March 05, 2012
The Genesis of Preventative Maintenance Software
At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, in the mid 1980’s, we had a mainframe on campus. During registration processes (held 3 times a year) all “non-essential departments” were locked out of the (then) wondrous machine so that it could be dedicated almost exclusively to the registration processes. Needless to say, there was nothing less essential than maintenance! We would be locked out for a week or more each time!
By 1988, PC’s had been on our desks for less than 3 years. I had started out with a “two slice toaster” (a dual 5.25” floppy) in 1985 and later upgraded to an IBM with a hard drive and an amber screen. We recorded service calls in a package called “Q & A”. We thought this was better than “sliced bread” (hence, the reference to the toaster above).
Soon, there was talk of “networks” (what the heck is a network?) “One day, we’ll be able to link multiple PC’s together so they could talk to each other, or share data!” How could that be possible? You mean I wouldn’t have to run around the building with a floppy drive copying all the information to each hard drive? (Yes, we were in the dark ages by today’s standards.)
I had a very forward-thinking manager at the time. He was a retired Army Colonel. Just retired. He didn’t wear a uniform, but everything about him said structure and honor and do the right thing! You felt the need to stand straighter and taller in his presence.
One day, he sat me down and told me there were better ways to do things, like tracking PM’s (preventative maintenance work orders) and Service Calls. There was preventative maintenance software out there that did this! We needed to review all that existed, and pick the best one. Someone needed to be the “Champion” of this preventative maintenance software project, and he had decided it would be me! Me? I’m a budget manager. I do payroll. Yes, I run the Service Center, and yes, we enter the preventative maintenance calls into an application and run reports and, and… (Oh, yeah, I’m starting to see his reasoning… it’s me.)
So, where does one start this search? I got a magazine called Maintenance Technology every month. I actually started to read the thing (until then, they just looked good setting on the table in my office). Wow! They had advertisements and reviews of current systems. The August 1988 issue had an article “Maintenance Management Software” – and the lead in stated: “Finding the appropriate computerized maintenance management system to match plant requirements is challenging. Our chart provides a springboard for the search.”
I also contacted The Association of Physical Plant Administrators (APPA) which is dedicated to college and university maintenance operations. They were able to give me a rather short list of preventative maintenance software developers. I learned right then that the leaders in this field were those in manufacturing and processes.
Our initial list contained 37 preventative maintenance software packages. I called each, got “demo disks” (now, there’s a concept that's no longer in use today) and I was also to ask them for a full copy of their operation manuals and sample reports. The Colonel wanted to make sure the documentation was sound and the system could produce informative reports.
At first, I thought the manuals were a little overkill, but I wasn’t one to argue. However, to my surprise, the combination of the three (demo disk, manuals and reports) helped weed out the original group quite quickly.
- We got demo disks that wouldn’t run. I would have to call and have someone attempt to walk me through, sometimes never succeeding.
- We got manuals that were unclear, misspelled, not well thought out. If they can’t write a manual, can they write software code?
- Reports – there was always a list of standard reports you could run. “List of Open Work Orders”, List of Closed Work Orders, List of Trades Personnel.”
I would review all information and contact a current user of that particular software. I had a list of standard questions that we’d run through, then we’d “free form” it at the end. Things like – “if you had to do it over again”, etc. Wow! Sometimes, the comments would fry my ears. I recall one person telling me, “This (name withheld) software company owes me $36,000 and three years of my life!” Strike that one off the list!
Our initial goal was to cut the list down to five good candidates. Surprisingly – only two survived. But, the one that intrigued me was MAPCON – as it had an “Ad Hoc Report Generator”. After working for the Colonel for 3 years, I just knew that no matter what reports were available, he’d want something that wasn’t on the list. MAPCON’s preventative maintenance software package gave me the option to create custom reports!
Stay tuned for the rest of the story!