The maintenance team at Voltalia had a big problem. They were closing over 104,000 work orders every year with no work order data to show for it.
The renewable energy producer and service provider had no idea if any of its PMs caused breakdowns instead of preventing them. Or if it was spending labor hours, parts, and other resources on unnecessary work. Or if it was assigning the right number of people to a task. Or much of anything about their work orders.
Rewriting the script to make data count
Voltalia’s maintenance team vowed to change this. After years of working toward their goal, they reached a “100% improvement in measuring maintenance KPIs,” in the words of Vasco Vieira, Voltalia’s Maintenance Engineering Director.
The data helped the company uncover some major efficiencies. For example, the work order data showed that one team was spending 40 hours every week driving from the office to an off-site facility. That meant adding time and costs to every job. The company ended up building a smaller satellite office near the off-site facility to save time and money.
The moral of the story
Work order data has the power to transform the way maintenance teams operate. There are the small wins, like making every job easier for technicians, that add up to bigger ones, like decreasing maintenance costs across the board. Voltalia is proof of that.
But this data is often overlooked. It’s not because maintenance teams think it’s useless. It’s because looking at thousands of work orders is not easy. This post provides some best practices for making this process easier so you can discover insights in your work orders and use them to make a difference at your organization.
How to get maintenance data from work orders
The most common obstacle to using work order data is having unreliable data or no data at all.
“Before you do anything with work order data, you need to know that it’s there and clean. If not, all the decisions you make afterwards are going to be flawed,” says Vishakha Shah, a Solutions Consultant on Fiix’s professional services team.
Getting off on the right foot with work order data is a four-step process:
#1: Define your goals
Some data is helpful. Too much is distracting. Having a goal will help you draw the line between the right numbers and the distracting ones. Some examples of a goal include:
Building a world-class preventive maintenance program
Think about the areas of your day-to-day operation that can mark progress toward your goal. Some examples of measurements in your work orders include:
Percentage of reactive vs. preventive work orders
Number of faults found during PMs
Frequency of reactive work on critical assets
Number of expected vs actual labor hours
Size of backlogged work orders
#3: Build work orders around those metrics
Set up your work orders to get the metrics you’ve chosen. To do that your work orders need to be created with three Ss in mind:
Standard: Your work orders should ask for the same information every time. The process for creating, reviewing, assigning, prioritizing, and completing work orders should be as standard as possible.
Specific: Be exact about what you want to know. For example, if labor hours are important, ask how much time each task took instead of the time for an entire work order. This will give you cleaner data and makes it easier to spot key metrics quickly.
Simple: Involve staff who frequently make and complete work orders in the process. The input will help you design work orders that are easier to fill in and increases the likelihood they’ll actually be completed.
#4: Start small and scale your success
Finding problems in your process is heartbreaking when you’ve spent months on it. Avoid this by starting with work orders from one asset or from one area of the facility. Hone your measurements, get quick wins, and scale the process to other parts of the organization.
How to use work order data to find and fix problems
Collecting work order data is pointless if it’s not used to solve problems at your organization. Every facility has unique issues, but three most common ones are unplanned downtime, critical work that’s delayed, and work that takes more time and resources to complete.
How to prevent equipment downtime
Here are a few questions to ask to find the cause of reactive maintenance and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again:
Was a follow-up task not created or completed? Make sure failed inspections trigger high-priority follow-up actions and alert the right people. A concise list of failure codes helps follow-up work be successful.
Was a defective part used during a repair? Make sure other spares aren’t defective. If they are, follow up with your vendors to get new ones.
Were tasks on a previous work order missed or done incorrectly? Review your task list and fix any unclear instructions that may have led to missed tasks. Supplement task lists by attaching asset histories, diagrams, pictures, and manuals.
Was scheduled maintenance missed prior to the failure? Mark critical work as a priority and make it visible in whatever system you have until it’s done.
Was production higher than normal/planned, was it done incorrectly, or was it modified?: Review your maintenance schedules and consult with the operations team to create stronger SOPs for when production increases or changes.
How to prevent work from being delayed
Work order data can help you find and fix work orders that took so long to get to:
Parts and supplies were not available. Review the purchasing process for these parts, including minimum quantities and who can submit purchase orders so you’re never shorthanded again.
