In 2021, Tech Will Boost Mobile Workforce And Preventive Maintenance

2020 presented challenges for operations and maintenance staff, and enterprise asset management tools can help adapt to changes.

By Bill Fahey

2020 was a roller coaster for operations and maintenance pros, with the pandemic affecting nearly every aspect of their work. In the space of a few weeks — or even a few days — teams were forced to change the way they work dramatically. Some of those changes — such as the ability for tradespeople and technicians to receive and resolve work orders via mobile device — are likely to stick and become even more prevalent.

For the past 20 years, as Founder of InterPro Solutions, I’ve been working closely with organizations using IBM Maximo, used by millions of operations and maintenance professionals to manage complex facilities and field environments. (InterPro offers a suite of mobile Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solutions designed exclusively for IBM Maximo.) Based on our day-to-day work with these organizations, I anticipate these trends to dominate in 2021 —

operations and maintenance
Photo: Trade

Mobile workforce enablement. We saw a huge movement towards EAM mobile tools in 2020, as teams looked to reduce their dependence upon paper work orders and time sheets, and more importantly, reduce the amount of time people needed to spend in an crowded office environment trading documents. And it’s worked out so well that we think facilities teams will continue expand the number of functions and business processes mobile-enabled, finally reaching a decades-long goal of going paperless. A survey we conducted of facilities pros in December 2020 found that Mobile Work Management was still their #1 biggest concern going into 2021. We’re seeing a lot of interest in advanced mobile tools such as GIS mapping, barcode usage, voice-guided inspections, and in-field digital documentation to help make mobile work management easier.

A shift from basic workforce scheduling to workforce planning. When asked in our survey what their #1 current challenge was, respondents picked Planning and Scheduling. We are already seeing operations pros seeking out better tools for forecasting labor needs and managing complex events. Basic scheduling tools have been around for years, but we are seeing demand for solutions that are a level up — rich planning tools that help managers plan weeks, months, or in the case of recurring events, even years ahead. Mixed workforces — the #3 concern for 2021, according to our survey — are one driver for this trend. We see more organizations supplementing their full-time staffs with on-call tradespeople and manufacturers’ technicians, and outsourcing certain facilities and tasks to third-party maintenance contractors. The ability to plan and schedule across the various labor sources and skillsets becomes essential to the organization’s success.

The “new” preventive maintenance. The operations teams we’re working with are almost all moving from reactive to predictive maintenance whenever possible. Predictive maintenance reduces downtime and costs, so everyone wants to get there. Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things technology can be game-changing to a modern facility that is IoT ready, but all organizations can benefit from calendar- and usage-based preventive maintenance regimens, mobile-enabled inspections to detect small issues before they turn into larger problems, and enabling the larger community to submit work requests from their mobile devices whenever they see a problem via, “if you see it, report it” apps.

Software subscriptions. For many years, desktop EAM systems like IBM Maximo dominated the operations and maintenance space and were purchased as one-time perpetual software licenses (with an ongoing maintenance fee) requiring large capital outlays that would be depreciated over time. Now, software subscription fees are becoming more prevalent. Instead of going to a CapEx committee to seek funding, subscription-based software can often be purchased from within the existing operations and maintenance operating budgets, since the savings generated by the introduction of the software will often exceed the subscription costs incurred during that same budget year. This is especially true for mobile solutions that are typically priced by the number of users, directly linking the efficiencies to the costs. Using mobile apps to eliminate paper-based work orders, inspection forms, material requests, and time sheets generates enormous savings across procurement, receiving, scheduling and HR, and the amount of technician wrench-time freed up through the efficiencies of a mobile app make for a powerful business case that is immediately accretive to the organization. Best of all, payback for a mobility subscription is typically measured in months, not years.

2020 will be looked back on as an enormous year of change for facilities management — but also a year that forced many positive technology changes on our industry. By removing what may have been the biggest barrier to technology progress — inertia — these changes are making facilities management more efficient and effective as we move forward.

Fahey, is Founder and CEO of InterPro Solutions, a firm that offers a suite of mobile Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solutions designed exclusively for IBM Maximo®. Fahey founded InterPro in his garage in 2003 after he saw the need in the marketplace for IBM Maximo implementation services and expertise. With the release of the iPhone in 2007, InterPro began developing custom Maximo mobile apps — leading to the development of InterPro’s flagship product, EZMaxMobile, in 2009. Since that time, InterPro has become a leader in Maximo mobile applications, and now offers a suite of mobile apps to serve operations and maintenance professionals across a wide range of industries. Fahey holds a BS in Mathematics from Salem State University.

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