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A big impact for big business: digitizing operations and maintenance

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Overseeing operations, maintenance, and reliability (OM&R) functions at multiple capital-intensive facilities is big business. From producing constraint-free maintenance plans to anticipating and eliminating potential delays through meticulous planning, the maintenance and reliability industry is under pressure to deliver, and have a significant impact on a company’s ability to generate consistent quarterly profits. When maintenance managers make poor decisions, the profitability of the entire field operation can be put in jeopardy. What happens when the business of maintenance is suboptimally managed? Let’s consider a few examples:

1. Lack of pre-emptive and emergency planning

No one thinks a terrible event is going to happen to them until it does. Fires, floods, attacks, storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters can strike a business at any time. When maintenance is not prepared for emergencies, operations come to a grinding halt, causing downtime and significant revenue loss for untenable periods of time. Examples of poor management that can lead to emergencies include:

  • Key assets and machinery not diligently monitored

  • Lack of staff training on evacuation protocols and procedures

  • Business continuity plans are non-existent or incomplete

  • Failures have not been preempted

  • Asset warranties are not enforced

  • Siloed documentation

When a crisis strikes in a suboptimally managed facility, the unfolding disaster is clear to imagine.

2. Underestimating the importance of contractor management

Operations, maintenance and reliability is not just big business, it's a high priority business. In the mix of multiple competing high priority tasks, the development of efficient processes and procedures for managing contractors is frequently deprioritized. Outsourcing to contractors is common, 87% of facilities outsource at least a part of the maintenance operations due to lack of personnel or specialized skills. [1]

Lack of contractor management combined with siloed data is a recipe for disaster. Contractors cannot get the right information to complete contracts in a timely manner,, communication between contractors and the maintenance teams is stilted and incomplete, and legal documents including service-level agreements (SLAs) are poorly defined.This results in overages, delays, and a negative impact on profitability.

3. Adhering to ‘if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t fix-it’ mindset when it comes to change

While there are many progressive, proactive people in the business of operations, maintenance, and reliability, the business remains slow to change. The challenge lies within the industry itself. There is a perception that the cost of change will be monumental due to the size of assets involved. Let’s consider this perception.

First, consider a few of the objectives of the maintenance business (we dive into this in more detail in our next post):

  1. Maintaining the capability of the company's assets to perform their designed function, thereby maximizing the company's return on assets and increasing shareholder value

  2. Maximizing production or operational throughput

  3. Identifying and implementing cost reductions

  4. Optimizing maintenance resources like labor, materials, contract

Now consider that in 2023, many OM&R personnel are still attempting to capture and process data manually, perpetuating the inefficiencies and mistakes of the past two and half centuries. This could be due to lack of executive buy-in regarding new technology, lack of time, or lack of personnel to set up new systems. Despite a myriad of factors, there’s an underlying mindset of “we’ve done this for years and it works fine”.

Sure it works. ‘Fine’ is a stretch. But continuing to resist change is not going to help you achieve any of the goals we’ve highlighted.. Data will remain siloed. Human error due to the need to enter the same data multiple times into different systems will prevail. Finding data will continue to be a time-consuming challenge. Aggregating data will remain an impossible dream, and data visualization and contextualization will continue to live in the realm of tomorrow-land.

Clearly, it’s necessary that the business of OM&R steps into the future and embraces digital transformation. When done well, it can make the entire organization part of the solution by ensuring the right maintenance on the right assets at the right time. These are the 6 key steps in creating an effective maintenance and reliability plan, and they look very much like any other critical management 101 plan:

  1. Create an outline of the organization measuring performance against a set of best practices and permissible variances. This is the benchmark and should consider technology, expertise, management, work culture, and work processes.

  2. Establish goals, objectives, policies and procedures including a plan for improvement to close the gaps identified in step one. This could include developing and optimizing processes, integrating new systems, or planning for training.This should be based on a ranking of the operation’s assets based on their criticality to the business.

  3. Carry out the plan based on the unbiased prioritization of the assets.

  4. Define the maintenance requirements based on the maintenance strategy employed (preventive, reactive, CMMS, predictive, reliability-centered, etc.)

  5. Determine the annual workload to carry out the plan, then deploy tools and allocate resources.

  6. Continuously improve to meet and beat measurable objectives.

At the end of the day, disruption has become the new normal for many industries. Those that are embracing change and using it to their advantage are much more likely to stay competitive. Understanding how to navigate change and better prepare for disruption is the key to maintaining the health and future of your organization. In fact, it is likely to be far more costly in the long run to continue to resist digitalization and change in favor of unrelentingly clinging to the old ways. For many, it’s not technology that will replace you, people who use technology will.

In an upcoming post, we’ll look at the many competing objectives of maintenance and reliability businesses. Later, we’ll share how you can avoid those three impacts of sub-optimal maintenance management.

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