How to Optimize Scheduled Maintenance to Drive Safety and Efficiency
A strong scheduled maintenance program can enable utilities companies to improve productivity and safety, increase asset life expectancy, and reduce costs. But many chief transformation officers (CTOs) find it difficult to successfully implement scheduled maintenance, as the process requires a fully optimized business operation.
Dealing with real-time changes to scheduled maintenance can be particularly challenging; and businesses that lack the proper tools and processes to handle these ever-changing factors struggle to keep up. Operational mistakes and inefficient scheduling practices make it nearly impossible to reap the potential benefits of scheduled maintenance and lead to significant business consequences, too—like excess costs, unnecessary downtime, and increased safety risks.
To get it right, CTOs should leverage technology and processes that help them optimize scheduled maintenance across all locations, despite their scheduling complexities, multi-layered workflows, and evolving business priorities; all while remaining flexible enough to meet the unique needs of their organization.
What is Scheduled Maintenance?
Scheduled maintenance is the process of servicing or repairing an asset within a specific period of time. It includes all the details of a given task, including who will perform it and when and where it will be completed.
Both one-time work orders and recurring work orders are considered scheduled maintenance. For instance, when a particular part of a piece of equipment stops operating properly, a work order is created. A maintenance scheduler will collaborate with a maintenance planner to schedule and dispatch a technician, who will fix or replace the broken part. Recurring maintenance, on the other hand, might include inspecting a motor every three months to ensure it’s in acceptable working condition.
Utilities companies used scheduled maintenance to optimize their workers’ schedules to ensure maximum productivity and efficiency. By maximizing the total number of hours internal resources can work, scheduled maintenance also helps teams reduce the costs associated with hiring outside labor. Plus, when properly implemented, it enables companies to leverage preventive maintenance for reduced equipment downtime.
Effective scheduled maintenance relies on the information and understanding derived from planned maintenance. Maintenance planning refers to all of the activities a company must perform to detect and resolve potential issues. The planned maintenance process helps teams outline all the work that must be done, what materials and resources are needed, why the work must be performed, and how it will be conducted.
Scheduled Maintenance vs. Planned Maintenance
Because scheduled maintenance and planned maintenance are so closely related to and entwined with one another, many often conflate the two. But they are two separate processes that rely on one another for true operational success.
Where planned maintenance deals with the foundational elements of completing work (like materials, processes, and even checklists), scheduled maintenance involves identifying who will actually conduct the work and when. Together, they enable utilities companies to effectively plan, schedule, and execute their maintenance activities.
For example, an operator or supervisor may determine that they can extend the lifetime of a particular asset by conducting regular inspections on it. They’ll share detailed asset information (e.g. any potential issues, equipment manuals, etc.) with the maintenance planner, who will then begin the planning process. They’ll outline all the details relevant to the work that must be performed, like the scope of work, required materials and tools, and any manufacturer instructions.
The maintenance planner will then order any necessary parts and gather all the required work procedures. Once they’ve outlined all of these considerations, they’ll prioritize the work based on its criticality, either through subjective reasoning or predetermined criteria within their team’s software. This enables the maintenance planner to properly assign and schedule the task so it can be successfully completed by a technician at the right time.
The Benefits of Scheduled Maintenance
Scheduled maintenance is only effective if an organization has optimized its business operations, which is a challenging feat without the proper tools and processes for support. But it’s generally well worth the investment, as companies with a strong scheduled maintenance program see a variety of key benefits, including:
- Efficient time management – When maintenance planners and schedulers have all the real-time information they need (and complete workforce visibility), they can easily schedule for 100% of the available work hours. Technicians are fully utilized, instead of wasting precious time wondering when they’ll receive their next assignment.
- Increased productivity – Rather than relying on a constant break/fix strategy to resolve issues as they occur, scheduled maintenance helps teams accurately plan for upcoming maintenance and reduce subsequent downtime. In turn, workers have fewer disruptions to their daily workflows so they can remain as productive as possible on a consistent basis.
- Increased asset life expectancy – Regular inspections, service, and adjustments help teams ensure their equipment is in working order, so fewer critical breakdowns occur. By planning, scheduling, and completing recurring maintenance tasks, utilities companies can extend their assets’ lifetime as much as possible without sacrificing functionality.
- Lower maintenance costs – Time is money, and effective scheduled maintenance makes the most of a team’s working hours. When technicians’ days are fully optimized to enable them to perform as many tasks as possible, the business operation becomes more cost-effective. Plus, a strong program helps teams detect and prevent larger, more costly breakdowns before they occur.
- Safer working environment – With the right tools and processes in place, maintenance planners have the historical data they need to accurately plan and estimate downtime, which reduces the risk for emergency breakdowns. Regularly scheduled maintenance enables technicians to verify equipment is in working order, so they can avoid unexpected failures or dangerous working conditions.
