How do asset and safety management changes at the facilities level apply to worldwide preparedness for the next pandemic? This is the question facilities managers are asking as they prepare for their return to work and consider how to respond to this current situation and then, the next pandemic/epidemic/catastrophe. Undoubtedly, they will want to know, “What did we miss, and why? What are the implications for our places of work? What will ensure that the company’s equipment assets and human resources will be ready for a smooth and quick return to work this time—or next time?”
The answers to these questions can mitigate the costly problems produced by the lack of operation and maintenance protocols during the shutdown. Moreover, managers may learn that cutting back on maintenance crews over the closure to save money was a mistake that will slow a return to an efficient and productive workplace of any kind. Additionally, and perhaps fortuitously, firms that continued their equipment maintenance to some degree might have benefited in realizing that while technology can still help in many ways, it does not handle everything.
COVID-19 Lessons Learned
One of the biggest mistakes in hindsight was that cutting out maintenance during the pandemic—the safer route in terms of outlay during a prolonged period of low- or no-production—ended up being riskier. The difficulty was accepting that asset ownership costs would be increased as difficulties in obtaining proper PPE for maintenance staff pushed social distancing requirements to their limits. That was coupled with the fact that it had become difficult to find trained maintenance resources.
The maintenance crew shortage grew from stay-at-home mandates coupled with a painful cash-flow crunch, tempting facilities managers into relaxing equipment upkeep routines. The problem would be to see how to keep their maintenance costs in check while keeping both physical assets and human resources in good health. The challenge turned out to be an opportunity to acknowledge how both would have to be ready to ramp up quickly and scale speedily when the pandemic was over. Asset and safety management for businesses became a big priority literally overnight.
Overcoming Challenges In Adopting New Solutions
One of the pandemic’s takeaways is a belief that investing in asset management systems can help companies deal with current and future epidemics. Mobile technologies such as handheld devices to enable remote monitoring are offered by Maximo Anywhere, Interloc Maximo, Maximo Scheduler, and other enterprise asset management solutions.
Health, safety, and environment management tools can:
Inform tag-out procedures
Remind staff to practice social distancing
Alert personnel to hazardous conditions
Today, IoT devices can be placed on assets to collect Big Data that will inform engineers’ calculated decisions for refurbishing, replacing, reengineering—without being near the asset. Artificial Intelligence combined with Alexa and Google assistant types can remotely handle maintenance by sensing, diagnosing, and troubleshooting operations during the shutdown, and then be leveraged for future operations when normal functions return. Doing nothing to handle facilities maintenance might be considered “safe,” because spending money with no revenue is risky. However, investing in an enterprise asset management system protects the future of an assets’ productivity. Companies can leverage asset management systems to plan for the re-start that will bring fabrication back safely, systematically, efficiently, and profitably. While humans are sleeping, integrated hardware and software systems can collect Big Data with wire sensors, meters, and photos that inform and optimize future shift planning schedules, materials use, asset replacement, and throughput. The investments will be recouped as increased efficiency and decreased costs will make processes leaner. By training the workforce to use technology and continuing to invest in ongoing enhancements, companies can not only keep up, but also stay ahead of and be ready for any pandemic, epidemic, catastrophe, or natural disaster. To make it work, management has to both set the tone and be open to cooperation and collaboration in new ways.
A good example of handling the current situation and preparing for the future involves a shared safety and maintenance approach. Three geographically separated transit authorities, Rochester-Genesee Regional Transit Authority, (New York) Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (Colorado) and Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (Florida) collaborated via the Trapeze™ Enterprise Asset Management group to help keep drivers and passengers safe by generally re-thinking the typical ways they had been doing things. Schedules were re-routed, protective barriers were installed, surfaces were wiped and disinfected. Knowing the time and supplies needed to clean and adding these to the costs of doing business helped facilities managers keep passengers and customers safe.
The ‘new-normal’ costs will be captured and use by companies’ facilities managers who work in public transit or in other machinery-heavy, employee-engaged, customer-facing industries. Public and private entities working together with consultants, scientists, and under the direction of the CDC and state and local authorities are finding productive, safe, yet risky and innovative ways to work through the pandemic.
Importance of Leadership and Culture
Systems are great if they are enforced. Staggered shifts and mobile automatic notifications from mobile devices are useful during the pandemic. In addition, they will be a boon to restarting safely and productively to prevent a new wave of pandemic from sloshing over the workforce and the assets the systems are trying to protect.
Sanitization and preventive maintenance that include cleaning, fogging, and disinfecting will be part of the health and safety-first culture from the top down. Prevention is being safe. That’s a given. However, not being proactively involved in prevention is risky so that adherence to prevention protocols cannot be compromised as this pandemic continues. The workforce will be trained in using technology, but also in making technology serve humans and not the other way around. There will be future epidemics, and thoughtful science-based, man-machine maintenance during shutdowns is a big part of being prepared.
By this time, it is probably not new news that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates predicted a highly infectious, lethal epidemic in an extremely short (eight-minute, thirty-two second), very prophetic 2015 TED Talk. The last sentence of his talk was, “In fact, if there’s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic [2013-2016], it’s that it can serve as an early warning, a wake-up call, to get ready. If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic.” Unfortunately, business and society did not follow Bill Gate’s marching orders and were not ready for COVID-19.
Survival of corporate bodies will need healthier habits, just like human bodies, and the brain of the corporate entity is its leadership. Because leaders’ day-to-day decisions (should) derive from their firms’ mission and vision statements, those underlying beliefs may need re-thinking and viewing through different lenses. It’s time to “Think Different” as Steve Jobs said. Surviving takes on new meaning in the post-COVID world, and business and society cannot go back to our BC (Before-COVID) ways because history has a way of repeating itself. Bill Gates invites us to do better for the next time because no one is ever safe. It’s an illusion. So, it makes more sense to be risky—and be prepared.