April 04, 2012
Implementation of Facility Maintenance Software, “The Deal Breaker”
This article is the next installment in the Series about MAPCON Facility Maintenance Software written by Joni Brown, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Facility Management. Please see her previous Article: The Genesis of Preventative Maintenance Software.
Last time we met, I wrote about Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s progression in computer technology from the 1980’s through later times, specifically our experience using Preventive Maintenance or Facility Maintenance Software. One of the Facility Maintenance Software packages we considered was developed by the software engineers at Mapcon Technologies, Inc.
As we worked through the features offered by MAPCON and the other package that had survived our intense scrutiny, there was ONE thing missing, and it was a deal breaker.
We tracked each employee hour of the day to a work order. We had to account for all our time – just like an attorney does with “billable hours”. Now, mind you, this was 1988. There were fellow maintenance operations at other universities that didn’t have any type of formal work order system and some that had some portion of a manual system (say Inventory, or Service Calls) but tracking labor expended to a job or building? Virtually unheard of.
And to my major dismay, the MAPCON Facility Maintenance Software package did not have a “Labor/Time Sheet” option. It was explained to me by MAPCON that with proper recording of needed work and Preventive Maintenance in the Work Order database, you could then PLAN and SCHEDULE the workers needed and the date the work should take place. Your “planner” would then direct the workers TO the scheduled job. You would, in essence, collect the data on the equipment or building on the “front side” of the process, not “after the fact”.
Oh yeah, we’re supposed to go from handwriting work orders to planning? Are we supposed to move from “reactive” to “proactive” while switching on an entirely new system? And, this “planner” you speak of – how do we fund this position?
No, at that point, MAPCON came off the list. I was panicked. As the person who would ultimately be responsible for this CMMS, there was too much “good” about MAPCON to let it slip off the list. And, in doing so, this other system would “win” because it had a “timecard” option?
I called MAPCON and got my contact Tim on the phone. I pleaded with him. We MUST do something to keep MAPCON on the table. He offered that they could write something – for a fee. I ran that by the Colonel. No, we’re not paying them for something the system should have. It’s off the table.
Back to MAPCON. “It’s off the table,” I told Tim. He said, “Give me a few hours and let me see what I can do.” That afternoon, he called back and told me to put a “check” in the column for Labor Time Sheets. They had agreed to write that module IF we would be ALPHA and BETA for it. No, we would not pay for it. MAPCON was back on the table!
As far as I was concerned, we could have purchased MAPCON right then and there. BUT, the Colonel wanted “buy-in” from the other committee members (which consisted of him and me, plus the Assistant Director of Data Processing (as they were known back then) and Andy, the programmer that was assigned to our project.
We met and discussed all we had learned and Andy did a “Fit Analysis” based on our original "Needs Analysis". Both systems were holding their own. The Asst. Director of DP was leaning toward the other package as it ran on a “mainframe” and he wasn’t too keen on file servers spread across the campus. However, Andy could see that MAPCON was going to give me everything I needed, AND I was so excited about this program that I would make sure it succeeded. It was decided at that point that we needed to have a site visit to installation sites to see how each program ran in a real-time environment before committing to the final selection. I began making appointments and travel arrangements.
As luck would have it, BOTH systems under review had installations in Iowa! (Go figure!) We flew into Des Moines and rented a vehicle and headed south for the first appointment.
...Oh, let me digress for a moment. Remember, at this point in time, I was a “girl” in a male-dominated line of work. I was an oddity to say the least. And, because of this, the “menfolk” were careful not to treat me any differently than they would each other.
Before we left on the trip, we were directed by the Colonel that this trip would be fast-paced. No checked baggage (as that would slow us down),
and we were to carry our own luggage. Wear appropriate shoes as we’d be moving fast. We were leaving one day, visiting one site that day, one night in a hotel, the second site the next day, then back home. Less than 48 hours. "Get your game on!"
