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Maintenance Outsourcing - Critical Issues
Maintenance Outsourcing - Critical Issues
By Sandy Dunn
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There are a number of issues facing organisations that are considering maintenance outsourcing as an improvement initiative. Amongst these are the following:
The preferred option depends largely on the function being considered.
A second consideration for outsourcing, that is related to the above model, is to decide whether a competitive market for the outsourced services actually exists. In particular, when dealing with highly specialised maintenance services (such as specialised turbine maintenance) or maintenance occurring in remote areas (such as at remote mine sites), once an outsourced maintenance service provider has been selected, this may create large barriers to entry for other potential maintenance service providers wishing to enter into this market. While these barriers may be overcome, by adopting an appropriate outsourcing strategy (such as letting work to two or more contractors, rather than to one exclusively), awareness of this possible outcome prior to establishing the outsourcing strategy is vital if the outsourcing organisation is not to find itself "locked in" to a sole provider.
An important consideration in making the maintenance outsourcing decision is what aspects of maintenance to outsource. If we consider the maintenance management process as consisting of six major steps, as shown below, then a number of options exist.
In the first instance, organisations may choose simply to outsource the work execution step, while retaining the remaining steps inhouse. This is often done on a limited basis, for example, when employing contractors to supplement an inhouse work force during times of high workload, during major shutdowns, for example. This is the minimalist approach to outsourcing.
An alternative approach is to outsource all of the above activities with the exception of the analysis and work identification steps. In this approach, the contractor is permitted to plan and schedule his own work, and decide how and when work is to be done, but the outsourcing organisation retains control over what is to be done.
A third approach is to outsource all of the above steps, thus giving control over the development of equipment maintenance strategies (ie Preventive and Predictive Maintenance programs) to the contractor. In this instance, the contract must be structured around the achievement of desired outcomes in terms of equipment performance, with the contractor being given latitude to achieve this to the best of his ability.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, and the most appropriate approach will depend on the clientís particular situation.
Looking at how maintenance fits into the wider asset management strategy of an organisation (as illustrated below) also raises interesting challenges.
For example, one challenge that needs to be met is how the maintenance contractors will interface with the production operators, and the relative responsibilities and duties of each party. Many organisations today are adopting Total Productive Maintenance principles, which encourage Production operators to take a higher level of responsibility for equipment performance, and also encourage them to perform many minor maintenance tasks. There is also a growing realisation that the manner in which equipment is operated can have a huge bearing on maintenance costs and the maintenance activities required to be performed if equipment performance targets are to be met. A high level of teamwork between the Maintenance contractors and the Production operators is, therefore, vital to the successful completion of the contract. This leads to the view that an alternative, and possibly better, approach to the outsourcing of maintenance is to include plant operation in the scope of the contract. Hence the letting of Operations and Maintenance contracts, particularly in the Power Generation industry.
Finally, taking things one step further again, there is also a growing realisation that maintenance is limited in achieving higher equipment performance by the fundamental design of the equipment being maintained. The best that maintenance can achieve is the inherent reliability and performance of the equipment that is built in by design. There is, therefore, a school of thought that says that the best way to overcome this limitation, in an outsourcing environment, is to also give the contractor responsibility for the design of the equipment. This can be done either by giving him responsibility for ongoing equipment modifications, or by giving him responsibility for the initial design of the equipment, as in a BOOM (Build, Own, Operate and Maintain) contract, which is gaining favour in many infrastructure projects.
The tendering process for a major outsourcing contract is likely to be different to the contracting process for major capital works in a few key aspects.
Of particular importance will be the explicit consideration of risk at various key points in the contracting process, and the identification of appropriate strategies for managing those risks. These could take the form of either shaping or hedging actions. Shaping actions are those action undertaken to minimise the likelihood of the risk factor occurring. Hedging actions are those actions undertaken to minimise the impact of the risk factor, should it occur.
In addition, the evaluation criteria for the selection of an appropriate maintenance contractor are likely to be quite different from those for a major capital project. It is likely that significant work will be required to develop appropriate criteria, and to ensure that sufficient information is obtained from tenderers to be able to make an informed decision.
The specification of requirement during the tendering process will need to be carefully considered. In particular, for those contracts involving large-scale outsourcing of most maintenance functions, there will be a requirement to ensure that the requirements specification is outcome-based, rather than input-based. In other words, the specification will need to detail what is to be achieved from the contract, not how it is to be achieved, or what inputs will be required for its achievement. In PricewaterhouseCoopers' experience, ensuring that all the required outcomes are specified is a major undertaking. Agreeing how the achievement of all of these outcomes will be measured is also, potentially, a huge undertaking. For example, in one recent outsourcing contract, a desired outcome was the achievement of long-term plant integrity. Deciding how to measure that was a difficult process.
There are a number of alternative contract payment structures. These include:
Each of these price structures represents a different level of risk sharing between the contractor and the outsourcing organisation, and a number of considerations will need to be made in determining the most appropriate payment structure. These include:
Transition arrangement may be put in place to gradually transfer the payment structure from one method to another over time, as a greater degree of certainty over the requirements of the contract, and more accurate knowledge of target levels of performance is established.
Before the contract is let, the client will need to have decided on the appropriate contract administration process, and the roles and responsibilities of his own staff in managing the contract. He will also need to establish the structures, processes and equip his people with the skills to perform the required duties. We have seen many potentially successful outsourcing contracts fail, simply because the client did not manage those contracts effectively.
In our experience, most standard contracts in place at most organisations, are not appropriate for large outsourcing contracts. Many Standard Terms and Conditions are inappropriate for large, long-term service-related contracts - particularly those that are of a partnering or gain-sharing nature. We have found that it is best to combine Special Conditions of Contract with revised Standard Conditions of Contract to develop a new contract structure that is appropriate for the particular contract being let.
There are many issues to be addressed by the outsourcing organisation in the transition to the new arrangements. Among these are matters such as:
Another critical issue that needs to be addressed before the contract is let, is how the situation will be managed if the decision is made to terminate the existing contract. In particular, agreement needs to be reached regarding the duties and obligations of the outgoing contractor in handing over to the incoming contractor (or the client organisation, should they decide to bring maintenance back in-house).
While these are some of the major considerations for organisations considering outsourcing maintenance, there are many others that cannot be covered in this paper due to restrictions in time and space. Needless to say, the decision to outsource any major function, such as maintenance, is not one that should be taken lightly, and careful consideration of all major issues is vital, if the transition to contracted maintenance is to be smooth and satisfactory to both parties.