A Culture of Maintenance comprises the attitudes and norms, habitual behaviours, organizational procedures, technical know-how, financial arrangements and leadership that combine to form an organization’s approach to optimizing the serviceability, availability, and lifespan of its critical assets.
Culture is meant to broadly describe an ingrained ‘way of doing things’, and a habits-of-thought. But included is the vision of an organization’s leadership, its management capacities, technical knowledge and its skills.
All organizations have a Culture of Maintenance; some are more and or less oriented getting the most value out their valuable equipment and infrastructure.
Let´s look at one example
Lack of maintenance has caused infrastructure that cost €100,000 to become unavailable. The manufacturer designed that equipment to lasted 5 years or 260 weeks. That means for each week this equipment is “out-of-service” the organization has wasted €385. Since a simple part, or cleaning procedure costing less that €50 could have prevented that, the organization has thus missed the opportunity to get a 769% return on their expenditure.
A strong culture of maintenance would have predetermined what ongoing effort and cost was worthwhile to maintain that equipment “in-service” at all times. It would guide have guided leadership and management to set aside dedicated financial reserves in advance, and to set user charges to generate sufficient funds in the first place.
Sadly, in many cases a weak culture of maintenance results in reduced economic productivity through unavailable equipment. It erodes morale of employees who cannot do their job easily, does all this while failing to provide expected critical services to the public.
Why is it important in our work?
On our over 10 Year journey to help realize the human right to water and sanitation we noticed began to notice nagging issue. Continuously we would come across hospitals and schools that had broken pumps, missing fixtures, non-functional well pumps, broken gutters, leaking tanks, dilapidated bathrooms, piped water missing, or blocked toilets. Even more troubling were instances of expensive high-tech equipment such as a brand-new kidney dialysis machine, which had not served even one patient. The reason, its water purification system had not been serviced.
It was obvious that great care and expense had gone into providing vital public infrastructure, but we wondered why it wasn’t being maintained well.
Opportunities for corruption works
Throughout our work, we also became very aware that large projects usually were handled through a transfer of funding from to the financier to the relevant governmental authority.
We noticed that large capital projects almost universally involved some form of cost inflating corruption, with local elites able to extract personal gain from public infrastructure. We realized that there was built-in incentive not to maintain the project, because the when it failed the local elites would have another opportunity for corruption.
To counter this, recipients need to be held responsible for their ongoing track records of maintenance over a large portfolio with something like a credit score. New norms of maintenance set asides and trust funds should also hold donors and investors responsible for building in realistic processes to ensure projects serve the public for their entire designed lifespan.
Having a maintenance mindset starts early on as decision makers need to prioritize low cost and easy “serviceability” at the outset of planning and procurement.
Very simple habits and norms can also help, such as regular monitoring of cleaning and maintenance process that help prevent expensive facilities from being “out-of-service”.
Left unattended, problems can mount up. What would have been a simple fix four months ago, become a costly major rehabilitation or complete replacement.
Our local contacts reported that the issue wasn’t as simple as insufficient budget or technical expertise. There was a complex of cultural norms, technical know-how, and failure to allocate sufficient funds and that supported this neglect.
In many development projects, the donor assumes that the once the capital cost have been covered, the recipient can maintain the equipment or infrastructure. Generally, the assumption is that the ongoing costs are small, and manageable under current budget. Rarely there is a realistic calculation of incremental costs and income attributable to the capital infrastructure. And even more rarely, is there maintenance leadership training or a requirement to have a dedicated portion revenue generation restricted solely for maintenance.