Mobile interfaces for enterprise asset management (EAM) software and computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) have been around for a long time but have managed to penetrate only a very small number of organizations. Some of the reasons for this are technological. Some are cultural, and some are a combination of the two. While research suggests that acceptance of mobile EAM and CMMS has been slow, interest is increasing in this technology.
For example, the cost of handheld devices has come down precipitously. Handhelds are now available in various shapes and sizes, ranging from ruggedized devices to a simple consumer smartphone running the Android or iOS interfaces. Many companies have also redesigned their mobile interfaces to take advantage of new devices, operating systems and the lessons learned from earlier interfaces.
Given the mission-critical nature of many capital assets in sectors like oil and gas, power generation, aerospace, defense and others, the idea of greater efficiency and improved real-time visibility into the state of assets and the activities of technicians is appealing. This means that asset-intensive organizations can realize important and measurable benefits by crossing any remaining technological or cultural barriers to a mobile EAM solution.
The role of an executive in charge of significant productive assets like process manufacturing facilities, offshore oil rigs or nuclear power plants is to maximize the value realized from the capital asset while controlling cost. Any asset will experience at least some incremental downtime or loss of capacity during predictive or preventive maintenance work, refits or lifecycle extensions. In these situations or in a break-fix scenario, the faster work can be completed, the faster the piece of equipment or asset can return to productive use.
One of the main places to take up slack in these activities is to speed up communication. As the maintenance route changes, the technician being notified through a mobile work-order application does not need to go back to a central office or scheduling board to see that the order of his work has been adjusted. This saves time.
Once at the machine to be serviced, if the technician can identify which parts ought to be replaced, check their availability in inventory and have them sent to him by using a mobile EAM interface, time is shaved off the repair process, which in turn gets the machine back into productive use more quickly. This efficiency improvement potential is even greater when managing more extensive and multi-faceted asset management projects with multiple dependencies and concurrent activities.
For most asset-intensive companies, projects are the cornerstone of the business. Managing projects of various sizes and complexity is often the key to success. However, companies still struggle with fragmented business solutions that lack integration, making a plant shutdown, a refit of a production line or repairing and overhauling a jet or marine engine difficult to manage. Even with powerful back-end project management functionality, it can be difficult to manage a project in real time because maintenance technicians are recording work performed well after the fact – at the end of the day when they are back at a computer. This means that work is often not recorded or recorded inaccurately so front office personnel cannot determine what is going on with a project in real time, which in turn slows down the ability to execute against a project plan.
In an EAM solution designed for this environment, the project drives activities, ensuring high-level visibility and transparency throughout the enterprise value chain. Mobility adds value to projects by:
Assets are often critical not just for their productive capacity but also because failures can result in environmental damage, loss of life and litigation. In these situations, you need more than maintenance — you need the advanced discipline of asset integrity management (AIM). This not only means that regularly scheduled maintenance must be performed, but the readiness and serviceability of the asset must be documented on a very granular level. Mobility adds value to an AIM program by:
Apps for handhelds are aimed at front-line technicians, but mobility is also important for administration and management. These power users of the EAM suite require a more robust EAM experience, including maintenance inventory functionality, human resources and even finance. They may use a full EAM suite on a tablet running Windows 8, if this is available from their EAM software vendor. The touchscreen format may be conducive for use during standing meetings and “management by walking around.” Again, this tablet usage should not be dependent on using a stripped down mobile app for Windows 8, as is the case for the app used by technicians. Instead, the full enterprise suite should be usable on a touchscreen device on the operating system.
Mobile devices are essentially communication tools that can provide solutions in several nontangible areas of the business. One problem confronted by many asset-intensive companies is the aging of the workforce. In the United States, for instance, the single largest generation of people was born between 1946 and 1964, and many of them will retire in the next 10 years. Mobile interfaces will prompt these knowledgeable workers and managers to interact more with the system, pulling more of their tribal knowledge into the enterprise application.
Mobility will help address the aging workforce issue in other ways as well. Backfilling behind these retiring employees will be a challenge, as there is a dearth of industrial engineering and other maintenance-related graduates coming out of colleges and universities. Competition for this new generation of workers will be fierce, and a workplace with intuitive and modern technology will be more attractive than one hobbling along on various legacy systems.
The Google and mobile computing revolutions have affected us all, and we are all developing expectations for the computer technology we use. This next generation of workers will be much more demanding when it comes to technology and will expect the software they use every day to conform to their needs, rather than the other way around.
Mobility can address safety issues in several ways, with the most obvious being the real-time visibility of equipment condition and serviceability, and the resulting improvements in asset integrity management. However, mobile devices also are GPS-enabled, which can offer safety benefits in settings like mining and oil and gas.
The mobile interface and the EAM solution should be developed to work together. When selecting mobile EAM, look for an enterprise vendor that has developed and offers its own mobile interface. Using a third-party mobile interface will burden you with multiple contacts, contractual agreements and technologies.
The underlying EAM solution also needs to be developed as a full suite rather than as a bolt-on maintenance solution for an enterprise resource planning (ERP) application. Only when functions like finance, supply chain management, project management and human resources are integrated with the maintenance management functionality can you truly benefit from the real-time enterprise visibility mobile EAM has the potential to deliver.
Bilateral visibility between maintenance and inventory/supply chain management is critical. The technician on the plant floor or at a work site ought to be able to see what inventory is available to determine if an asset can be returned to service immediately or must be taken offline. Parts managers and supply chain managers also need real-time visibility of parts demand so they can run the part to the technician or try to expedite acquisition.
Mobile work orders and human resources functionality must also be integrated. This allows intelligent scheduling of available workers with full visibility of slated vacations, sicknesses, technical skills and certifications.
In addition, different mobile options must be available for different use cases, ranging from the technician on the plant floor walking a maintenance route to the plant manager marshaling resources and assigning tasks to the operations manager.
An investment in mobile EAM can drive both tangible and nontangible returns in any asset-intensive organization. Selecting the right EAM software and mobile options will reduce cost and complexity while increasing the return on investment. Mobile technology has improved, and the demands placed on the enterprise for real-time asset data suggest that now is the time to invest in this technology.