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A Checklist for Asset Maintenance in the New World

Asset maintenance and field force management are going through a challenging phase now.  Whether rolling stock or fixed assets or machinery and equipment, reduced utilization rates do not equal reduced maintenance requirements. Being able to operate safely and reliably become more critical when operating with reduced resources – especially with reduced resources.

And new norms like social distancing will persist well after the “all clear” is sounded.  Workforce expectations have changed and likely irreversibly so, as have consumer expectations – after all, one company’s workforce is another’s consumer.

Responding to unprecedented situations with capacity constraints and unpredictable demand is what good businesses do best, and here are four areas where many are harnessing technology to get there:

  1. Maintenance Processesdestroy the printer, the clipboard and the pen: Work allocation should not require reams of paper printed for some hapless soul to sort and file manually; neither should it need everyone to congregate in an office to pick up dockets for that day’s work. All of this can be made available on standard tablets and smartphones at the point of delivery – in the shop floor or work site.  Completed work can be digitally updated into the back-office for review and automatically trigger further work orders for corrective work into allocation queues.
  2. Verification & Validationworkflows and approvals: Clipboards with forms that get passed around or piled up in some unfortunate in-tray for initials or signatures are a candidate for digitization. When inspections and checklists are done on smartphones and tablets, you already know who is doing what, when and where.  A replacement part request does not any more need a supervisor to sign-off at site – that information can be automatically routed for approval to the supervisor on his or her tablet along with geo-tagged before- and after- annotated photographs.
  3. Audit and reportingready for an audit any time, all the time: Scrambling to collate reports from multiple back-end systems or, worse, multiple desktops or paper files, should be a thing of the past. Every inspection that is completed digitally is available as a pre-formatted report and the audit packet for any asset should be available on-demand.  Mandatory reporting to commissions, governmental agencies or departments should be automated and ready any time.  In fact, onsite time can be reduced substantially if the inspector can log in remotely and check maintenance records and simply come in for physical inspections where needed.
  1. Safety on the fielda daily habit taken seriously: That daily pre-shift checklist, toolbox talk, PPE verification etc. should be a part of the process and not something a supervisor remembers to get done.  Making these mandatory where all involved sign-off on a digital checklist before work begins ensures compliance – more importantly, non-receipt of a sign-off within 30 minutes of shift beginning should trigger automatic alarm bells (figuratively at least).  Digitizing forces behavior change in ways that paper and looking over the shoulder simply cannot.

To be clear, these are not revolutionary ideas – these are all variants of the standard “Do more with less” mantra.  The goal is clear – minimize repetitive work, needless congregation, manual processing, data entry and chasing paper.  The best businesses are already doing much of this.

The current situation simply provides the impetus to get there – slipping back to old behavior would be an additional and avoidable price we pay as we inevitably re-emerge.   Perhaps the motto should really be “Do more with less, but also do less of whatever you used to do before”. 

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