James Kovacevic
Podcast Masterminds in Maintenance

Episode 14: From Electrician to Global Reliability Consultant with James Kovacevic

Ryan Chan

This week on Masterminds in Maintenance, we hear from James Kovacevic, Principal Instructor at Eruditio, joining our podcast all the way from Ontario, Canada. James is principal instructor at Eruditio an adult education firm based in Charleston, South Carolina focused on applying core skills associated with Asset Management, Lean Six Sigma, and organizational change leadership. We discuss James’ journey from electrician, to maintenance planner and manager, reliability engineer, then global reliability consultant.

He’s seen a lot of failed CMMS implementations, but also seen some of the greatest but it always comes down to three things — investing in training, setting an outcomes goal before you purchase a CMMS, and creating a detailed plan for rollout before you start.

James argues that in order to implement IIOT, organizations need to understand the basics of failure modes, use FMEAs, establish RCM (reliability-centered maintenance) programs, and plan and schedule spare parts properly. Learn more in this episode of Masterminds in Maintenance!

Listen to this week’s episode online here or on Apple podcasts here! You can also watch this episode on YouTube here.

Connect with Ryan Chan on Linkedin Here and James Kovacevic on Linkedin here.

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Stay tuned for more inspiring guests to come in future episodes!


00:01 Ryan Chan: Welcome to Masterminds in Maintenance a podcast for those with new ideas in maintenance. I’m your host, Ryan, I’m the CEO and founder of Upkeep. Each week, I’ll be meeting with a guest who’s had an idea for how to shake things up in the maintenance and reliability industry. Sometimes the idea failed, sometimes it made their business more successful and other times it revolutionized an entire industry. James Kovacevic is here with me today, James is principal instructor at Eruditio an adult education firm based in Charleston, South Carolina focused on applying core skills associated with Asset Management, Lean Six Sigma and organizational change leadership. Today, we’ll be discussing all things asset hierarchy and data, and also CMMS implementation. Welcome James, how’s it going?

00:48 James Kovasevic: Thank you, Ryan. It’s going quite well on this nice Friday afternoon, so thanks for having me.

00:54 RC: Absolutely, I mean, obviously we met up not too long ago. I learned a ton about your background, the group that you consult with. Could you start us off by sharing a little bit more about yourself, your background, how you got into this industry?

01:08 JK: Yeah, absolutely, so I’d like to say I planned how I got where I am right now, but I can’t really say that. So what happened was is I started off as an industrial electrician. I started out building equipment for Ford, Toyota, Honda, and then going and installing this automated equipment in their facilities and while I was doing that it kinda struck me as… What is the difference between all these different plants? I’d go to one manufacturer. This plant would be spotless, everything would be running great, and then I’d go to this plant just down the road by the same manufacturer, and nothing would run. Everyone was grumpy, they were not happy. So I started asking questions to maintenance guys. Like why is it so different from here to here? It came down to well, they got a plan for maintenance, they got a plan for reliability and we don’t… So I had the opportunity to move into a industrial maintenance role as an electrician and that’s where I kinda got my start.

02:13 RC: That’s amazing. And then you got your start into this role, how did you step into those shoes? It seems like a pretty big role to fill.

02:22 JK: Yeah, so the way it kinda happened was I was an industrial electrician doing plant maintenance and the plant manager went away to a conference. I don’t know which conference he went to, or whatever, but he came back and he’s like… “Well, I learned about this maintenance planning, and scheduling stuff. You need to figure it out and make it happen”. And I was never one to say no, I would say. Okay, and then figure out how to do it later. So I said, “Okay,” and I got the planning and scheduling handbook by Doc Palmer. I studied that, I tried doing planning and scheduling, it didn’t really work, so I focused more on the scheduling part then I migrated back to planning and I realized, it’s more than just that, you need the preventative maintenance program, you need the spare parts program, you need all these things. So I started slowly working on those as well, and eventually he moved me from that maintenance planner role to the maintenance manager role.

