AKWIRE for Maximo User Group

A New Sheriff in Town: What You Learn in 40 Years in Planning & Scheduling With Maximo CMMS

by Elyse Gagné on September 14, 2017

Kirby Erickson was born with an architect’s eye. From a young age, he could always be found with a pad of graph paper, drawing building foundations and elevation drawings. With a contractor for a step-father, he had no shortage of construction sites to explore, watching buildings take shape from the foundations up.

Though he was fascinated with the design more so than the construction, his step father’s crew put him to work in the summers, raking sawdust and picking up scrap wood until he was old enough to help with other tasks – who knew that experience would open the doors to a four-decade career in maintenance, planning and scheduling?

Kirby-Erickson-Planning-Scheduling-Maximo.jpgPropelled by his love of drawing and architecture, Kirby took a love of football and baseball to Southern Utah State College as soon as he graduated high school. “I realized fairly quickly that school wasn’t really my cup of tea,” says Kirby, who soon after changed course and moved to Idaho to build houses with a family friend.

He worked part-time as a bartender to make ends meet when, in early 1977, he got a call from a contractor performing post start-up contracts with Salt River Project (SRP), the power plant in Page, Arizona, just south of the border with Utah. They had an opening for a contractor. He got the job, and the rest, as they say, is history. For the next 40 years, Kirby dedicated his career to SRP until his retirement in July 2017.

The beginnings of planning and scheduling at one of the largest public power utilities

The Salt River Project plant is a community-based, nonprofit utility and one of the largest public power utilities in the United States. SRP provides electricity to more than 1 million retail customers in a 2,900-square-mile service area spanning three Arizona counties.

Beginning as a contractor and eventually accepting a position with SRP in 1981, Kirby’s “go getter” personality saw him moving up the ranks quickly and consistently. But those early years in the field gave him first-hand experience of being an end user on the plant’s software and the realities of being on the work crews.

In the late 1990s, SRP adopted IBM Maximo when it was still MRO. Just a few years later, they were upgrading a newer version of IBM Maximo. “That made it so much easier to electronically schedule and complete your work,” recalls Kirby. “No more handwritten time sheets, duplicate material lists or carbon copy work orders.”

When SRP upgraded to Maximo 5.2, it was a game-changer. “This was a huge leap from where we were,” Kirby recalls. “It required us to really get serious about Planning and Scheduling, so we developed our own Planning and Scheduling team. And that’s how I became a Planner.”

Removed from the field, Kirby was at the heart of this new team helping to get planning and scheduling off the ground for the plant. He was a Planner for a couple of years and by the Spring of 2006 became a Facilities Maintenance Coordinator.

“Our buildings were relatively old; we were doing a lot of infrastructure upgrades and roof repair. I coordinated between SRP and the many different contractors.”

Working as a Planner helped me become a better coordinator and ultimately a better Supervisor.

How did his Planning experience enhance his skills as a coordinator? Kirby explains, “I was better able to plan and schedule multiple contractors on site and coordinate their efforts to get the job done and on budget. And having previously worked as a contractor and a Construction and Maintenance Specialist meant I understood the plant, the personnel and the materials services end of it like the back of my hand.”

Using IBM Maximo to create everyday efficiencies

“We identified the assets, materials and labor resources all in Maximo,” says Kirby. The Salt River Project power plant is remote, meaning that it takes skilled coordination to get the materials, resources, and people up to the plant. It’s 280 miles from Phoenix and 130 miles from Flagstaff, the closest metropolitan area.

Because the airport is small, air freight is minimal. “The only way is to truck things in, but we had control over the logistics at all phases of the contracts. We were really busy, but Maximo gave us better options to plan for labor, plans, and materials.”

I learned early on in my Planning career that you don’t want to reinvent the wheel all the time.

Kirby describes how at this pivotal transitional point, the technology was finally catching up with the users’ needs. “I had been doing job plans long before they were created in Maximo; I just created the Maximo equivalent of a Word document and I made them, sorted them, filed them, etc. It was quick and efficient to do a cut and paste, a bit of basic editing to make it applicable, and this would take three or four days of work and reduce it down to hours and minutes.”

IBM Maximo 5.2 came with a new job plan module. For Kirby, that meant transferring over 400 of the job plans he had already created into this new version of Maximo. But the process wasn’t difficult, he says. “It was almost seamless, and this laid a solid foundation and eased the transition for my replacement when I moved on.”

