MRO Magazine

Maintenance strategies: How advanced is your program?

March 26, 2024 | By Bryan Christiansen

Photo: © 1st footage / Adobe Stock

Photo: © 1st footage / Adobe Stock

While AI-powered solutions and predictive data analytics tend to dominate the conversation, these technologies are just one component of the ongoing evolution of maintenance. In addition, many organizations are just beginning to build maintenance strategies and aren’t currently prepared to deploy these solutions. Others have built robust maintenance functions and learned that they don’t need to adopt the latest technology to meet their goals and serve their organizations. Still others have reached the point where integrating new solutions into their existing systems is exactly what they need to grow more proactive and reach their full potential.

A holistic assessment of a maintenance department’s program takes into account its current needs, its performance against goals, and its readiness to embrace innovation. Organizations differ in what they ask of their maintenance departments. Ultimately, success is best measured in terms of the function’s role within the organization. As capabilities evolve, maintenance should shift to a prominent advisory position and be recognized as a critical function supporting the company’s bottom line. 

Which maintenance strategies are right for your organization?

Picking the right maintenance strategy isn’t all about striving for predictive capabilities. Different approaches work better for different assets. As such, each organization requires a mix of strategies to manage its assets as cost effectively as possible. Though a purely reactive strategy often means dealing with unexpected breakdowns and excess costs, carrying out proactive maintenance or investing in monitoring tools doesn’t always make sense for every piece of equipment. The decision to invest in more advanced maintenance tools and processes will depend on factors including the cost and business criticality of your assets, the size of your team, and the number of facilities you manage. 


Reactive maintenance

The reactive approach to maintenance sees technicians respond to breakdowns as they occur. While more proactive approaches present up-front costs and complications, reactive maintenance proves 30 to 40% more expensive over time due to excess downtime and emergency expenses. 

Research from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) confirms that 45.7% of all machine maintenance is reactive. That doesn’t mean nearly half of maintenance teams are struggling to keep their assets operational. Corrective work can play a role in an effective maintenance program. For some inexpensive, low-criticality assets it is the most cost effective approach. 

Conducting a criticality assessment is an important early step in building and refining a maintenance program. The process offers a data-backed approach for determining which assets demand proactive attention and which ones would cost more to repair than to replace altogether. 

People: Organizations may opt for reactive maintenance as a result of staffing shortages or skills gaps.

Technology: Reactive maintenance teams typically are not using any dedicated tools for assessing equipment health and performance. It’s possible they’re managing maintenance entirely on pen and paper or spreadsheets. If they’ve invested in advanced technologies without any maintenance management tools in place, they likely aren’t seeing a return on their investments.  

Processes & Policies: True to the ad hoc nature of their maintenance work, reactive teams may not have standard operating procedures or clear guidelines for safely and efficiently completing repairs. Without SOPs for everyday procedures like issuing work orders and no system for monitoring asset health, reactive teams risk shorter asset lifespans and less productive maintenance functions.  

Maintenance’s Role: Stakeholders and decision makers across the organization lack the visibility to recognize how maintenance can support their goals. They may view the maintenance function as a cost center rather than a value driver unless they have insights into its potential impact on equipment health, production volume, and overall revenue. As a result, maintenance teams may face challenges in advocating for buy-in and additional resources.   

Preventive maintenance

Preventive maintenance is the first step in addressing common challenges. A recent survey by Limble found that almost 80% of maintenance professionals are currently leveraging plans and schedules to mitigate unplanned downtime and its costs.  

Access to equipment performance data and maintenance work history enables teams to improve PM schedules and implement a highly effective preventive maintenance strategy. A whopping 91% of manufacturers surveyed are looking to evolve their capabilities with tools for data collection and analysis. For many, this means centralizing asset and maintenance management with a CMMS. 

People: Effective preventive programs include training and on-boarding procedures for introducing employees to new processes and solutions. To make preventive maintenance a reality, managers should strive to introduce a culture of continuous improvement.

Technology: Technology like Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) simplify processes like issuing planned work orders, completing preventive maintenance tasks, and tracking asset health to make preventive maintenance possible. Maintenance teams can automate PM scheduling, create PM templates with SOPs, checklists, parts, and tools, and easily track completion rates in real-time to reduce costly unplanned downtime.

Processes & Policies: At the most basic level, preventive maintenance involves proactively planning and scheduling maintenance tasks. Leveraging a CMMS to manage preventive maintenance, empowers teams to optimize PM schedules and standard processes across their assets. The more data a maintenance team has at their disposal, the better their chances are of avoiding unplanned breakdowns. 

