Advanced Technology Services: Plant technicians move from memory reliance to knowledge database advantage

Many companies periodically contemplate creating a database to capture the so-called “tribal knowledge” of employees. That way, they reason, there would be a database containing details about processes, procedures, and previous experience for all employees to actively share instead of relying on the memory of more-experienced employees.


Many companies periodically contemplate creating a database to capture the so-called “tribal knowledge” of employees. That way, they reason, there would be a database containing details about processes, procedures, and previous experience for all employees to actively share instead of relying on the memory of more-experienced employees.

The problem in undertaking such an initiative is while seemingly a straightforward process, creating such a database consumes plenty of time and resources.

That's not to say it can't be done to ongoing advantage.

Advanced Technology Services (ATS) has created such a database that now plays a vital role in employee performance. ATS, which has more than 2,200 employees, is a supplier of outsourced factory maintenance, industrial component repair, and IT services.

In the past, says ATS President Jeffrey Owens, the company would have staff at a customer's site, but if there was a problem with a particular piece of equipment and no one had experience with that model, technicians would be forced to call the OEM—and then wait for a response.

Those delays cost time, and time is money for the customer because downtime can cost thousands of dollars per minute in lost productivity, Owens says.

ATS grew its Knowledgebase tool out of the need for American business to remain competitive in a rapidly changing global economy.

“That's why we created ATS Knowledgebase: We knew it would greatly improve performance and reduce downtime if ATS field technicians could type in questions about a machine or device, and then in reply, receive manuals, diagrams, and common problems and means of resolution,” Owens says. “Now we are maintaining ATS Knowledgebase with strict parameters that govern how data is entered.”

The administrative requirements are not surprising given that ATS Knowledgebase is expected to contain about 30,000 documents by July 2009.

“We're adding somewhere between 600 and 1,000 files each month,” says Jeff Morrow, ATS Knowledgebase administrator. “The true value is that experienced technicians are able to capture and then share best practices and procedures—which is knowledge that may have been lost in the past.”

Owens explains that ATS Knowledgebase is only a tool, but with roughly 800 hits per month—which is expected to grow to 1,000 monthly hits by the end of the year—it's an extremely useful tool.

“The real value comes from the time savings of using ATS Knowledgebase,” Owens says. “It's significant because the faster a technician can resolve a problem, the more money it saves a customer.”

Jason Scales, a traveling technician with ATS, says ATS Knowledgebase is the biggest tool that technicians use—and that the resulting time savings is indeed notable. Scales says it's common, as a technician, to walk into a plant and face unfamiliar equipment. And it often takes a long time just to locate a particular machine's service manual.

On the other hand, technicians can now walk into a plant, and, within minutes, find the manual in ATS Knowledgebase. Without such a database, it wouldn't be unusual to spend an entire day having people look for the manual—only to discover that some pages are missing or damaged, he says.

“Using ATS Knowledgebase saves a lot of time, which is critical to a manufacturer that is seeing downtime and wants to get back up running quickly,” Scales says. “It probably cuts the service time needed to get a piece of equipment running again by 50 percent.”

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