- Find the right information quickly and easily
- Determine its accuracy and relevancy
- Get the level of detail required
- Apply the information to your specific situation
Is this a matter of “you get what you pay for”? After all, much of the new media is free after you purchase the infrastructure such as servers, Internet service, operating system, browser and video conferencing equipment. Let’s look at a sprinkling of some good old-fashioned ways to seek advice, as well as some emerging trends in knowledge sharing.
Many users turn to their favorite search engine almost instinctively whenever they’re in need of a quick fix of solid information. Are you unclear on how a planner might help now that you have a new CMMS? Key “planner” into the search engine and voila! Oops, that brought up organizations with “planner” in their titles, or details on some time management software. What about keying in the “role of a planner,” to be make it clear you’re after a specific job function? Alas, that search provides links to sites that advance your thinking on the role of a planner, but these are wedding planners, urban planners and different other planners than what you’re seeking. How about entering “role of a maintenance planner”? Finally, up come 1.4 million possible links that might be relevant.
So, you begin your search through articles, advertorials, blogs, discussion boards, scholarly summaries, white papers, videos and a host of snippets that don’t seem to quite answer your question, even though they all provide pieces of the puzzle. You really want to know how a planner can extract more from your CMMS investment. What do they actually do with the CMMS? So, you try “role of a maintenance planner in optimizing a CMMS.” Although this cuts the number of possible links in half, there are still more than 500,000 options to look through. More importantly, the references on the first page seem to suggest you’ve taken the search in the wrong direction.
You now notice that 45 minutes have passed and you still struggle with why your lead hand, supervisor or even maintenance manager can’t play the planner role. After all, you run a mine site, which isn’t as complex an environment as those described in the search results.
Perhaps you try different searches to pin down your industry or situation, but time keeps ticking. Sometimes you feel lucky, and there it is — a big, thick, free report dated June 2000, titled “Why a mine site could use a planner after purchasing a CMMS — a detailed guide to justifying and setting up a planning function.” Given the year of publication, the article might be somewhat dated. For example, there’s no mention of the sophisticated reliability management tools and mobile solution that you purchased as part of your new CMMS application. Thus, in terms of currency, a dark cloud of doubt hovers over this wonderful find. Perhaps finding another source can confirm its relevance.
Wikis and other electronic communities
A wiki is a community of sorts with a common purpose, where users can share knowledge on a website set up for that purpose. The largest and most famous of these is Wikipedia, which is a user-generated encyclopedia. A wiki might be a potential source of information, but it has the same inherent problems described above.
A community of interest (COI) is a more general term that refers to people who share a common purpose such as sharing information on a certain topic. COIs can be face-to-face such as a monthly meeting of like-minded people or a trade show with a theme. COIs also are available online. Some large multinational companies establish their own COIs to share best practices across multiple plants and business units. COIs also are an excellent forum for raising a question to invoke discussion among your peers who probably struggle with the same questions and can help you through it. That’s why some CMMS vendors build COIs where customers can help each other solve or avoid problems, exploit opportunities, benchmark and, ultimately, make better use of the CMMS.
A blog is a Web-based, frequently updated publication of personal content, typically written by an individual. A blog can follow someone’s exotic trip through Africa, or describe the woes of a project manager struggling to implement a new CMMS. In either case, pictures can be posted and links provided to relevant websites, such as product and service companies referenced in the text. Readers can post comments or ask questions of the blogger. Many industry gurus have their own blogs, allowing readers to pick up some useful information, as well as get questions answered or even debated. Be aware that many companies monitor what’s posted online, and employees should be cautious of any off-the-cuff remarks, such as “My manager is such a jerk; he tells me I should just get the work done, rather than him paying a planner to tell me to get the work done.”
There are pull systems and push systems in the world of information exchange. When you demand information from your CMMS or perform an online search, you’re pulling information. Information such as a newsletter, email notification or technical bulletin sent to your inbox without your specific request is pushed to you. Because of privacy restrictions, you might have been asked to sign up for an electronic subscription, but not always. Note that many push systems can be turned into pull systems, for example, requesting that any new blog entry be emailed to you. Unwanted push media is called “spam,” and we’ve all experienced our fair share of this 21st century nuisance.
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All the rage these days are social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. Companies struggle both with finding useful applications for these social media, and preventing abuse by employees, such as excessive personal use or industrial espionage. Vendors are exploring how to make good use of social media. What if there was a Facebook page for each asset? What if you could tie condition-based monitoring to that Facebook page, and send Tweets that provided any critical change in condition status? CMMS vendors are just beginning to integrate such functionality into their applications.
Vendors and consultants
One of the best alternatives, of course, is to consult with someone you trust who is knowledgeable in the area for which you seek advice. They can sift through the plethora of information quickly and apply their knowledge to your specific situation. But good consultants can be expensive, and it takes time to find and contract with a good one.
Email Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at email@example.com.