Who owns your assets, processes, products, and relationships?

David Berger says get to know the responsible parties at your plant.

By David Berger

Suppose you are responsible for conducting preventive maintenance on the night shift for a given area of your facility. And suppose you identify a number of potential changes to the procedures that would benefit both you and the company. For example, perhaps you have discovered a way to make the work environment safer, or an idea that will cut the work time in half, or a means of reducing the time interval between preventive maintenance routines. Who needs to be told about your suggested changes in order to make it happen, on all shifts and in all plants that have similar equipment? Is it your supervisor? The plant manager? Someone in engineering? And would it be a different person for a different process, asset, shift, or a different area of the facility?

If it’s not clear who to contact or you are not sure who is responsible for evaluating and authorizing your suggested changes, then chances are ownership has not been clearly defined in your organization. Welcome to the concept of ownership, including clarification of roles and responsibilities of asset and other owners. Consider the role of asset specialists, as well as an organizational model that better defines asset accountability on the shop floor.

The concept of ownership

In a given organization, the term “ownership” can be associated with any number of objects, such as a facility owner or an owner of a specific production process or the owner of a type of asset. Examples of objects for which ownership can be established include one or more of the following groupings:

  • Asset owners might be responsible for all light vehicles or for all packaging robots from a certain original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or for all pumps.
  • Process owners could be responsible for key production lines.
  • Product owners might have profit and loss responsibility for the marketing, production and sales of a specific line of products.
  • Relationship owners could be responsible for managing the relationship with large customers or suppliers.
  • Location, sites, or facility owners are responsible for managing a given facility.
  • Department or functional area owners might be responsible for energy management or for procurement.

Owners share a common set of responsibilities, regardless of objects. Some of the key responsibilities include:

  • acting as the go-to person for any major issues associated with the objects for which they are responsible
  • providing high-quality subject matter expertise with respect to their objects, by conducting research and benchmarking, attending conferences, becoming active with relevant associations, liaising with universities, staying abreast of regulatory trends, and participating in lobbying efforts
  • liaising with all stakeholders that may impinge on their objects, such as vendors, internal/external customers, management, front-line employees, and other owners
  • conducting long-range planning regarding their objects and using appropriate analysis tools to better understand and react appropriately to variances to plan, in light of the overall corporate strategy
  • determining capacity and quality of resources required to get the most out of their objects, such as ensuring adequate training of human resources, and monitoring progress in meeting or exceeding expectations
  • eveloping standards of excellence, such as policies, procedures, quality standards, and performance standards, and monitoring KPIs relevant to their objects, focusing on continuous improvement
  • leveraging technology and information systems to achieve short- to long-term performance targets — for example, the asset owner uses the CMMS for planning, variance analysis, or analysis of work history in order to improve availability, performance, and reliability of owned assets, while minimizing the total lifecycle cost.

To bring clarity to the concept of ownership, it’s critical to establish and abide by a few key principles.

  1. There should be only one owner for a given object or object grouping to ensure accountability — for example, one asset owner responsible for all pumps.
  2. Ownership should be established for 100% of objects in a given class — for example, enough asset owners to cover all asset groups.
  3. Ensure accountability is clear when ownership spans overlapping objects — for example, if there is an owner for a given production process, and multiple owners for the assets within that process, ensure that the lines of responsibility are clear among asset owners and the process owner.
  4. Strive for a healthy, scalable balance of power between owners, using shared KPIs to reinforce the desired behavior — for example, when there is a major problem with the quality of a given product, emerging from a given asset, on a given production line, at a given site, caused by a significant supplier, and impacting a given customer, then you need a balanced matrix organizational structure and accepted process in place to focus the efforts of the six owners affected by the problem.
  5. Appoint one set of owners as the preferred point of contact when an anomaly occurs, as well as prioritized alternatives — for example, always contact the asset owner first, followed by the process owner, followed by the functional owner; the single point of contact is responsible for obtaining assistance from other owners.

In a large corporation, managing multiple owners within a matrix organizational structure is a challenge to be sure. However, when the above principles are closely followed, the results make it all worthwhile. In a smaller company, many of the ownership roles are combined to avoid unnecessary complexity and cost. For example, in a small, single manufacturing plant, with only a weekday shift operation, perhaps all ownership roles are assumed by the only production manager, the one engineer, and a senior marketing person.

Asset ownership in particular

David Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto officeDavid Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto office. David has written more than 200 articles on a variety of topics such as maintenance management, operations management, information technology, e-commerce, organizational design, and strategy. In Plant Services magazine, he has written a monthly column on maintenance management in the United States, as well as three very extensive reviews of maintenance management systems available in North America. David has done extensive work in the areas of strategy, information technology and business process re-engineering. He can be reached at
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Effective management of assets from design to disposal relies heavily on having strong asset ownership. Front-line operators and maintenance personnel must make optimal use of the CMMS, translating the plans created by asset owners into action and providing accurate and timely feedback to asset owners so the work program can be analyzed and optimized.

To strengthen the benefits of asset ownership, there are additional organizational design elements to consider.

Specialists: The specialist role is simply an extension of the ownership role. A specialist has a more narrow focus — for example, the asset owner for fleet assets may require specific asset specialists, such as a tire specialist or bucket truck specialist, depending on the type, quantity, and complexity of vehicles in the fleet. Not all specialists are asset-related — for example, there may be a need for training specialists if a major investment in new equipment has just been made. It is also a good idea to have at least one CMMS specialist that knows how to get the most out of your enterprise asset management software.

Resident maintainers: The individuals are physically located next to the assets for which they are responsible. The benefit of having resident maintainers is that they can focus on learning all about a relatively small group of assets and thus become highly proficient at maintaining those assets. There is also a greater sense of pride in their work because asset ownership is high. Therefore, service levels tend to be higher, such as response time and quality of work.

The disadvantage of resident maintainers is that there is little opportunity for cross-training, in order to avoid dependence on resident maintainers for such things as vacations, sickness, or succession. As well, some maintainers prefer greater diversity in the equipment they work on. Finally, some maintenance planners find productivity is lower overall, since they are not necessarily able to deploy the best resource for the job if maintainers are permanently assigned to a given work area.

Read David Berger's monthly column, Asset Manager.