21st Century Maintenance Organization
One of the contributing factors to the Maintenance Crisis is that boomers are not just retiring but major thought leaders are departing to eternity. We lost several years ago the wisdom and energy of John Moubray author of numerous books on RCM and Maintenance Management strategies that revolutionized industry processes and practices. In honor of John, I am posting a column he gave me on the 21st Century Maintenance Organization. 10 years after original publication, I would love to hear from industry to validate whether this approach still applies or not. So please review and get back to me at Joel@SkillTV.net
21st CENTURY MAINTENANCE ORGANIZATION
by John Moubray
When talking to maintenance managers from organizations spanning all major industry sectors in more than 40 countries around the world, it is apparent that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the precise role of the maintenance function. Should it be cen-tralized or decentralized? To what extent (if at all) should maintenance be outsourced? What is the “ideal” maintenance strategy? Above all, what exactly is – or should be - the role of the “maintenance” manager?
Underlying this uncertainty is a widespread feeling that the maintenance department as a whole lacks the organizational clout to do whatever needs to be done to achieve really world-class equipment performance.
This paper explores these issues, by comparing and contrasting current approaches to the management of financial and human assets with the management of physical assets. It ends by proposing a new approach to physical asset management organization that could transform the effectiveness - and the stature - of the people involved in the management of physical assets.
What follows reflects the opinions of the author, which in turn are based on more than thirty years of experience in the field of physical asset management. This experience includes direct and indirect personal exposure to more than 1 000 maintenance organi-zations and tens of thousands of maintenance people at all levels.
It should be noted that I have not encountered any organization designed exactly along the lines suggested in this paper, but I have also not encountered any physical asset management department that enjoys the same level of respect and influence as the finance department among the top executives of any organization. What follows might be a way to remedy this situation.
2 THE STATUS QUO
A wide variety of issues affect the current state – and status – of the maintenance function in industry around the world. Some of these are organizational and others are technical. The most important are discussed in the following paragraphs.
Traditional maintenance organizations
In some organizations, one finds highly centralized departments responsible for all aspects of physical asset management. The re-sponsibilities of these centralized departments include specifying, acquiring, installing and commissioning new plant; formulating maintenance policies; specifying, installing and operating maintenance planning and control systems; managing spare parts stocks; executing maintenance tasks and even in some cases looking after site services (water, steam, air, power distribution and so on). These departments tend to be large, with dozens and sometimes hundreds of employees reporting ultimately to one overall head of engineering.
In other cases, especially in North America, “engineering” is separated from “maintenance”. The former is responsible for the specification, acquisition and deployment of new plant (nearly always capital projects), while the latter looks after all aspects of maintenance after the plant has been commissioned.
The “business unit” concept
The above two models tended to dominate maintenance organization design until about fifteen years ago. At that point, a major new trend started to emerge in the structure of business undertakings.
This was the growth of the “business unit” concept. In essence, this concept entails sub-dividing larger undertakings into busi-ness units, usually centered around specific products or services. When these units are formed, the maintenance department is often broken up at the same time and most, if not all, of its personnel allocated to the business units.
Over the same period, we have seen another huge leap in automation. In mines and factories, the numbers of operators have shrunk by an order of magnitude as machines have taken over more and more of the duties that used to be performed by humans. In the case of some systems, such as certain types of military equipment, pumping stations and automated transport and material handling systems, there are no operators on site at all. These systems are “driven” by computer programs, with occasional additional guid-ance provided by people in control rooms sometimes located hundreds of miles away. These people are doing less and less physi-cally to operate the machines. As discussed later, their role is becoming largely a matter of dealing with exception conditions.
