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Overcoming resistance to reliability programs

July 15, 2021
In this podcast episode, Kevin Price examines why reliability is taking on new urgency in our current post-crisis moment.

Kevin Price is technical product evangelist and product strategist at Infor, a global company that provides enterprise software products for every aspect of business. In these roles, Kevin is globally responsible for product strategy functions for the Infor EAM, Infor MP2, iProcure, and Energy Performance Management product families. He also is a longtime contributor to Plant Services, having written several articles and presented on many of our webinars. Thomas Wilk recently spoke with Kevin on how maintenance conversations are evolving from enterprise asset management (EAM) to asset performance management (APM), and why reliability is taking on new urgency in our current post-crisis moment.

PS: Kevin, you and I both do our best to stay in close touch with reliability and maintenance practitioners, especially this past year with the pandemic sweeping through the world. And the topic of asset reliability has taken on a new urgency for those workers this past year. Can you tell us what you're hearing from your customers this year, and why asset reliability has taken on a new urgency?

KP: Absolutely. There are several factors in what we're seeing. It's not just several factors that is in specific industries. It's really some things that are going throughout different regions of the world. We have a few thousand customers around the world, we've been doing this since our first line of code in 1986, and we've gone through the evolution of green screen to Windows to whatever else that we have. I've been fortunate enough to have launched a lot of that for the last 24 years. The ideas that we had on a whiteboard have worked, we think. (Of course, not all of them, there's some that just were duds.)

In this idea of asset reliability, we're seeing a resurgence of the word, a resurgence of the practice, and we're certainly seeing a resurgence in the need to be able to put it into our solution research and development. Whenever there is a downturn in an economy, companies look at what assets you have and how to get the most out of them - that's always going to be the case. And in an upturn economy, you're buying new assets – which will almost always require new maintenance management technique along with traditional practices.

There's always an asset management need, which makes it fortunate for people like us in this business. But at the same time, at this moment, we're looking at, as an example, transit organizations that are almost mothballing some of their over-the-road vehicles. Transportation companies are doing the same because people just aren't taking buses and other types of things, so ridership has really been impacted.

If you look at some other organizations, they have to rethink how they're actually structured and how they run. Manufacturing organizations have to introduce 6 feet of separation between the workers. They have to reduce the amount of human touchpoints that they have on pieces of equipment. They have to really take their time and understand how to be able to work all through that.

There's another issue too, one we've always talked about, you and I, over the years, of IT-OT conversions, IT being information technology and OT being operational technology. What we're finding because of the pandemic is a lot of our IT professionals that are out there don't want to deal with systems anymore that are local. They want to go to the cloud, which is good for us, we have that conversation with them all the time, and we offer the same thing on-premise that we do in the cloud anyway. But the idea is now they're having to put on different hats. They're having to put on more OT hats than they have in the past.

What this means is they can't focus on a lot of the IT things anymore. And when you do that, you introduce a new concept of looking at the business value that that practice begins to introduce, and the impacts that they ultimately have to the workers and to the process. From an Infor EAM perspective, what this means is reliability. It's looking at making your assets last longer, looking at your failure analysis, doing different types of decay curves, doing things that are deep into the reliability mechanisms that we've had for years and continue to build upon.

The last thing I'll call out as a theme of what we're hearing (because of these impacts and because of others) is our customers want us and really are forcing us to evolve the application. What I mean by that is way back when, we did CMMS, computerized maintenance management systems for those who aren't familiar with the term, but that was really a work order system. You did stuff to make sure that you had it documented. It was a CYA mechanism if you will, but the idea was they just did the work. Then it evolved to enterprise asset management, so the focus was on the asset, on the condition, on different types of inspection variables, on things that you would do in the asset, and a little bit of reliability was introduced there. We did that long ago, we actually did some training on it, some implementation mechanisms, and we had partners to do it too.

Kevin Price

The conversation is evolving from enterprise asset management (EAM) to asset performance management (APM). This is wonderful as it brings innovations around automation back into the equation – a lot of the condition monitoring, the internet of things, visualization on digital twins, all that kind of thing.

You also have outputs that are interesting. We do asset investment plans today, and what customers are wanting to see is for those to be more models that you can tweak, you can adjust. What happens if production is going to be X, or ridership is going to be Y, or my investment is going to be Z, or my decline in budget for the next year is going to be A? What do I do with that kind of thing? How do I model that asset investment plan for that particular year? Or more specifically, how do I float that out to 5, 7, 10, 25 years in a capital asset plan? They're wanting to see all that as a natural part of the EAM, they're not wanting to see that as a third-party integration, which is another reason for the evolution from EAM to APM.