03:14 JK: I did that for quite a few years, and then I had an opportunity to go to a large organization, and I was at a site for them for only nine months, give or take. And I moved to a corporate position in that organization and during that opportunity, I had the chance to implement plenty of scheduling, PM optimization, spare parts management, across 11 sites in North America, and then globally with them in Africa, South America, Asia, Europe. And then from there, I joined Eruditio. That’s it in a nutshell.

03:50 RC: That seems like quite the journey you’ve had James. So tell us what you’re up to now. What’s Eruditio? What are you personally focused on right now?

04:00 JK: Yeah, absolutely, so right now I’m a principal instructor with Eruditio, I develop and deliver content on work management, spares management, I’ve been doing a lot of work on asset hierarchy and asset data lately, so working with clients, either delivering public or private courses, those sorts of things. In addition to that, I run a weekly podcast, The Rooted in Reliability podcast. It’s been around for almost 200 episodes now, so we’re just going on almost four years. Big milestone, I think, many don’t make it one year, let alone four… So that’s kind of exciting.

04:34 RC: Alright, well we’re definitely following in your footsteps James. So what I would love to do is focus today’s conversation around CMMS and maintenance software. As consultant I’m sure you’ve seen the wide variety of implementations that have succeeded and also I’m guessing some that have failed, failed as well. So I guess the question here for you, James, is why do you think some CMMS implementations succeed, what sets them up for success?

05:04 JK: Alright, I think the ones that succeed, there’s a variety of factors that go into that, and I think one is they have an understanding of what they want the system to do. What I find a lot of organizations do is they’ll go buy a CMMS and they’ll make their business processes match what the CMMS business processes are. Where I think in reality they have to figure what their business processes are, and map those to how they’re gonna use the CMMS. I think that is a big differentiating factor in success. The other big factor is really resourcing the implementation properly, taking the time to set up the hierarchy, think it through, think out the naming conventions, gather the data, set it all up and not just the asset hierarchy, but building material, spare parts, putting in all those fundamental pieces and not rushing through that.

05:55 RC: Absolutely. So from a implementation perspective, what do you think, businesses that succeed, what are they focused on when they first go into a CMMS, when they first purchase a CMMS?

06:10 JK: I think, when they first purchase it, they’re looking for some way to manage all the different inputs, and outputs of maintenance, right? We got work orders, spare parts, PMs, all those things and they wanna make that easy to manage, but also be able to run reports, KPIS, understand, bad actor analysis, those sorts of things, that’s what they’re thinking when they go in, but really the ones that succeed they understand that’s what they want, but they understand that the preparation required to make that successful is much more than just purchasing that software, software is only one part of that process.

06:44 RC: Absolutely. And do you have a good guideline for how long a CMMS implementation should take or how to resource it correctly to make it the most successful?

06:56 JK: So there’s a variety of things that go into that. How many assets, how many spare parts, how many people, how many PMs, all those will go into it, also what’s the current level of data quality in the existing CMMS? If we have to spend a tremendous amount of time cleansing that data, preparing it, adding to it, removing the redundant or old equipment, that’s gonna expand that time. There is a book, I can’t remember the author, but it’s Successfully Utilizing CMMSs. And if you go into that book, it actually highlights roughly how much time it’s gonna take to perform each task, that way you can kind of work backwards from when do you wanna go live and build your project plan accordingly.

07:36 RC: Absolutely, it’s kind of interesting. As a maintenance scheduler and planner, you also have to schedule implementation training and integration of a CMMS as part of your planning and scheduling as that maintenance planner and scheduler right?

07:55 JK: Absolutely, and you know what, you touched on another piece there that triggered something is insight of that training. One of the things I see a lot of organizations do is they’ll train all their employees on the new CMMS, the go-live date is three months from that point, so they train them, nobody uses it for three months and then they’re expected to go live and use it perfectly right away. We have to train them right when they’re gonna use it and provide some refresher and follow-up training to make sure that they actually know how to use the system. It’s working with our business processes and those sorts of things.

08:26 RC: Absolutely, so… Alright, James, where do most companies who wanna implement a CMMS, where do they go wrong?

