Bridging the digital gap: 2 key takeaways from this season's industry events

Thomas Wilk wonders if physical distance from leadership is blocking your initiatives.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

As I write this, it’s the middle of the fall busy season for industry events, and two themes have been emerging: (1) the general challenge of embracing digital transformation, and (2) the very specific challenge of how to gain the attention of the executive suite to support maintenance and reliability initiatives.

First, the challenge of getting the attention and support of company executives. It’s no secret that the roles of plant manager and maintenance/reliability professional are becoming increasingly strategic. If you’ve not already begun to align your team’s KPIs to the higher-level business goals of your organization, then there’s a good chance you will be asked to do so in the near future. A recent Plant Services webinar, “How Maintenance Drives the Business,” is available on demand for those who want to get a head start on connecting these dots.

This November, I was fortunate to attend the inaugural International Machine Vibration Analysis Conference (IMVAC) and sit in on a remarkable session by Delta Reliability’s Tom Clawser called “Selling Reliability to the C-Suite.”

Halfway through the presentation, which involved lots of practical advice on cost-justifying MRO initiatives, Clawser stopped and asked a simple question: “How many people work in the same building as the organization’s senior executives?”

In a room of about 25 people, no hands went up. The follow-up question: “How many work within reasonable driving distance of senior leadership?”

Two hands slowly went up.

It was a stark realization that getting projects off the ground only becomes more difficult when your teams are physically off the radar of the C-suite.

The other prominent theme this fall has been the emergence of “prescriptive maintenance” approaches. This term has been in increasing circulation by both plant professionals and EAM/CMMS software providers, and is commonly understood to denote the next digital step forward in the evolution of asset management, where required maintenance is predicted, and then a course of action is prescribed.

As Schneider Electric director of asset management Kim Custeau phrased it at its 2016 User Conference, “data aren’t meaningful without the direction to act.” A week later at the IFS World 2016 global conference, IFS CTO Dan Matthews reinforced that asset management software will increasingly be able to answer the question, “What should I do with this insight?”

Both companies see the IoT as the connecting bridge between condition monitoring data and the larger set of business data (CRM, ERP, etc.) that can help identify and prescribe actions that drive best business results.

The question is, are you close enough to your CIO and her executive peers to effectively initiate and maintain the types of smart MRO projects that will keep your company competitive?