In June 2018, I attended my first Planet Neptune in Oslo. It was a great event because we got to hear warts and all stories from customers. Eastman Chemical stood out to me. At the time I said:
Don Cleek, EMN Maintenance Financial and Special Projects Manager at Eastman Chemical, went through a considerable amount of detail covering the problems his group faced over the years in managing a $300 million maintenance budget that has had to deliver the classic 'more with less.' Apart from the monetary aspect, the scale - 275,00 work orders completed per annum - is staggering.
Cleek showed how his team evaluated the short list according to known service requirement needs for a mobile-first project designed to streamline the plant maintenance supply chain.
To much giggling from the audience, he said:
I suppose we had to put SAP-Syclo in the mix but then...they didn't cut it.
SAP-Syclo is SAP's 2012 acquired mobile shop. Heaping praise on the Neptune team Cleek went as far as to say that if the project lead decides to quit, then he's ready to make an offer.
Fast forward and this time around I spoke with Tony Brown, Plant Maintenance Systems Analyst at Eastman Chemicals who supports the IT sytems across 32 plants globally. He has been in plant maintenance for more than 30 years, 25 of which have been working with SAP systems. The Eastman landscape is based on SAP ECC6 and, according to Brown, there are no immediate plans to move forward to S/4. However, as we learned in 2018, there is a requirement for mobile applications but limitations in SAP required the firm to find alternatives.
We literally had a 40 hour training course for a maintenance mechanic working with SAP. We wanted to come up with ways of reducing training time, making it much easier for them to do their job and make it so that they didn't mind doing their job.
In this case, Neptune Software provides the platform for a set of mobile applications that hide SAP's complexity and make the process of handling SAP transactions much easier to the extent that, according to Brown, mechanics ask:
'What happened to SAP?' We wanted to make sure that we could minimize the time that a maintenance mechanic has to spend in the system yet, make sure that they were providing the data, fulfilling the requirements of what we need to do in SAP.
One of the key drivers behind selecting Neptune Software was the ability to take advantage of offline capabilities. The other main driver was the ability for Neptune to build processes that mirrored the way Eastman Chemical has customized its back end systems. This might seem antithetical when considering a program of modernization but there are often real, practical reasons why firms do things the way they do, especially in areas where there are compliance or downstream customer requirements.
The main thing is that despite these needs, our mechanics have a modern interface with which they can easily do their work.
Asked what applications have been developed, Brown said Eastman Chemical has deployed:
- 'Craftsman' - that brings together six or seven SAP transactions into a single mobile app.
- Notifications - simplified interface for those that only access SAP for notifications.
- Notification management - for people who validate that maintenance work requests are appropriate, prioritized correctly and for the right asset. In turn, once requests are validated then they trigger work orders.
- Planner - this allows the planner to see work order backlog, operations associated with the work order and provides for labor planning, materials, both internal and external, as well as service requests, among other functionalities. This app provides in entirety plus additional capability of SAP transaction IW32, the primary transaction where planners spend most of their time.
Asked what devices the firm uses, Brown said they are in a period of experimentation and discovery. At some sites they use Apple iPads but the preference is for Windows devices because the interface is familiar, especially for those who would otherwise use a laptop. At other sites, the choice is less clear because Eastman Chemical has to follow Class 1 Div 1 or Div 2 compliance requirements for working in hazardous environments and not all mobile devices meet the specification Eastman Chemical needs to follow. Eastman Chemical is also testing on Android but as Brown acknowledges, testing is complex when thought of in terms of device/OS combinations and becomes even more so when security considerations are introduced.
I was curious to understand the design process because mobile often presents special challenges:
We try not to involve a lot of people in the design and development because sometimes you get too many ideas in and when you're trying to build something that you want to work on a mobile device, you have to restrict the capabilities or functionalities. If not, the screens get too busy and too complicated and then people can't figure out how to use them. Ideas are great but sometimes you just have to say no.
Would Brown change what has been developed?
What we have is very functional and very stable. We don't have to spend time troubleshooting and fixing them. But from a purely usability view you can always look back and say, we would have probably done some things a little different. But we've learned and applied those learnings as we've built out functionality.
As Eastman Chemical progresses the rollout of these mobile apps outside the US, Brown anticipates that ideas will come back that reflect practices in other countries. For instance in Germany, the company cannot collect time data that could be compared among workers. He also expects that foreign language versions will present challenges.
People forget that when you go to Belgium for instance you've go to accommodate two languages.
Overall Brown rates use of the Neptune Software platform a success:
It works, it's stable and we've reduced training time from something like 40 hours I mentioned earlier to about two hours. That's an important productivity gain for us. But equally, we've made the user experience one where the user wants to use the system so in the end, we get better and more reliable data too. We have a goal of improving what we call wrench time but it's hard to measure but we have improved performance - we can see that. As someone who started out as a plant engineer, I know what it means to have tools that are needed but which don't get the job done themselves. You use them to record information the business needs but you wish you didn't. So when something comes along that's easy, you're happy. Neptune has helped get over that problem.