The Benefits of Digitizing Maintenance Functions

When asset maintenance data is readily available, facilities teams improve outcomes across the organization.

By Daniel Golub
From the October 2021 Issue

In many organizations, one of the most significant obstacles to the development of facility management is the perception that other business stakeholders have of the function. Historically, maintenance has been viewed as a cost center, an area of the business that doesn’t directly add to profit, but costs money to run. It’s a hole in the bucket that must constantly be plugged or patched over to stop the leaks.

This kind of framing can leave facility managers struggling to get backing or buy-in for investment, and the reason the sector seems trapped in a cycle of commoditization. “Do more for less” is the standard directive, but one that will only ever really deliver diminishing returns.maintenance data

Mission Critical Maintenance

The solution is to help those other business stakeholders understand maintenance as a profit center, not a cost center. The first step to achieving this is to paint a clear picture of how asset failure or downtime impacts a particular business. How is maintenance mission-critical? It’s easier to answer this question in some sectors over others. In an industrial or healthcare environment, failure of plant or systems is likely to bring production lines to a halt or endanger patients’ lives.

Yet the impact of asset downtime can also significantly impact less critical spaces, like corporate environments. In sectors such as law and finance, leaders are increasingly invested in creating workspaces that improve their employees’ experience, well-being, and productivity. But do they understand that inadequate investment into maintenance, which may lead to problems with heating and cooling systems or lighting controls, can have a considerable impact on those employee-focused outcomes?

Going Digital

Here is where technology comes in. Data’s role in decision-making is growing all the time. A recent global CEO survey by EY (Ernst & Young Global Limited, a multinational professional services network) found that 68% plan major investment in data and technology in the next 12 months. In addition, 61% plan to undertake a major digital transformation in the same timeframe. By digitizing maintenance services end to end, organizations can develop a 360° view of their operations. The data from a combination of a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), IoT sensors, and an analytics platform would provide a high level of accuracy and transparency, demonstrating to decision-makers and budget holders the return on their investment and the difference to their bottom line.

Nonetheless, despite what feels like a clear direction, facility managers may struggle to get the investment they need. Earlier this year, a survey of almost 300 IT and facilities leaders by my firm, iOFFICE + SpaceIQ, found that nearly half (42%) cited lack of budget as a barrier to technology investment.

Paper Problems

The truth is that many FM departments are still too dependent on paper to keep track of their asset maintenance information, including maintenance scheduling and work orders, asset condition and performance, instructions, technician rotas, associated parts and materials, and more. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the numerous shortcomings of a paper-based filing system. If a knowledgeable facility manager or technician is sick, those left to cover would reluctantly have to wade through mountains of paperwork.

Similarly, the pandemic caused major disruption to facility supply chains. With a high number of staff absences, service providers had a hard time finding the resources to perform or subcontract work orders, a potentially disastrous outcome when it comes to statutory maintenance. In this scenario, the lack of accuracy and transparency in a paper-based system is likely to make things worse.

By digitizing the process with a CMMS, facility managers can track the progress of work orders, generate reports quickly, determine the action on any given asset, improve time and labor management, and cut costs. From a profit center perspective, this reduces the need for costly repairs or replacements and keeps downtime to a minimum.

Data Is King

Maintenance data can also help facilities teams develop more effective preventive maintenance programs. The software can auto-generate reports from the asset repair and maintenance information, providing a facilities team insight into which assets need attention, and which assets are consuming the biggest chunks of the department’s budget. The team can then combine this data with manufacturer recommendations to set up appropriate preventive maintenance programs for each asset, including frequency. From here, facility managers can set up the software to generate and assign scheduled work orders.

Of course, there are disadvantages to preventive maintenance, such as “over-maintenance.” If the scheduled work takes place too early, technicians run the risk of pulling apart assets too early and putting things back together incorrectly.

However, the rise of smart building technology has made room for new data-led maintenance techniques that bring together CMMS, sensors, and analytics platforms. Condition-based maintenance and predictive maintenance are closely related but have some important differences. Both use sensor data to gain more accuracy.

Condition-based maintenance analyzes asset condition information, such as heat or vibration, to create a more efficient program. Rather than set up a schedule to check an asset periodically, the facility team can constantly monitor it and set up alerts for when readings slip below, or exceed pre-set parameters.

With predictive maintenance, real-time sensor data on an asset’s condition is used in conjunction with an analytics platform to identify historical patterns and then make informed predictions about future failures.

The Last Word

By digitizing their maintenance function, organizations would gain significant oversight of their building assets and operations—one of the largest business costs. What’s more, organizations would possess data enabling them to respond to threats more quickly, make more informed decisions around CAPEX and net zero investments, and plan for the future. A digitized maintenance function isn’t just about reducing costs, but also proactively saving money—and aligning facility management with core business objectives, be that employee experience, organizational productivity, or sustainability.

maintenance dataGolub is asset division vice president for iOFFICE + SpaceIQ, which includes software products ManagerPlus and Hippo CMMS. He has worked in the SaaS space since 2011 and holds an MBA from National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.

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Check out more technology and facility management news in previous Facility Executive Tech & FM Columns.