So, I painstakingly put together my attire, carried minimal personal products plus a hairdryer (as in those days, they didn’t have them in the hotel rooms) AND all the manuals and reports for each of the two systems! Again, bear in mind that at that time, they hadn’t invented luggage with wheels!! I slung this duffel bag of sorts across my back, carried my coat and purse, and wondered if I’d be able to keep up.
We left at "Oh dark hundred" (as the Colonel would say), drove to Orlando, and I carried that satchel through the airport (no TSA back then) onto the plane and took a deep breath and hoisted it overhead into the bin. I did this two more times for each plane change. I then wrestled it through Des Moines for two days and back to Florida. My back was aching, and numerous times during the trip, the three men would be 6 paces ahead of me and would call back to me to "try and keep up". Little did they know I had 30 pounds of documentation strapped across my back.
Anyway, the first site visit. We met with the young lady who ran the system. She had literally STACKS of reports around the perimeter of the room! Green bar, legal-sized stacks of perforated paper. “What are these stacks,” we asked. Well, every week or month she would run ALL the standard report options the system had. “What do you use them for?” She didn’t know but felt she needed to capture the data while she had access to it so that sometime in the future if she needed it, she’d have it. You see, this “mainframe” system didn’t have a Report Generator. If you needed a different report, you had to have the vendor write it (for a fee) or you Data Processing department might be able to write it.
I shot the Colonel a look that said, “Oh, hell no!” We finished up our visit and headed back to Des Moines for the night. At dinner that evening, I was amazed at how many fine points the Assistant Director could find with this system. HELLO! Were you not at the same site visit as we were?
The next morning, we met our MAPCON salesman for breakfast at the hotel and headed out for our site visit at a local hospital. The system manager there “drove” the keyboard as he took us through their daily routines. At one point, we asked our Salesman if he could step outside so we could have a frank discussion with the system manager. No problem. We asked the hard questions – do you get good support (yes), how was the training (good), do they nickel and dime you to death (no), are you more productive now (yes), if you had to do it over again, would you pick MAPCON (YES!!)
I was done. Let’s buy this puppy and head home. BUT, there had to be a consensus. On the way back to the airport we discussed all we had seen. The Asst. Director was holding out for the mainframe option. I was all about MAPCON. The Colonel was listening and smiling at me as he knew what I wanted. The programmer was strangely silent. THEN - it dawned on me – this guy works FOR the Asst. Director who wants the mainframe! It’s all over!!
When we got to the airport, we had time before our flight and the Colonel invited us all to the bar for a drink while we made our final decision. He took out a quarter, and said, “Heads, MAPCON, tails, (the other)”. I slapped my hand over the quarter and told him NO, I would not leave this decision to fate. I had to fight for what I thought was the better system. He chuckled and put the quarter on the counter.
So we talked. Two against one. But there was one holdout. The programmer. He finally spoke. He said, although he understood his Assistant Director’s position, Facilities was going to have to live with what was selected, and it was obvious to him that MAPCON was the better choice for US! I couldn't believe my ears! The Colonel told me to contact MAPCON the next day and get the purchase agreement going.
I looked at Andy and was so thankful and so relieved for me, but honestly, I was worried about his long-term future with the university. I don’t know if I could have gone against the known (and clearly stated) wishes of my direct supervisor. That took a lot of courage on his part. And, 23 years later, I still think of Andy and his courage. (He left the university shortly after we got our system up and running.)
I slept on that flight coming home. I was happy, and my back hurt like a son-of-a-gun. After we landed in Orlando and were heading through the terminal back to the car, I stopped for a moment (6 paces behind the guys) to put down the duffle bag to adjust the strap before slinging it back across my back. The Colonel walked back to me while saying, "Why can’t you keep up?" at the very moment he was picking up my bag. "WHAT do you have in this thing? ROCKS!!"
"No sir, all the manuals and reports."
"Why didn’t you tell us? You've been carrying that thing for two days! We would have helped you."
I just smiled and fell in behind the group.
Next Installment – "Am I All Alone in this World of MAPCON?"