Maintenance’s Role: Through improvements to metrics like Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), maintenance teams can make a bottom-line impact and begin to build their reputation as a strategic value driver. As the maintenance function builds more and more clout with stakeholders, teams will have an easier time securing buy-in to invest in resources like monitoring technology, new equipment, and additional staff. 

Predictive maintenance

Not all maintenance departments are aiming for predictive capabilities. Though a majority of Limble’s survey respondents leverage preventive maintenance, productivity tracking and condition monitoring are far less common. Just under a third of maintenance pros reported leveraging IoT sensors to monitor their equipment. 

Even in industrial industries, where keeping downtime to a minimum is everything, many organizations have yet to embrace the most advanced tools. When asked about the new technologies they plan to pursue in 2024, only 33% of manufacturing professionals expressed interest in IoT technology. Fewer than half (45%) of manufacturers are hoping to enhance their maintenance operations with sensors for condition-based planning and scheduling in the next year. As the world of maintenance evolves, these tools will likely become increasingly prevalent. 

People: As maintenance programs evolve, their talent needs change alongside their solution portfolio. New tools don’t eliminate the need for skilled employees. They should, however, empower your teams to perform more efficiently.

Technology: At this level, maintenance teams are familiar with the impressive time- and money-saving capabilities of CMMS platforms. They’ve leveraged their platform’s data analytics tools to drive improvements and integrated the tools with condition-monitoring sensors and IoT technology. 

Processes & Policies: Maintenance has integrated its processes with predictive technologies to promote a just-in-time response and keep the cost of their work to a minimum. 

Maintenance’s Role: Data-backed insights have made maintenance an increasingly valuable business function. Thanks to its impact both internally and across the supply chain, it continues to bolster its reputation. 

Prescriptive maintenance

Prescriptive programs not only promote timely maintenance but offer technicians and operators instructions for reducing wear and tear on equipment to avoid breakdowns and maximize each critical asset’s lifetime value.

Though it will be years before AI-powered, predictive tools become common in most organizations, interest in new solutions is high among maintenance teams at all stages. Some of the businesses that are just now seeing the benefits of their CMMS or IoT sensors will evolve into the next generation of early adopters, pursuing more powerful technologies and setting a new standard for maintenance. 

People: Prescriptive tools can take many data interpretation responsibilities off your plate, but they still require operators with specialized training. Expecting technology to do too much on its own is a common pitfall that leaves professionals struggling to justify their investments.  

Technology: Solutions for prescriptive maintenance use advanced algorithms to outline proactive processes for keeping business assets as productive as possible. This technology augments the capabilities of maintenance teams rather than automating them into irrelevance. The best AI-enabled solutions empower human operators to perform more effectively and spend more time on value-adding processes. 

Processes & Policies:  A wealth of data and prescriptive analytics make it possible to continually refine maintenance’s processes. Maintenance tasks are carefully planned and scheduled to ensure the most critical assets remain as productive as possible for as long as possible. 

Maintenance’s Role: By mastering prescriptive strategies, maintenance assumes a role as a cross-functional advisor capable of making a significant bottom-line impact. 

How advanced is your maintenance organization?

Asking the right questions about each component of your maintenance program can help you assess your current strategies, identify opportunities for improvement, and start distinguishing the function as an essential strategic ally. 


• Are team members trained to effectively follow standard processes and leverage the department’s tools? 

• Does our culture encourage feedback to drive continuous improvement? 


• Which tools are the maintenance team leveraging to improve asset management and resource allocation?  

• Are we using solutions to their full potential and getting everything possible from our vendor relationships?

Processes & Policies: 

• What percentage of your maintenance work is planned and scheduled ahead of time? 

• How does real-time tracking and historical data help your team maintain each asset in the most cost effective way possible? 

Maintenance’s Role:

• Do you have KPIs in place for measuring maintenance’s performance? 

• Are maintenance’s goals tied to broader organizational objectives? 

Making the transition from reactive to proactive

Maintenance professionals are poised to continue empowering their organizations while serving as a model for labor efficiency and tech-enabled innovation. It all starts with a more proactive approach to asset management. Here’s a simple guide for beginning to preempt breakdowns and keep equipment operational. 

• Set program goals 

• Appoint project leaders 

• Analyze the criticality of your assets

• Tailor maintenance strategies to each asset

• Implement the right tools

• Develop standard procedures
and processes

• Implement your program

• Analyze and improve your program over time 


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