Third-party contractors, software can bridge the resources gap
Keeping a plant running at peak performance requires the concerted efforts of many teams, managers and individuals. Work cycles and schedules must synchronize so that departments are not stepping over each other’s priorities and hindering productivity. Today, as outsourcing and the use of contractor teams gains acceptance, visibility into the full spectrum of plant operations and asset management becomes increasingly critical.
Contractors and other third parties, an important part of the extended value chain, need a secure window into real-time status and a way to communicate and engage with plant personnel, assets and data. Modern software can help enterprises step up to the challenge and give the broad team the visibility and functionality it needs.
Here are four of the challenges:
- Shortage of skills. The current shortage of skilled workers, including asset maintenance technicians, places a strain on many plants. Some resort to third party companies to supplement their internal teams. These outside vendors can focus on a specialized project, like performing a one-time risk assessment, or they can be contracted for ongoing services, like quarterly calibration of assets that must produce precise temperature readings. Highly specialized major rebuilds and overhauls (MRO) projects, like re-bricking a steel blast furnace, may call for an outside crew with extensive and specialized experience. Hiring technicians in niche areas of expertise has become difficult, especially in some geographic areas. Outsourcing solves some of these problems—but can cause others.
- Secure, easy access to data. Contractors, whether operating on-site or in a separate location, often need to access data about the inventory of spare parts, as-serviced history for assets, asset CAD drawings, warranty or service agreement status and risk assessments for assets. Such information helps contractors make smart decisions and perform in the company’s best interest. How to provide such access to information without compromising security is the challenge.
- Sharing resources. If the third party is operating on site, sharing of tools, keys and other resources—like cranes or lifts needed to reach high locations, can become problematic. Visibility into needs and the ability to reserve equipment or tools will help the two entities work together, managing priorities.
- Finding a common language for sharing information is also an issue. Bolted together point solutions from separate providers are prone to compatibility issues. They tend to generate multiple perspectives and bring into question the reliability of data. For example, if two different systems are both interacting with the inventory database, the two systems may have different definitions or different procedures for receiving partial orders, reserving inventory or resolving inventory returned to stock. Slight variations in definitions and workflow protocols can escalate into big discrepancies. Managers can begin to doubt accuracy, but be unsure where the troublesome data may originate and why. Tracking down and correcting such anomalies can be time-consuming.
When a third party is involved, the situation becomes more complex with greater risk for disconnect and data that does not quite align. Relationships can become tense as both sides try to troubleshoot underlying causes and reach a consensus.
Software as an asset
Modern enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions provide contractor tools that can be used by third parties. These highly flexible and secure portals expand the footprint of the EAM solution, allowing other partners also to take advantage of its functionality—but in a controlled environment.
The solution may offer licensing options especially designed for contractor or casual use situations where limited access is suitable. Full contractor licenses can expand permissions. No matter the level of access, the solution should be easy-to-use so there is a short ramp-up and the contractor can navigate to the necessary information without needing extensive training. Simplicity is a must.
Four additional tools to leverage are:
- Case management. This feature allows users to create specific maintenance projects and log accidents, emissions, operator notes, shift notes and other records without requiring a work order. This establishes an audit log of cases or incidents, allowing a user to create workflow tasks or follow up work orders related to the existing case. This capability makes it easier than ever to track and audit a one-time event, ensuring that all associated documentation is readily accessible.
- Asset reservations. This functionality is designed to allow users to request and reserve virtually any asset that has capacity over time, such as vehicles, cranes, conference rooms and equipment of all varieties. This enhancement also allows users to reserve contract equipment as well. Contractors working onsite can use this feature to make asset reservations, linking the reservation to their work orders and projects, making them easy to track and monitor costs.
- Contractor service portal. This module allows users to establish a secure access point for contractors, allowing them to send and receive updates on activities and work orders. Contractors can then provide estimates, notes and other details as required, as well as update costs and status. This improves efficiency and reduces overall time needed to complete the job. Such functionality also can be used to assign work orders automatically to contractors, based on geography or type of work.
- Consolidated call center. Advanced call center capabilities allow companies to use a service delivery matrix which can issue work orders immediately to specific contractors upon identification of location and type of request. This feature reduces time to completion by eliminating phone calls and reducing paperwork.
Plant managers and maintenance teams may find themselves needing to turn to third parties to complete some tasks. Contractor portals can make this secure sharing of information easier, helping the two organizations achieve common goals, without discrepancies or worries.