Maintenance cost reduction
Nearly all maintenance departments nowadays face intense pressure to reduce direct expenditure on maintenance. Some of this pressure arises from a need to remain competitive in the world of business and/or competition within the organization for financial resources. However, much of it seems to arise from a sort of vague belief on the part of senior executives that if it is possible to reduce expenditure on operations people by (say) 40%, then it should be possible to reduce maintenance costs by a similar amount. This belief loses sight of the fact that one of the main factors that has enabled organizations to achieve huge increases in the prod-uctivity of their operators has been increased mechanization and automation – in other words, replacing people with machines. These machines need maintenance. Under these circumstances, huge reductions in direct operating costs should if anything be accompanied by an increase in direct maintenance expenditure, because too little expenditure on maintenance reduces equipment reliability and hence productivity.
The problem of underfunding is made worse by the fact that most maintenance managers are unable to specify with adequate precision:
- the “safe minimum” that must be spent on maintenance (especially proactive maintenance)
- what consequences the organization faces if they do not spend it.
This despite the fact that tools which enable them to specify both with great precision have been available for over a decade.
(All this having been said, there is no doubt that it is often possible to reduce maintenance costs to some extent by making more effective use of maintenance resources. However, the real scope for such reductions while still delivering a safe and effective main-tenance service is much more limited than is generally believed.)
One final major area of change has been the technology of maintenance itself. The comfortable certainties of thirty years ago about asset care, which tended to based on fixed-interval overhauls and component replacements, have been found in many cases to be a waste of time and often actively counterproductive. These needless overhauls cost a fortune in terms of both maintenance expendi-ture and equipment downtime – and hence lost production – while contributing little or nothing in terms of improved equipment reliability.
Many organizations have become aware of the invalidity of fixed interval overhauls, and have reacted with a massive swing towards predictive or condition-based maintenance. In some cases, this swing showing signs of going too far, and is in danger of reaching the point where predictive technologies are being employed either at the expense of arguably even more important tasks such as failure-finding, or where they are simply another expensive waste of time.
The consequences of the status quo
All these issues have had the following results:
• where “engineering” is separated from “maintenance”, there is a tendency for the former to acquire assets with little thought given to their long-term maintenance requirements. This lack of foresight means that the maintenance function has to spend vast amounts of time and money dealing with reliability problems that should have been anticipated and eliminated on the drawing board. It is also a simple fact that in organizational terms, two smaller departments that operate independently are usually much less influential than one larger, more focused department.
• the fragmentation of the maintenance department and its dispersal into various business units has reduced its overall influence within the organization. Where this has occurred, the only maintenance management units (if any) that tend to survive on a cen-tralized basis are a small group in charge of an often not-very-highly-regarded CMMS, and perhaps a few specialists in advanced condition monitoring techniques.
• the growth in automation has meant that, at the man/machine interface, the role of operators has mainly become a matter of gaug-ing, measuring and monitoring, then reacting to abnormal conditions (most of which could be classified as “failures”), rather than “operating” the plant. Many of these activities could in fact be classified as maintenance rather than operations, which means that the distinction between operators and maintainers is steadily disappearing. In some industries, this distinction is being blurred even further by a drive to allocate more and more conventional maintenance tasks to operators. For instance, this is a cornerstone of the TPM philosophy, as well as being a frequent outcome of processes like RCM. So even where centralized maintenance departments still exist, operations people are taking over more and more responsibility for the execution of maintenance tasks.
• excessive reduction in maintenance expenditure means that there is not enough money to carry out the minimum of maintenance needed to ensure that the physical assets continue to function reliably and safely, and also that there is not enough to do an adequate job of establishing appropriate maintenance policies to begin with. Continued starvation of resources means that this situation gets steadily worse – a classic vicious circle
• an awareness that many fixed-interval overhauls did nothing to improve equipment reliability led many operations people to form the opinion that the whole idea of “PM” is a complete waste of time. Sadly, some of them also began to form an equally low opi-nion of the maintenance people who were promoting these expensive and often useless ideas. This did nothing for the stature of the maintenance function. (There is also a danger that excessive, inappropriate use of predictive maintenance could further erode the credibility of the whole idea of proactive maintenance.)
