Mobile maintenance - more than just an industry trend

October 16, 2018

| 17 min read

Mobile maintenance: More than just an industry trend (PODCAST)

What’s behind all the buzz about mobile maintenance? Fiix’s Manager of Customer Success, Scott Deckers, recently visited the Rooted in Reliability podcast for a discussion about why it’s more than just an industry trend and how it’s changing the game for maintenance teams everywhere.

Among the topics covered are why maintenance was always mobile (even without handheld devices) and why cloud computing has revolutionized the way maintenance operations run. They also do some myth-busting about the perceived barriers to going mobile and discuss why standardization is a crucial first step to successfully implementing a mobile CMMS.

Listen to the podcast episode here (also available on Accendio Reliability’s website) or read the transcript below. Be sure to stay tuned for more appearances from Fiix experts in the future.

Want to learn more about mobile maintenance?

James Kovacevic: It’s my pleasure to welcome Scott Deckers to the podcast. Welcome, Scott.

Scott Deckers: Yeah, thanks for having me, James.

JK: Now Scott, you are the manager of the Customer Success team at Fiix. And for those that may not be familiar with Fiix, it is a cloud-hosted CMMS, and once upon a time, it was known as Maintenance Assistant, which I have personally used on more than one occasion. So it’s great to have someone from Fiix on.

SD: Yeah, and it’s great to be on with somebody that’s familiar with the platform, so that’s good news.

JK: Excellent. So Scott, you’ve been at Fiix for about two and a half to three years now. Prior to Fiix, you gained experience in the manufacturing and software industries at Nordson Canada and Blackberry, and with those two, I’m assuming you gained a tremendous amount of experience both with the industrial manufacturing piece with Nordson, and the technology piece with Blackberry.

SD: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of amazing that I ended up in a place right at the intersection of those two industries. The blue-collar manufacturing experiences I gained walking the shop floors and even wrenching directly on some of the hot melt equipment with Nordson, and obviously learning the software side of things at a pretty major Canadian software manufacturer, Blackberry, it’s almost like it was just grooming for this position at Fiix.

JK: Excellent. And Fiix, as I mentioned, is a cloud-hosted CMMS. Can you explain what a CMMS is?

SD: So a CMMS is a computerized maintenance management system. That can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. It’s really just a good way to keep track of what you’re doing with your assets, how you’re maintaining them, how you’re improving their reliability over time. Where the cloud comes into that—the way I explain the cloud to everybody is, it’s a bunch of computers sitting in a warehouse, and you’re able to log in to those computers from anywhere, whether that’s from a mobile phone, a tablet, or your PC. You do the work on those computers, and the data just renders back to whatever platform you’re viewing it from. So that really allows you to be anywhere and still have access to the same information in real time.

JK: Excellent. And has that been a recent change in how CMMSs are hosted, or has that been something that’s been going on for quite a while?

SD: So this is a pretty huge change as far as CMMS goes. Traditionally, CMMSs were these big, on-prem server installations, and very expensive. Very hard to manage both the hardware and the software. By moving to these cloud installations, you take away all the hardware, all the IT responsibility, all the software. It reduces cost by hundreds of percentage points, so, therefore, more companies can get into CMMSs and everybody has access to that as a tool to track their assets and get better performance from them over a long term.

JK: So it reduces the installation and maintenance cost of the CMMS, but I believe it also does one other thing, and correct me if I’m wrong. But that is, it’s a key enabler for having mobile maintenance or having a CMMS on a tablet, a phone, and a variety of other things, correct?

SD: Absolutely. So because these cloud computers are very powerful servers, they can do all the heavy lifting of running a rather large and sophisticated program, and only the information that you need is sent to a smaller device. You know, I’ve seen people using PCs from the early 2000s, and as long as they have a web browser and a connection, they can log in and use the CMMS just as well as someone using the latest and greatest iPhone or Android phone.

JK: Perfect, so that enables us to start moving towards a paperless workforce and be enabled to actually receive new work notifications, check spare parts, do all that stuff in real time, whether you’re on the shop floor, or whether you’re in the field, correct?

