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Master Records are Not Optional - Get the Detail Work Behind You

Master records and foundational data are the building blocks of any Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) or Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS). Absent an adequate foundation, all management systems fail to live up to their expectations. It is simply not possible to aggregate meaningful transactional data (routine adding, removing or changing data in a data base) to drive business decisions when the rudimentary elements of the transactional data are absent or suspect. Master records (“original” information and data elements) and foundational data must be in place to maximize the return on investment. Foundational or detail work, as mentioned in this article, refers to the population of all necessary master data to support a robust and efficient system implementation.

The topic of foundational data and master records was discussed with a colleague a few weeks ago. I made the statement, “Knowing what I know I would not waste another minute wrestling with the population and ongoing maintenance of master records. I would just outsource the task and get it behind me. The real value comes from the information the system is capable of providing, not wrestling with population of the data.” We both began raising the question, “Why are organizations routinely failing to establish and sustain foundational Master Data?” The answers to this question range from the simple to the complex within any particular situation. But in general there can only be a few reasons. We will discuss two of the reasons here:

  1. The importance of the data is not recognized.
  2. The importance is recognized, but nothing has been done to effectively address the issue.

Importance of the master records data:

There are two major categories of data, transactional data and master records data. Transactional data includes all of the information that is dynamically entered into the systems to reflect transactions such as work orders, purchase orders and inventory issues or receipts. Master data records and foundational data represent the static information that uniquely describes elements in your system. Items such as assets or equipment (model, manufacturer, location, Bills of Materials (BOMs), serial number, specifications), inventory (parts and their descriptions), employee data, vendor information, cost centers, coding information (table look ups, drop downs) and documentation or reference material are all examples of master records.

Content, accuracy and granularity of the master records is crucial because all subsequent transactional data involves at least some level of master or foundational data. Consider a work order (WO) issued for a pump repair. The typical WO is issued to the asset level. Asset information is linked with BOM information. Material needs are linked with inventory. Inventory is linked with purchasing…. In each case the level to which the system is hierarchically structured with nomenclature and taxonomy makes a difference in the ability to collect, utilize and report data/information. Minimum areas of impact include planning, inventory, purchasing and scheduling.

Master Data supports all subsequent transactional data! Transactional data based on faulty master data is misleading at best and most likely worthless. Hence the typical frustrations expressed regarding data:

  1. Missing, inaccurate or no information on Maintenance Repairs and Operations (MRO) data (labor, materials and contract information)
  2. An inability to manage inventory levels (often times organizations are being asked to eliminate or reduce inventory with little or no data to substantiate decisions)
  3. No way of definitively knowing whether or not our “system” is working (Preventive Maintenance (PM), Predictive Maintenance (PdM), Work Order (WO), Planning, Scheduling, Inventory)
  4. A lingering inability to have accurate reporting. Reporting that sheds light on maintenance spend and productivity losses from the work order to the asset to the operations level

(If your Master data does not reside in your “system” then where does it reside? By default, the data (good and bad) most likely resides within your employee base. As an aging workforce continues retiring in record numbers the data and knowledge base is potentially retiring with them. What is your strategy for handling the brain drain of retiring employees or for the on-boarding of new employees with the correct information?)

Know the problem, but nothing has been done to effectively address the issue:

Organizations that realize the necessity of the foundational data and master records, but have failed to effectively address the issue have to determine ownership for the data and understand who has the capability to correct the data and then address the data.

Maintenance and Engineering leadership have to own the process and ultimately be responsible for the availability and quality of the master records data and transactional data that they need to drive and support business decisions. This does not mean that other functional areas will not be involved or have their own areas of responsibility regarding the systems or the data. (Too often, every department, other than Maintenance and Engineering, is dictating what systems and data Maintenance and Engineering will utilize or have access to. Examples include what ERP, CMMS or EAM they are allowed or required to use, whether or not MRO inventory is handled internally or outsourced, If MRO inventory is outsourced, whether or not transactional data is issued or updated at the work order level, whether or not purchase orders and receipts data are integral with the system, or whether or not interfaces are in place to facilitate transfer of data between systems or if data entry transactions are required to be duplicated lest data is not captured. Is it any wonder that data is missing or suspect? Not only does this situation lead to poor data, but it also perpetuates turf wars (Finance, IT, Purchasing, Logistics, Maintenance, Engineering and Operations), and a victim mentality on behalf of all involved and creates a loophole for Maintenance and Engineering not having defensible data.) Ask your organization, “Who currently owns the data, the process and the ongoing control and administration of the process?”

Where does the capability to methodically and systematically structure and correct the data reside? Where does the capability need to reside? First, it is necessary to understand the current and ongoing needs regarding the data issue. In the case of Master Records, the task most likely just needs to be completed, a work process established, and a system implemented to sustain the “data”. Unless available internal resources have years of experience building master data records, they are going to struggle mightily to get the work done effectively and efficiently. Seek external experts that have the knowledge, proven methodologies and efficiency to remedy the situation. The level of engagement and potential transfer of skills or knowledge to internal resources can be discussed, but experts that implement proven industry accepted methodologies are your best bet for getting the detail work completed.


We wouldn't consider running our Financial Systems with an inaccurate chart of accounts! Why do we allow inadequate and inaccurate master and foundational data to plague our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) (Maintenance module) or CMMS/EAM?

Surveys, articles and first hand knowledge with site assessments reveal that the availability and quality of the data necessary to deliver useful and actionable information from these systems is severely lacking. In the majority of cases, it is not the software that is causing the problem. Organizations need to recognize the key role that master records and foundational data play with the functionality of the system. Further they must recognize the need to stop wrestling with the foundational data elements, just get the detail work completed.

Populate the system with the correct master records and then and only then will the transactional data lend itself to valid and useful analysis, analysis that bolsters critical thinking, analysis that identifies the vital opportunities that are worthy of pursuit.

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