Remote Work: The New World Order

Sally is a research analyst for XYZ Logistics working on a time-sensitive report for the senior VP of Marketing. Due to COVID-19, she’s working from home using her own laptop and a home printer. She’s under the gun to get this done! She needs to print a draft for review before uploading the PDF to the corporate document management system and sending the VP an email link.

The printer won’t print!

She calls IT begging for help. Does IT respond with A, B, or C below:

A) Tell Sally they can’t help because they only support corporately owned equipment.

B) Tell Sally they will try to help if she’ll turn the laptop upside down, find the brand, model and serial number, and then crawl behind the printer for the same information. When she gives them all that, they write it on a scratch pad and start searching for support docs.

C) Ask Sally "Are you still using the HP Envy 360 with Windows 10 and the Canon Pixma TR7520 you registered with us last month?” When Sally confirms, IT is ready to start troubleshooting using the data they have in their records.

Wouldn’t it seem that C is the more elegant approach? Isn’t this approach likely to minimize the stress on Sally, on the IT staff, and enable delivering results to the VP faster?

As COVID-19 hit hard in early 2020, organizations had to adapt—and adapt quickly—from central office work to remote work. It’s one thing for folks responsible for company assets to walk around the office and see who has what equipment. It's quite another to keep track of company assets, like laptops, tablets, printers, scanners, routers and other gear, when they’ve been transported to people’s homes. Many experts believe that the work-from-home adjustment will become the new normal for a significant portion of the workforce. As company assets become more distributed, the need for effective asset tracking and management systems grows in importance.

Even when individual workers use some or all of their own equipment, tracking what they are using becomes important for supporting them. It’s no longer just about what the company owns, it's also about what company employees use to get their job done.

A good asset tracking and management system and maintenance management software like eSSETS can help smooth the adjustment to the new working world order. There are benefits to the knowledge worker trying to deliver work product, to the IT technical support staff trying to facilitate the use of technology, to the office manager and controller needing to track company assets, and to facility and maintenance managers trying to ensure uptime, promote safety and reduce risks. Knowledge is power, and knowing who, what, when, where and how much are more important than ever.

The Key Asset Management Questions

Who?

  • Who has it?
  • Who can fix it?
  • Who supplied it?
  • Who warrants it?
  • Who’s responsible for it?

What?

  • What is it? A notebook, printer/scanner, server, rack, router, vehicle, circuit analyzer, network analyzer, crane, pallet jack—and any number of other assets used for work.

When?

  • When did the employee take possession of it?
  • When was it purchased?
  • When does the warranty expire?

Where?

  • Where is it now? Is it at the employees home? A branch office?

How Much?

  • How much did it cost to buy?
  • How much is it costing us to maintain?
  • How much is it worth now?
  • How much is it on the books (net book value considering life-to-date depreciation)?

The EAM / CMMS Implementation Process

Below are the six major steps for implementing an asset management system or CMMS:

1) Take Inventory
2) Track New Purchases
3) Identify Possession
4) Identify Maintainers
5) Schedule Inspections and Preventive Maintenance
6) Log Activities

Take Inventory

One way or another, you need a starting point. Your company likely has some form of paper or electronic records. Different people in different organizational roles probably have some of the pieces of the puzzle.

  • Accounting - may have fixed assets accounting software with an asset register, or might maintain asset purchase spreadsheets. The vendor folders maintained by accounts payable frequently contain a treasure trove of asset data, it’s just not typically readily accessible by asset users. Note: a key problem with fixed asset data is that accounting knows when something was purchased, but they may not know current operational status.
  • Office Managers - sometimes have their own records that may, or may not, be redundant with the accounting department records.
  • Facility Managers / Maintenance Managers - The people responsible for building and production equipment and generally keeping things running, fixing things when they break have a different records focus. They usually file installation, maintenance and owner manuals for the big, costly, high maintenance stuff.
  • IT Department - With most every employee in modern organizations requiring some type of IT equipment these days, the scope of IT tech support continues to grow in importance and breadth of coverage. Some IT management applications can automatically discover devices on the company network, but again, that’s just one piece of the asset management puzzle.