The SRP team highly customized Maximo 5.2 to fit their needs. Kirby became a Maintenance Supervisor in 2007, and he and his team used 5.2 to their advantage by creating plenty of customized fields. Being responsible for areas of the plant with hundreds of critical assets requiring reliable maintenance was a daunting task made much easier using IBM Maximo.

Because all the data was theirs, it was easy to sort of file things. “At the time, we used a scheduling product that wasn’t web-based and involved a lot of manual input. It was all right, and we customized to fit Maximo 5.2. But then we got the directive that the plant was upgrading to IBM Maximo 7.5. And I knew this would be a full-blown new implementation.”

Upgrading to IBM Maximo 7.5: one CMMS across the fleet

Upgrading to 7.5 was a corporate initiative aimed at bringing all departments, sites and divisions onto one version of a CMMS designed to establish and maintain Asset Identification, system health and reliability management consistently across the fleet.

Staring down the implementation, Kirby’s team realized that much of the data didn’t need to be carried over. So, they scrubbed the data to make it work with the new version of Maximo. “We worked for nearly a year taking our customized fields and trying to make data out of it, trying to save it in the version of 5.2 to be easily upgraded into 7.5, because we knew we were going to lose the majority, if not all, of our customized fields.”

The corporate initiative was to get rid of those customized fields; no one else in SRP used that data. So, Kirby and his team developed some interfaces and a standalone software through MS Access and Excel spreadsheets. That way, they could keep the data they needed and modify it to convert to 7.5.

A new scheduling software tool: simple, powerful and consistent

But Maximo 7.5 came with another challenge. It became clear that the scheduling tool they had used on IBM Maximo 5.2 wouldn’t be robust enough in 7.5. Kirby recalls, “The software support was just not there.” So, they started looking at different options. SRP has always been involved in the Maximo Users’ Working Group (MUWG), and the team was up to date on the latest trends and technologies. In the end, AKWIRE was the clear winner.

“At first,” Kirby chuckles, “It was an adjustment period. The end users were used to the old solution we had. It was highly customized but not consistently meeting our requirements with future week scheduling, resource allocation, material or asset management and compliance metrics. AKWIRE gave us the consistency we needed.”

AKWIRE gives us the ability to set schedules, pull IBM Maximo data not available before, and give us a more reliable view of our Maintenance strategy by being both visually appealing and user-friendly for our employees.

For the last few years, Kirby has been SRP’s Planning and Scheduling Supervisor. He oversaw eight full-time planners and schedulers and four craft planners. This strategy is mutually beneficial, says Kirby, because it takes the load off the System Planners and helps a few top employees from different crafts develop professionally.

“Developing your department helps your crew maintain a backlog of planning work and helps the people in the field have work that they’re able to schedule without a lot of downtime.”

On to new challenges: Kirby joins the Solufy team

Looking back on 40 years, Kirby was ready to hand over the reins to the next generation to handle the upcoming challenges of the new push for renewable energy. “I started preparing for my departure almost two years before I actually retired,” he says. “I was able to retire, confident that the Planning and Scheduling team would be able to carry on with ease.”

In the short months since he’s retired, Kirby has wasted no time getting out on the golf course, planning a 40th anniversary trip to Europe with his wife, and rocketing around with his toy hauler hooked up to his truck.

Kirby-Erickson-Maintenance-Planner.jpgKirby and Cathy on the Continental Divide hiking trail in Colorado.

Though he’s more than ready to jet-set around the globe with his wife and spend quality time with his children and grandchildren, he was also ready for a new kind of challenge: becoming an Account Manager at Solufy. In fact, ever since SRP adopted AKWIRE in 2012, Kirby and the Solufy team have been itching to work together.

From being a manager and running a crew of Planners, Kirby says his new role at Solufy is quite different from the rest of his career. As with every new endeavor, there’s a learning curve. But, says Kirby, “it’s no hill for a climber”.

Years ago, one of Kirby’s mentors, appreciating his “go getter attitude” made him a sign that he has always kept in his office. It’s a brass plaque that reads, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” He may be “retired”, but you better believe that plaque is hanging in his new office as he embarks on his next adventures.

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Elyse Gagné

Content and Marketing Specialist, Solufy.

Elyse is a writer, editor and content marketing specialist whose forte is writing for the tech industry.

She holds an MA in English Literature from Queen's University and an Honors Bachelor of Arts from Bishop's University.

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