• the loss of stature of the maintenance department has further eroded its ability to influence the rest of the organization. In many undertakings, the point has been reached where the maintenance function has completely lost control of its own destiny. In the opinion of the author, the loss of faith in the ability of internal maintenance departments to deliver a service that is considered to be satisfactory by its main customers – the operations people – is a major reason why maintenance so often seems to be the first candidate for outsourcing. There seems to be an (often unstated and usually incorrect) belief that if our own people can’t get it right, then perhaps someone else can.
All these developments have contributed to feelings of confusion and occasional demoralization in the world of maintenance. (This does not mean that all maintenance departments and their managers have reached this state. However, nearly all are suffering from some of these problems to some extent.).
The rest of this paper explores ways out of this maze. It does so by comparing and contrasting typical physical asset manage-ment organizations with the design of the two other major asset management support functions – those associated with the manage-ment of financial assets and of human resources. These comparisons are used to draw conclusions about how not only maintenance but the world of physical asset management as a whole could be restructured in such a way that it becomes recognised as a vital contributor to the long-term health of the organizations that it serves, and its practitioners acknowledged accordingly.
In order to place the major asset management support functions in context, we first consider the value chain.
3 THE VALUE CHAIN
The function of all organized forms of human endeavour is to take a primary input, add value to it and dispose of the output. In manufacturing, the primary inputs are raw materials, value is added by converting these materials into something else, and disposal entails selling them to customers. In mining, the input consists of ore, value is added by extracting and refining the minerals in the ore, and the minerals are disposed of by selling them to manufacturers. This logic also applies to services. For instance:
• in retail organizations the primary inputs are finished goods acquired in bulk, value is added by moving the goods to a location and displaying them in a fashion convenient to the customer. Disposal occurs when the customer actually buys the goods
• in hospitals, the primary input is sick people to whom “value” is added by curing their illnesses, and the output (hopefully) is healthy people
• in entertainment - the theater, professional sports, the cinema - the input is people seeking to be entertained. “Value” is added by providing entertainment, and the output is entertained people
• in transport, the input is people or goods in one location, value is added by moving them, and the output is people or goods set down in a new location. The same applies to telecommunications, except that words and/or images are transferred instead of people and goods.
Nearly all value chains, especially those associated with for-profit businesses, consist of three main organizational elements. At one end, one finds the raw materials procurement function. In the middle is the “operations” department, which is responsible for operating the value adding process(es). At the other end is the sales/marketing function, which has to locate potential customers and persuade them to acquire the output of the value adding process.
These three principal organizational functions are supplemented by major support functions associated with the management of assets.
All value chains need three types of assets to function. These are financial assets, human assets (more commonly referred to as “human resources”) and physical assets. All three categories must be managed appropriately in order to ensure that they support the value adding process efficiently and effectively. The detailed processes and procedures that amount to “appropriate management” are very different for each of the three categories. However, although the details may differ, the basic elements are common in all three cases, as discussed in the next sections of this paper.
4 BASIC ASSET MANAGEMENT
What must be done to manage the three categories of assets can be divided into seven elements, as follows:
1. functional specification: decide what each asset must do to make the value-adding process as a whole function
2. “design” specification: decide what the asset must be in order to do it
3. acquisition and deployment: acquire and deploy the assets
4. maintenance: sustain - and where necessary replenish - the assets in such a way that they continue to make the required contribution to the value adding process
5. disposal: dispose of the assets when they can no longer fulfil the required functions or when they are no longer needed
6. compliance: monitor and ensure compliance with laws and regulations governing the use of the assets
7. scorekeeping: prepare “key performance indicators” (KPI’s) that show how well the assets are making their required contribution to the value-adding process
The following paragraphs consider these elements in more detail for each of the three categories of assets.
4.1 Financial Assets
In nearly all undertakings, the finance department is a separate organization with well-established and clearly defined roles and res-ponsibilities. In terms of the seven elements outlined above, these are as follows:
1. Functional specifications
Deciding what finance must do entails deciding what funds are needed to set up and operate the value chain. This requirement is usually expressed in the form of financial models that forecast cash flows and capital requirements on the basis of detailed budgets. It is usually also the responsibility of the finance department to develop the processes used to establish these budgets.
