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A little retrospect

The Plant Maintenance module has been around for such a long time that I know few people who’ve worked with it from the very beginnings. Actually, there was even the predecessor in R/2 with the good old German abbreviation RM-Inst – maybe we should have a little quiz about what that stood for. A little hint: you can find it on this screen.

image

I got in touch with PM in 1997 and got involved in some of the most complex applications of it – aircraft maintenance. I’m happy to say, that most industries don’t face the demanding requirements that the airlines have to fulfill – with the possible exception of nuclear power generation. So what, even for aircraft maintenance we’ve been able to plug the gaps and deliver a robust scalable solution – with several hundred thousand maintenance plans just to highlight one aspect.

Ease of use 

So what does this all have to do with simplicity or ease-of-use? My point is that we have a lot of customers and we’ve been able to address some of the most complex challenges, but in many more mainstream environments, say, an manufacturing plant with 50 to 100 technicians, we’ve missed the mark in terms of user experience.

In the old days, there was only so much you could on a terminal screen like this one.

R/2 equipment screen 

The problem is that a lot of today’s SAPGui screens still cannot belie their mainframe ancestry. 

ERP Floc list

I’ve talked to a lot of customers over the years and in simple terms there these two types of users. On the one hand the super user type with a well-earned pride in having mastered a complex system and being able to leverage all those powerful features. On the other hand there is probably the vast majority who are either frustrated by the complexity and are probably bypassing it wherever they can.

We all know what it does to maintenance history and analytics when people don’t bother creating an order for a small job on the fly or don’t see the point in creating a notification, entering damage codes, etc., etc.. You get my point. At SAP we have a tendency to blame a lot of that on bad implementations and, yes, a lot depends on the system set-up, but I can’t help noticing that at any EAM event we see at least one or two presentation about how somebody dumbed the system down using GUIxt or other techniques.

Now why is that? Has SAP completely ignored the outcry in their EAM user communities?  Well, let’s not dwell on that but let’s have a look at what was done. Ever since portal technology became available, this seemed like the answer to this big usability issue out there. Rather than rewriting the good old SAPGui in the backend, it seemed logical to leverage new technology which offered things like guided procedures, page personalization, and just a modern look and feel. There were even software partner companies who invested a lot into the new iViews – I’m sure many of you are aware of NRX Visual Information for Plants (VIP).

VIP by NRX

So what happened, did the portal promise fail? I wouldn’t say so but, of course, there is quite a lot of IT Admin overhead and cost associated with portal and it also takes some performance which isn’t well received when you’re trying to fix a usability issue. And then, yes, there are portals besides SAP NetWeaver Portal and maybe putting SAP’s in in addition to, say, Websphere, doesn’t like such a great idea. Especially, if it’s just the maintenance folks complaining…

What’s happening now?

So, that was a short history of plant maintenance usability. Of course, if we look at the bigger picture called EAM, we also see other parts of the solution that are newer and have quite a different look and feel. Think BW, e.g. or RPM (Resource and Portfolio Management), or SRM for Maintenance Service Procurement. Remains the fact that the maintenance worker, technician, craftsman or whatever you call him, doesn’t need all that. All he needs a simple way to get his job done quickly and accurately and spend time with a wrench not with a keyboard.

What happened more recently at SAP is that on the technology side a couple things emerged that can help us address those issues. Things like the NetWeaver Business Client (NWBC), which is what I think of as portal without portal. What do I mean by that? Well, you can have the exact same look and feel and features of a modern portal, but without the admin. Sound good? I think so. There is just a couple things that SAP’s developers have to adhere to and new roles can run in NWBC. There is even NWBC for HTML now which requires absolutely no installation on the users PC. Then there are Adobe Interactive Forms, a great way to achieve consistency between print-outs and online screens. And even better, you can slap your logo on them and make it look exactly like your paper form that your guys are used to. Then there’s Enterprise Search powered by TREX. What is that? Well, think SAP EAM Google – it’s simple, it’s fast and you don’t have to bother with different selection screens for different objects. You can search across pieces of equipment, measurement docs, orders, etc., just to name a few.

So if this seems like a loose collection of tech topics, listen to what SAP’s EAM developers have been working on the last year or so. I should mention that we’re also changing gears in our development organization and are adopting a Lean model, which involves short development cycles called Sprints with customers involvement and feedback every couple of weeks. Now, does this sound like we’re finally listening?

Last year we’ve started this project called EAM Simplicity and we’ve engaged with customers across the globe in the way I’ve described above. We’ve decided to focus on the requirement of the maintenance worker, not the planner, not the engineer, but the guy on whose performance it all depends at the end of the day. Conducting interviews at first, preferably onsite and later through showing mock-ups and then various stages of the working product, we’ve come up with this new role of ‘maintenance worker’ which doesn’t require portal, as mentioned above.

As much as I’d love to, we cannot show details of unreleased software, so for now these thumbnails will have to suffice. Stay tuned for more!

EAM Simplified

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3 Comments

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  1. Manish Bansal
    You have touched the basic requirement of the Maintenance guys.
    We have done EAM implementation using GUIxT and If customer doesn’t have much money to spend, then GUIxT is the tool for the simplicity.

    Would love see more on the EAM Usability tools.

    Regards

    Manish

    (0) 

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