- Better knowledge transfer – As your workforce ages out, they take with them the skills, expertise, and knowledge they’ve acquired around equipment, processes, and procedures. But with the right scheduled maintenance tools, transferring that knowledge to greener techs is a breeze. Everything is well-documented in a single, easily accessible place, so even your newer technicians have everything they need to complete the job the first time around.
- More empowered employees – Companies with highly-engaged employees are 21% more profitable than their peers; and a huge factor in engaging your workforce is providing them with tools that empower them to do their best work. With a strong scheduled maintenance program that’s bolstered by seamless tools that make planners’, schedulers’, and technicians’ jobs easier, companies can better empower their employees to succeed.
Common Scheduled Maintenance Challenges
Successful scheduled maintenance helps utilities companies ensure their equipment is in working order, anticipate potential breakdowns, and maintain reliability in their customer relationships. Its value is undeniable, yet so many businesses still struggle to implement it effectively.
At the core of a strong scheduled maintenance program is a completely optimized scheduling process; and one that’s backed by intelligent tools that can handle complex scheduling requirements. Traditional tools and processes just won’t cut it, and organizations who still rely on these outdated methods face several significant challenges, including:
- Real-time communication – Without tools that offer centralized, streamlined, and real-time communication between schedulers, supervisors, and technicians, workers are forced to toggle between various tools (e.g. phone calls, emails, text messages, Slack, etc.) to send and receive important updates. Job details, progress updates, customer details, appointment changes, and even safety information fall through the cracks, leading to issues in miscommunication and delayed understanding. Time consuming, costly errors mount, resulting in poor schedule adherence, improper maintenance, and an unproductive workforce. If, for instance, a technician arrives at a job site but is having trouble accessing the right entrance, they’ll need to scramble to get a hold of a planner or supervisor who has the proper information. The same is true when an unexpected issue arises with a machine, and the assigned resource hasn’t yet encountered a similar problem. They’ll waste time trying to contact the right person (who may not immediately see their messages), and consequently struggle to make up that time throughout the rest of their work day. Or, they’ll fail to receive the information they need to handle the unexpected problem, which will prevent them from finishing the job during the scheduled appointment time. This potentially means they won’t be able to serve as many customers as they planned to, which impacts efficiency, client satisfaction, and—ultimately—revenue.
- Lack of integration – Utilities companies use a whole slew of tools to support their operation, and each technology collects and stores essential data. ERP software, computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), EAM tools, and scheduling platforms are all necessary for a successful maintenance program, but if they’re not connected to one another, the business probably lacks important insights that could otherwise drive operational efficiency. These disparate systems also result in data silos, duplicate or missing information, outdated and unreliable data, and errors, which make it challenging to understand and improve maintenance operations.
- Shifting priorities – A company’s scheduled maintenance strategy is only effective if it aligns with the business’s broader priorities. But those priorities frequently change based on budget, available resources, urgent or emergency work orders, and more; and traditional technologies can’t keep up. They lack the flexibility and adaptability required to handle these shifting priorities while ensuring the team remains efficient and productive, so maintenance operations greatly suffer.
- Schedule changes and updates – 40% of companies in the manufacturing industry still use in-house spreadsheets to schedule the maintenance tasks. The problem with these outdated scheduling methods is that they don’t account for the inevitable changes that occur throughout any given work day. Illness, vehicle issues, weather conditions, construction, customer cancellations or reschedules, emergency breakdowns, and more can impact the schedules of an entire team, especially if they don’t have tools that automatically update back-office schedulers as changes occur. If, for example, a technician’s vehicle breaks down en route to a job site, that technician must scramble to contact and update a scheduler. Then, the scheduler must spend time either finding another qualified, available technician to complete the job, or cancel or reschedule the appointment altogether. This negatively impacts productivity, customer satisfaction, and the organization’s ability to maintain SLA compliance.
- Lack of understanding of time tasks take – While companies should always trust their maintenance planners to approximate job times based on experience, they can’t expect them to accurately estimate every single task that arises; especially because some technicians are more skilled than others. If planners don’t have up-to-date data and reports at their disposal, they’ll find it difficult to understand how long it will take technicians to complete each activity. If they’re planning maintenance on a piece of equipment with which they’re unfamiliar, for example, they might look to the asset’s maintenance manual to gauge how long the job should take. But if they had access to the equipment’s maintenance history, they’d find that an experienced technician can actually perform the task in half the time outlined in the manual. This single instance might not seem detrimental to the teams’ productivity until you take into account the number of jobs planners and schedulers might be over- or under-estimating. Over time, the lack of accurate understanding and time allotment results in inefficient scheduling practices that hinder worker output or, on the other hand, lead to premature burnout.