SD: Yeah, and I mean, it even goes beyond that. You have the ability to create work orders from a beach in Cancun if it’s something that needs to be done. Obviously, it’s good for people to disconnect when they’re on vacation, but there’s actually no reason to not have access to everything that’s going on on your shop floor if you need it.

JK: Excellent. So what we’re talking about is mobile maintenance, essentially. So what is your definition of mobile maintenance?

SD: Yeah, so, for me, I talked a little bit about my background, but my opinion of maintenance is that all maintenance is already mobile. Whether it’s a guy pushing his tool cart around the shop floor or whether that’s a team of guys going out into the field to do a repair on a wind farm, it’s just inherently a mobile position. I don’t know any maintenance guys complaining about sitting at a desk all day. So when we talk about mobile CMMS, the important thing about a mobile CMMS is that it allows data capture when and where you are, as soon as it happens. In a manufacturing environment, the great thing is you go out and you do a fix and get the line running again, and when you do that, you’ve got those cycles that you have to run to make sure you’re not making defects, or to make sure the problem’s not going to repeat itself. For a lot of people, that’s just lost time. What a mobile CMMS allows you to do is pull out your tablet from your toolbox or pull out your phone from your pocket and enter that information right into the work order, paperless, immediately. And so you’re getting higher-quality information in real time as it’s happening, and that allows a lot of more powerful data and decision making from the people who are caring for those assets.

The other thing that is really powerful about that—our head of professional services preaches this all the time, he says, “I’m going to teach you something, and you’re going to forget 50% of what I teach you by the end of today, and you’re going to forget another 50% of that by the end of the week.” So again, in some of the shops that I’ve been in, guys that are walking around with their paper work orders or even carbon sheets. If they wait until the end of the day to fill out that data, it’s like, “I think I did this,” or “I’m pretty sure I used an O-ring on this job,” and it almost becomes hearsay in a conversation. Where if they’re doing it in real time, it’s like “Yes, there’s the package from the O-ring I just used, there’s all the hours I got here at this time,” and the data becomes effectively perfect.

JK: Yeah, and that becomes a huge piece. Not only are we capturing the labour hours and the material usage for costing, and trending on that asset, we’re also able to capture some of that failure data. When did the asset actually go down? When did it actually go up? What were the failure codes we put in that are relevant to that failure because we remember what we just did? All that adds up to a tremendously powerful system that allows us to start moving towards data-driven maintenance, as opposed to intuition and gut feel.

SD: Yes, which is how far too many maintenance shops are still run, exactly. I think we need to change that soon, where you can even get into repair or replace calculations directly in the system without having to do anything else if you’ve got that data.

JK: Absolutely. So we covered a few key points there, but how else can mobile maintenance help organizations?

SD: Well I mentioned another thing, which is that the data is accessible remotely, so if you’ve got four or five different facilities that you’re managing, you don’t have to be at the plants to consume that data. So we talked about the shop floor, but at the top-floor level, you can give remote access to people who want to see cost reports, who want to see asset performance reports, uptime and downtime tracking. That doesn’t have to be rolled up through several layers. You can actually automate that. You take all of that administrative headache of compiling reports and trying to collate things into one Excel spreadsheet, and you set it up once, and then automate it, and those reports can go out to, whether it’s a plant manager, a regional manager, even the CEO in some cases, depending on what level of information you want to share on your operations. That’s another key thing. So we cover literally everything from the shop floor all the way to the metaphorical top floor.

JK: Yes, absolutely. And the one other benefit from a shop floor perspective, I believe, is that the technicians, mechanics, and electricians can easily access equipment documentation and records. So they can see that this troubleshooting has taken place three times over the past, you know, week, obviously what they’re doing isn’t working, so let’s try something else. Or they can access drawings, manuals, those sorts of things in the field.

SD: … or health and safety information. All of it’s there and accessible.