The problem wasn’t identified properly or instructions were missing. See if the work order description, failure codes, and task list can be clearer. Attach photos, manuals, SOPs, or other documentation to the work order.
An emergency work order diverted resources: This can’t always be avoided, but it could tell you that the task is too big. Consider breaking it into smaller tasks to prioritize parts of the job.
There was a scheduling conflict with production: Talk to operations about why maintenance is necessary on the asset. Consider giving operators minor maintenance responsibilities associated with the work order.
The person/people assigned to the work did not have the right skills: Make it very clear on the work request what kind of skills or certifications are necessary for certain maintenance types.
How to prevent work from taking longer than it should
Maintenance schedules don’t have a lot of room for error. When work runs long, it has a big domino effect. Work orders can give you insight into what’s causing work orders to take longer and how to fix the issue.
It was assigned to the wrong person: Work will take longer if the technician didn’t have the right skill set. Standardized work requests let everyone know the right person to assign. Add as many manuals, pictures, diagrams, and other resources to work orders to help technicians who are unfamiliar with the task.
The expected completion time was too low: The expected labor hours should be increased if a work order is consistently taking more time than is given.
The task list was too big or unclear: Join an experienced technician as they complete the work order, document what they do step-by-step, and create task lists with this information. Give expected hours for each task in the work order so you know which ones are causing problems.
Not enough technicians were assigned to this work order: It might not be a one (or two, or three) person job.
Additional work was done during the work order: Develop processes that help technicians create and prioritize separate work orders for additional corrective repairs.
Parts and supplies were hard to find: Bundle together all parts and supplies needed for common and critical work orders so they can be accessed quickly.
Prioritize work orders so you’re focusing on the ones that matter most
Hire more people to analyze work orders
Invest in a system that does all this for you
How to prioritize work orders
“If you’re strapped for time and resources, focus on reactive work orders,” says Stuart Fergusson, Fiix’s Solutions Engineer Leader.
Identifying how work orders contributed to failures will help you move toward a solid preventive maintenance program, says Stuart.
If you have reactive maintenance work orders locked down, the next batch to prioritize are high-risk, upcoming work orders. This is work that has the potential to go very wrong, including work on critical assets, work that hasn’t been done in a while, or large and complex projects.
If you can squeeze in a few more work orders, Stuart recommends analyzing work that costs a lot. Making these projects more efficient will make a major impact. Look at work that uses a lot of labor, major components, and planned downtime on production assets.
How to justify more resources for your team
Results are the currency you need to convince your boss that you need another person on your team. Highlight the problems you’ve uncovered and fixed by analyzing and optimizing work orders. For example, how many failures have you caught and prevented? Did you decrease the cost of projects by helping technicians be more efficient? No win is too small.
Show the impact of this success if it was achieved on a larger scale. If you saved a dozen labor hours on one work order, imagine how many labor hours would be saved across 100 work orders.
Drive the point home by describing the ripple effect this could have on maintenance. If someone could take work off your plate, it could mean less backlog. Or more training for operators to do routine maintenance tasks, freeing your team to do big projects. Focus on where a new hire may add value indirectly.
Software for work order analytics
Almost every maintenance analytics platform focuses on asset data. It’s not that easy to find a system that goes deep on work orders. Until now.
Work order insights, powered by Fiix Foresight, can analyze 1000s of work orders in minutes and tell you what work has caused breakdowns, overdue work, extra labor hours, or other problems. The work order insights report goes through all your work orders, compares similar ones, and identifies the riskiest ones by finding outliers.
For example, you might have many of the same asset across multiple facilities with hundreds of PMs per year on those assets. If the task count on one PM is half as big as the others, work order insights will catch this. Spot this problem, change your task list, and avoid missing a crucial step in your scheduling maintenance.
That’s just a small taste of what work order insights can do. Learn more about how the report works, what it looks like, and more here.
Everything you just read in three sentences
Creating a successful work order data strategy includes defining your goals, choosing metrics and benchmarks that align with those goals, building work orders that collect those metrics, and piloting your approach.
Studying work orders that took too long to complete or get to and were in response to breakdowns will help you identify the areas of the work order that need fine-tuning and prevent these problems from popping up again.
Scaling your success with work order data relies on three things: Prioritizing work orders, quantifying success to justify more resources, and investing in work order systems that can take on tedious and time-consuming analysis.