- Accountability regarding completed tasks – If your team doesn’t have the tools in place to share, document, and track maintenance processes, checklists, and feedback, managers and supervisors will struggle to ensure quality work is consistently executed. Without centralized access to status updates, equipment specifications, real-time issue reporting, and up-to-date schedules, technicians find it difficult to remain productive; and their supervisors can’t hold them accountable because they lack the visibility required to understand what’s actually going on in the field.
Strategies for Reliable Scheduled Maintenance
A reliable scheduled maintenance program is grounded in operational excellence. By optimizing their business operations, utilities companies can eliminate the challenges that threaten their maintenance scheduling success.
At the heart of this operational efficiency is a strong scheduling practice. Here are three strategies that can help your team improve scheduling and, in turn, build a fully optimized maintenance scheduling program that boosts efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction:
1. Put your data to work
If you haven’t already, invest in a centralized system that pulls all of your valuable data together in a single place. One of the biggest challenges maintenance planners and schedulers face is understanding what needs to get done, who is qualified and available to do it, and how they can get it done as quickly, efficiently, and effectively as possible.
The answer to these questions can quite often be found in the data from your existing systems, but only if that data is accurate and up-to-date. Information from your ERP, CMMS, EAM, and scheduling systems can provide your team with reliable insights around your customers, assets, and service delivery, so planners and schedulers can make intelligent, data-driven decisions on the fly.
Instead of wasting time importing and exporting data in spreadsheets, leverage tools that create a seamless tech stack across your entire business. That way, you can move trustworthy data from one system to the next and uncover insights that enable your organization to improve its maintenance scheduling operations. Technologies that offer mobile apps for deskless productivity are incredibly helpful, too, since they give your team real-time visibility into what’s happening so they can make smart adjustments on the fly.
2. Automate scheduling
Manual maintenance scheduling can lead to frustrating, costly errors and issues in worker productivity. But modern tools automate the process using artificial intelligence (AI), so a high capacity of work orders, last-minute scheduling changes, and complex scheduling requirements don’t negatively impact your team’s productivity.
Automated scheduling technology instantly generates a schedule that aligns with the business’s key priorities, enabling them to achieve their intended outcomes. It increases efficiency by automatically taking myriad scheduling factors (e.g. worker skill sets, certifications, availability, locations, etc.) into account, taking much of the burden off of already-busy staff schedulers.
Plus, automated tools enable your business to shift to a preventive maintenance strategy, as needed, since they offer detailed reporting on scheduling trends and complete visibility into current and future schedules. Technicians receive real-time updates (even in the field), and planners and schedulers are confident in the accuracy of schedules, making it easy to plan ahead or handle emergency work orders as they occur.
3. Empower your team with the right tools
A sophisticated scheduled maintenance program cannot be achieved through spreadsheets, whiteboards, emails, or online calendars. By nature, maintenance scheduling is complex, ever-changing, and multi-faceted—and your team needs tools that can keep up.
Each maintenance scheduler might be responsible for scheduling 25 technicians throughout any given week. At 40 working hours each, that’s 1,000 hours of work they must accurately schedule. And it’s not as simple as creating a calendar invite or sending an email to each technician with a list of maintenance tasks that must be completed. Planning details (like job descriptions, estimated skills, required tools, etc.) must be married with scheduling details (like which worker is qualified, available, and within the appropriate proximity) to effectively create each appointment.
It’s true that maintenance software (e.g. CMMS technology, ERP tools, EAM systems) are crucial to your team’s success, but they also need solutions that take the guesswork out of the scheduling process. Robust scheduling software, for example, improves workforce visibility, supports multi-layered workflows, and manages complex scheduling requirements in one, centralized place. They facilitate a holistic, integrated approach to maintenance planning and scheduling, so your team can operate as efficiently and effectively as possible.
As you evaluate your options, be sure to look for a scheduling tool that offers real-time communication, automated scheduling, and intelligent job matching, so your team can spend less time worrying about getting the right person to the right job and more time completing maintenance tasks. The software you choose should also pull all of your data together to drive more meaningful insights that help you improve your operations.
Powerful Software for Efficient Maintenance Scheduling
Optimizing your business operations—and scheduling, particular—is the key to a successful maintenance program. But if your team still relies on outdated tools and insufficient processes for maintenance scheduling, they’ll likely struggle to get it right.
Skedulo’s scheduling software for energy and utilities companies makes maintenance planning and scheduling a breeze. With tools for automated scheduling, intelligent job matching, efficient resource utilization, and more, Skedulo can help your team optimize its operations for truly successful scheduled maintenance.
Learn more about how employee scheduling impacts your business’s revenue, or book a demo today.