Today, everyone assumes that more technology is better. Every operation wants IIoT devices, sensors, mobile apps—you name it. In this climate, it’s easy to forget that technology can’t be successful without a key business partner.
Technology can deliver the goods only when it is partnered with effective underlying practices, processes, and procedures. More technology is better—as long as the underlying business process is sound.
Business Process: What Is It, Really?
A business process is a collection of linked, structured activities or tasks that, once completed, accomplish a specific organizational goal. A business process may often be visualized as a cross-functional flowchart of a sequence of activities that have decision trees with relevance rules based on data in the process.
Manufacturers were talking about the importance of business processes long before the arrival of computer technology. As early as 1776, Adam Smith – the Scottish economist who is popularly credited with inventing capitalism (he didn’t) – described the making of a pin as a process that could be divided into small, individual tasks:
“One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head…and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which in some manufactories are all performed by distinct hands.”
Work management could be described the same way. It’s a process: a collection of steps that the operations and maintenance functions will take when identifying, approving, planning, scheduling, and completing maintenance work. By adhering to these steps, you ensure that maintenance work is managed the same way every time. This consistent discipline creates labor efficiencies and improves data quality—two of the key goals of asset management.
Maintenance Processes Are Application Agnostic
You’ll notice that I didn’t say anything about using technology to complete those steps. That’s because business processes are application agnostic. Take pin manufacturing, for example. The process has become much more efficient since Smith’s day, thanks to technology. But the process didn’t need technology to be effective.
The same is true for maintenance business processes today. Your business processes should be so clear and effective that they could be implemented without the aid of the technology. They do not care what software technology is in place, and they must not be tied to what the software can or cannot do.
Don’t get me wrong. I love technology and we need it. Software plays an instrumental part in streamlining the business process. But that happens in act two. Before that, the business process must be defined, documented, and approved by the organization. Business process development should occur before the technology is even mentioned.
See what it should look like!
When Technology Takes the Lead
If you get into an EAM software implementation and have not fully developed your business processes, it will quickly become evident:
- The software implementation “shifts and drifts,” moving one way and then another without any clear plan or direction.
- The software consultant lacks guidance for configuration and setup activities.
- The consultant has to ask you what you want because they have nothing to reference—no process that has been documented and approved by the team.
- You rely on the software consultant to explain processes like weekly and daily maintenance scheduling (which is a lot to ask, even for a seasoned EAM consultant).
If you get to this point, you are in dangerous territory. Configuring software “as you go” introduces a lot of risk into your implementation. It may result in your having to hit the costly restart button.
Process and Technology: Which Comes First?
You need both process and technology to be successful. But which comes first? Unlike the chicken and the egg dilemma, the answer is (or should be) simple. Process rules the roost. It identifies who does what—and when, where, and why. Technology should be configured to support that, not to define it. Remember, software is only as good as the process driving it.
When technology gets in front of process, you’re in for trouble. The wrong captain is driving the boat. Configuring and implementing EAM software without fully defining your business processes will leave you operating without direction.
However, once the process is in place, then by all means bring in software technologies to streamline it. Technology is a requirement for success—but only after you have fully defined how you are going to conduct business. Process makes you effective, while technology makes you efficient. Effective and efficient asset management is what we’re all after, right?
Ready for Better Maintenance Processes?
SwainSmith can help. Our tools, libraries, and 20 years of domain expertise can help you develop and implement asset management business processes that pay off. Putting in the right process foundation is key to lowering costs, reducing risk, and improving reliability over the long haul. Contact us at 828-215-9471 or firstname.lastname@example.org