In the first part of this two-part article, we discussed the impact on tenants, property managers, operators, and owners of a breakdown in a building’s work order management process. Here, in Part 2, we’ll explore five key questions to answer when fixing or replacing your CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) or work order management process.
An unabridged version of this story was featured in the August 2017 edition of industry website AutomatedBuildings.com and can be viewed here. An edited version is included below.
Question 1: What specific problem are you trying to solve?
A few weeks ago, I spoke to a potential customer and asked what his company’s motivation was for exploring a new work order solution. He responded that they wanted to improve operations, drive down costs, and modernize their facility management. I thought it might be helpful to get more specific, so I gave a few examples.
Sometimes customers describe a problem of communication and labor: a big chunk of their in-house engineering labor force will retire in the next 5-10 years, yet the number of new technicians entering the job market is low, creating pressure on the company to improve knowledge transfer from more experienced to less experienced staff and make leaders out of them. A work order system that captures building knowledge allows for some of that transfer to happen, lowering the risk that if a technician or engineer retires early, the owner won’t know their own building.
Now let’s discuss a very different problem. Imagine that your company – the owner or the property management team – has little visibility into what’s getting fixed, how long it’s taking, how many corrective and preventative maintenance tasks are done quarterly, how vendors are performing, and what the status of the buildings and the equipment in it is: This is a visibility and workflow problem.
When I presented my customer with these examples over the phone, he located his own company’s primary areas of need as closer to visibility and workflow, changing which work order vendors he will consider in the next phase of his search.
Question 2: Are you trying to make our people more efficient…or more effective?
Painfully, work order software implementations sometimes fail to address the business challenges they were meant to solve. What, you might wonder, causes this failure?
Well, consider that a typical commercial office building probably experiences more than 100 different types of issue every year: HVAC, temperature control, keys and access cards, lobby spills, plumbing issues, and countless others.
Each of these has a person or persons assigned to fix the problems as they happen. Some of the staff work in the building; others are external contractors. Some issues can be fixed right away; others need parts to be ordered first. This creates a nightmare of coordination for the property management team, but the tenant doesn’t care about any of this – they just want the problem fixed as soon as possible so they can resume their work.
Work order systems fail when people, processes, and technologies necessary to resolve building issues don’t combine in the right way for a building’s purpose.
But failure can also occur when a system is put in place without choosing an ideal outcome: making staff more efficient (getting more work done faster), more effective (getting work done well consistently and with fewer errors or communication gaps), or both.
It’s vital to clarify which outcome—efficiency, effectiveness, or a combination of both—best solves your current business challenges before setting up your work order system.
Question 3: What can be automated, and what needs a human touch?
We’re currently experiencing a massive transformation in how people work. Tools, technologies, applications, and businesses conspire to automate as much as possible in the name of convenience, efficiency, and cost reduction.
Before you automate too many workflows, however, pause to consider if a given problem should be solved by tools and technology or if people and new behaviors are a better fit. Consider which service procedures don’t require any human intervention to complete (with no loss in perception of service quality) and which service procedures benefit from a person speaking to a tenant.
Not all work order systems are created equal in this regard, so identify how flexible the new system will be in balancing automation with human intervention.
Question 4: Does this solution address the needs of tenants and facility teams with multiple preferences?
When it comes to reporting issues, some of us prefer to submit a ticket to another person. Others might prefer submitting via email. This isn’t a baby boomer, Gen Xer, and millennials thing, it’s a human behavior and preferences thing. A work order system should allow for all modes of input.
I can relate to this: I’ve had a live issue in my apartment for months that I haven’t reported to my building’s property management team. They prefer not to receive emails and I prefer to send emails. The tenant request app they use is clunky, so I don’t use it, and my issue remains unsolved. If it was easy to report it, I would have done so long ago and be more satisfied overall.
The other point to consider here relates to communication and workflow within your team of operators. Regardless of age, some employees don’t want machines telling them what to do or apps forcing them to close out work orders. It creeps them out or removes their autonomy. This creates adoption headaches. How often do we hear in the industry that employees wait until Friday or end-of-month to enter or close out work orders?
Before making a system decision, consider whether the new system allows your vendors and staff to communicate and complete their work in multiple ways. This should improve adoption and reporting.
Question 5: How will you know you’re performing better?
If you’ve recently implemented a work order system, you know how much work goes into the process. Years ago, I heard the phrase, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” and it stuck. Everyone needs solid data on performance, which is more than just what reports you can run in the work order system (if you even have the time to run reports yourself).
To track performance, you should define success three, six, and 12 months into your new work order system implementation before you implement it. For example, some customers like to track their average time-to-acknowledgement and average time-to-response because this helps them improve tenant satisfaction. If that will be important to you, then you need to ensure the work order system and the people and processes supporting it are all aligned. If you know how long it took you to fix issues a year ago, you could aim to respond and fix problems an average of ten minutes faster this year and agree to use this metric as a measure of progress in tenant satisfaction surveys.
If you’re proactive about defining success, then your work order system will answer—clearly and unambiguously—how much better your team is operating. If your work order system is not giving you that information, maybe it should be.
Hopefully you found these five questions helpful in assessing your current approach to work orders. It’s vital to define your key business challenges and identify the best combination of tools, technologies, and behaviors to tackle those challenges. Ultimately, this will benefit your tenants, property managers, operators, and ownership—making everyone’s lives easier, your staff more productive, and your buildings more profitable.
Alex Ortiz is an Account Executive at McKinstry. He sells the work order management solution InfoCentre, which combines a CMMS with a 24x7x365 call center that supports the entire lifecycle of your work orders. Building operators and property managers can then focus on what they do best: take care of their customers. For information about InfoCentre, contact us here.