Can plant data and contractors coexist?

Learn how to make your CMMS safe with outsourced workers.

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor

Whether to outsource for contracted services is an alignment of priorities. “Operations is of paramount importance,” explains Robert Perez, author of “Is My Machine OK?” “Reliability is the conscience of maintenance and operations. The plant manager wants to keep running because it’s more money for him.”

When you outsource, the contractors are always more conservative and won’t taken any chances, says Perez. “The in-house guy is driven by economics,” he explains. “As soon as a contractor sees a bearing defect, if that person recommends a work order, the plant manager sees an increase in work orders because the maintenance person isn’t willing to take a risk. There’s always a difference between theory and practice. With time, that in-house person’s batting average will get better because he gets to know his equipment characteristics. A lot of people want to use an operator or mechanic. If he’s part-time and isn’t vested in the program, he won’t take a chance. He’ll just make the call. You want the program to be integrated with the basic goals of the facility. There are analysts who use expert systems. They just turn their brains off and let the expert system analyze the spectra. Think a little bit. Maybe it’s just a grease issue. If you have an in-house reliability person, you’ll get better results from him.”

The interaction between automated data systems and maintenance professionals, whether they’re internal or external, is complex and contingent upon the organization’s goals.

The question of integrating to the CMMS can only be answered by culture and the customer-vendor relationship, says Burt Hurlock, CEO of Azima DLI ( “With trust, the integration can yield efficiencies around response times and work process optimization, but not without a period of fine-tuning the inputs, which will put trust to the test,” he explains. “Without trust, crossing the CMMS divide is a formula for disaster and finger-pointing. Ironically, the enterprise-level managers for whom we work frequently inquire after CMMS integration, but, when the order arrives at the plant, implementation often fails to materialize. This may be because there’s a perception of lost control, a fear that an outside vendor may recklessly populate the CMMS with frivolous work orders that will overtax plant staff, which might be another way to express distrust.”

The true decision point hinges around the value the CMMS provides in running effective operations, says Rob Bennett, global product manager, asset management, Rockwell Automation ( “Those customers who have come to realize the value of the CMMS and the benefits that it can provide to the organization understand the importance of sustainable processes and the people executing those processes,” he says. “Contracted service providers can help design effective plans for companies to fully utilize their existing systems or assist in the implementation of new systems, no matter the size of the organization.”

Mike Bacidore has been an integral part of the Putman Media editorial team since 2007, when he was managing editor of Control Design magazine. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or or check out his .

The size of a customer is indeed less relevant than one may think, agrees Sandy Cater, discipline lead, supply chain, at GPAllied ( “The organizations for contracted services would need to provide a quote based on specifications of service requirements that the customer would then compare against current costs and skill sets,” says Cater. “For a cost example, salaries and labor may be very high at a smaller customer, which may lead to the determination that outside services generate a cost savings.  For skill sets, the actual level of personnel skills may require a huge investment in time and money that could immediately be covered by an outside service.”

Size doesn’t matter, asserts Hurlock. “The right question is how costly the failure will be,” he explains. “We may not be a good example because our service scales right down to individual machine tests, for which we might charge a few hundred dollars. If that test exposes an imminent catastrophic failure of a major piece of machinery, the return on investment is all but infinite. Only someone unaccountable for the failure would chose to save the money or avoid the advice.  The answer may be different for staff model MRO service providers that rely on deploying large teams of boots on the ground that require a minimum-sized job for the economics to work.”

If you don’t have the budget for a full-time in-house reliability person, you might need somebody — a contractor — to whom you can outsource 10-20 pieces of equipment, offers Perez. “But you need to try to get the contractor aligned with your goals and objectives and give him an idea of how much risk you’re willing to take,” he warns. “Let’s say you have 10 pieces of equipment, and two of them have a safety or environmental risk, and they are the highest criticality. Make sure the outsource people know that, so they can be conservative with those two and take more risk with the other eight. Defining criticality is the first step. There are four categories for defining criticality: safety, environmental, maintenance costs, production losses. Is there a risk of getting someone hurt? Is there a risk of a release? Can this cause a process outage? Can it cause a huge repair cost?”