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Remote Work-Order Requests.

Regardless of the nature, size or complexity of the business it supports, a maintenance organization exists to serve user departments. Once we have accounted for our preventative, predictive and program maintenance efforts, it all boils down to "come fix it because it's broke" or "make it do this instead of that."

As a service operation, maintenance must deal with its customer base. One of the most elemental aspects of this relationship is the work-order request. For an EAM or CMMS, a work-order request function is a pivotal entry point to its work-order module. For a maintenance department, entering and processing work-order requests in an EAM/CMMS can be a pain in the neck.

I first encountered this situation working for a CMMS-solution provider years ago. My employer provided a DOS-based CMMS that was moderately successful in both facilities and manufacturing marketplaces. After the initial dust of system configuration had settled, one of the first implementation tasks that was usually tackled was setting up a work-order request entry function. The basic concept was to get work-order requests into the system so that it can start printing work-order forms for craftspeople.

Typically, a maintenance office clerk would take a telephone request and enter it into our Work Order Screen. This wasn't necessarily a bad solution for a small operation fielding a small number of requests. A maintenance clerk or administrator could handle a few telephone calls in conjunction with his or her other duties. But the larger the operation, the more effort was spent in this call and data-entry function.

Our larger clients had operations that were typically responsible for maintaining widely dispersed buildings and facilities. They had to staff one or more data-entry clerks whose primary duty was to process work-order requests. These clients would constantly press us for a solution that would allow their customers to enter their own work-order requests into the system.

Since we had a PC-Local Area Network (LAN) based system, there was no simple solution. Several clients opted for a communications server-based solution that provided remote users a dial-in modem connection to enter their work-order requests. But this solution had several drawbacks: It wasn't cheap; it required remote users to establish a dial-in connection to enter a work order request; and it allowed user departments direct access to our Work Order Entry Screen. This created problems with data quality, and required additional technical support and handholding.

The whole work-order request issue hit home when I visited one client who was responsible for maintaining over 70 buildings scattered across a large metropolitan area. This client had to devote two full-time data-entry clerks to handle all the calls for broken windows, clogged toilets, faulty radiators, and lock re-keying. Not only was this a problem for the maintenance department, but it was a less than satisfactory experience for the user departments. Since they had no way of tracking a request through the system, user departments had a tendency to repeatedly call in requests until a craftsmen showed up at the site to fix the problem.

The advent of the CMMS client/server revolution did not do much for remote work-order requests. While Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) made it easier to complete a computer-based work request form, a user's PC still had to have a physical connection to the CMMS server. Direct dial-in connections typically did not offer the speed needed to support this type of client/server architecture.

Even user departments that had a high-speed LAN or Wide Area Network (WAN) connection to the CMMS server still had a problem. They needed a copy of the CMMS vendor's client software installed on their PCs in order to enter work-order requests and query work-order status. This could be a costly solution if the vendor licensed their software by each connected user. If licensing cost was not a factor, user departments still had to launch 'thick' client CMMS software from their PCs. This either required the software to be installed on their desktop PCs, an administrative headache, or to be downloaded from a file server, an excruciatingly slow process.

Several years ago CMMS vendors started to address this issue by developing special software to support user-department access to their core systems. Today most top-tier CMMS vendors offer some sort of work-request and remote-access modules. These solutions come in three basic flavors:

* Special 'thin' client software. Vendors offer stripped-down software that is installed on user department desktop PCs. This software provides limited functionality to enter requests and view work-order status. Vendors typically license this remote access software at significantly reduced rates from their main application software.

* E-mail interfaces. User departments submit work requests through special template forms from their desktop e-mail packages. Vendor-provided interfaces load the requests into their databases. Some solutions allow maintenance departments to customize the templates to meet their special processing needs.

* Web-enabled access. End-users enter work requests and initiate queries through their company's Intranet using their desktop Web browser. The process typically starts with the user accessing a log-on form from a link on their company's Intranet Web page. The log-on determines what features the user can access and determines default/permissible data values.

While these approaches differ in look, feel and functionality, they have one thing in common: They help automate a maintenance department's work-request function in a cost-effective manner. They allow user departments to submit work requests 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But more importantly, these remote work-request modules help maintenance improve their level of service and response time. They do this by reducing maintenance's call-center and data-entry duties. Maintenance is happier because it can reduce the amount of time it spends on these overhead tasks. User departments are happier because their requests are entered and processed in a more timely fashion. Those solutions that support query functions also give user departments a feeling of empowerment. They are no longer dependent on getting someone on the telephone to see what is happening. Information is just a mouse click away.

Tom Singer is an Information Technology consultant who specializes in the design, development and implementation of Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) and Warehouse Management System (WMS) solutions. He is a project manager with Tompkins Associates, an international engineering-based consulting firm headquartered in Raleigh, NC.
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Author:Singer, Tom
Publication:Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 1999
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