Let me first say that this is not a slam against accountants or the accounting profession. This is intended to help put what they do in perspective and to show the similarity of what they do with what we, as maintainers, do.
Accountants keep score for us. They log the financial transactions we’ve already done and show us, via the balance sheet, income statement and statement of cash flows, what our “score” is. They can analyze the past, as it is a reflection of our behaviour, and project where we might be headed if that behaviour continues. Those accountants that truly understand the business you are in can also help by suggesting future courses of action that might prove beneficial to the business.
They are helping to preserve the financial integrity of the company and ensure its assets are valued properly so that shareholder value is maintained. However, while they understand the business, much the way any business school graduate would understand it, they do not always understand all that it takes to make it work. Maintenance is one area that is sadly mis-understood or even unknown.
Maintenance produces sustainable uptime. That uptime enables you to produce both goods and/or services. When you are “down” you stop generating revenue and typically your costs (those of repair) go up. When you are “up” you generate revenue and you have the opportunity to spend the least amount on proactive maintenance to generate more uptime. But we don’t always use it so wisely. But that’s just uptime. What about sustainability?
By “sustainable uptime” I mean that the uptime lasts. It is sustained well into the future for as long as you choose to have it. Some physical assets are intended to be used for a short time only but many, particularly those in which we invest the most capital, are intended for use over a very long time. Maintenance the function is what sustains them. Maintenance (the department) has the primary responsibility of sustaining them.
Production produces, accounting keeps score, purchasing buys new stuff, marketing and sales generate product or service orders from customers, logistics moves the physical product to those customers, finance keeps the wheels greased with cash, executive management decides on the future. Everyone contributes to generating value, but it is only maintenance and finance have a role to play in sustaining the value of the company’s assets – finance looks after financial assets, maintenance looks after physical assets. By preserving the value of those assets (a balance sheet item) we are both sustaining shareholders’ equity (value).
At times, the views of finance and maintenance are at odds, but that is neither necessary or productive. Keep the perspective in mind that maintenance sustains the value of the comapny’s assets while producing productive uptime and those differences in opinion about what is the best course of action will disappear.
Finance and accounting seldom forget their role. Give a CFO or a controller a convincing business case that shows what you want to do adding substantial value and you’ll usually get the green light. However, as Maintainers we often forget our role in the business.
We are usually technical people who like to do things that are technical, often with our hands, and we like to get absorbed in the details. We are in a forest and looking at the leaves, but we forget that we are in a forest. Our forest is our business and by working with the leaves (our physical assets), we sustain it in a very physical sense. We do need to remain cognizant of our business role – manage to the benefit of the business, not just the maintenance. Doing what’s “best practice” may actually be too expensive for the business and harmful. Ignoring “best practice” is even worse – it is being irresponsible.
In fairness to maintainers the world over, there are many accountants and finance people who get wrapped up in the details. Accuracy is important but it is not always material (as they say it). They too must keep out of the leaves.
Recognize that we have these similar roles of sustaining the assets of our companies, learn to speak the language of business, go beyond the purely technical and your job can be a lot easier.
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