For professional services companies like consultants, accountants, legal professionals and others, success so often comes down to their ability to forge deeper and longer lasting relationships with their clients than their competitors. Anyone can provide a service — what firms really need to do to stand out in a crowd involves providing an exceptional experience in every sense of the word.
So much of their ability to do this comes down to the information that they’re creating and working with every day. As your firm continues to grow, there will absolutely come a time when you can no longer manage it all on your own — meaning that you’ll need an information management platform to help extract the insight you need from that data to make better and more informed decisions moving forward.
But at the same time, not all enterprise content management (ECM) solutions are created equally. If you really want to make sure that you’re investing in the right solution for your professional services firm, there are a few key features you’ll want to pay attention to.
Shatter Those Information Silos Once and For All
By far, one of the most important things to look for in an ECM involves a feature set that allows you to finally break down those information silos once and for all.
Information silos are more than just a minor inconvenience — they’re actually costing your business a significant amount of money in more ways than one. If information about a consumer is trapped in your marketing department and can never make its way across the enterprise to sales, for example, the latter is lacking the critical insight they need to create deeper and longer lasting relationships with your clients and customers. An ECM solution should absolutely help you break free from these restrictions — the last thing you need is to end up accidentally creating yet another data silo that requires a massive migration because you’ve chosen the wrong solution.
A system like M-Files is a perfect opportunity to connect to all of your existing business systems in a way that presents information to the people who need it the most regardless of where it lives. Better yet, these full integration capabilities can unlock the free flow of information across your business WITHOUT disturbing any of your existing systems, too.
Empowering Remote Access for Anyone, Anywhere at Any Time
Along the same lines, any ECM solution you choose to go with should also enable remote access as much as possible — people should be able to get information anywhere, at any time, from any device. This type of remote access has always been the future of work, but thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with more people working remotely than ever, it’s become an even more critical idea than it already was.
Not only does a solution like M-Files offer this remote access and connectivity by design, but it also does so in the most secure way possible. M-Files uses encryption and other data security standards to always make sure that your confidential information stays that way, but it also has the dynamic permissions and internal controls you need to configure the system to meet your goals. You can limit access to files by directory, by the type of content or even by the job description of someone trying to access that information. The choice is yours to make based on what you need.
This of course bleeds directly into another benefit your document management solution needs to bring to the table — features that empower collaboration among you and your team members. Only by enabling A) remote access and B) higher security standards as outlined above, will you be able to C) create a secure system where you can easily share information with both colleagues internally and externally with clients as needed. This is of paramount importance in terms of professional services businesses moving forward, and it’s also a goal that an information management system like M-Files is designed to help you achieve.
Optimizing Workflows Across the Board
Any ECM solution you choose to work with should also allow you to fully embrace automation — minimizing those manual repetitive tasks with workflows and business process automation, all so that you can focus more of your attention on those tasks that really need you.
M-Files can help to that end in terms of automating things like invoice processing, for example. M-Files can automatically handle ALL incoming invoices and cover all necessary steps of your accounts payable department — from data extraction to validation to release and beyond. Not only does this create a greater degree of process transparency than ever, but it also reduces costs and eliminates things like human error as well.
An Era of Paper Reduction Has Begun
Any ECM solution worth your time should also help with paper reduction — a step that will finally allow you to break free of the “old school” way of doing things so that you can create a more efficient and more forward-thinking place of business.
M-Files, for example, offers capture and digitization capabilities that allow firms like yours to eliminate costly and inefficient paper document practices. Not only can you free up valuable floor space in your office now that those massive filing cabinets of old documents are no longer needed, but the money you’ll save from a more efficient way of doing things can be funneled back into other areas of your business where it is truly needed and can do the most good.
Scalability to Spare
Finally, we arrive at the idea of scalability — a concept that far too many people tend not to think too much about until it’s too late.
Any ECM solution you pick needs to meet your needs today, yes. But it also needs to be just as useful five years from now as it is at the time of purchase. As your business grows, the volume of information you’re creating on a daily basis will grow, too. Therefore, your information management platform needs to grow right along with you — constantly allowing you to address current demands all while better preparing yourself to meet future challenges, too.