JK: Now, with all these advantages, what kind of benefits do organizations see? Do they see less downtime, higher wrench time? What do they typically see as a result of this mobile maintenance?

SD: Well, it starts with “you get out what you put in”, so the more committed you are to using the system and tracking that data, and holding everyone on your team accountable to using it, the more you get out of it. Some of our more sophisticated users have seen as much as an 80% reduction in unplanned maintenance, and a 60% reduction in maintenance costs. You can get really sophisticated, again because it’s cloud-hosted. You can start connecting it to other systems so via our API, you can actually connect to things like SCADA systems, condition monitoring software, you can connect costing data into an ERP—you start to build an ecosystem of other components that then drive further cost reduction and further overall optimizations in the way you run things. So it starts small. It starts by those data capture points that we talked about earlier, but it really has the opportunity to almost create its own snowball effect and become this really amazing course for change.

JK: Excellent. Massive changes are possible when they’re committed, they put forth the effort, they configure it properly, they set up failure coding properly, they do all those things to make the data easy to enter, easy to extract, easy to review. That’s critical to seeing those kinds of numbers that you’re referring to.

SD: Yeah, it is. I mean, the effective setup of a CMMS is still really the most difficult part of using a CMMS. You commit to making that change, and then a lot of people are like, “We spent the money so now the change should happen.” There’s really two components. We will come in and help with data migration and PM setup, but really the hardest part for an organization is actually doing that organizational change, so getting the employees bought in, showing them that completing work orders out on the line on a tablet saves you an hour of paperwork at the end of the day, so you can go home to your family earlier, or you can go for beers with your buddies. That actually becomes the more difficult part of getting the CMMS going.

JK: Yes, absolutely, that is a critical piece. And I think we can save that topic for another podcast and a different time, because that one is so big and in-depth. Now, assuming we set it up properly, how hard is it to implement mobile maintenance with tablets, iPads, phones, whatever the case may be?

SD: It’s getting easier all the time. We actually just launched an open beta of our new mobile application, and it’s actually really centered on what’s called user-centered design. So we’re taking best practices from places like Netflix and Facebook and the Twitters of the world, and bringing that to maintenance so that everything is one touch away, or fewer keystrokes, or fewer things hidden behind menus. The idea is that with a little bit of guidance on where things are on the tablet, you can get a push prompt to open a work order, and with one touch you’re in that work order that you’re already at the machine for. You fill in your notes, and with one touch you use the parts that were assigned to the work order. I actually can now personally complete a work order faster than I could write it down by hand, which I think is really critical. If you’re going to make a paperless move, you don’t want to add work, you want to save it. That’s really a key thing for us. As far as the rest of it, again because of the way we built our system, you could go from submitting an order for your first license at 9 AM in the morning, then you can have your asset hierarchy imported through our import tool and be closing work orders by the end of a workday on a cell phone, because the idea again, the way we talked about it earlier, all you need is that login, username and password and you can get in from any portal so whether you set it up on your desktop or on your mobile phone, it’s all the same setup and it gets going very quickly and easily if you’ve got that figured out.

JK: Organizations, once they’ve set that up on their mobile devices, they don’t need specialized industrial hand-held computers or anything like that. They can use phones, tablets, iPads, iPods, so on and so forth, correct?

SD: All of the above. I do always recommend to budget for a good case. People ask, “Do you recommend a tablet or a particular phone?” and I say, “Nope. I recommend the one that has the best case you can find.” And that’s about all we recommend for hardware because, again, it’s designed to be used on just about any platform. The only thing that you actually need to do on a phone that you wouldn’t do on a computer is just go to the App Store and download our app.

JK: Perfect. So, very simple to set up, very easy to use. Now, with it being so easy to use and providing so many advantages, what have you seen that prevents organizations from moving towards that mobile deployment, if you will?