08:35 JK: I think it’s gonna go back to the two things that I mentioned. One, they don’t map their business processes, and understand who’s doing what, how they want the CMMS to work. And two, they don’t resource the implementation properly, budgets start to slip, timelines start to slip, so they start skipping on certain things, whether that’s building the asset hierarchy, getting all the information in for each asset, whatever it is. I think it’s one of those two things. If you’ve got a really good business process, you can overcome some of the data… Data issues over time ’cause you’ll have a plan to go in and update it and correct and add assets, and those sorts of things, but if you don’t have a business process and you don’t take the time to manage that data properly going in, I think you’re gonna struggle from the beginning.

09:19 RC: Yeah, absolutely, I’ll press you a little bit here, James, ’cause we’ve got this… Sometimes we have two different camps of prospects and customers that come to us. The first one is like, “Hey we want a trial by fire, we wanna trial, we wanna make all the mistakes, we don’t know what asset hierarchy we want, but we’re just gonna start using it because that’s how we want to learn.” And then the other camp of it is like a very methodical approach where we’re gonna plan out week by week what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna plan out all of our assets, we’re gonna build the best hierarchy. Does the former ever work in your experiences?

10:04 JK: In my experience, very few organizations actually go back and implement, and learn from what didn’t work and make those corrections. I’ve been with organizations who have done that. I’ve made that mistake in my first CMMS implementation, I didn’t take the time to map everything properly and build that asset hierarchy properly, mainly because I didn’t know how important it was and what it allowed us to do. But once it’s in place you never have time to go back and fix it.

10:33 RC: That’s a good point, that’s a really good point, you’re always like… Alright, I’m just gonna do it right now. I can always go back and fix it later, but very rarely does that ever happen. Absolutely see your point there, James.

10:45 JK: And there’s lots of good places to start, if you don’t know where to start, with asset hierarchy, there’s blogs, there’s podcasts on it. There’s even an ISO standard on asset hierarchy that you can use as a baseline to get started. Absolutely.

11:00 RC: 55000. ISO 55000, right?

11:03 JK: Actually, that’s the asset management one, but the one that specifically talks about asset hierarchy and asset data and failure data, that’s 14-224.

11:13 RC: Alright, so let’s go check out that ISO standard. It sounds like I’ve gotta do the… The same.

11:20 JK: Yeah, it is a huge… It was developed for oil and gas, but every industry has used it in applying how to build a hierarchy, why we need a hierarchy, how to build the relationships between parent-child assets, those sorts things. It’s covered in there in depth.

11:34 RC: Why is asset hierarchy so important James?

11:38 JK: So there’s a variety of things, I think. One, it allows organizations to roll up and down costs. That’s one of the biggest things, right? Maintenance is one part of an organization, and that organization is out there to make money, so we need to know where we’re spending our… Spending our money. So by able to roll up and understanding, “Are we spending all our money in this process or that process,” and drill down to the various assets is one piece. The other piece comes from a reliability engineering standpoint. If we understand the parent-child relationship, we can understand, “Are we having process-related failures, people-related failures, are we having systemic or latent issues across different processes?”

12:17 JK: Lack of lubrication or improper lubrication, improper alignment, improper machinery installation. So not just happening in one area, but everywhere. How you build your asset hierarchy allows us to do that with the use of failure codes and downtime codes, and really understand not just the micro equipment level issues but also at a macro level, what’s going on across this organization.

12:40 RC: Absolutely, and I’m imagining once you have multiple facilities that standardization of asset hierarchy is gonna be even more critical, more…

12:51 JK: Absolutely. And with the looming IOT and Industrial Revolution, if you can’t classify your assets and understand the operating context of those assets, how do you scale that across multiple sites, let alone one site?” You may have 500 pumps, but depending on what it’s doing, can you identify those differences? If not, are we truly getting good pattern recognition out of that AI? Maybe, maybe not.

13:17 RC: Absolutely. Well, James, you just opened up this door of IoT and machine learning. What are you excited by?