2. Design specifications
When setting up the organization, deciding what the finance must be entails deciding what combinations of debt and equity (or grants) are needed to start up the value-adding process. Thereafter, it entails establishing whether projected revenues are sufficient to sustain the process, or whether these need to be supplemented by further combinations of debt, equity and/or grants.
3. Acquisition and deployment
Acquiring financial assets entails persuading someone either to invest in the undertaking or to lend what is needed to get started. In the case of established business undertakings, the principal source of funds is revenue from sales, supplemented by the disposal of assets that are no longer needed. If additional funds (debt, equity or grants) are needed, the finance department usually plays a key role in acquiring these funds.
Sustaining financial resources is largely a matter of preserving their value. This is done by:
• guarding against theft, inflation and currency variations. This in turn entails installing procedures for ensuring that amounts actu-ally spent coincide both with what is actually delivered and with the amounts allocated. It also entails recording all financial tran-sactions and ensuring that the books “balance” at the end of each accounting period
• ensuring that debtors and creditors are managed appropriately (in other words, that debts are collected and creditors paid in accor-dance with organizational norms)
• keeping the cost of financial transactions to a minimum.
In addition, the finance department is responsible for keeping the financial asset register up to date and recording the depreciation of these assets.
Disposing of financial resources entails paying the suppliers of goods, services and labour (including employees), and where rele-vant, deciding what to do with surpluses that emerge in the form of profit. This includes the development of the procedures used to allocate funds for acquiring goods and services (purchase requisitions and purchase orders) and issuing the checks that actually pay for goods, services and labour.
In the case of financial assets, compliance means ensuring that the organization fulfils its statutory and regulatory financial obliga-tions, such as the payment of taxes and adherence to accounting codes of practice.
Financial scorekeeping consists of two principal elements:
• reconciling actual revenues and expenditures with budgets, and preparing variance reports
• preparing consolidated financial reports – balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and cash flow statements.
One very important thing that the finance department does not do is decide what is to be sold or acquired (except for goods and ser-vices needed for its own use). Those decisions are made by people in charge of the different parts of the value chain. The finance department merely ensures that the organization has the financial wherewithal to allow the value-adding process to continue to function in accordance with the mission established by its principal stakeholders.
To summarise: the finance department is very much a support function. It sets the policies and procedures that are to be fol-lowed with respect to finance by the people involved in the value chain, ensures that they follow those procedures, disposes of surplus funds, and keeps the financial score. It also arranges for the acquisition of additional financial assets when required.
This department usually consists of a small number of qualified specialists, ranging from clerks and bookkeepers to highly qualified accountants.
However, despite its small size, the finance department is immensely powerful. The overall head of this function nearly always reports directly to the Chief Executive, and is usually known as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Vice-President – Finance or Finan-cial Director. He or she nearly always has a seat on the main Board of Directors.
4.2 Human Resources
Nowadays, the human resources (HR) department is also a separate and self-contained support unit. By and large, the duties of this department are as follows:
1. Functional specifications
What people must be able to contribute to the value adding process - what they must be able to do - is defined by preparing job specifications. The role of the HR department is to develop procedures for preparing these specifications, and help other managers to apply them correctly
2. Design specifications
Decide what people must be entails deciding what combination of skills, qualifications and experience prospective employees must have in order to be able to do what is required.
3. Acquisition and deployment
The human resource acquisition process involves hiring, promoting or transferring people. Ideally these should be people who are already able and willing to do exactly what is required. However, the exact blend of required skills and motivation seldom exist in the job market. As a result, it is usually necessary to put people through a training program. This training is reinforced where nec-essary by clearly defined procedures.