M-Files connects to all of your disconnected information systems — CRM, ERP, network folders, legacy systems, SharePoint, Google G Suite, email — so that your company has information continuity at scale, should your environment change.
As a business leader, there is a plethora of information that your organization has to deal with—physical and electronic documents, data generated by multiple business processes, workflows, mobile apps, and various communication channels, including social media, and many more.
Is this high influx of information giving you sleepless nights? Are you struggling with:
Wastage of time and resources in segregating documents based on their type
Connecting customer communications with organizational processes and workflows
Analyzing and predicting data and historical performance
An organization typically uses workflows, documents, and integrations with various applications. These processes can be fully or partially automated, while others are manual. Additionally, frontend systems might be more optimized than backend processes. Coupled with other enterprise challenges, this disconnect between frontend and backend processes can lead to information silos, resulting in ineffective and slower decision making, further impacting your customers’ experiences.
Amidst all this chaos, you are most likely losing out on extracting valuable insights, essentially rendering data as a liability instead of an asset.
Sure, technology is already involved in gathering information. But you need to leverage the right set of capabilities to create opportunities from this unstructured data. So, what can you do to avoid drowning in a sea of information and to safely navigate toward efficient and well-informed decision making?
Moving from Chaos to Order
Here are six initiatives you can take to optimize your data!
Automate your business-critical, document-intensive processes to efficiently manage data, create a paperless environment, and ensure secure storage, search, and archival
Contextualize your data to extract relevant and meaningful information, thereby driving intelligent decision-making
Drive meaningful engagement with your customers across multiple channels and devices by analyzing their intent or sentiments for personalized interactions using artificial intelligence
Generate business insights and use analytical tools to create better, and more targeted, offerings for your customers, and to enhance future strategies
Auto-classify documents based on characteristics like structure, text, or both for automated sorting, sequencing, and classification of documents
Analyze trends and predict the impact of strategic changes in your organization using process insights tools to overcome bottlenecks and create real-world simulations
Managing and analyzing data holds far more value than just optimizing your business processes. Data analytics can, in some cases, predict the unpredictable. At the very least, data and insights can help you adapt rapidly to unprecedented situations.
In fact, according to Gartner, “Data and analytics combined with artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will be paramount in the effort to predict, prepare and respond in a proactive and accelerated manner to a global crisis and its aftermath.”
Expecting (and Conquering) the Unexpected
Digital transformation has been widely regarded as the ultimate enabler of business continuity, during and (prospectively) beyond the pandemic.
To accelerate your digital transformation initiatives and drive your organizational growth, you must focus on improving your decision-making capabilities and automate your customers’ journeys wherever possible. This will enable your enterprise to eliminate information chaos and pave a path that leads to customer experience and process innovation.
Change is certainly tough on any organization — the scope, scale or specific nature of that change doesn’t actually matter. Some changes are major — like with digital transformation initiatives. When an organization decides that they are investing in a new information management system, for example, it can represent a change to the fundamental way people work — a positive change, but one that requires an adjustment, nonetheless.
As a prime example within the M-Files solution — and top of mind since it was the topic of our last podcast — is the idea that computer folders don’t matter. Putting files in folders and subfolders has been the norm since the very first iteration of MS-DOS — where you drop objects into a file directory. So, the idea of simply having documents described by metadata, out in the ether, uncoupled from file location is a paradigm shift.
Getting your team to buy into the vision of a newer, better way of doing things is the first step to navigating disruption. Mismanaging disruption can absolutely harm user adoption if you’re not careful, which will harm your return on investment for the solution, too. Thankfully, if your current goal involves boosting the user adoption of your information management system, there are four key ways you can do it.
You Need a Team of Champions
Your users aren’t just going to decide to adopt your new information management system out of the kindness of their heart. They need to be swayed, and they’re going to start looking to the people around them in order to see whether yours is a solution worth paying attention to.
Therefore, if you really want to boost user adoption, you don’t just need a team of people who are willing to sing your praises. You need a team of people who are willing to champion the effort and evangelize their experience. Essentially, you’re looking for people who won’t shut up about what a good experience this is and how they’re getting more work done than ever — and you need as many of them as you can get.
The benefit here is that this creates a snowball effect in the best possible way. Once a few of your champions begin to spread the word, it’ll almost always convince someone who was resistant to change to give your information management system a fair shake. They, too, become advocates for the effort and things only get better from there.
