By Bill de Decker
One thing I really enjoy is visiting with customers and prospects to find out what's happening out in the "real world."
The last three months I've had the opportunity to meet with operators of all kinds — corporate, agricultural , government, commercial, helicopter and fixed wing — ranging in size from small to large. Sometimes these visits are to renew old acquaintances, sometimes they are with customers and prospects, and sometimes they are with students in management classes we teach. But always I learn something. One of the more interesting conclusions I drew from this most recent round of visits concerns computers and the typical operator.
First the good news: Just about every operator uses computers in their organization. That is a huge and very beneficial change from even a few years ago.
Now the bad news: With most operators, these computers are used mostly as expensive typewriters and calculators. There is no question this has brought some benefits to the users of these computers, but the benefits can be so much greater.
The first thing I observed is that there are still an awful lot of management people out there who are very uncomfortable with computers, and really don't have a good understanding of the power of these machines. So the first step to unlocking the power of computers for your business is to get comfortable with computers and what they can do.
A good place to start is to take some courses at the local college continuing education department. They're cheap and they're good. They'll teach you about Windows, spreadsheets, relational databases and other tools that you can use in running your organization. Frankly, the days of teaching yourself how to use these programs are over. The programs are too powerful and too complicated not to spend the few hundred dollars to get a real understanding of what they can do.
Rethink the process
The next step is to start rethinking the processes you and your staff use to track the schedules, costs and paperwork associated with your maintenance operation. Too often, this is where there is a big problem.
I've seen it time and again (and have done it myself) that an operator will focus on getting the computer to duplicate the procedures in use with the current manual or semi-automated system. This is a mistake, that can lead to utter frustration with the computer and the software. Computers and software are designed to accomplish a series of procedures in the context of one or more specific processes.
Sometimes, the procedures and processes you are using match the way a particular software program was designed. But, usually, they don't. The key is to focus on the overall objective. If a particular software program meets the requirements of the regulations and your organizational objectives, but doesn't accommodate some specific procedure you are using at present, maybe it's time to rethink that procedure! You may well find, as we did in one instance, that the procedure that the software wouldn't accommodate was frowned upon by the accounting people. In other words, the software was right and the existing procedure was wrong.
Another problem that happens when the process is not revised when computers are added is that a layer of work gets added. For example, at many operators, the technicians enter all required data manually on a form and another person enters the data into a computer. Not only does this double the work it also multiplies the possibility of error. It's much better to rethink the process, get a suitable software program, get every work station a computer and have the technicians and parts room people enter the data directly. With proper training, it'll save time, it'll save money and it will provide more accurate data.