Lawyers And Computerized Maintenance Management Systems

EP Editorial Staff | September 1, 2009


How confident are you in the ability of your CMMS to stand up in a court of law?

Ever wonder what would happen if the data in a CMMS had to help defend maintenance decisions in a court of law? What if documented maintenance actions or inactions were to be used as justification and evidence for the outcome of a lawsuit against a company? If only this were something out of a fictional television drama or vivid, sweat-inducing nightmare. It’s not.

The story is very real. Names of plaintiffs and defendants cannot be divulged. Actual data findings cannot be shared. Circumstances surrounding the lawsuit cannot be reported. The specific type of industry and eventual out-of-court settlement cannot be disclosed. What can be discussed is the fact that a CMMS and its resident data were going to be used as the main evidence in determining the outcome of a lawsuit.

Since the initial suit was for hundreds of millions of dollars, it can be surmised that it was settled for a million dollars or more. On top of that, the defendant would have incurred costs for attorneys and depositions, as well as for loss of production as employees were deposed and gathered data (that may or may not have been pertinent to the case). There also would have been significant costs for a maintenance consultant to assemble the data, analyze findings, request amplifying information, develop supporting documentation in preparation for a possible hearing and, if the case had gone to trial, testify as an expert witness. All things considered, the situation was a very expensive ordeal—and one in which no company ever wants to find itself.

This article is geared toward helping make sure that you are collecting valid historical data in case your company and your CMMS ever head to court. As for making the right decisions based on the data … that’s up to you.

The best defense
The type of CMMS utilized by the organization in our true story is not important; there’s no need to identify it. It served multiple plants and contained multiple years of data. All data records (purchasing, employees, materials, preventive and predictive maintenance, work orders, equipment, planning & scheduling, etc.) were provided. Since routine system access was not available, all data tables were extracted from the system and imported into an Access database to ease data manipulation for review.

It cannot be overstated: The best way to ensure that your CMMS is prepared to defend you is to have a good offense. That means you must have a properly implemented system with employees trained on its utilization and its resident data. This should be coupled with routine audits to ensure that accurate and meaningful data is consistently collected.

In the lawsuit, once all data tables were compiled, a detailed review of the resident data was conducted. Again, because of disclosure requirements, details of specific activities performed in the case cannot be provided here. What follows, though, are successful review and audit techniques for examining the various data areas of a typical CMMS.

(Note: Examination of the entire system and its values will require System Administrator access and may also need Information Technology [IT] support.)

Examine to ensure all active employees are established within the system. Look at the assignment of each user role. Is the assigned role correct? Is access to all pertinent data available? Think about what data requirements each role would require. For example, someone assigned to the maintenance planner role would require access to employees, materials, schedules, purchasing, preventive and predictive maintenance and work orders. This detailed review must be accomplished for each user and each assigned role.

Also examine each craft assigned to the individual for proper assignment and its corresponding wage or rate value. Be sure that accurate wages or rates are assigned or the dollar values collected will be skewed and inaccurate. Keep in mind that dollar values are collected from assignment of labor hours and materials or services purchased and/or utilized.

Depending on the type of CMMS, a review of activities accomplished utilizing the system auditing processes is possible for each user. This information is extremely helpful for a system audit by assigned individuals and provides the opportunity to reinforce proper system discipline and ensure meaningful data collection.

Examine to ensure that authorized personnel are established within the system. Evaluate the approval limits and next approver requirements and their assigned levels. Look at the vendors to ensure that duplicate vendors are not established. Validate the purchasing workflow to ensure that notifications are established to indicate next-level approval requirements or item receipts.

Additionally, examine the level of expedited or emergency purchase orders. Are they necessary or are they indicators of issues in other areas? Evaluate month-to-month and year-to-year spending trends. Is it possible that improper reordering methods have been established or that improper planning is driving these costs? Do not leave questions unanswered—or they may haunt you in the future.

Work orders…
Examine these “system enablers” as, once they are created, they establish transactional records that reside within the system. This function allows the system to be utilized as a communication tool while providing historical data for reporting, metrics and data harvesting opportunities.

To ensure collection of valuable historical information, a culture of discipline should be established to ensure that all maintenance and equipment related activities are captured within the work order system. Remember that there is no such thing as an insignificant maintenance or equipment event; all should be captured. Things to look at when reviewing work order information include work order types, work priorities, status, descriptions of work requirements and descriptions of work accomplished.