Overall, find a quick win and evangelize it to get people on board. If you have a user who lets you know that thanks to the information management system, they were able to improve their own productivity by 30%, that’s a big win — and that person (and their story) should be held up as a major example of what your solution can do.
Test, Test and Test Some More
Another one of the best ways to boost user adoption for your information management system involves using the testing phase to train IT and future administrators. Keep in mind that during your wider rollout, people are obviously going to have a lot of questions. They’re also going to run into issues and have concerns that will need to be addressed — it’s only natural.
What you need to do is be in a position to take care of all of this, creating the most seamless support experience possible. If users can see that there is someone there to help them and that they’re not just being “thrown into the deep end before they’re ready,” they’ll be much more likely to embrace the solution. This is true even if problems arise or things get a little frustrating.
On the subject of training, be sure to use real-life use cases specific to your business as the main training modules. The more general your examples are, the more disconnected users will feel because they don’t feel like this information management system has any relevance to THEIR lives.
Instead, you need to create training modules that speak to the work they’re doing on a daily basis. Show people how this solution will fit into their lives and let them experience how much easier their job will be once it is in place. Demonstrate how communication and collaboration are better than ever.
The more relevant you’re able to make it to their lives, the more likely they are to adopt it wholeheartedly — and at that point, that’s really all you need to get started.
Communication is King
There’s a reason why your business is using THIS information management system at THIS particular moment — and it’s incumbent on management to explain why it’s so important for users to change the way they’re used to doing things.
Obviously, you have a plan in place. If you want to boost user adoption, you need to make sure that plan is actually communicated to your users early and often.
If users can at least understand what this tool is, why it will make a positive impact on their lives and why it’s so important for them to use it, they’ll be much more likely to adopt it. At that point, the software can speak for itself and the users can see the benefits up close and personal.
Choose an Information Management Company Committed to Help You Increase Adoption
Make sure that whichever solution you choose, that company has a robust Services and Support team, with the experience needed to help you roll out the software. Any SaaS company worth their salt knows the most effective way to increase user adoption of their product. So, ask questions about Services and Support in the buying process. Find a vendor that will guide you to optimal user adoption.
At M-Files, we have a global Services and Support arm ready to help you tackle change management, user adoption, and everything in between. When you implement M-Files, really, what you’re doing is asking staff to use a tool that is objectively better than the previous one. Our Services team is experts at demonstrating just that. Once your staff sees the information management system for what it really is — an invaluable asset that will allow them to work better than ever — they’ll soon begin to wonder how they were ever able to live without it.
The National Parks Service has a serious problem with backlog. And it’s costing everyone.
The cost of maintenance backlog at over 400 national parks across the United States was recently billed at $12 billion. That’s 500% more than the operating budget for the department. And although $6.5 billion has been set aside to address the backlog, it barely covers half of what’s needed.
The parks bear the scars of deferred maintenance. Safety hazards. Unusable equipment. Expensive infrastructure needs upgrading years too early.
It’s not pretty. Not many maintenance backlogs are. That’s why this article explores tips for avoiding work order backlog and how to reduce maintenance backlog if you already have it.
What is maintenance backlog?
Maintenance backlog is all maintenance work that’s been planned, approved, and scheduled, but not completed. It is not work that is simply past its due date.
Think about it like your household to-do list. You were planning to clean the garage last Saturday, but never got to it. You’re also planning to organize your closet next weekend. Both chores are in your backlog.
How is maintenance backlog measured?
Maintenance backlog is often measured in the number of hours or weeks it would take to complete the work with the resources available. And backlog doesn’t discriminate between emergency and planned work orders. Every scrap of maintenance is included in the calculation.
How much maintenance backlog is too much?
Having zero maintenance backlog is not healthy. If a backlog is too small, it will be difficult to keep tradespeople and technicians on priority work, according to this article in Reliable Plant. This usually leads to an increase in unplanned and corrective work.
That same article recommends having a total backlog of about four weeks. This includes a planning backlog of two to three weeks (work that’s planned, but not ready to start) and a scheduled backlog of one to two weeks (work that can be started at any time).