SD: So, again, we talked about maybe talking in a separate podcast about this, but change management’s the biggest hurdle with any system. It’s convincing everyone that change is needed, that change is beneficial for everybody, and that it’s something they should all invest in. And the other thing that we’ve found is a lot of, whether it’s plant managers or maintenance managers or GMs, they would like to make a change, but maybe their leadership doesn’t immediately see the value or buy in at the front end, and that just leads to longer-term struggles for adoption down the road. If everybody’s bought in, from the top leadership all the way down, very very quickly you can start to drive actual significant operational results. That inventory reduction, cost of inventory on hand reduction, cost of labour reduction, improved uptime, all of this stuff happens in a very short window, like 3-6 months. We’re not talking about a multiple-year ROI, and we haven’t even talked about the real cost of this. We’re talking less than $100 per user, per month. A lot of companies I’ve dealt with are spending more on O-rings and nuts and bolts than they are on their CMMS software.

JK: Yeah, absolutely. But that leads me to a question. You mentioned the ROI within 6 months and 12 months. In my experience, when I’ve built a business case around making a change or fixing a CMMS, maybe not even changing but actually going in and doing the reconfiguration and getting it set up properly for structure and all that stuff, no one seems to believe those ROIs. Do you come across that?

SD: It comes down to tracking. What I’ve found is that so much of these plants have been run on gut feel, intuition and experience for so long. People count on this tribal knowledge to make these decisions, and the budget for next year’s maintenance team is always 10% less than last year, so it actually starts from data collection and knowing your baseline so that the ROIs actually start to make sense. Because they’re very much achievable if you know where you’re starting from. What we run into, and the biggest problem we run into with any ROI calculation, is that people don’t know where they started. They all agree that the CMMS has been a real help to their teams and it’s created all these efficiencies, but they don’t know where they started from so it’s really hard to present an ROI case study at the end.

JK: Yeah absolutely, you need to have that baseline. Just like with your metrics and everything else, you want to see the change or the delta in it. Not just where you ended up without a baseline.

SD: It’s like asking someone to lose weight without even showing them a scale. “Did you lose weight?” “Yeah, I think so. I look better.” But you never tested anything.

JK: Absolutely. So, what should organizations do to prepare themselves, both from an organizational standpoint and from a CMMS standpoint to move towards mobile maintenance?

SD: One of the best things, especially as you get into larger organizations, that you can do to prepare for the success of a CMMS, is actually talk about standard practices. This especially becomes relevant if you have more than one location or more than one team of maintenance people, because I might call it a preventative maintenance, and you might call it a scheduled maintenance, and somebody else might call it a recurring maintenance, but we’re all talking about the same thing, right? And so if you start to standardize language, standardize part names and part codes—some people use supplier numbers or some internal part number—getting a baseline together and really standardizing everything before you even go out to the market and look for a CMMS is actually going to set you up to be so much more successful in the long term, because everybody’s speaking the same language, and then you put it into a CMMS and it becomes encoded in the way you talk about maintenance. And then new people come in and they see all this in the CMMS, and they start speaking your language right away. And one of the key things about CMMSs in general, but especially these newer, lower-cost cloud CMMSs… Most of the maintenance teams we’re dealing with are in a 5-10 year retirement window. If you start to look at that tribal knowledge of people who are just organically retiring out of the workforce, there’s no way to capture that with paper and pen. If you don’t have that logged somewhere like a CMMS, you’re just going to lose that as a business asset and you’re going have to start over from scratch.

JK: Absolutely. And standardizing those business practices, building that knowledge management library—those are all critical things that need to be thought of when you set up your CMMS. How you’re going to use it, definitions, terminology, work order codes and types, all those great things, that all has to be standardized up front, and like you said, it’s especially more important when you have multiple sites within the same instance. I was with an organization that within one region had, I think 15 sites on the CMMS, and if you wanted to make a change, not only would it impact that region, but it would also impact the hundred-and-some other sites on the global instance that everyone used. So trying to make those changes were virtually impossible, but having that standard approach up front, defining those things, is critical for success.

SD: And it just makes everything so much easier when you do go to set it up because you don’t have to create 10 different ways of working for the same job at 10 different factories.

JK: Yes, absolutely. Now what is the one thing you think makes the biggest difference in being successful with mobile maintenance?