We build on these capabilities, by adding more flexibility, scalability, and a lot more “model-esque” capabilities. The idea is we get into this conversation of not just the maintenance department and operations. You get into plant engineers, which is where we want to see this conversation go in many different ways. You get into the CFO's office on the cost that you have for, the COO's ability to represent that schedule and meet it. And of course, the CEO.

So a lot of those conversations are changing, and I definitely think that the whole idea of these three areas of impact were spurred on because of pandemic but have always been there. And I think the natural progression, EAM to APM is happening and will happen, especially in our product line. But I definitely think it's all because of reliability.

People are really going back to those ideas of reliability: asset reliability of what I can be able to do to make sure that the service that I provide to get revenue or the product that I create to get revenue is done in a way that's sustainable. That I know I can trust it, I can rely upon it. And I can do it in a safe way because I may not have, now especially, as many people out in the field as I used to think I have. And I have more systems now that are just sitting there collecting data that I don't do anything with. How can I take advantage of it? How can I build upon it?

It's exciting to see and it's definitely interesting. But for hearts like yours and mine, my friend, with methods like asset reliability coming back into play, there is so much more opportunity to really affect the world in a positive way.

PS: Oh, that's great, and the way you trace that evolution from CMMS to EAM to APM is fascinating in the context also of the kind of business outcomes that I think people in the field are looking for. In some ways, those outcomes haven't changed. It's just that the methods to get there using new assets have. Can you talk about what outcomes are most important these days?

KP: That's critical, what you said, a lot of times those outcomes haven't changed. The ability to provide those outcomes have. And the reason why I say that is because a lot of the data is more available, it's more pervasive, to be able to make those decisions. There's more people involved into the conversation. We had a webinar that we did not too long ago, and they were talking about all the data that they collect, and they never knew what to do with it. So their rule of thumb was, "Throw it in the data lake. We'll figure it out later." And we wondered, what do you mean? They said, "Well, there's so much data that comes in. I mean, it's impossible to be able to make any sense of it. It's impossible. It's literally a deluge of data, with 10 times more people who want to understand it. So how do I deal with that?"

And we all knew that, right? Because we've been talking about that for years and more equipment gets more and more and more data coming in, and here we are! We have more vendors that have come in to have attachment clamp-ons, and different types of things to be able to get this data. And now it's there. It's sitting there. But what do we do with it?

The most common customer question is this: how can I take that data and how can I build a business outcome of it? And what does that business outcome look like? Is it getting more specific in the reliability nature? So the preventive maintenance schedules, the preventive maintenance techniques, approaches? Or something else? Maybe I should be doing this type of asset management with a vendor or a contractor and not my own people. Maybe I should be using different types of materials. Maybe the materials that the OEM made me buy, when I bought this equipment, I don't really need as much as I did.

These are types of questions that you look at in reliability that we would do in the past, but we didn't have as much data to be able to make sense of it all. And now we do.

Infor EAM helps in a big way as it looks at what that data represents - time efficiency of equipment detail…and we look at the accuracy of information when it's captured. We look at the compliance issues that demand that data and make sure that the drop-downs are easy to select and go through and not have to be a bunch of scribble on a sheet of paper. Quite easy if you think about it.

Now that we're looking at this, I totally agree with you a lot of these business outcomes and these values that we do have always been there, and they're now becoming a lot easier to obtain, a lot more common to obtain. But I definitely think that there needs to be the mindset of asset reliability and sustainability from the beinning. There needs to be the vernacular of it. There needs to be the practice of it. There needs to be the whole organizational structure behind it. And because of this pandemic, I definitely think – well, not the pandemic, maybe a little bit more in the post-pandemic if we can really say we're in that – but the idea is that you're looking at it more specifically than you did before. So it's, again, wonderful to see. But as you mentioned, the goalposts were already there. And now maybe we're not 60 yards away, maybe now we're 20. Well, I may not be able to hit it from 20 on my own foot, I'm old now. So maybe it's 10.