  • Work order types. These are groupings by type of work performed (i.e. emergency, preventive, safety, planned, etc.). Make sure they fit the actual types of work performed by the facility. Detailed work types allow for segregation and sorting of work performed and allow organizations to see where and how resources are utilized. Detailed documentation of each work type and when to utilize them should be developed and disseminated to each system user to ensure standardized usage for future data-harvesting opportunities.
  • Work priorities. These value assignments identify how critical the required work is and dictate how quickly it should be accomplished. Such priorities are often abused by organizations; they should be utilized to identify mean time to plan and mean time to accomplish. Thus, to ensure that priorities do not lose the intended meaning, they should be documented and disseminated to each user and routinely monitored to ensure utilization conforms to the identified standards.
  • Work statuses. These are various designations noting where a work order is in its life cycle. Typical statuses include: awaiting planning, awaiting parts, scheduled, etc. Most work order statuses are developed and assigned by the user at implementation; however, some systems have assigned values that are not configurable by the user. Statuses must be embedded within the work management workflow to enable total integration of the system and the accomplishment of maintenance activities.
  • Descriptions of work requirements. This information details the reason for the work. Descriptions such as “pump broke” yield little data for future harvesting. Ideally, as much information about the issue, circumstances leading up to the failure and observations after the failure provide meaningful data. If meaningful descriptions are provided, it facilitates shorter mean time to plan and mean time to respond thresholds by eliminating additional informational requirements. Accurate information will be required when accomplishing equipment historical reviews and future failure analysis.
  • Descriptions of work accomplished. These outline, after the fact, what work has been conducted. Like work requirements, the goal is to ensure that as much information as possible is provided to facilitate future re-use by maintenance resources. Maintenance is a repetitive business. Imagine how helpful it would be, when a critical system or process goes down in the wee hours of some future morning, if the maintenance team could quickly review a complete breakdown and repair history of the failed equipment. Detailed descriptions of work accomplished are crucial steps in meaningful equipment historical reviews and failure analysis

The work order, including its utilization and the standardized flow, is one of the most crucial elements of your CMMS. This is the data trigger point that enables the collection of all data for review and analysis. Significant time and energy should be spent to make sure that it is established correctly, used properly and monitored for ongoing conformity.

The best way to ensure that your CMMS is prepared to defend you is to have a good offense.Materials…
Most organizations complain that there is no management of materials. The CMMS is the ideal collection point for all materials information. This, too, will require discipline to ensure all parts/materials are captured within the work order system when issued. To provide meaningful information, several things must occur. All parts must reside in the system with accurate descriptions, valid prices assigned and physical locations noted. Additionally, to fully reap the benefits of utilizing the CMMS as a materials management tool, fundamental elements must be established, such as inventory types and classes, primary and alternate vendors, primary and alternate part numbers, metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and Bill of Materials (BOM).

  • Inventory types and classes. Utilized to group and categorize items, if properly identified, these facilitate quick searching for items. Typical types may be as broad as bearing and have an assigned class of roller. Not all systems allow users to establish classes. In that event, meaningful types must be developed to enable quick searching and sorting of the inventory.
  • Primary and alternate vendors. This data is typically established during implementation of the purchasing portion of the CMMS and is utilized in materials management as well. Make sure that the primary and alternate vendors for each item are identified. Having this information readily available—especially if you have taken the time to identify lead times—is critical for an accurate mean time to accomplish.
  • Primary and alternate part numbers. While most organizations have a good understanding of the primary parts they routinely utilize, few have established alternate part numbers within their systems. By simply understanding alternate part numbers and ensuring that required items are unavailable, the vast majority of expedited or emergency purchases would be unnecessary.
  • Metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs). Although use of this information quickly identifies failure trends based on the amount of parts utilized, it is rarely monitored. This data can be analyzed to determine best-fit manufacture for parts based on performance data from your facility in your operating environment. Don’t forget that if you’re not looking, you’re not going to find it.
  • Bill of materials (BOM). This documents required materials, quantity, where used, manufacturer, vendor, full description, lead-time and unit cost. A BOM is normally linked to each piece of equipment. If fully developed, it allows maintenance resources to quickly identify needed materials from a list of items attached to the equipment number, while avoiding the need to search the entire inventory database for needed items.

There is clearly much more to a typical materials management portion of a CMMS, but if you examine these few areas, you will gain an understanding of what needs adjustment. Routine monitoring of what parts and materials are utilized—and where—will yield significant results in the identification of problem areas or equipment.

Planning & scheduling…
You can easily categorize an organization as reactive or proactive through its approach to planning & scheduling. Thus, it is important to examine the level of detail that your organization has in defined job plans or job packages. Are all steps identified for specified performance within defined standards? Are all tools and required materials annotated for preparedness and quicker execution? Have the time requirements or duration of the job been identified? Which craft(s) will accomplish the work? Have parts and materials reservations or deliveries been established? Are unique specifications, drawings or schematics readily available as part of the plan or package? Although some systems don’t reflect planning & scheduling as specific areas, they all have the ability—at some level—to generate planning & scheduling data. Planning describes the scope of work to be accomplished; scheduling details when it will be accomplished. The challenge is when to schedule said work to maximize production and minimize downtime.