Sustaining human resources requires a blend of employment conditions, leadership and ongoing training which ensures that the people continue to be able and willing to do what is required for as long as they are physically capable of doing it. The role of the HR department is to assist with the development of training programs, and in some cases to conduct the courses, especially where these deal directly with human resource management issues such as leadership. Additional functions of the HR department in this area include:
• ensuring that reward systems are reasonably consistent and fair across the organization
• developing and helping other managers to apply human performance evaluation systems
• developing and enforcing disciplinary procedures
The HR department is also responsible for compiling the human resource register and for keeping it up to date.
“Disposing” of human resources entails either redeploying or retiring them when the demands of their jobs exceed their physical capabilities, or redeploying or retrenching them if the nature of what they need to do changes – or if the people themselves change – in such a way that they are no longer the right people to do it. The role of the HR department is to develop and enforce proce-dures for ensuring that this is done as fairly and equitably as possible.
In many industries, conditions of employment are codified in the form of government regulations (governing such issues as mini-mum wages and working hours). These regulations are often supplemented by union agreements, and HR professionals tend to play a leading role in the development of such agreements. The HR department also monitors laws and regulations governing em-ployment (such as minimum wages, working hours and so on), and ensures that the organization complies.
Human resource scorekeeping entails tracking key performance indicators such as staff turnover rates, lost time injury rates, absenteeism and so on.
One very important thing the human resource department does not do is tell other employees what to do on a day-to-day basis (ex-cept for those employed by the HR department itself). Those instructions are given by the managers of the different elements of the value chain. The HR department helps to ensure that the organization has the human resources needed to allow the value-adding process to continue to function in accordance with the mission established by its main stakeholders.
To summarise: the human resource department is also very much a support function. Like the finance department, it sets the policies and procedures that are to be followed with respect to employees by managers of the value chain, ensures that they follow those procedures, and keeps the “human” score. It also assists with the acquisition and deployment of additional human resources when required. It usually consists of a small number of qualified specialists.
Like its financial counterpart, the HR department is also becoming increasingly powerful. In more and more cases, the overall head of this function reports directly to the Chief Executive, and is usually known Vice-President – Human Resources or Personnel Director. Increasingly often, the head of HR also has a seat on the main Board of Directors.
4.3 Physical Assets
Much of what should be done to manage physical assets is very similar to what has to be done to manage financial assets and human resources. Specific tasks include the following:
1. Functional specifications
In the case of physical assets – plant, equipment, buildings and, to some extent, inventories – the first step is yet again to specify what their users want them to do in the context of the requirements of the value adding process as a whole. A key role of the phys-ical asset department is to help users prepare accurate functional specifications.
2. Design specifications
The next step is to decide what the assets must be in order to fulfil the functional requirements (the design stage). The physical asset department usually either prepares these designs itself or more often, arranges for outside specialists to do so.
3. Acquisition and deployment
The physical asset department plays a central role in acquiring, installing and commissioning new physical assets. In the case of large capital projects, this nearly always entails soliciting and adjudicating competitive tenders.
Sustaining physical assets is a matter of operating and maintaining them correctly. Determining what tasks must be done to sustain these assets “correctly” is a two-stage process. Firstly, the physical asset department needs to work with the users of the assets to determine what tasks need to be done (identify “the right job”). This entails developing and applying procedures for identifying what tasks must be done to anticipate, prevent, detect and where necessary, rectify failures, and for deciding what spares should be held in stock, and (perhaps) for actually managing them.
Secondly, procedures need to be put in place to ensure that these tasks are done at the right time in the right way by the right people (do “the job right”). These in turn include (but are not necessarily limited to) the following:
• standard operating procedures
• systems required to plan and schedule maintenance tasks, together with procedures to ensure that they are done as planned.
If the execution of maintenance tasks is to be outsourced, it should be the responsibility of the physical asset department to estab-lish the scope of and negotiate contracts with maintenance contractors.
Physical assets are disposed of when they are no longer able to do what is required. (More often than not, this occurs because what the assets need to do changes rather than because the assets wear out.) Disposing of plant, equipment and buildings is usually a matter of selling them to less demanding users or scrapping them. However, in some sectors – notably nuclear undertakings – disposing of obsolete plant and equipment can be the most costly challenge in the entire value chain.