SD: The biggest thing for success with mobile maintenance is actually, a lot of companies are really averse to providing devices or allowing employees to use their own devices on the shop floor. So a lot of the benefits of mobile maintenance or cloud maintenance get lost in translation because even the teams can’t take their phones or tablets out to the machines. Now, there’s a bunch of security reasons why people do that. There are also a lot of security tools that you can get into to lock those devices down so that people aren’t, you know, watching Netflix beside the equipment. But that’s actually the barrier there. It’s kind of where the maintenance operations group runs into the corporate IT group, and they start to butt heads a little bit around what they will allow in the manufacturing environment from a technology perspective. I would say that’s the biggest hurdle I’ve seen so far.

JK: Yeah, and I think that’s common not just with mobile maintenance, but with a lot of different technology that maintenance tries to deploy to manage their assets better. There’s not that organizational alignment, if you will, that enables these decisions to be made quickly and effectively.

SD: Yeah, it’s interesting because one of my customers, he’s very good at speaking to this sort of thing, but he always says IT can let him know what kind of solutions they want to deploy when they start making the parts. It’s so true though, right? Does the tail wag the dog or does the dog wag the tail?

JK: Exactly, and depending on the organization sometimes the tail does the wagging.

SD: And more often than I’d actually care to admit to, to be honest.

JK: Now, if you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change in a typical mobile maintenance deployment?

SD: I think having a set of defined outcomes going into it, honestly would be the one thing that I would immediately wave a wand and do for everybody, because people come to CMMSs for the answers to a lot of different problems, but a lot of the time they don’t even know necessarily what problem they are trying to solve. And so they go through, they invest a lot of time, effort, even a good amount of money into it, but again, we talked about it before, they can’t demonstrate the ROI because they never defined the problem they were trying to solve. So if we could look at it as, “What problem are you trying to solve? Here’s how we can help, and here’s how we can prove that we are helping,” it solves two problems. Everybody knows what the expectation is going in, and it lets people know that a CMMS is not going to magically solve all the maintenance problems in any environment. It’s going to be a great tool that’s going to help, but the hammer doesn’t swing itself. So that’s pretty key for me.

JK: Yeah, I would agree. Very much so. Many organizations view a CMMS as the tool to fix the problems, but what they really need is to put in the standard business practices, invest in the training, the skills, those sorts of things that allow the maintenance team to better do their job, and the CMMS is a critical tool to facilitate that, but that is not the only piece that’s going to fix it all.

JK: Now, what is one action you want our listeners to take away from the conversation today on mobile maintenance?

SD: I think with mobile maintenance or cloud-hosted maintenance, the time is now, and the time is going even faster. I touched on it a little bit earlier, but we’re moving very quickly into the Internet of Things, where these hardware sensors are so cheap, almost effectively free, and you can get into truly predictive maintenance, not even proactive maintenance, based on a lot of these sensors. Getting your organization set up for that is going to be critical for your success over the next decade. And it is happening now. I think a lot of people are very comfortable sticking with how things are today, and it’s always easier to not make a change, but there are other organizations that are forward-looking that are making these changes today, and they’re going to have a significant competitive advantage over the next decade or more.

JK: Very good. I believe as long as they have the foundations in place, having that data will make a huge, huge impact, and give them a dramatic competitive advantage. But they need to know why they’re collecting the data, why they’re using it. If they don’t understand failure modes, and RCM or failure mode effect analysis, stuff like that, I don’t know if it will help them.

SD: Well even engineering for reliability long-term—failure modes start when you start designing the products. It’s a whole lifecycle cradle-to-grave thing with every asset, and I think that, to your point, we all need to be speaking a common language around that.

JK: Absolutely. Now Scott, where can people find out more about you and Fiix?

SD: Yeah, so I’ll start with Fiix. Our website is, and as for me, where I share most of my content, and the best place to connect with me on the internet is on LinkedIn. I tend to post a lot of our content from our team and a lot of our articles there.

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