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2020 redefined the idea of "disruptive," and 2021 will be just as challenging. But by looking at trends, business leaders in asset-heavy industries can prepare for and then capitalize on the upcoming social and economic shifts affecting asset management and preventive maintenance. 

The major trends in preventive maintenance for 2021 all started in 2020 or earlier. We're seeing established trends continue and intensify. Let's begin with the most obvious, the COVID-19 pandemic. 

COVID-19 and preventive maintenance 

Even before most people truly understood the magnitude of the problem, many government and industry leaders implemented sweeping changes to protect their operations, employees, and customers. 

But even after vaccination programs begin to control the spread of the virus, things won't go back to the way they were. Traditionally, major disruptions are followed by a "new normal." According to Artem Kroupenev writing in Industry Week, "History teaches us that short-term measures taken in response to global crises lead to changes that last for decades." Kroupenev points to numerous historical examples, including the Great Depressions and the housing market crash. People believed the changes were temporary, but they produced lasting effects—many of which we still feel today. 

Business leaders in asset-heavy industries need to find long-term solutions for organizing their workforces and supply chains. They need to keep onsite employees further apart while keeping a closer eye on supply chains. 

Create social distancing with a mobile maintenance app 

When COVID-19 hit, many workplaces emptied as organizations shifted their front-office employees to remote work. But while a viable solution for many types of knowledge workers, it doesn't work for maintenance technicians who need direct access to assets and equipment. You can't troubleshoot a boiler from a home office. The maintenance department needs to keep technicians onsite but safely away from one another. 

Preventive maintenance software creates clear, strong channels of communication without the dangers of face-to-face contact. When the maintenance lead needs to assign work orders, they can send them through the software, and technicians can access everything they need to work efficiently through a mobile app. 

And when they're done, technicians can take pictures and upload them directly to the work orders. Instead of calling over a senior technician to double-check their work, all they have to do is request a remote visual inspection. 

Control supply chains with automated inventory control 

Because of where COVID-19 started, companies worldwide experienced delays and sometimes complete breakdowns in their supply chains. Controlling inventory has become more important than ever. 

Preventive maintenance software helps maintenance departments manage parts and materials by automatically tracking inventory through work orders. When a new work order is generated, the department can include associated parts and materials, which are then automatically subtracted from inventory when the technician closes out the work order. 

The benefits are two-fold. One, technicians arrive onsite already knowing what they need to complete the work. Two, the department can better prepare for and accommodate delays in the supply chain by using the software to set par levels. Once inventory reaches a customizable level, the software sends an alert and then automates some of the steps of preparing purchase orders. 

Preventive maintenance with fewer Baby Boomers 

In early November of 2020, Pew Research Center announced an increase in Baby Boomers retiring from the labor force. Considering the age of the demographic, it's not surprising; millions of Baby Boomers retire each year. But what's worth looking at more closely is the reasons behind last year's increase. 

According to research from the University of Chicago, "Early retirement [is] a major force in accounting for the decline in the labor-force participation. With the high sensitivity of seniors to the COVID-19 virus, this may reflect, in part, a decision to either leave employment earlier than planned due to higher risks of working or a choice to not look for new employment and retire after losing their work in the crisis."  

In 2021, the number of retiring maintenance leads and technicians will likely stay the same or increase so organizations need to prepare for the associated challenge, a variation of key-person risk, often informally referred to as "brain drain." 

Many maintenance departments lack a standardized process for collecting and safeguarding critical know-how. Instead, they rely on the old master-apprentice system, where knowledge is handed down through direct contact between senior and junior staff. The less experienced technicians learn how to maintain and repair assets by watching their more experienced co-workers. The system breaks down, and all that knowledge is lost, when senior staff leaves. 

Departments can use modern preventive maintenance software to mitigate the risk. With input from senior techs, the department creates templates with step-by-step instructions and checklists for common work orders and preventive maintenance inspections and tasks. Once it is in the system, anyone on the team can access and benefit from the knowledge. 

This is just one example of the digitization of information for better security and easier sharing. In 2021, asset-heavy industries are set to see their entire internal cultures shift toward data. 

Preventive maintenance in a culture of data-driven change 

Business leaders who take advantage of new technologies can expect to see large dividends. 

According to McKinsey & Company, "We estimate that digital collaboration has the potential to unlock more than $100 billion in value—thanks in part to productivity boosts of 20 to 30 percent in collaboration-intensive work processes..." 

What does digital collaboration look like? 

Collaboration inside the maintenance department 

It starts with data-packed preventive maintenance work orders with everything technicians need to complete inspections and tasks efficiently. Once they arrive at the asset, technicians have instant access to comprehensive maintenance and repair histories, allowing them to better troubleshoot any current issues with accurate historical data. Using work order and task comments, they can explain their process or ask for guidance from other techs. 

The software makes it easy to not only capture data but also leverage it. With automated reports, the maintenance managers can use data to create an accurate picture of their operations over time. Maintenance metrics and KPIs show them where they're succeeding and where they need to adjust. 

Collaboration across additional departments 

And with API integrations, maintenance departments can share their data across the organization, tearing down silos and opening up better data-driven decision-making across the board. For example, budget forecasts are more accurate when Purchasing can access the maintenance department's spending. Resource management is easier with HR can pull technicians' overtime hours into their software platform. 

How to capitalize on 2021 trends 

2021 will pose many challenges but also opportunities. The deciding factor will be how well you prepared your organization. An important first step is implementing the right technologies, including preventive maintenance software. 

If you don't have a preventive maintenance solution or the one you have now is failing to live up to what you were promised, it's time to reach out to providers to learn more about your options and opportunities.

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About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan Davis started out writing for textbooks before branching out to video games and marketing collateral. He has a master’s degree in journalism and a certificate in technical writing.
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