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PPM gets smart

Could data be the key to unlocking value? Stuart Davies, MD M&E, Bellrock, looks at the potential of technology to improve maintenance outcomes 

The more optimistic among us were expecting the pressure on the economy to lift, but with uncertainty swirling, risks and costs are being managed more tightly than ever. When it comes to maintenance, shrinking budgets create tension between the plan for whole-life cycle management and the year-on-year spend. Surely it is time for more lateral thinking to solve the conundrum in a way that doesn’t compromise efficiencies in the longer term. Technology has to be the key to this particular puzzle.

Cultural changes and infrastructure improvements make the use of technology a more realistic prospect for managing maintenance than it would have been even a couple of years ago. Yet in the world of PPM we are not seeing the ubiquitous adoption of technology, although there is steady growth in certain aspects – not least communication.

The widespread use of smartphones and the fact that the working population is more predisposed to self-service have meant that reporting maintenance from a customer perspective is far more automated. The introduction of apps has streamlined the helpdesk function, enabling better communication for the status of jobs as well as integrating customer satisfaction mechanisms. Many systems enable pictures to be uploaded as well as text, making diagnosis of the issue much easier before an engineer reaches site.

Apps have also improved communication with engineers and streamlined processes such as confirmation of job completion. Individual engineers can receive instructions and log all work in real time using their mobile phone. More sophisticated systems store information that has been previously uploaded about the asset, for example its location and service record, allowing for more effective planning before the visit to site.

Many maintenance activities require specialists, so supply chain management has to be considered. With compliance high on the agenda, it has never been more important to ensure that suppliers are working to the necessary standards. Deploying an accredited supplier with the relevant competence and location is another way that technology can streamline processes, improve efficiency and reduce risk.

Predictive and condition-based maintenance are also areas where technology has a part to play. This is becoming increasingly common as the cost of sensors and interface software continues to decrease, making these tools much more viable in terms of reliability and return on investment.

It is possible, by understanding indicators such as increased vibration or heat, to identify which assets need attention before there is a breakdown. This not only reduces the cost of breakdown but also improves energy efficiency and the impact on other assets. This type of technology is not new. It is deployed in our cars as a matter of course. The servicing regime is based on the condition of the vehicle, rather than the number of miles on the clock or its age.

Organisations that consider the bigger picture, rather than cherry-picking the automisation of specific processes, stand to gain significantly. Although technology for people and technology for machines both reduce costs and drive efficiencies, neither has the impact that analysis, based on robust data, can deliver. Even predictive and condition-based maintenance have limitations, as the parameters mean that the system is assessing whether an asset requires more or less maintenance – but maintenance all the same.

Used effectively, data can help join the dots of the building’s use rather than just focusing on the asset in isolation. The asset has a role to play in the running of the building – it may be critical to the organisation’s function, or it may be high risk if it fails. The point is its purpose is not independent of the building or the building users that it serves. With data blended from a number of sources, it is possible to introduce risk-centred maintenance. This more enriched picture enables the evaluation of whether maintenance is even necessary for certain assets based on specific criteria.

Consider the property lifecycle. The process starts with acquisition, which comes with the lease agreement, service charge (if applicable) and rates exposure. After this comes ongoing management with all the operational considerations for lifecycle management of assets, building user considerations and compliance. Finally, at the disposal phase there are dilapidations. Even this simplified view demonstrates that there are implications for the property and maintenance team based on decisions taken at every stage of the lifecycle. A single data repository for every piece of information creates more insight to focus on the biggest returns, be that for customer experience, risk management or cost reduction.

The internet of things is fast becoming a new way of managing assets in buildings. Sensors directly report any activity that falls outside predetermined parameters, setting automated workflows and need-based service deployment in motion. The possibility of managing information directly from the sensors through to invoice reconciliation and management reporting without human intervention is tantalisingly close.

Of course, the focus for people then shifts to the front end of the process: determining the rules that define how the service is deployed, analysing the outcomes and making changes to the structure of the service based on changing organisational needs. This is where experience and a good understanding of the organisation help deliver more cost-effective and efficient maintenance services that deliver in line with the organisation’s objectives. It is no longer maintenance for maintenance’s sake.

About Sarah OBeirne


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