Listen to the entire interview

PS: I hear you on the post-pandemic part too. As we record this for listeners, it's June 11 in 2021, so it's just slowly opening up again. In fact, I'm calling in from Chicago, Kevin, and Chicago just hit what they call Phase V today, which is full reopening. I'm curious of the impact as cities and states roll out, what that's going to look like for industry. The pandemic made me think of cultural resistance to certain programs as people shift over to a new way of doing business on the line, as you said, 6-foot distance between employees, health checks on the way into the plant, things like that. It's sort of a truism that the toughest resistance to reliability programs is cultural, getting people to get on board and embrace that change. I agree with you that reliability is coming back in a big way now, which is fantastic. What role do you see asset management software playing in helping teams overcome any kind of internal resistance to reliability?

KP: I totally agree with you that the most difficult things, from people, products, and processes, are people. You have to get it right. The asset management programs need to really empower the people, and the people need to be able to adopt it in a big way.

Let me give you just a quick story from oil and gas. This is from a long time ago when Windows CE, if you remember that, was actually in a development phase, and was called Pegasus at the time. We were doing some work with Microsoft, and we were working with an oil and gas customer that was in the field, and we were working with a hardware provider on a specific type of device that they wanted to use. It was supposed to be intrinsically safe, it was supposed to drop in the water and after a certain amount of time automatically reset itself so that the data doesn't go floating literally to another country.

So this is an issue that they wanted to develop over. I mean, we got a solution. We developed it together. It was really nice, it was elegant, and we got it working. It was there, it was an enabler, and it was going to be awesome. It was expensive because back then these hardware pieces were expensive. Now, heck, you can get an Android device, throw it into a case, and be fine with it for the most part. You want to do different things in different industries, but they're cheap. And from our development now we have these things all the time. But back then, I mean, this was expensive, five figures apiece, not high five figures, but expensive.

So we deployed them out. We gave them to the guys in the field and they're on the platforms. And what we found is no one would use them. They wouldn't even touch them.

And so there was a people problem. We asked, "Why is this? What's going on?" And the project manager on the customer side said, "Son, have you ever been on a platform and an oil rig?" And I said, "Actually, no, I have not done that." So they got me to go on one. And they got me out there, and they said, "What do you see?" I said, "There's a lot of stuff and it's really dangerous here." And they said, "What do you feel?" I said, "It's really hot." He said, "Yep, walk with me."

So we walked down this little stub pathway. We went to an office and was air conditioned. He said, "See here, this is where the computer is. It feels good in here, doesn't it?" I was like, "Yes." He said, "This is why the guys don't use your hardware because they want to come in where it's air-conditioned. And they want to do it where it's nice, and it's easy to type this stuff in. They don't want to be out in the field typing on some type of gun." And I was like, "Yeah, I get it."

People are always a challenge.  To understand it well, you have to walk a day in the life of their shoes to understand what to do, why, how, when, and where. Which is why we invest heavily into usability. Mobile, for example, needs to be a part of a natural extension of our system. It has to be who we are, because that's who we are: we're out in the field. When you think about asset management software, enabling that success of the reliability program, you have to give guys the right tools at the right place at the right time. Like Asset Performance Management, it cannot be a 3rd party “bolt-on”

Now, it may not be a mobile solution, it may be a kiosk because we do articulating arms and kiosks that go down, that can type it in. It may be a mobile solution that’s their own, BYOD, bring your own device. It needs to be brought up.

One time we had an interesting guy say, “Well, I’m never going to use this. My guys aren’t going to use it. It’s not going to happen. It’s just going to be frustrating. They don’t use this kind of stuff, they don’t know what this tech is.” I said, “really?” and he said, “yeah.” So walked around, they all had iPhones, more recent than me, so I said, “Do they use Facebook?” He said yes. “They know how to use the mobile solution then.” It’s just a willingness to accept it and go through.

You still have a cultural change, and this aspect has been around for 20, 30 years of just willingness to adopt the tech, so that will never completely go away. Once you can really go over, you overturn that hurdle and really get to where they can understand it's not that bad, it helps you improve your operating environment, it helps you improve the goals that we're trying to get to, and it can make your life a lot easier. It's good but there's that process of going back to the basics, and that is what reliability is doing, it's forcing us to go back to those basics as well as basis of usability. They want to be able to make sure you have the right thing, in the right place, at the right time, in the right way.

We always say that one of the most unnatural things you can ever see is a maintenance technician sitting behind a computer. You should be able to have that guy in the field doing what he or she does best and making sure that you're arming that person as well as you can because you want to get them into the system but more importantly you want to get them out. You want to make sure that you have the right data captured.

