When the reality of CMMS implementation and use falls short of ‘pot-of-gold’ expectations, knowledge and experience can help bridge the gap. But where do you get it?
By John Reeve, Cohesive Information Solutions, Inc.
The consultants had signed in at the front desk and the management team joined them in the conference room. The project leader started the meeting by reviewing its purpose, which purportedly was to discuss lessons learned and other opportunities relating to reliability, process efficiency and, most important, overall use of the company’s CMMS. Something was left unsaid, however. This gathering had a hidden agenda: to evaluate the consultants.
Following obligatory introductions and opening remarks, the consultants launched into a litany of observations, opportunities and recommendations. The assembled management team—already vastly familiar with consultant presentations—wanted value for its money. Not everyone in the room, however, was sure they needed outside help. Still, the consultants thought they were doing pretty well until one of the plant managers asked, “What company can we visit that has industry best practices for asset management and is also using the same CMMS software we do?”
A member of the consultant team responded quickly: “That type of client organization may not exist.” Just as quickly, he realized this response fell short of expectations. The room had grown silent, indicating that the managers were curious, they would probably judge the capabilities of the consulting firm based on the consultants’ answer to this one question.
Suddenly, a second consultant stood up and drew an illustration on the white board—it depicted a long rainbow that disappeared into a golden pot. The implication was clear: Management’s goal was worthy, but perhaps unrealistic.
The elusive pot of gold
The managers gathered in the conference room that day assumed the consultants had many experiences to share. Thus, if they were as good as they claimed to be, they should be able to point to and arrange a visit to a client site with a bona fide CMMS success story. Seeing, after all, is believing.
The consultant team understood the intent of the question—and also knew of many companies with various best practices. Unfortunately, they also realized that no single site encompassed all of the best practices the management team might want or need to see. They encouraged the managers to expand their thoughts.
While the consultants agreed that the type of requested site visit could be of great value, they suggested that some additional questions needed to be asked and clarifications made, including:
- Because a single company might not exist with all of the desired best practices, which among several companies that meet best-practice criteria should be included?
- Must the visited companies all be in the same industry as the prospective client? For example, Henry Ford came up with his idea for the assembly line when he visited a hog farm. Thus, it can be acceptable for a company to go outside its own industry when looking for improvement ideas.
- Is the definition for “best practice” clear? If each mana-ger in the conference room were asked to write down his/her idea for best practice design, would they have similar answers?
- Creative solutions to complex problems can be found in many places, even outside the prospective client’s own company (sometimes where and when they’re least expected). Examples are applications of newer technology, clever use of a product or anything else.
- If a target best-practices company were to be identified, would they agree to such a visit? Or might that company worry about giving away competitive information?
- How many people would the visiting organization send? Are the right people available internally to make such a visit? How would it be conducted and how much time should be allocated to glean adequate information?
- What questions would be asked? The visitors would need to organize a list of topics in advance.
- Suggested topics might cover these three areas:
- 1. Software—Data content & accuracy, analytical reports, integration, KPIs, error checks
- 2. Process—CMMS SOP, standardization, business rules, definitions, advanced processes
- 3. Organization—O&M roles and responsibilities, buy-in, training, core team function, business analyst, CMMS expert, reliability team
- The visiting team might discover undesirable processes and data at a host’s site. While this would not necessarily be discussed with the host, it could still be instructional as examples of situations to avoid. These might include large/growing maintenance backlog, poor work prioritization, lack of failure analysis and many others.
Attitude and buy-in
Sometimes the best practice is simply one of cultural buy-in. Any organization can install and set up a CMMS—but a lot fewer can get everyone engaged. When it comes to staff engagement and buy-in on this issue, many questions can arise:
- Are all levels aware of the importance of creating a true knowledge base and analytical reporting?
- Do the skilled trades understand the system’s purpose?
- Is there fear among some that CMMS is a tool to micro-manage personnel?
- Are work orders created for all work performed?
- Is completed work properly documented and closed out?
- How does management plan to create buy-in?
Some believe this process is like raising children: Countless parents have figured it out—their children become respectful, self-motivated and want to do the right thing. Others never get the hang of it. When dealing with industrial maintenance and reliability professionals, it can be important to remember that the best of the best do not need a rule for every field on the screen.
