The Human Factor in Asset Management

Rudi Frederix, Siemens

The Human Factor in Asset Management


Asset management (AM) is an internal process many companies must undertake at some point in their business cycle. Although these companies might be in different industries, the strategy for optimizing their technical departments (i.e., maintenance, engineering, utilities, facilities, etc.) is about 90% the same. So, the approach to improving asset management does not change much, whether between industries or different departments within a company.

In the pharmaceutical industry, for instance, product safety is a major concern. In the food industry, there is the balance to consider between availability and cost. For most automotive manufacturers, uptime and productivity are major factors to help assess operational efficiency. While the principles and building blocks of operational excellence assessment are largely based on similar strategies — such as the Uptime ® Elements or Brilliant Asset Management (BAM) Model ©   —  the goals can vary from industry to industry.

Another important element in improving asset management is the maturity of the processes in place. The pharmaceutical industry and the nuclear industry are the furthest behind, in this respect, mainly because every change in production takes a considerable amount of time due to the in-depth validation process within the company. Taking that into account, changes are often discouraged, and many times, aren’t even feasible in some industries such as these.
To truly keep up with the ever-changing landscape in operations and efficiency, a company must adapt the conventional approach and incorporate new strategies to reach asset management (AM) excellence.

What about the human approach?

Fact: In 1850, information available doubled every 45 years.

Source: Jef Staes ©Fenestra bvba
In the past, all the knowledge was owned by the boss (manager). The only place where you could learn was school. The boss went to school, read a lot of books (that were only available if you were in school) and earned a degree. 
The boss was the smartest guy at the company — an example of the 2-D Age. Employees looked up to the manager since this person had all the knowledge and expertise. The boss, effectively, had all the power, knowledge and access to all the information.
  • In 1990, information available doubled every three years.
  • In 2011, information available doubled every two years.
  • Today, information available doubles or triples every year.
    (Source: Gallup, Inc®)
All information, primarily online, is now freely available, and it's not all just for the boss. The bar to access information is so low that anyone nearly anywhere can learn a multitude of subjects. Since information is so accessible to all people, there has been a significant shift from the 2-D Age to the 3-D Age of information. 
Nowadays, you can learn outside the classic classroom and, in some cases, come to know even more than your boss. Suddenly, they aren’t the smartest one in the room anymore. 
The boss of the past needs to evolve into the leader of today. A boss of today needs to learn how to make use of the knowledge of his or her (or their) people more creatively than in years past in order to truly empower them.

Figure 2: The transformation of information availability (Source: Jef Staes ©Fenestra bvba)

Fact: Only 13% percent of the people worldwide are engaged in their work.

Source: Jef Staes ©Fenestra bvba

It’s a disturbing number, to say the least.

Based on Gallup’s nationally representative polling samples in 2011 and 2012 from more than 140 countries:
  • 63% of the workforce is not engaged or are simply unmotivated and unlikely to exert extra effort.
  • 24% of the workforce is actively disengaged or truly unhappy and unproductive.
  • 13% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs, emotionally invested in their work and focused on helping their organizations improve according to additional data on the Internet.
Taking these trends into consideration, one can see that today’s workforce may not feel particularly empowered, and one important reason for that is their knowledge is often overlooked or, sometimes, even neglected.
The solution is simple: learn to engage and empower people by considering and respecting their knowledge and relevant experience.
That said, how can this strategy be implemented in real life? Let’s start with the Maintenance Excellence (MEX) Program used in a pharmaceutical company.
Figure 3: The People Model

Change: If it doesn’t evolve me, it doesn’t involve me.


“If people can’t weigh in, they won’t buy in.”

This quote by former General Electric chairman, Jack Welch, sums up the fact that if you don’t involve your people in your company changes, they will only see the problems/issues and not solutions. That’s why it’s very important that the people in your organization are informed about changes within the company and, more importantly, the leadership clearly explain the reasons and implication of these changes.

Maintenance Excellence (MEX) Program in a Pharmaceutical Company

The project contained five steps:
Step 1: Conduct a survey. The purpose of the survey was to learn the maturity level of the maintenance department. The BAM model was used. It was learned that the work-order flow was poor, especially work preparation and scheduling.
Step 2: Establish a road map. After defining the maturity level and indicating the opportunities, develop a road map that describes the necessary steps to go forward. 
Step 3: Perform process mapping. Using the Makigami method, the existing situation (i.e., current state) is mapped out. It is then compared to how the current state would work in an ideal situation (i.e., dream state). The necessary steps to move from the current state to the future state are defined. This is done by asking the question: what do we need to improve or change to go from the current state to the future state?
Step 4: Implementation. Implement the defined actions to reach the future state.
Step 5: Follow up. Follow up and finalize the project.
The survey conducted at this pharmaceutical company found that the main issues mainly had to do with the work preparation, scheduling and reliability. After analyzing and improving the process, a Hands-On Tool Time (HOTT) analysis was performed. Changes were incorporated into the processes and implemented.
After one year, another HOTT analysis was conducted, and the results were stunning. Before implementation, the average duration of a work order was four hours. After implementation of the changes, the duration was only three hours. The company managed 9,000 work orders on a yearly basis, with an average full-time equivalent (FTE) cost of $59.30. After the first year, the company realized a profit of $534K.
The second major improvement that was implemented was changing the function of the reliability team. The reliability team mainly focuses on improving the maintenance processes but should also be involved in project management. 
This is the type of change that not only allows more involvement by the reliability team in decision-making but also brings their key insights to the table, leading to management and the workforce being better informed and confident in any major changes that may take place following reviews to internal processes. 
In other words, the reliability team was the missing link between maintenance and project management. They now have a dual role to play and could likely feel more empowered to make an impact. In this example, modifications were made to the project management flow by more strategically incorporating the reliability flow.
Figure 4: Missing link between project management and maintenance
This was only possible by properly utilizing the knowledge and experience of the people. By initially surveying employees on work process improvement and then consulting with them in the implementation of a new work-order flow, a sense of ownership and engagement was established, and employees felt more invested by their seat at the table.
Another resulting benefit was improved communication. By explaining why a change is to be implemented along with the purpose of this change, employees felt their voices would be heard, thereby, leading to less skepticism, mistrust and disengagement from the company (and the boss).


The four essential areas to remember when working with people are:
  1. Use the pull principle instead of the push principle and seek the knowledge of the people and empower them.
  2. Each person has a personality. Define each person’s personality using, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)® and communicate it to the group. This way, everyone knows how to approach a specific person to get the best out of them.
  3. Don’t push people into cooperation. Ask who might be interested in helping. Empower them. Give them the necessary tools (e.g., time, budget, coaching) so they can implement their ideas. You also may want to use common coaching techniques, such as GROW, Harada, etc., to help them in their development.
  4. As soon as the first achievements are reached, make them visible. Build a “Wall of Fame”. Recognize the individuals involved. Doing so will likely encourage participation from other employees who also may otherwise feel disengaged.
When it comes to the human factor in asset management, you must keep in mind that engaged people see an opportunity in every problem, while disengaged people see a problem in every opportunity. It is your duty as a boss or manager to truly know your people, to listen to them and to value them. As your people feel empowered, your business will feel it, too.
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About the Author

Rudi Frederix was born in Hasselt, Belgium, in 1968. He was awarded M.Sc. in Production Automation from Thomas Moore University, in Belgium, and M.Sc. in Instrumentation Technology from the Univ...