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What is the difference between operations and maintenance?

Operations consists of the activities that you perform to reach business objectives. BusinessDictionary states that “operations transform resource or data inputs into desired goods, services, or results.” Essentially, that means running the equipment, performing quality control, and so on.

Maintenance is everything you do to keep equipment in running order. This means making repairs when assets break down, performing preventive maintenance tasks, and monitoring equipment health.

It helps to think of it as owning a car. You drive the car (or operate it) to get from place to place, making you the operator. Maintenance would consist of your local shop where you take it in for oil changes, tune ups, and repairs.

Now, maintenance is often considered a subset of operations, being one of the activities businesses perform to reach their objectives. While that may be the case, maintenance and operations departments tend to be at odds with each other quite a bit. The reason for this has to do with fundamental differences in their functions.

For operations departments, the main goal is to make sure their processes are running as much as possible. The more consistently machines run, the higher their productivity, and the higher the company’s profit overall. The primary objective is maintaining uptime as much as possible, and they don’t like other factors getting in the way of that. Utilization is their main metric for success.

Maintenance departments, on the other hand, are focused more on keeping their own costs down and making sure equipment remains in working order. Often, this means taking assets offline to make needed repairs. Their metrics for success are cost efficiency and reliability.

The conflict comes when maintenance tries to take equipment offline before it takes itself offline by breaking down. Often, operations teams take a reactive approach to keeping things running, whereas maintenance often tries to take a more proactive approach.

While taking this or that asset offline for some preventive maintenance could keep expenses down in the long run, some maintenance departments have difficulty communicating that fact to operations. To them, it just looks like productivity is going to take a dive while maintenance technicians complete their work.

In reality, maintenance does have the same goal as operations—keeping the company running and profiting without excess costs. Good communication backed with data can help bridge the gap and make operations more efficient in the long run.