The physical asset department should ensure that the organization is aware of and complies with laws and regulations governing the operation and maintenance of its assets.
It is the responsibility of the physical asset department to track key performance indicators such as plant availability and reliability indices, schedule completion rates, outstanding workloads (“backlogs”) and so on.
To summarize: these tasks are once again very much support functions. They entail setting procedures to be followed with respect to physical assets by managers of the value chain, ensuring that the procedures are followed, and “keeping score”. They include the acquisition and deployment of additional physical assets when required. Given the striking similarities between these tasks and those of the other two main value chain support functions, one would think that the physical asset management organization would be similarly small, focused and tightly organized, and equally influential.
In reality, this is seldom, if ever, the case. As mentioned in the introduction to this paper, the physical asset management func-tion is usually much larger than the other two, much more diffuse, much less focused, and not nearly as influential. All of which means that it is also much less effective.
In the opinion of the author, the single most important reason for the differences in organization, influence and effectiveness between the physical asset management function and the other two is that more often than not, it is responsible for executing main-tenance tasks in addition to deciding what tasks should be done. This adds an enormous – in fact, a crippling – additional day-to-day management burden compared to the other two support functions
The next sections of this paper examine the implications of this situation and suggest a way out.
5 DOES IT ALL MATTER
At this point, it is worth pausing to ask whether it matters to any organization if the physical asset support function becomes weak, unfocused and demoralized to the extent that its effectiveness is impaired. To answer this question, it is worth comparing the con-sequences of inadequate support from each of the three main support functions.
If the finance department does not do its job properly, the worst that could happen is that the organization goes bankrupt. In really extreme cases, senior executives could face lawsuits from irate shareholders.
If the human resource department does not do its job properly, the ability and/or willingness of the workforce at all levels to do their jobs begins to deteriorate. This leads to an overall decline in business performance and may cause an increase in human errors with safety consequences. (However, in the case of the latter, the cause and effect relationship is usually difficult to prove in a legal sense.) In extreme cases, poor human resource management results in actions such as strikes or sabotage that could threaten the survival of the business. In short, the consequences of poor human resource management are nearly all economic, but there are some safety overtones.
In the world of physical asset management, inappropriate design and/or maintenance leads to increases in failure rates and downtime that also erode business effectiveness. In modern, highly automated businesses, the performance of physical assets has an impact on business performance that is at least as great as – and often greater than – the performance of people. Not only that, but many equipment failures have direct, lethal consequences in a world that is starting to hold individual managers personally accountable for such failures, to an extent that can result in heavy fines and extended jail sentences.
So it could be argued that physical assets are not only at least as important as the other types of assets in business terms, but from the viewpoint of the accountability of individual executives in the case of certain types of failures, they are actually far more important. They need to be managed accordingly.
6 THE WAY FORWARD
The above discussion suggests that if the physical asset management function is to become as influential and effective as it could and should be, a number of key changes need to be made. The most important of these are outlined in the following paragraphs.
Separate the referees from the players
Both the financial and the human resource functions separate the policy formulation process (writing the rules of the game) from the execution of the associated tasks (playing the game). At the strategic level, this is perhaps the single most important step that the physical asset management function should take to solve the organizational problems outlined at the beginning of this paper.
In essence, this means that the execution of all maintenance tasks – whether preventive, predictive, corrective or detective – should be made the responsibility of the business units that operate or use the assets. The physical asset management function should be responsible for selecting the tasks (content and frequency), without being responsible for their execution.
Combine engineering and maintenance
In cases where they are separated, the engineering and maintenance functions should be combined into one physical asset manage-ment function.
Make sure that the physical asset management rules are right
Section 1 of this paper mentioned that many operations people are still highly sceptical about the value of “PM” activities because of problems associated with excessive reliance on inappropriate fixed-interval maintenance in the past. It also mentioned that some maintenance departments are trying to compensate by swinging too heavily towards predictive or condition-based maintenance. In fact, the real answer is to recognize that all types of asset management policies have a place, and to select the policy that is most appropriate for dealing with each type of failure.