13:26 JK: So I’m excited by what it can do, but I’m slightly hesitant with it, to be honest, I take a very conservative approach on it, if you will.

13:37 RC: Okay.

13:38 JK: I think that unless organizations understand failure modes, can do their FMEAs, can do RCM, can do the planning and scheduling and spare parts management properly, if they can’t do that, then IIOT stuff isn’t really gonna help them. We really need to understand the basics. We need to get proper PMs, we need to understand what data we need to collect, do that through FMEAs or our CM analysis and then we gotta have a program that, if it identifies an issue arising in the piece of equipment, can we request that work, plan it, schedule it and get the parts in on time before it fails? ‘Cause if we don’t have the process to do that, why are we trying to get better at detecting it?

14:22 RC: Yeah, that to me is the shiny object syndrome right there and we see it quite a bit actually.

14:28 JK: Absolutely. I was actually… I did a podcast today with Jack Nicklaus, who’s a pioneer in a lot of this stuff, and he was saying that unless they have that basics, FMEAs, RCM, defect elimination, IoT is not gonna help you nearly as much as you think, and that’s why many of the pilots never succeed and never go on from a pilot stage.

14:49 RC: Yeah, yeah, alright, so pivoting back to CMMS, what are the most important KPIs that you wanna track within a CMMS? I know we talked about cost, I know we talked about budgeting, I know we’d talked about asset hierarchy, what else? What else is there to track and manage within a CMMS?

15:09 JK: So I think there’s some fundamental things that we can always use. PM compliance is a big one. Right, are we doing the PMs we said we were gonna do on time, what’s our schedule compliance, are we planning and scheduling that work, are we getting it done on time? From a spare parts perspective, I like stock turns and stock outs, they balance each other nicely. So do we have the right inventory on hand? That’s what that tells me. Those are the major ones. You’ll have availability as well of a system, some organizations like MTBF and MTTR, I’m not a huge fan of that, but their metrics, at least give us some sort of indication if we’re getting better or worse. But I think ultimately the best KPIS are the ones that the organization is actually going to use.

15:56 RC: Yep.

15:57 JK: We can measure thousands of different KPIS, but in my experience each person can manage about six to eight, once we get more than that then we just kind of zone out, and it doesn’t mean anything to us anymore, right? So I think we’ve gotta pick the six or eight that are appropriate to the individual levels in the organization, and then measure those properly.

16:17 RC: So PM compliance was the first one that you mentioned. Do you have a good benchmark for where a company should be at? How do you know if I’m doing a… How do I know if I’m doing a good job with our PM compliance?

16:30 JK: So there’s a couple of things that go into that. I think one is, we have a due date, and some organizations say, “Well, did we do it by that due date?” I don’t like that one so much. There is a rule of thumb that’s plus or minus 10% of the interval, so if it’s a monthly PM, we have plus or minus three days from the due date. We’ve gotta stay in that interval ’cause if not, we’re gonna start pushing our PMs over and we might be doing stuff too frequently, or too early. A good example of that is if I have a weekly PM, a lot of organizations measure, “Did I get it done within the week?”

17:02 RC: Yeah.

17:03 JK: Well maybe this week, we got it done Friday and the following week we get it done on a Monday.

17:08 RC: What changed?

17:09 JK: Exactly? So I like that 10% of the interval rule as my PM compliance and don’t quote me, but SMRP has best practice guides on this stuff. I wanna say it’s 90 or 95% is what they measure as best in class.

17:25 RC: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, alright, so we’ve got KPIs that we wanna track, we said, “Alright we’re gonna choose to implement a CMMS because we know what we wanna track and what we wanna get out of it.” How do you choose the right one now?

17:40 JK: So this is a hard, hard part of this. I think, in all honesty, what organizations need to do, is they need to make their list of what do they want the CMMS to do for them? Once they have that list of everything they want the CMMS to do, they’ve gotta go through and define what are must-haves, what are nice to haves and really figure out which one is going to work for them the most. I hear from a lot of different organizations, “Well, we want our CMMS to integrate to this, and integrate to this, and integrate to this.” But in reality, there’s no way IT is gonna let anyone integrate to this thing. So why is that a must-have?