Six steps for reducing maintenance backlog
A long list of backlogged work orders is scary, but the consequences of keeping it that way are scarier. These are six tried and true strategies for chipping away at that mountain of backlog:
#1: Get buy-in
The idea to put maintenance ahead of some other things (like production) might not be too popular. But getting access to equipment and resources is essential for working through backlog. That’s why changing everyone’s mind is the first thing you should do.
Getting people to buy into your plan starts with telling them how it’ll help them and backing it up with numbers. For example, your plan might cut into the production team’s goals and quotas in the short-term. Show them that this work will help them hit their targets long-term through better asset performance (less scrap and rework) or cleaner startups for the next few months.
First, prioritize based on asset criticality. Outstanding work on critical assets should move to the top of the list.
Filter work on critical assets by how late they are. If a PM was missed four times, it’s probably more urgent than a PM missed once.
Determine the length and difficulty of remaining work orders. Work that can be done quickly or with less downtime should be your number-one priority.
#3: Assess your resources
The next step is to assess what resources are available for you and your team to get the work done:
How many people are on your team? What training, skills, and certifications do they have? The capabilities of your technicians will change what you do, the order you do it in, and how long it’ll take.
Do you have all the parts, supplies, and safety equipment for your work orders? If not, how long will it take to get them? This might push back your timeline.
How big are your maintenance windows?
Do they have all the information needed so technicians can do the job safely and properly in the time given?
#4: Plan for risks
There are three kinds of high-risk jobs usually found in a work order backlog:
Time-consuming and complex projects
Work your team hasn’t done in a while or at all.
Make note of these work orders. Analyze the risks associated with each and find ways to mitigate them. Reduce risk by giving technicians extra training, putting more technicians and labor hours towards the work, and making sure the right PPE is available.
#5 Build work orders for efficiency and safety ?
Creating great work orders helps technicians to knock backlogged maintenance off the list safely, efficiently, and properly so you can make the most of your time, staff, and budget. There are some key areas of a work order that make this possible:
Clear and detailed task lists: Clear, detailed, and concise task lists eliminate confusion and wasted time
A list of required parts and PPE: Including a bill of materials, along with where to find those parts, will speed up most jobs
Manuals, diagrams, and pictures: Giving these items to technicians upfront cuts a lot of time spent searching for them or troubleshooting without them
An in-depth description of the problem and completion notes: Any additional information that gives a technician context for the job will help them avoid mistakes, risks, and wasted time
#6: Keep track of everything
It’s important to measure your progress once your plan is in motion. This allows you to adjust your strategy as new challenges come up and work is completed. It also gives you more data for building buy-in across the organization.
Keeping track of everything means staying up to date with your team and helping them tackle the tasks you’ve assigned. Schedule frequent touchpoints with them to ask:
If they’re comfortable with the work
If they have all the resources and equipment they need
What processes are helping the most and which ones need tweaking
What causes maintenance backlog and how to prevent it
Whittling your backlog down to a manageable size is an accomplishment. But it’s just the beginning. Keeping your team from reaching code-red status again is next. Here are a few ideas for your next fight against backlog:
Eliminate duplicate work orders and fine-tune your PMs: Get rid of duplicate work orders so they don’t inflate your backlog. Review your PM schedules regularly and adjust the frequency of scheduled maintenance based on how often they’re finding faults. No faults means they could probably be done less frequently
Standardize work orders for requesters and technicians: Build one template for all work orders. Be very specific about the information required when creating or completing work orders. It’ll make requesting and reviewing work faster. It also helps you track trends in work orders so you can catch problems sooner and adjust schedules easier.
Align your goals and processes: Get everyone on the same page about the expectations for maintenance. For example, define priority work orders and what ‘high priority’ means? Fewer important work orders will be missed when everyone is talking the same language.
Track your parts and staff skills closely: Keep a dashboard of commonly used parts so they never go out of stock. Find skills gaps in your maintenance team and bolster training in those areas.
Everything you just read in three sentences
The best way to change a culture of reactive maintenance at your organization is to frame backlog as an obstacle to everyone, align on a solution, and make everyone part of the process.
More time planning means less time doing so make sure to prioritize your tasks, figure out the risks, and build strong work orders to maximize efficiency.
Optimize your PMs, track trends in your work orders, and push for standardization across your processes to prevent backlog from emerging or reemerging at your organization