If you find that there are no defined job plans or packages, look in your work order history. As mentioned in the previous discussion of work orders, requirements and accomplishments, your work order history, with the addition of some required amplifying information, could become part of your defined job plans or packages. This is all the more reason to collect valid and meaningful historical information from today on.
Preventive and predictive maintenance…

Performing historical reviews and examining your CMMS relative to its ability to stand up in a court should not be difficult.Most—if not all—organizations have documented preventive maintenance (PM) procedures; many have documented predictive maintenance (PdM) procedures. But, how many maintenance teams have ever read them? A great number of these procedures seem to take the form of performance audits or checklists, which leads us to the age-old argument: “But, my maintenance people have done these for years. Why provide details?” The fact is that an effective PM or PdM program requires precision execution coupled with specified standards.

Does a procedure meet specified standards if it only says “check the pump?” What will the results be? Under what conditions will the work be performed? Will such a procedure be conducted the same way more than once?

On the other hand, consider a PM procedure that provides step-by-step directions of activities to be performed and defined standards of acceptable and unacceptable criteria—and is capable of being accomplished efficiently, effectively and safely. That’s the definition of precision execution.

Since you probably will be printing out all of your procedures after reading this article, let’s look at the frequency of performance. Again, while doing so will require you to review work order history, it is well worth the effort.

How many times has the procedure been performed? When was it last updated? Were there failures before, after or during performance of the procedure? Is it really a required PM or one of those “because we always have” things? Spending time to provide PM or PdM procedures that enable precision execution with specified standards is like a maintenance Individual Retirement Account (IRA)—it puts knowledge and money in your company bank.

The establishment of equipment within a CMMS typically involves a hierarchy. A critical aspect of any CMMS, this hierarchy enables the capturing of costs—both vertically and horizontally—for an organization. Unfortunately, many systems seem to struggle in establishing the types of hierarchies that provide needed information. A detailed discussion of the topic would go well beyond the scope and allocated space of this article. In short, however, an effective equipment hierarchy allows one to quickly see costs for a facility, an area, line or department within that facility, the equipment within that area, department or line, and the maintainable components attached to that equipment. If established properly, comparisons from one line or area to another or from equipment to equipment can be developed.

Once you have evaluated your equipment hierarchy, there are other items that must be examined. These include equipment descriptions, equipment numbering and equipment types.

  • Equipment descriptions. These pertain to physical details—and they’re where you get to see all the different things people call equipment. As an example, put this article down, go stand in front of an uncommon piece of equipment in your facility and ask passers-by to tell you what it is. The range of responses may shock you. That is why a standardized description must be established for each piece of equipment. It will ensure that everyone is talking about and working on the right piece of equipment and that accurate data is being collected.
  • Equipment numbering. This item has probably caused more heated debates and discussions during implementations than any other. There really is no wrong way to number equipment other than to try to assign duplicate numbers—and a CMMS will not allow you to input the same equipment number twice. (FYI: Smart numbers, in which location, equipment type, etc., are embedded, aren’t so smart after those who understood them have left the facility.) If you want to ensure success, pick a numbering scheme, use it consistently and tag equipment visibly with assigned numbers and equipment descriptions.
  • Equipment types. This user-defined field allows for the grouping of various types of equipment. Similar to the inventory type found in materials management, in some systems a class is also available. Review the equipment type field and make sure it allows you to group all like items together for comparison. Take a piece of equipment like a pump as an example. If there were a class field available, “pump” would be a legitimate type and a class could be “centrifugal.” However, what if a class field were not available? A search for “centrifugal pumps” would not be possible. See that equipment types are established properly in your CMMS. This function is very important when it comes to conducting historical reviews on like equipment items and identifying mean time between failure, etc.

In summation
Performing historical reviews—and examining your CMMS relative to its ability to stand up in a court should not be difficult—provided that all data collected is standardized and your system has been implemented and utilized properly. These reviews should be conducted monthly or at least quarterly.

Look first for the obvious, including consistency of data and all required work order information. Run standard reports on data for the last month as compared to the current month. Drill down. Look at any failures, how many hours were spent on various types of equipment and the type of work accomplished, as well as where the failures were occurring. Compare these findings to like areas in the facility.

Don’t forget to review what was purchased, what was used—including how many—and where. You’re now harvesting everything you have planted. Enjoy and use the data to continue growing. MT

Dave Bertolini is a managing principal with People and Processes, Inc., a firm that specializes in changing maintenance cultures across industry from reactive to proactive. He has more than 30 years experience in the field, including having led more than 275 improvement initiatives and CMMS implementations, utilizing 38 different software packages.

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A Closing Statement

In this article, I hope I provided some valuable information about your CMMS—and kept the lawyers happy by not providing detailed information about the real-life lawsuit where CMMS data was going to be used as evidence. In all my years, as a maintenance professional, this was the first time I had worked with a law firm. Luckily, the answers we sought were right there in the CMMS—just waiting to be harvested. While my experience was (at least to me) highly interesting and eye opening, I can’t help but wonder: Could this type of lawsuit be a preview of things to come? Might more lawyers be looking for evidence in computerized maintenance management systems in the future? Better get yours ready … just in case.





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