From a software perspective, that should be our challenge. That shouldn't be the customer's challenge. The customer should just be able to configure it, pick and choose. They shouldn't develop this on their own. They shouldn't worry about integration on their own. They shouldn't worry about data synchronization on their own. That's our problem. That's why we take on a lot of that.

I definitely think that the technology is getting to a point where it's very flexible to be able to make it a lot easier. And with folks out in the field, in their house, doing their own day-to-day life, they're getting more exposed to these types of things. But at the end of the day, young professionals coming out of school don't want to see a laptop, they don't want to see a desktop for sure. They want to see everything that is on a mobile solution, which is another reason why mobile is critical.

PS: It does. It does. And you know, it's funny when I talk to the asset management professionals that I know who are under 30s, I see them at coastal events in Boston at PTC Liveworx and at OSIsoft PI World in San Francisco, and I agree with you that they want to bring their devices with them and work on the go.

KP: Well, let me ask you a question on this. Asset reliability definition is really getting more into innovation. What I've heard in a lot of conversations with people, and I'd love to hear your perspective, is when you have new folks that are coming out of college like this, especially a lot of the STEM graduates who are already having high-tech type of work that they're doing, it's almost to the point where the prescriptive nature of asset management (meaning we can predict when it's going to fail and we have a system reply back what to do and what to prescribe to be able to avoid that failure) has the potential to remove a lot of the industrial engineering expertise, because the system is literally telling you do X, do Y, do Z just like it tells you to replace the ink cartridge in your printer.

My daughter is older now, but when she was younger, she figured out how to do that. She was waiting for it to break because she knew how to do it. She was excited. She was proud of herself to do it, and it was great for me because I didn't have to do it. But the issue is that she would follow along little screen and step by step she would go directly to it and resolve it.

My fear is that these systems may become too easy to use, they may become too pervasive where we don't need that level of expertise anymore. The definition of asset reliability and sustainability means innovation. It will change the face of what engineering looks like in every vertical. Do you see that kind of thing too?

PS: I see it in a couple of ways, Kevin. I do see it happening. I think of this question in context that people are entering the reliability and maintenance profession directly, so that's the scope of my answer. I see a lot of apprenticeship programs and a lot of post-grad programs, say like the one that Klaus Blache runs at University of Tennessee Knoxville, creating a good pipeline for advanced technicians and reliability engineers to enter the field. What I also see is people who have studied analytics in their colleges and community colleges, who about three years into their career suddenly look at Industry 4.0 and manufacturing as an incredible opportunity to make a career with what they know. So they come in sideways. They aren't the ones trained in maintenance and reliability, they discover those secondhand and then apply their analytics expertise to the data that we're collecting from the machines.

And then those are the two main pathways that I'm seeing. And there's a third ground too where the planners and schedulers I think are taking out a new importance in today's plant teams because they're taking on this expanding role to manage a lot of OEMs whose assets have become too complex for the average person to repair. It's this interesting third bridge, half planner/scheduler, half contract manager to make sure that if the plants can't afford full-time expertise on certain assets, then those who are training with the OEMs themselves can come in.

Those are the three things I'm seeing. I don't know if that aligns with what you're seeing.

KP: I'd like to add a little bit to that, by adding in a little bit of computer design and a bit more industrial psychology.

If you think about that level of STEM and what they're doing, and having that data analytic background introducing into reliability, if it was possible to have the unicorn, right, it's to add in a little bit of computer design, and a little bit more of psychology that's into that industrial psychology, then we would have the perfect person. Not only do they know what to do with all this data, not only do they know how to deal with it from an engineering perspective or reliability perspective, but they know how to bring it in a very easy-to-consume way. You don't need 20 different options that go through because that's more of the engineering side of the brain, you need to have a little bit more of the right side of the brain that speaks to, how can I get in? How can I get out? How can I move?

At Infor, we try to marry engineering and elegance with every R&D effort. We have a group called hook and loop. The hook and loop comes from Velcro, where you have a hook and then you have a loop that holds it in, right? And we're trying to marry that elegance with the engineering that goes through it on a regular basis. And it's very difficult to do that because not only do you have to make it to where it's user-specific, it's role-specific, it's industry-specific, it's geography-specific, and perhaps now it's device-specific. It's getting to the business challenges you want to be able to get and it can be reproducible and configurable for the next opportunity. I tell you, for these men and women that are coming out of school, these new professionals, I really think the world is a lot different in terms of the types of tools that they're ready to use.

