There is nothing like healthy skepticism over the claim that PAS 55 provides clarity, best practices, and international standards for how companies should manage their physical assets. The British Standards Institution first published Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 55 in 2004 after years of collaboration among consultants and private sector companies under the direction of the Institute of Asset Management, a not-for-profit organization. PAS 55 was revised in 2008 after consultation with a bigger group representing more industries and more countries. More recently, the International Standards Organization (ISO) used PAS 55 as a basis for development of the ISO 55000 set of international standards for asset management.
So, why the skepticism when the intention of reputable companies seems to be making the world a better place, through the sharing of asset management best practices? What could possibly be wrong with such noble intentions? Although many companies will be breathing a sigh of relief that asset management is finally getting the attention it deserves on the world stage, others remember their not-so-pleasant experience with ISO 9000, Malcolm Baldridge Award, or other quality-related standards and programs first developed in the 1980s. In fact, the debate still rages between staunch defenders of standards and awards and the skeptics. This column examines both sides of the debate as it relates to PAS 55 or any asset management standard you might consider for your company.
Myths or facts?
It is still in the early days for PAS 55 and ISO 55000, so time will tell whether or not any of the following criticisms voiced by non-believers are justifiable facts, half truths, or unfair myths:
1. Money spent on PAS 55 is better spent on simply fixing my highest-impact problems. The experience of many companies seeking ISO 9000 and other standards was that it was costly, time-consuming, and a huge drain on human resources. Believers in PAS 55 might argue “no pain, no gain,” — the benefits outweigh the costs. Non-believers might counter that, even if that were true, what if greater benefits could be achieved by spending the equivalent money differently?
For example, suppose one option for a given company is to spend money on PAS 55 certification. This might include:
- conducting an assessment
- providing training to employees
- implementing changes to policies and procedures to address gaps highlighted by the assessment, such as developing an asset management strategy, making better use of the CMMS, increasing communications between management and maintainers, and developing KPIs
- becoming certified in PAS 55
- maintaining certification.
Alternatively, suppose management just focuses on using the CMMS to conduct a weekly, monthly, year-to-date, and multi-year Pareto analysis of problem and cause codes as entered on work orders, in order to determine the highest-impact incidents, the relevant assets/components at risk, and the underlying root causes. The objective would be to spend money on minimizing the most costly, highest-risk, highest-impact problems and their root causes through changes to:
- the work program (frequency of PMs or inspections)
- maintenance policies (implement redundant assets or components, switch from a policy of “run to failure” to “condition-based maintenance”)
- training (bring in the equipment manufacturer to help train maintainers or operators in proper maintenance and operation of the equipment)
- the organizational structure (adding a skill set such as a skilled technician, maintenance planner, or reliability engineer)
- equipment design (adding a monitoring and control loop for early detection and failure prevention, using a part made of a stronger material to prevent failure).
Which option would be more beneficial for the same dollars spent and level of effort? Believers in PAS 55 would argue this is more of a question of priorities and timing. Skeptics might respond that money is always better spent by focusing on the cost of poor maintenance, that is, identifying and minimizing high-impact problems through root cause analysis.
2. There is no such thing as a “best practice” — standards sound great in theory but are of no practical value to our company. A key component of standards such as PAS 55 is to assess the gap between best practices and those of your company. This has serious flaws, argue the skeptics, since there is no such thing as best practices. For example, what is the ideal supervisor-to-maintainer, or planner-to-maintainer ratio? Although most experts would say something like 1:15 and 1:50, respectively, the reality is it depends on so many factors, such as how spread out your facilities are, the number of trades, the need for shift coverage, the years of experience of maintainers, the culture of the workforce, and the type and lifecycle of the assets.
Non-believers in PAS 55 might resent having their company evaluated based on some seemingly arbitrary standards of excellence which may or may not apply. Believers might argue that the people conducting the assessments are highly knowledgeable in maintenance practices and can take these differences into consideration. Skeptics then argue that the standards are therefore irrelevant if they are so subjective, and the money is better spent on consulting rather than certification.
3. PAS 55 is only relevant to large, British companies, especially utilities. Although this may have been true based on who was involved in creating PAS 55, it is certainly less true now, given the number of countries, breadth of industry sectors, and range of company sizes that have had input since PAS 55 was first published. Believers would also argue that best practices in asset management are relevant to all assets everywhere. Skeptics might argue that, although improvements have been made, the standard still speaks primarily to larger asset-intensive companies, and PAS 55 is overkill and irrelevant for most companies in terms of cost/benefit.
4. PAS 55 is more about optics than substance. Some skeptics feel that standards such as PAS 55:
- provide notoriety and yet another get-rich-quick opportunity for consultants
- give new purpose and power to standards organizations and supporting industry associations
- provide a marketing opportunity for CMMS vendors with no change to the actual software
- put undue pressure on companies to become certified for the sole purpose of appeasing a major customer, regulatory body, auditor, senior management group, shareholder, financial analyst, or the public.
PAS 55 is more about being seen to be doing something, rather than the substance of doing the right thing, say the non-believers. Believers in PAS 55 are quick to point to the track record and benefits enjoyed by companies that have become PAS 55 certified. These companies make claims such as the following:
- We have implemented improvements to the way business is done, including our culture, processes, measurement, and organizational design.
- The resulting discipline yields significant cost reductions, from 10-30% of lifecycle costs.
- PAS 55 can be used to gain competitive advantage in our industry.
- Compliance with standards gives our employees clarity as to the work that must be done and how best to accomplish it, as well as a sense of pride and ownership.
All very well, say the skeptics, but there are many other ways to achieve these same results without the cost and overhead associated with embracing PAS 55.
You be the judge
As in a court of law, better decisions are made after hearing all sides of an argument. At stake here is the value proposition of compliance with standards such as PAS 55 and ultimately the ISO 55000 series, and how that compares with other improvement strategies. You be the judge as to whether or not PAS 55 is in your company’s best interests.