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Microsoft Excel ® is an amazing tool. Yet, it has its limitations and flaws for engineers who aren’t trained in computer programming.

The main problem with spreadsheets for managing maintenance programs is human error. No matter how fastidious you are when creating a spreadsheet, a single line of data that is entered incorrectly, or worse, an inaccurate user-defined formula, can have huge implications down the road.

In fact, "What We Know About Spreadsheet Errors," a study by Raymond Panko of the University of Hawaii’s College of Business Administration that was published in the Journal of End User Computing, found that 88 percent of spreadsheets contain errors. He warns:

These error rates are completely consistent with error rates found in other human activities. With such high cell error rates, most large spreadsheets will have multiple errors, and even relatively small ‘scratchpad’ spreadsheets will have a significant probability of error.

When it comes to maintenance, these small errors can add up quickly.

Think of a multimillion dollar maintenance project. A maintenance manager unwittingly enters a few incorrect cost estimates. Decisions are made based on the calculations resulting from this incorrect data and, as a result, machinery is not maintained when it should be.

Or, the equation for failure probability is not quite right. According to the spreadsheet, a major piece of equipment isn’t likely to fail anytime soon, so you delay maintenance. Whoops. The equipment fails and the whole plant needs to shut down. The downtime costs tens of thousands of dollars a day.

Yes, Excel can be used to create links between different sheets, develop hierarchical relations and create simple pivots. It can even run complex Monte Carlo simulations for determining probabilistic likelihoods of asset failure. It’s flexible and easily adaptable. But, can your organization afford the risk of compounding errors due to incorrectly entered data or a flawed formula?

Implementing an Asset Strategy Management (ASM) solution removes the inconsistent outcomes from asset strategies and drives continuous reliability improvement.

Making Sense of Work Management

As any maintenance engineer or manager knows, work management is a critical piece of the maintenance puzzle. It’s all about evaluating your equipment, deciding what you need to do with it, scheduling the work, completing the work and, finally, reviewing your actions.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an organization that doesn’t have a good work management process in place. Additionally, a raft of enterprise software systems exist to help manage the activity.

Yet, these enterprise systems fall short in one crucial area: Asset Strategy Management. Reliability analysis is not built into the tools, so organizations fall back on spreadsheets to manage things like predictive failure analysis, failure mode and effects analysis and reliability simulations.

The good news? Implementing an Asset Strategy Management (ASM) solution removes the inconsistent outcomes from asset strategies and drives continuous reliability improvement. ASM helps to answer the “what” and “when” of maintenance and is proving to save money, dodge downtime and improve overall business performance.

Key Benefits of Asset Strategy Management

The use of an enterprise ASM solution over spreadsheets offers huge value to any organization.

First, as a structured solution, you know it has gone through rigorous rounds of testing by experienced programmers. Formula errors simply don’t exist.

What about human error? An ASM solution helps you avoid user input errors through data validation and verification. You set up business rules and logic that immediately flag any errors that have been made. For example, there’s a common field called system condition. You can set the field as mandatory, meaning a user must enter a number to progress to the next field. You can even stipulate what number(s) it can be.

ASM also delivers huge efficiency gains. With spreadsheets, it can take almost three years to develop a reliability management strategy. But, using an enterprise ASM software tool, complex reliability strategies for that same organization can be up and running in six months.

Efficiency is also found in a reduction of files being used. If you’re using spreadsheets to manage maintenance schedules, it’s common to have a different spreadsheet at each site. A change that needs to be deployed globally requires a huge effort and carries a risk for errors. When data is consolidated into one ASM system, changes can be made singularly and globally.

Reliability studies also seamlessly interact with the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) without version issues and/or loss of data.

Perhaps the most significant benefit of an ASM solution is its ability to facilitate risk-based decision-making. Spreadsheets do no provide real-time analytics to guide informed decisions. But, with the right ASM system in place, all the key metrics you need to make those business-critical decisions that could make or break your business are at your fingertips.

In Summary

If you are currently trying to manage your asset strategies in spreadsheets as your enterprise tool, you may already be experiencing challenges with collaboration and large data storage. You may have also experienced the effects of errors that can exist within these systems or, perhaps, you don’t have visibility into where errors are lurking or how significant they are. Errors can potentially lead to poor decision-making, compromising equipment availability and reliability, or worse still unknown exposure to critical risk. As an alternative, consider increasing reliability and decreasing downtime costs by using a software solution that is fit for purpose and can handle the needs of a collaborative, enterprise level organization.

Amir Datoo

Amir Datoo, CRL, CMRP, is a Technical Manager at ARMS Reliability. He is involved in the development of enterprise asset strategy management software and associated reliability and implementation software, as well as provides technical support and governance for reliability projects. www.armsreliability.com

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