Not only must these policies ensure that each asset continues to make a safe and cost-effective contribution to the value-adding process, but they must also be legally defensible.
To address this issue, a great many formal physical asset management strategy formulation processes have been developed over the past twenty years. The best of these – most notably, those which comply with SAE Standard JA1011 – not only lead to rapid and substantial improvements in equipment reliability, safety and environmental integrity, but also provide a solid basis for defend-ing the maintenance programs in a court of law if this should become necessary.
It is essential that anyone who takes the lead in applying these processes should receive intensive, formal, competency-based training before attempting to do so. (It is not sufficient to try to lead the application of these processes after simply reading a book or attending a short course of three or four days duration.)
Applying these processes correctly is likely to do more than any other single action to restore the long-term technical credibility of the maintenance function.
The application of rigorous asset management strategy formulation processes takes time and costs money, but the financial returns are such that they usually pay for themselves in a matter of months, if not weeks. This is a very rapid payback indeed.
Despite this rapid payback, some individuals and organizations have tended to focus on the effort rather than the returns, which has led them to spend a great deal of energy trying to reduce the time and resources needed to apply these processes. The results of these attempts are generally known as ‘streamlined’ techniques. Some of them even generate fairly significant short-term gains. However, in the experience of the author, the omissions embodied in these streamlined techniques result in maintenance programs which contain so many flaws that in the long-term, the performance of equipment to which they are applied will not match that of equipment subjected to correctly developed programs. This means that the credibility (and hence the stature) of the maintenance people who employ these streamlined techniques will not only not improve, but is likely to suffer further. Clearly, the only way to avoid this fate is to avoid shortcuts.
Ensure that the players understand the rules
The managers of business units that take responsibility for executing maintenance tasks must have a basic understanding of the principles underlying the task selection process, and need to understand fully the risks that they themselves, their colleagues and the business as a whole face if the tasks are not done correctly. They should also clearly understand and be able to make effective use of whatever planning, scheduling and reporting procedures are in place to help ensure that the tasks are done at the right time and by the right people.
In the case of modern, highly automated value-adding processes, the impact of technology is reaching the point that a substan-tial technical qualification – ideally a degree in engineering – is becoming a necessity for the managers of the relevant business units. This should be supplemented by intensive formal training in modern asset management processes. This is a critical success factor, because many organizations have already tried unsuccessfully to make maintenance task execution the responsibility of business unit managers. Mounting anecdotal evidence is suggesting that one of the main reasons why these attempts fail is lack of appropriate training for the managers in the field.
The people who actually do the work (operators and maintainers) also need a basic understanding of the task selection process, in addition to which they need to be trained to do the tasks properly. Their inclination to “do the right job right” every time will be greatly enhanced if they play a part in the task selection process.
Ensure that the rules are obeyed
Procedures should be in place to ensure that all maintenance tasks are done at the right time and by the right people. This needs suitable planning and scheduling systems, in addition to which much more needs to be done about the question of compliance.
In most industries right now, poor maintenance schedule compliance attracts little more than periodic exhortations to try to do better. In fact, given what is at stake, the penalties for non-compliance with the rules of physical asset management should be at least as severe as those that apply if anyone breaches the rules governing the management of financial assets or human resources. (Think about what usually happens to managers who chronically exceed the controllable portions of their expense budgets, or what happens to a manager who loses his temper and hits a subordinate.)
Of course, organizations will only accept a similar degree of discipline in the world of physical assets if they have commensu-rate faith in the value and the validity of the tasks. This places even greater onus on physical asset managers to ensure that the cor-rect tasks are specified, and leaves even less room for shortcuts.
