What are your contributions to the bottom line? Many asset managers are often put in an awkward position when confronted with this question, which refers to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. This question is not necessarily demanding to know the asset manager’s individual contributions to the bottom line, but the contributions and input of the maintenance system and the assets he or she manages to the overall bottom line.

Assets remain value-adding investments managed by the maintenance team and are expected to continually remain valuable and positively impact overall business profitability. The asset manager, therefore, becomes directly responsible for realizing this objective. Sustainability and availability of assets are the complete responsibility of the asset manager and the entire maintenance team. Assets, however, do not just exist to be maintained, but must be available to make contributions to the bottom line.

An asset manager, who as expected is a maintenance reliability professional, will have ready answers to the bottom line contribution question, from uptime trends to availability to reliability of the asset(s) being maintained. Creating value for the company through efficient asset management that is strengthened by effective maintenance strategies undoubtedly ensures that assets contribute significantly to the bottom line. The entire maintenance unit must be involved in improvement measures for asset performance. Involving the entire team not only ensures improvements are achieved rapidly, it also ensures achieved improvements are sustained. Among other measures, the following would considerably bring about desirable improvements:

  • Communicate expectations and goals;
  • Effective change management;
  • Skills development;
  • Documentation of improvements;
  • Periodic review of performance.

Communicate Expectations and Goals

Often times, expectations are conceived by top management that may include the asset manager, but members of the team at the shop floor are not fully acquainted and carried along on the prevailing expectations. Plans are usually made, but not effectively cascaded to the entirety of the team. Consequently, improvements achieved become difficult to sustain because the entire team is not fully familiar with the overriding goals and expectations.

The maintenance unit head or manager who drives the improvement measures must clearly express performance expectations in team briefings and during job execution. In addition, the strategies and processes required for achieving the improvements must be well articulated and clearly communicated. Misconceptions and grey areas are usually addressed when adequate priority is given to the communication of expectations and goals. Communication is key to rallying support for maintenance goals and a reorientation on an unproductive work culture. A clearly communicated expectation is the critical first step toward achieving set goals. The team ultimately aligns with the goals of improvements, imbibes the expectations in the work culture and becomes part of the performance targets. Clearly communicated and understood expectations make for coordinated and motivated efforts toward realizing improvements to the bottom line.

Effective Change Management

Efforts and measures to improve the assets’ contributions to the bottom line will likely come with significant deviation from the norm, changes to work processes, organizational culture and work habit. These changes may encounter strong resistance. However, change is usually inevitable if meaningful improvements must be made. Therefore, necessary changes have to be made to certain unproductive work processes, as well as inefficient work habits.

Change management usually entails leading an organization, group of people, or a team through a series of guided steps to meet a defined goal. Changing a status of poor performance and low contribution to the bottom line requires a structured approach to change that will enable the entire team to make the desired transition from poor to high contributions to the bottom line. Strategies for effecting changes should be clearly defined. Where new technologies are introduced, a proper management of change should be on the ground. As previously stated, clearly communicating changes increases the understanding as to why changes are needed and how it relates to the company’s vision. The asset manager or head of the maintenance unit must, out of necessity, be a change agent. Implementing the desired changes requires resourcefulness, ownership of the change process and inspiration to keep team members engaged and committed to implementing the desired changes.

Skills Development

A skills gap poses a major drawback in maintenance improvement strategies. Identifying the skills gap and developing the right skills are necessary tools for successful improvements in asset care. Therefore, to continuously and effectively add value to maintenance, there has to be a deliberate plan for skills development and skills upgrades for the maintenance team. Improvements in skills of the maintenance team will ultimately lead to improvements in asset care. Efforts to improve the assets’ contributions to the bottom line may include the acquisition of new technologies or an upgrade of existing facilities, gadgets and equipment. Applying technology to enhance maintenance will necessitate the acquisition of the right knowledge and skills. This must be factored into improvement plans. Specialized training and continuing education for the maintenance team are essentials for skills and knowledge upgrades. Undoubtedly, a team of skilled people with the right motivation will bring about enormous improvements to the contributions assets can make to the bottom line.

Documentation of Improvements

Documenting and keeping track of improvements guarantee that the successes achieved can be reviewed and/or replicated. Gradual and significant improvements should be noted and recorded. This not only serves as motivation for more efforts, but as a reference for reviewing the effectiveness of the improvement strategies. Also, achieved improvements in work processes, designs, equipment and machineries should be properly documented. A clear documentation process needs to be established where one does not exist or where an existing process is inadequate. Never let any improvements go undocumented.


Figure 1: Strategies for improving maintenance contributions to the bottom line

Periodic Review of Performance

The effectiveness of improvement measures, including successes achieved, cannot be adequately strengthened, reinforced and sustained if there is no periodic review. Similarly, poorly performing measures can only be improved when they are appraised and reviewed periodically. The asset manager and maintenance team seeking to significantly and sustainably increase the overall contributions of assets to an organization’s bottom line must subscribe to periodic appraisals and performance assessments. Reviewing performance and improvements provide more opportunities for further improvements.

Furthermore, periodic reviews of performance strengthen the foundation upon which improvements are recorded. Robust and sustainable contributions to the bottom line require a deliberate plan for periodic review. Reviews of performance may, as a necessity, extend to other departments or sections that directly or indirectly impact maintenance operations.

Several standardized metrics are available for evaluating and benchmarking performances. The entire maintenance team must not lose sight of the key performance indicators. Performance indicators must be defined and acceptable to the entire team. This ensures that all efforts are aligned and directed toward a common goal.

Conclusion

If assets are seen and managed basically as cost centers, their potential to contribute to profitability and the drive to manage them so they contribute to profitability are diminished. Assets are investments, and sometimes huge investments are made on assets. These assets are expected to yield returns in the form of performance, availability, reliability and an overall value addition to business operations. These returns on investments in the assets are achieved and sustained through the maintenance strategies deployed. The role of the asset manager and the entire maintenance team, therefore, becomes critical in ensuring appreciable value is derived from assets and the returns on investments in the assets are realized.

Asset care must be seen beyond routine activities, meaning the technical and managerial actions performed during the lifecycle of an asset in order for it to continue to perform required functions. Assets must remain viable contributors to the bottom line during their entire lifecycle. Maintenance plans should be deliberately tailored toward contributing to the profitability and sustenance of an organization. Asset managers, among others, must focus on maintaining and utilizing assets to maximally achieve appreciable contribution to the overall bottom line. Embracing maintenance strategies that promote efficient maintainability and utilization of the assets is paramount. By doing so, assets do not remain cost centers, but become useful drivers for improved contributions to the bottom line.

Okey Okoli

Okey Okoli, is a seasoned maintenance and reliability professional with extensive experience in machinery maintenance onboard vessels. He is currently the head of Mechanical Maintenance at Fymak Marine Limited. Okey supervises the planning, scheduling and execution of maintenance across the  company’s fleet of vessels. www.fymakmarine.com

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