18:22 RC: Yeah, yeah.

18:25 JK: So I think the big thing is really just one part understand our must-haves or nice to haves. The other big thing is to me how user-friendly is it? We want our frontline techs to use this. If it’s command-based, like old MS-DOS for anyone who remembers that… Getting them to do that is not always gonna be easy. So, what’s the user interface, is it easy to use, is it mobile, that’s a big thing for a lot of organizations, can it run on a tablet? Those types of things, I see become more and more important, but once again, it kinda goes back to user friendliness as well as must haves, nice to haves, that type of analysis.

19:09 RC: Yeah, absolutely and I also wanna throw this out there too, because you mentioned nice to have, a lot of people see mobile as a nice to have, but I will say that mobile and ease of use is pretty much a need to have, because if it’s not, if it’s not a need-to-have, people aren’t gonna use it if it’s difficult to use. If it creates more work and more process to the end of their day. What do you think James?

19:38 JK: So I’m a big fan of mobile solutions for a CMMS. You can reference your work order data, your building materials, you can close your work orders out, you can scan assets if you’re creating that work order, you can do all those things. I’m a big fan of that. The only downside is is there’s still a lot of industrial sites that don’t have Wi-Fi across the entire plant or they’re… They have different classifications in their operating environment, so they can’t bring electronics in there unless they’re rated properly, and that adds a huge cost. So there’s certain times where I can see it being an issue or a barrier. Where, overall, the more and more I see, it becomes… It’s almost a must-have to have that mobile solution.

20:18 RC: Yeah, absolutely. All right, so, James, what’s something you wish more people knew about the maintenance and reliability industry?

20:28 JK: So I would have to say that this industry is… It’s been around forever, but it’s growing at a rapid pace. There’s huge opportunities for growth within it. Everywhere I go, people are looking for maintenance supervisors, maintenance planner-gers [20:44] ____, reliability engineers, maintenance engineers. And a lot of them are willing to train. There’s just a huge amount of growth in this industry, and I can’t speak for all industries, but this industry is willing to share. It’s not like other industries, where, “Oh, this is proprietary. I’m not giving it to you.” Just go to SMRP, you ask anyone, they’re gonna tell you exactly how they do it, they even give you the road map, most of the time, on how they do it. So everyone in this industry is willing to share, willing to teach, and it’s growing rapidly. So, huge room for growth.

21:19 RC: I’ve noticed that too, James, that this industry is so welcoming. Just put yourself out there, ask for help and people will help you. It’s such an interesting industry. I love being a part of it.

21:35 JK: Yeah. I remember when I was first starting to do planning and scheduling, and trying to figure it out. I remember emailing Ricky Smith. Saying, “Hey, I have this question,” and he would send white papers and presentations and documents all on that topic. “Let me know if you wanna jump on a call and discuss it after you read through this stuff.” Never once did I hire the consulting company he was with at the time. But yeah, time and time again, he would get on the phone to walk through this stuff with me.

22:02 RC: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did the exact same thing to Ricky Smith too.


22:08 RC: Well, James, I really appreciate the conversation today. Definitely learned a ton. What are some ways with… What are some ways our listeners can connect and follow you on your journey?

22:18 JK: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m very active on LinkedIn. I probably post four or five times a day, at least, there. So, you can find me on LinkedIn, James Kovacevic. You search either James Kovacevic or Eruditio, you’ll find me. You can find my podcast, Rooted in Reliability, comes out weekly, all the usual places: ITunes, Stitcher, Spotify, all that stuff. It’s out there, so you can follow me there. Or if anyone wants, you can just email me directly, [email protected]

22:51 RC: All right, there you have it. Thanks so much, James, for joining us. Thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in to today’s Masterminds of Maintenance. My name is Ryan Chan, I’m the CEO and founder of Upkeep. You can connect with me as well on LinkedIn. And also directly at [email protected] Until next time. Thanks so much, James.

23:09 JK: Thank you.


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