Selecting and using a maintenance computer system – Part 5


Improving existing systems

Because replacing a maintenance computer system is a major, and somewhat disruptive project, if your existing system is not providing the value you require it is worth looking at alternatives.

Common problems with older systems include the inability to easily manipulate lists of work orders, schedule tradespeople, provide practical PM inspection routes, plan work or find parts and equipment numbers. If the system is able to track work order and equipment maintenance costs well enough to satisfy reporting needs, then there are options to improve information management without replacing your old system.

One option is to continue to use the maintenance computer system to charge all maintenance costs to work orders (or to equipment numbers – see “Why charge to work orders?“) and to transfer all backlog-management and scheduling functions to a well-designed spreadsheet-based process. With careful design, including security, applications such as MS Excel will do an excellent job, probably as effective as anything available in any maintenance computer system. There should be absolutely no need to copy backlog or scheduling data back in to the maintenance computer system.

Detailed planning can also be done in word-processing documents or spread sheets, using well-designed templates. One downside is that, if the maintenance computer has special functionality, such as the ability to automatically change work order status based on material availability, then these features may be lost unless some compromise can be reached.

Preventive Maintenance inspection routes are sometimes not well-supported by maintenance software, and using a spread-sheet for this purpose makes it easy to sort inspection sequences to minimize travel, add fields as required (e.g. to show isolation points, etc) and to edit routes as necessary. Its a common practice to use spreadsheets for PM routes, and to use the maintenance computer system simply as an “alarm clock” to produce a work order when an inspection or other PM task is due. With good data management, such a work order may read “Area = 41; Short description = Mechanical inspection; Frequency = Monthly; Description = Perform inspection, file S:MaintPMMech41Mech_insp_ mth_1442.xls”. Its then simple for the PM administrator to copy and paste the file name from the work order to MS Explorer to print and issue the inspection route with the work order.
NOTE – Word-processing and spread-sheet data normally reside in shared directories on an on-site server. These directories are usually open to many users and as a result, often become a “jungle”. Such directories must be properly secured and managed, with clear responsibilities, especially if they are to be used for such important functions as managing work backlogs. The management of these directories should be an important shared IT and Maintenance function, with clear rules and responsibilities for data entry and editing, secured templates and secure data with frequent monitoring for consistency of data entry and adherence to business processes.

There is one very significant advantage to keeping equipment and work order data in an application such as MS Office, and that is it is secure if and when the maintenance computer system is replaced. Transferring data from one maintenance computer system to another is complicated and almost always results in some key data, such as equipment history and spare parts lists, being lost or compromised in some way. This problem is diminishing as maintenance computer systems mature.

Problems with searching for parts and equipment numbers can be addressed by converting to an improved naming standard or, better still, with a simple search tool such as FindIt which can greatly improve the search success rate, even with inconsistent data (see FindIt . Also see “Naming and finding parts in the Storeroom“).

As a general principle, the best tool for the job is the one that should be used. Having a large investment in the maintenance computer system does not justify using it for functions which can be done better some other way.

For more on maintenance computer systems, please contact us

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Don Armstrong, President

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