Whether your company is maintaining physical infrastructure under contract or simply managing field assets as part of an ongoing business, the heightened role of asset management information systems has been well established as part of the CIO’s responsibility.
What has not been so well established, however, is how CIOs are meant to keep modernising a system where stability is so fundamentally important to the company’s operations. Indeed, once the procedures governing their operation have been well established, EAM environments are at particularly high risk of stagnation: Investments made and pre-fab maintenance and management reports finalised, the systems are often left alone because they’re doing their job well enough and meeting the needs of field workers who just want to get on with their tasks.
As a consequence, EAM systems can be at risk of becoming forgotten, quietly running in the background while information executives focus on more pressing matters. If they’re seen to be working, the case for an upgrade can be difficult.
Just ask Sunil Manilal, senior business systems manager with Woolworths. The retail giant operates a massive Maximo implementation that supports maintenance across the company’s numerous retail brands, with around 3000 stores serviced through a centralised contact centre that handles 1000 to 1200 maintenance requests per day.
For years, the system had operated in what amounted to stealth mode: When a service call was booked, the only way the central team knew the problem had been resolved was receipt of an invoice for work performed. There was little visibility of the process or accountability on the part of subcontractors, and preventative maintenance was managed using Excel spreadsheets outside the EAM system.
Whatever the philosophical shortcomings of the system, it was working — which complicated the issue when Manilal’s team recently began pushing for an upgrade. The highly customised EAM system was approaching end-of-life and needed to be modernised. However, despite their insistence that an upgrade was critical, GFC-weary Woolworths management rebuffed the application for funding and told Manilal to come back when he could put together a business case that would deliver real benefits.
That led his team to explore options for improving the efficiency of the process, and they soon turned to self-service as a possible solution. By encouraging individual stores to log into the EAM system directly instead of ringing the contact centre, Woolworths could not only reduce the burden on that contact centre but empower store managers — and eventually subcontractors themselves — to access the asset management system remotely.
“The goal was to enable stores to log directly into the system and then give them visibility and transparency by letting them check the status of the job, ETA of contractors coming to their site, and so on,” Manilal explains.
“The focus of the stores is to sell and bring in profit, but store managers were spending much of their time on phone calls. Self-service would allow them to conduct asset management reporting at the end of the day, and service providers were enthusiastic because they could access the system and get work orders directly onto their mobile devices.”
It was functionality the team had thought of implementing previously, but had put off due to the perceived difficulty of customising the previously heavily modified software to support the new processes. The new version, however, supported Web standards-based online ‘mashups’ that allowed the team to implement self-service smoothly and easily — bolstering the upgrade business case and empowering store managers such that call volumes to the contact centre quickly dropped by half.
The approach has also simplified data management, with all information about assets now stored in the asset management system rather than keeping just maintenance information in that system and storing related invoices in Woolworths’ core SAP environment.
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