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Don't Let Your MRO Inventory Manage You: Part 2

By Doug Wallace


A basis storeroom has now been created, and at least basic data about the stocked items has been captured on spreadsheets. Parts are stored safely and can now easily be located.


The first step is to define your business processes. Too many organizations choose a software solution and then figure out how – or if – the system supports their processes. This strategy is completely backwards, and can lead to failed implementations or resistance to use the system because of its limitations.

Understanding your business processes will help you define what you want the system to do to make those processes as effective, efficient, and safe – in other words as close to Best Practice – as possible. When defining your process steps, it is critical to go in with a completely open mind as to the possible capabilities of a system. You should design your processes around the way you want to do business, not the way you have done it in the past, the way you think you have to do it, or based on any prior conceived notions about what you think a particular system may or may not be able to do.

Consider the data infrastructure that you will need to optimize the capabilities of the system, as well as the reporting and data management tools you will need to make informed business decisions based on reliable information. For example, in addition to basic part master and inventory data, your CMMS/EAM should have a visual hierarchical structure for maintaining your assets and their BOMs. It should support identification of critical assets and critical spares, repairable items, ABC classes, and other parametric data. It should have an easy way to upload information from external sources, such as an inventory spreadsheet, as we described in the previous installment of this series. This capability will enable you to easily capitalize on the hard work you put into the data gathering effort to quickly seed the system with clean data.

This is an opportunity to design your future, and it would be a shame to sub-optimize your processes simply because you put artificial constraints on yourself.

Make sure to involve all key stakeholders, particularly Maintenance and Operations, when developing the system requirements, and if possible, allow them to participate in evaluating and testing different so􀅌ware solutions before making the final choice. MRO Materials Management exists primarily to support Maintenance and Operations, and making sure the processes are closely aligned with their goals and objectives is critical to effectively managing your storeroom operation.

This is also a good time to start thinking about implementation training. Some so􀅌ware providers and third party implementation consultants are content to limit initial training to basic functionality they believe the users are most likely to need, often based solely on their role or position description. By properly defining your processes, you will be able to provide your trainers with the specific tasks individual users will be required to perform, as well as the particular transactions they will use, and even the specific fields they will need to populate. If your provider wants to be a true partner and ensure a successful implementation, they should be willing to offer training within the context of your defined and detailed business processes.

Now that you have your processes and system requirements defined, it’s time to evaluate different CMMS/EAM software solutions. Using your checklist of requirements as a reference, you can evaluate the features and functions of each system to determine which one satisfies the most, or at least most important, requirements.

This may sound easy, but it’s not. Different systems have different names for different data elements, forms, documents, transactions, even processes. Some systems may use the same terms to mean completely different things. These differences are why it is important to evaluate the software within the context of your business process to make sure you know whether the system can do what you want it to do.

Be specific when stating your requirements. Ask the software provider to SHOW you what the system can do rather than TELL you what it will do. You may think you can perform a process step in one transaction when it might actually take two or three. You may think you can easily produce a report with a simple query when it might actually require you to run several queries and piece the data together yourself.

Don’t take “No” for an answer, at least not right away. If the software provider tells you the system isn’t capable of doing something you want it to do, make sure they completely understand what it is you want to accomplish, and if they still say the system can’t support it, then ask them what the alternative is.

Finally, consider how user-friendly the system is. This can be difficult to assess, and may require a demonstration from the provider, testimonials from other users, or an opportunity to play around in a test database. The easier the system is to use, the faster people will adopt it and adapt to it. The harder it is, the more likely people will resist or struggle to implement it effectively.

The usability of the system is not just a consideration for the primary users, which typically includes maintenance, stores, and purchasing roles. It is also important to maintenance management, plant leadership, accounting and others who rely on the credibility of information and reports from the system to produce operating metrics, report financials, perform reliability engineering functions, and make key business decisions. These outputs rely on the accuracy and timeliness of the data, so ensuring consistent usage is important.

Regardless of what software you choose, you will eventually want to take full advantage of all its capabilities. But there will be limitations, and it’s important to understand what they are and how they impact your processes. Not only will this allow you to develop workarounds as necessary, but it will also allow you to provide valuable input to the software provider to possibly incorporate fixes in later revisions of the software to address those deficiencies so you can continue to make the system more effective, more efficient and more user-friendly.


Once you have chosen the best option available and installed the software, the next step would be to start building your data infrastructure (e.g. equipment data, part masters, BOMs, etc.) using any data you may have captured and stored in advance of the implementation.

Identify the basic processes and transactions that need to be implemented first. For the maintenance team, these processes will likely start with entering work orders and capturing data from completed work, followed by planning and scheduling proactive and preventive work. For the materials team, these processes would typically be things like receiving, stocking, and issuing. Determine the proper sequencing: some transactions are stand-alone, while others require upstream activities to be completed first. For example, there’s no point in explaining how to capture work order data if there are no work orders in the system. Likewise, you can’t issue parts that haven’t been put into inventory with accurate quantities.

Identify the specific individuals who need to be trained. This includes the people who will be performing a transaction as part of their routine job responsibilities, as well as those who will be held accountable for providing the support required to make sure the processes are executed properly. Develop the specific training they will need, hopefully with the help of effective documentation and materials from the software provider. If not, you may have to develop your own training materials. Provide each person with the appropriate training, but also make sure that they have demonstrated competence (i.e. they have done it, either in production or a test environment).

An effective change management process is critical at this step, as with any system implementation. Users will be asked to do new things that they may at first resist, citing reasons such as “this does not help me do my job.” Measuring progress and showing results from the new processes that make their jobs easier should be management’s focus of the early efforts. The CMMS/EAM should have a robust analytical package that can capture key data to measure the maturity of the processes. Some of the first metrics you should watch are adoption metrics – those metrics that ensure the system is being utilized properly to capture the basic transactions. Until that culture change has happened in your organization on the first set of processes, further progress will be very difficult.

Follow up with periodic audits and coaching to make sure everyone is comfortable with their role in supporting the new system and the new processes. Once you have the basics in place, you can move on to the next set of processes (e.g. requisitions, purchasing, kittng and returns), then the next, and the next, until you have all of your documented processes running smoothly.

Remember that even though this part of the scenario is the “Run” phase, any system implementation is a continuous improvement process. Through each iteration, you will need to make incremental or even step-function changes, evaluate them, and make corrections and adjustments, most likely several times. Set your team’s expectations properly in this regard, so that the team does not become de-energized when adjustments need to be made. Encountering new situations and adjusting to them is itself indicative of success, in that you are stretching yourself and the process and making it work for you. This is a marathon, not a sprint.


Doug Wallace is a materials management subject matter expert, providing assessment, process re-engineering, implementation, training, coaching, and other management consulting services to identify areas of opportunity for process improvement, increased productivity, and cost reduction. His primary focus is on implementation of best practices in procurement; materials management; warehouse operations; inventory optimization; and utilization of associated business and information systems.

Doug has more than 35 years of combined practical and consulting experience in the semiconductor, cement, refining, mining and metals, specialty chemical, pharmaceutical, shipbuilding, and other manufacturing industries. He is APICS certified and is a PROSCI certified Change Management Professional. He can be reached at dawallace@rcn.com.