Four big issues determine how well you realize software's benefits

May 2, 2003
How you deal with four issues determines whether you achieve a full realization of the benefits that software promises

When discussions turn to getting the most out a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), it's surprising to see how many companies just don't get it. Some claim their hopelessly antiquated systems are why they've failed to get the most out of the package. Others say they bought the wrong software, or argue that users aren't doing what they're supposed to do. The real opportunity to exploit even a legacy CMMS starts with resolving nasty issues that have plagued a company for years--issues that usually have little to do with the system per se.

Too often, fundamental philosophical, policy, procedural or management issues--not system issues--impede attempts to maximize the value of a CMMS. Indeed, the system may fit the needs and technical specifications of the company perfectly, yet there is no agreement on how the tool can best be used. Radical change may be required to break the deep-rooted habits of the past.

Three issues

Philosophical issues speak to the company's culture, management style and philosophy. Policy issues guide employees on conducting business. Procedural issues ensure policies are followed correctly. Management issues arise when a tradesperson isn't adhering to policy or following procedures and management fails to take action.

Here are some of the more common philosophical, policy, procedural and management questions companies wrestle with--from CMMS installation to working with the program long after implementation. If these issues are not dealt with before implementing a new system, everyone will blame the CMMS for continuing problems. In some cases, these issues can affect system specification if not resolved properly. However, each issue has a component that's independent of the software in use.

For example, a common philosophical issue is the extent to which machine operators are expected to maintain equipment. This factor may not affect system requirements because the system doesn't really care whether a maintenance worker or production worker performed the work, entered the data or printed the reports. However, the success or failure of the entire CMMS implementation can rest with this single issue.

Unless operators begin to approach equipment care and maintenance in the same way they now care about product quality, maintenance workers will feel it's a waste of time to complete an endless string of work orders for the same problems. Operators will complain the system isn't improving the maintenance response time or the quality of the repairs. Maintenance, on the other hand, will insist nobody reads the CMMS reports to see that poorly trained operators who don't care about the equipment are causing repeated problems.

For companies that already implemented a CMMS, problems are compounded by the fact that people have begun to mistrust the system--some even blame it--making it more difficult to identify and resolve true issues. Any continuous improvement initiative, such as Lean Manufacturing or Total Quality Management, can find, prioritize and eliminate barriers to change. The difficulty is influencing people's attitudes and changing long-term behavior at every organizational level. The following questions can help uncover philosophical, policy, procedural and management issues that need to be addressed.

What is the role of the maintenance supervisor, planner, storekeeper and others regarding the CMMS?

Who has what level of access into which modules, menus, reports and functions?

What will be the responsibilities of the person administering the system?

To what degree can users manipulate screens design, menus and reports?

What portion of maintenance costs, if any, should be charged to production departments? Should spare parts be expensed when issued from stores or when purchased? What about consumables such as nuts, bolts and safety supplies? What about capital projects that require stock items?

Should fixed asset and accounting work center numbers from the accounting department be adopted or cross-referenced in the CMMS?

Should labor hours recorded by the CMMS be transferred to the payroll system electronically or should a separate data collection exist for payroll purposes? How often should information pass to the payroll system?

Are operators granted the authority to initiate work requests? How can a proliferation of repeat, unnecessary or vague work requests be avoided? Who determines work request priority? Can work requests be phoned in or passed verbally to tradespeople walking by?

Who should plan and assign work orders to individual tradespeople?

Should contracted services be used, and to what degree, instead of internal maintenance resources?

Who has the authority (e.g., tradespeople, supervisors, maintenance management, maintenance purchasing, general purchasing) to order what material? What about during emergency downtime? How can rush orders be minimized?

How are spare parts and consumables kept outside central stores (at the production line, on trucks, with an outside contractor) to be accounted for and located? How will stock issuance outside of the day shift be controlled?

Should work orders include estimated labor hours? If so, who is to provide the estimates and from which source (historical records, engineering standards) are they to be derived?

Should work orders be issued before material can be made available?

When tradespeople fulfilling a work order identify follow-on work, should they expand the existing work order or begin a new one?

How will a supervisor's or a planner's time be accounted for when planning a large jobs?

What approval levels are appropriate? What alternate approval process should be used when the approving authority is unavailable?

Should a job that's beginning to exceed the original estimated cost be re-approved?

Will variance to estimated labor hours be used as a tool for disciplining a maintenance worker? What action will be taken, and by whom, if variances occur? How big must the variance be to trigger such action?

How often will operations require what form of feedback (on-line, daily, weekly)?

What is the appropriate level of detail for a preventive maintenance routine? What measures ensure preventive maintenance routines are completed satisfactorily?

Should operators perform preventive maintenance routines? Should these routines be recorded in the CMMS? Should operators input data into the system on their own?

Should maintenance workers input their own work order and time information? How should it be done (at a terminal or using a handheld device)?

To what degree should the head office or larger plants in a multi-plant environment influence which CMMS package should be run in each plant? Should the head office force small plants to adopt the maintenance module of an enterprise-wide ERP solution?

Contributing Editor David Berger can be reached at [email protected].

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