The purpose of benchmarking
Visiting other organizations for the purpose of mutual self-improvement—one type of benchmarking—is itself a best practice. Most consultants can help with the decision to do this based on the previously noted conditions. Once the decision to visit another operation is made, the benefits become clear: Visitors will get to see how others implement, use and benefit from their CMMS software. Other activities can be used to reinforce this knowledge, including:
- Research—Read as much as possible about subject of interest in books, trade magazines and on the Internet. Become a student of asset and reliability management.
- Training—Attend training classes on specialty topics, such as failure analysis, analytical reporting, advanced scheduling and others.
- Virtual participation—View online user forums and follow threads of interest or start your own topics. Be part of a debate.
- Attend industry events — These include user-group meetings and trade events. Listen to presentations, take notes and establish new contacts. Ask questions.
The purpose of consultants
Experience does matter. Over a 10-year period, a seasoned consultant may visit up to 50 client organizations. But even that many visits may not be enough to discover a best-of-the-best site.
The one thing a consultant can usually claim is that he/she has found and documented best practices. It’s with this knowledge base that they can provide extensive thought leadership across
all areas of asset, work and reliability management.
Within any consulting firm you’ll find a mix of managers, programmers and working-level consultants. In many cases, management-level staff began as working-level consult-ants and, thus, have knowledge of both software and industry-leading practices that can be of enormous value to clients. The working-level consultants on their staffs can be expected to have knowledge of implementation and operational challenges based on the real-world events they regularly encounter in the field. They also would have documented trends and practices—good and bad—and know which advanced processes add true return on investment (ROI).
A formal CMMS review by consultants can take weeks—if not months. Such systems are complex: Even if the software is best-of-breed, processes surrounding it can be weak. So, on a visit by a prospective customer’s team to an actual clientsite, how many questions is it reasonable to ask? A checklist can help visitors stay focused. The team should also be careful to not overwhelm the host organization, meaning the review should be completed in a day or less. In today’s busy workplace, it’s hard to get all stakeholders in the same meeting at the same time. (Nor would you want a meeting that large.) Based on these facts, a site visit requires considerable pre-trip preparation by the visiting organization.
While the process of determining sites to visit and questions to ask don’t have to involve a consultant, there can be a value in doing so. Consultants can leverage the experience of others on their staffs not just to come up with a list of relevant questions to ask, but to identify client sites that are open to such visits. Do the math: A staff of 20 consultants with 10 years of field work each brings a total of 200 man-years of experience to the table. It can also be helpful to have a third-party make the initial contact.
Considering a consultant? Keep the following questions and answers in mind.
Question: What do you do when you are already world-class?
ANSWER: It’s good to be confident, but better to seek ongoing improvement. There is value in performing a formal CMMS system and process review, which includes a long-range (five-year) plan. If you stand still, the odds are great you will get passed by.
Question: What can go wrong when implementing the world’s best CMMS?
ANSWER: The software is the easy part. The real magic is in the surrounding process and procedure. Don’t assume software will fix poor process. And remember that advanced processes have the most prerequisites.
Question: How do you create a true knowledge base within the CMMS?
ANSWER: This is the most challenging goal. Supporting elements include: buy-in, asset-management vision, clear roles and responsibilities, business rules, training and error checking. With accurate data, you can create real business intelligence, improve decision-making and manage by exception. Otherwise, you could be entering bad data on “day two,” the period immediately following go-live.
Question: How do we prepare for tomorrow’s inevitable change?ANSWER: Recognize that change can be in the form of new technology, government regulations or an industry accident. Good companies expect change. Your ability to react quickly can make the difference.
A strong organization welcomes change. It understands the importance of benchmarking activities and continuous improvement. A strong organization will also periodically engage consulting services to help its team identify new ideas, discuss trends and review opportunities for improvement.
Consultants expect management teams to ask tough questions. Accordingly, they work hard to be the ones in the room with the best knowledge to solve whatever problems you throw at them—and help your organization find that pot of gold at the end of your rainbow. MT
John Reeve has spent 25+ years supporting CMMS/EAM users across a wide range of industries. Today, as a Manager and Senior Consultant with Cohesive Information Solutions, he serves as Practice Leader for Maintenance & Reliability Solutions. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.