Spend what needs to be spent
The worldwide pressure to reduce maintenance costs mentioned in Section 1 of this paper leads many maintenance managers to complain that they are “not given the resources” needed to apply rigorous maintenance policy formulation processes. One also frequently hears complaints that insufficient resources are provided to deal with existing maintenance workloads, let alone to analyze what the organizations concerned should really be doing.
Rigorous analysis reveals that there is a certain safe minimum of maintenance that needs to be done on every item of plant. (Sometimes it transpires that this “safe minimum” is zero, but that finding should be substantiated by rigorous analysis.) Doing less than the safe minimum increases the risk of injuries or fatalities, usually to an extent that is indefensible in a court of law. Bear in mind that in the present legislative climate, the people who establish maintenance policies and the people who manage the execu-tion of the work are increasingly likely to be held every bit as accountable for such accidents as the people who perform the work.
All this means that the time has come for maintenance people to insist (1) that sufficient resources are made available to deter-mine what the safe minimum of maintenance work actually is, and (2) that the resources required to perform the safe minimum are made available. However, they can only do this credibly if the people providing the funds have complete confidence in the techni-cal validity of the process used to establish the “safe minimum” – yet another reason why there is no room for shortcuts.
One issue that has not yet been discussed in this paper is the question of computerized maintenance management systems. Nowa-days, just about every maintenance organization that is likely to need such a system already has one, so the need for and capabili-ties of such systems are already well established. The only question that sometimes remains is whether the systems should be under the control of a centralized physical asset management department or whether they should be under the control of field mainten-ance people in the business units.
The other two asset management functions tend to control the specification, installation and operation of the computer systems used to manage their assets, so it makes sense that the physical asset management function should do likewise. The field people should simply have access to the systems to help them plan their work on a day-to-day basis and to feed back data as required.
Outsourcing has only been touched on briefly earlier in this paper. Two distinct aspects of maintenance are frequently outsourced nowadays. One is the execution of tasks, and the other is the formulation of maintenance strategy (specifically the application of processes like RCM).
Task execution is sometimes split into two further categories: major projects such as shutdowns, turnarounds or ship refits, which are very often outsourced, and day-to-day maintenance which is frequently done by in-house personnel. If any or all task execution is to be outsourced, it is essential that the scope of the work to be done by the contractors is defined as precisely as pos-sible before any contracts are let. In other words, such contracts should only be let after the maintenance policies that apply to the assets concerned have been identified in detail.
Maintenance strategy formulation, on the other hand, should not be outsourced. In the opinion of the author, asking contractors to develop maintenance programs is like asking a raw material supplier or some other outsider to set a company’s expenditure budgets, or asking a trade union leader to negotiate a union agreement on behalf of the employer. Far from being outsourced, the physical asset management strategy formulation process should be seen as a function – arguably the most important function – of the in-house physical asset management department.
7 21ST CENTURY PHYSICAL ASSET MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATION
To summarize: physical asset management in the 21st century should be separated into two distinct functions:
• The first function should be a centralized physical asset management department, with the duties and responsibilities outlined in section 4.3 above. The overall head of this department should report to the Chief Executive of the undertaking that makes use of the assets.
• The second function should be fulfilled by field supervisors responsible for organizing maintenance tasks on a day-to-day basis (with the assistance of field planners if necessary), and for ensuring that the work is done as planned to the required standard. The maintainers who wield the wrenches and the operators who push the buttons and pull the levers should report to these field supervisors, not to the head of the physical asset management department
This organization is summarized in Figure 1.
The present organization of physical asset management in most undertakings is such that years – if not decades – are likely to elapse before these proposals can be implemented fully, for two reasons. Firstly, the magnitude of the changes will often provoke massive resistance from all sorts of people who are comfortable with the status quo. Secondly, at this point in time and in most organizations, the maintenance function has immense amount to do to re-establish its technical credibility.
However, given the scale of the contribution that safe, stable and reliable physical assets make to the value-adding process, the companies that get there soonest will enjoy an overwhelming competitive advantage, especially in highly auto-mated industries. The time to start the journey is now.