The only thing I fear for them is what's going to happen and what happens all the time is they get all these new tools, they're excited, they're jazzed, they're ready to go, and then they go into the industries and the customers that you and I have seen and they see the green screens. And they're like, "What? What is this? I thought Windows 3.1 died. But it's still running, right back there, I saw it, it's still around!" They have an opportunity to be able to do great things in reliability and do great things in asset performance, so I really think the pandemic impacts in these natures that we talk about in return to liability has really given us a new dimension into the future, and really into the immediate future.

PS: I agree, these new professionals are whip-smart and we're lucky to work with one right now. He's working out in North Carolina. He's writing a new blog for us about taking reliability best practices and applying them to SMBs, which is where he works at a smaller plant. You mentioned an important thing about psychology, that a lot of times it can take persuading from the ground up too (to improve reliability). When reliability professionals want to bring in a champion or champions onboard, for our last question of the podcast, could you talk a little bit about what it takes from that ground-level perspective? Is it a little psychology, a little benchmarking, KPI/ROI persuasion? What does it take to bring the champion onboard?

KP: Well, first off, that was quick. It's our last question. We need to do this again so that we can be able to have more time. You know, we could always do it at a bar and just record. That'd be fun, too.

The things that I think are going to matter the most is how can you take that ground-level example that you're looking for and make sense of it at that C-suite level? In order to be able to do that, you need to understand the use case, you need to understand the value that comes behind it. Our ownership now is Koch Industries, they've invested in us several times, and they've written books on this type of thing, market-based management. There's a book called "Good Profit" that's by Charles Koch. One of the reasons why they're successful is because they have a relationship with good profit, where what we mean by that is, we're able to bring value to our customers to the extent that it increases their profit, reduces our cost, and is sustainable and reliable.

What we do to be able to get to that point is we go through something called a DMF, which is a decision-making framework. It looks at that use case, understands the economic benefit that it can have to the organization at every level, what the end goals could be, what the framework elements could be in the impact of perhaps production, either reducing costs, increasing margin, or the safety that we offer in that production process. Or maybe it's a service that we do, but the idea is to really go deep and understand how that impact can be made.

When we think about that approach, it's really collaborative because it could start at the very, very lowest level of someone saying, "I got a plan. I got an idea." Well, that's good. But put it on a framework that we can actually communicate and we can collaborate, and we can begin to articulate both qualitative and quantitatively the value that we can bring. And then, "Well, how do we do that? I don't know where to go. I just know that every time this asset fails, this is the reason why." Well, great, but let's document it out. Let's go through it.

You have to bring about a culture that understands how to identify that, how to be able to justify it. And when you do that, you'll find that, "Hey, man, you need to do some investment in X types of tools for monitoring. Maybe you need to upgrade your asset management system, maybe upgrade the equipment, maybe you need to upgrade the collection processes built in. So you can't do that unless you have the investments. We got to prove that."

So let's build a framework for how decisions work. Let's build a framework for how collaborations work. And then we'll rise it through each rank. Because if we're able to improve the process/product, make it safer, make it more reliable, make it more sustainable, then it's going to help the next person above, and the next person above, and the next person above, the next person above. When you get to that point where the C-level is going to take interest, they're going to be taking interest because of the positive effect that it has, which is the good profit that we're able to provide our customers. If we're able to provide a good profit for them, we're able to get good profit ourselves. The idea behind that whole partnership, that equilibrium that we have between the two is one of the reasons why I think it's important to bring in collaboration feedback from every level of the organization so that it affects the C-suite. But to do that, it really needs to be structured.

That calibration exercise that you want to with the new equipment that you want to buy, and the new tools that you want to buy for calibration, makes sense. But you need to be able to structure it in a way that we can be able to grow it, build it. It doesn't mean that you can say no, but you're going to build it up, so by the time it blossoms its way to a decision-making authority, it makes sense.

What also is important is once you make that decision, you have a standard by which it can be measured for success. You always want to have decision made but at the end of the day, you don't want to forget why you did it, and you want to make sure you have an impact and documented the impact. That's why it becomes repeatable as it starts to go through.

So these are the things that we see here generally. We argue all the time about what feature function to add or what product to build or what market to go after. But a lot of times we could be the kingdom of no, because we want you to sell it first. We want you to make sure that it makes sense first. And if it does, then it's easy to define and justify. We'll invest in anything that can help our customers. But it's hard to get to that C-suite definitely if you don't have that structure. I think with the tech, with the goals, with the use cases that we have now, it's a lot easier. It's just got to be framework in a big way.

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