In small companies, all of the above functions might be handled by one person...the venerable office manager who handles accounting, payroll, personnel and relies on contractors for maintaining facilities and equipment of all types. Ironically, in some respects they have advantages over larger organizations with multiple departments handling only their piece of the puzzle.

Over time, the goal is to consolidate ALL pieces of information about company assets into a central repository to be shared and maintained by all organizational roles. You can’t get there on day one, but you can employ the good old Pareto Principle (aka 80/20 rule) by prioritizing your efforts on the 20% of your assets that represent 80% of your issues. If you've got 1,000 assets, first focus on the 200 of them that are the biggest headaches or that represent the biggest investment.

The key is to get started. Get your anchor points established. Get that 20% into the system. You might start with just Brand, Model, and a brief description. You might even make an educated guess at its age and original cost. With the seed planted you can employ a progressive elaboration strategy to grow the plant with more asset knowledge accumulated over time.

Track Purchases

One of the most important steps you can take when implementing an asset management system is to define a process for purchasing. One of the deepest informational treasures is available at the point in time that a buying decision is made. The company purchased the asset for a reason. The specifications are known. The cost and source of supply is known. The warranty can be easily determined. Record all of that information right then and there! Save or scan documents such as the vendor invoice, the packing list, the installation manual and the owner's manual. When physically received, take a picture of the product faceplate with the serial number.

This asset might be with your company for the next three to twenty years, Consider the cost and criticality of the asset over its projected lifecycle. That can help guide the level of effort put into the acquisition data capture process.

Identify Possession

This, of course, does not apply to all assets. A rooftop HVAC unit is not in any one person’s physical possession, but there are a myriad of asset types that are issued to specific employees. Desktops, laptops, monitors, scanners, printers, software, tools, vehicles... the possession transfer date should be logged to the employee. If the employee leaves either voluntarily, or not, you have a checklist of what should be returned.

Identify Maintainers

Maintainers can be internal staff or third party contractors. Whether internal or external, logging people and company names and contact info, and listing their areas of expertise provides for quick search and retrieval when needed. In eSSETS, we recommend using keywords that facilitate searching from the work order dispatch function, or allowing assignment of primary maintainers at the facility or equipment level. This can expedite work order assignments by defaulting the job assignment to the primary maintainer.

Schedule Inspections and Preventive Maintenance (PM)

Reacting to equipment and facility issues as they occur is one aspect of a good maintenance management system (CMMS) and should be started on day one. The next level is to try and get in front of issues, prevent them from occurring in the first place, and that’s what inspections and PM’s are all about. For a full discussion of this topic, see my article Checklist 2.0 - Goodbye Paper, Hello Electronic Checklist. This article describes the many benefits of distilling working knowledge about prevention into checklists which can then be scheduled and assigned within the system. See also a full explanation of how to create a 5-step Facilities Risk Management Plan. This can be done completely independently of the asset management system, but inform priorities for what should be inspected and when.

Log Activities

Once you’ve defined an overall organizational structure for your locations, buildings, roofs, floors, and rooms, and set-up your most important, high cost and/or high maintenance asset records, and identified the people and contractors to keep stuff working, you are ready to start processing requests and assigning work.

Every incoming request that is dispatched provides an opportunity for further refinement and elaboration of asset data. When a technician picks up an assignment for any asset that is missing data, he/she can fill the gaps. Encouraging and enforcing this requires focused attention but the rewards are saving time and reduced thrashing later on. Better, more complete asset data, can improve efficiency and effectiveness of maintenance operations!

The daily activities of processing requests, capturing time and materials used, and working the jobs to completion, recording contractor/vendor invoices, all produce a continuing stream of data that can be processed into metrics that can be analyzed for enhanced management decision making. Some examples:

  • What is our average response time to requests at Campus 1 vs Campus 2?
  • What is the ratio of work performed by our staff vs contractors?
  • What equipment has the highest maintenance costs?
  • Which equipment should be replaced due to frequent breakdowns?
  • How are individual staff members performing?
  • How are contractors performing?

Conclusion:

The workplace has changed. Some of it might be temporary, but likely much of it forever. Remote workers need support wherever they are working from. Those responsible for providing work support equipment and services need new software tools supporting interdepartmental information sharing and coordination.

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