"Mobility Work gives companies the possibility to transfer knowledge more efficiently than if they were using centralized and technocratic industrial solutions."
Fabien Thomas, teaching at École Centrale Nantes, a leading French Engineering school, is in charge of all the courses related organizational change in the workplace. Drawing on his experience and knowledge about the next-gen CMMS Mobility Work, he is therefore able to explain how the tool can lead to a certain organizational change within various companies that are using the mobile app, between new perspectives and cultural change.
How did you discover Mobility Work CMMS?
I discovered Mobility Work at the very beginning, right after it was created. Marc-Antoine Talva (Mobility Work’s CEO) was hired by the foundry he worked in during his apprenticeship and was appointed project manager to deploy an ERP software. It quickly appeared to be a time-consuming failure.
At that time, he attended a trade show in Hanover, Germany, which led him to imagine and conceptualize his product. His philosophy was very simple: instead of saying that a tool wasn’t working and that the teams would progressively get used to it, he told himself that he would actually probably able to do it better himself.
You have attended various presentations about Mobility Work CMMS, how do you think people react when it comes to the cultural change that it implies?
I think that some departments are more reluctant than others: most of the time, mechanics tend to struggle to challenge their working methods and processes. Using the example of the foundry environment again, in which Mobility Work was born, the major challenge is competitiveness, because the market suffers from Asian competition. Industries therefore really act as if they were survivors.
But here’s the thing: as they are up against it, it might give them a good reason to take the plunge because it is time for them to take risks. This is actually really paradoxical: they are at the same time probably the most reluctant but also the ones who would benefit the most from Mobility Work, that encourages companies to rethink management and to reorganize things.
How does the deployment of an application like Mobility Work impact the company’s culture?
In the first place, I think it impacts the relationship to hazard. Very often, companies (and more specifically ancient and big ones) are struggling to let it go when it comes to organization and coordination.
Mobility Work CMMS implies a cultural shock for companies as it allows them to soften their procedures (working in silos, maximizing managerial control) as well as to give more power to field operators.
The application was born after Marc-Antoine Talva decided to start creating the tool from open software bricks, to work on his own and to opt for development techniques similar to Google’s, to stop referring too much to his hierarchy and to launch a test version of the app without asking the plant’s maintenance managers. He chose to talk directly to technicians instead.
His ambition was to build a digital maintenance application that would from now on be based on the technicians’ work and not on managers’ needs anymore. In other words, the philosophy is to refer to the technicians’ operational needs and to take into account the feedbacks and information they send. As a consequence, it is only by taking into account all this very concrete maintenance information that one is able to build a solution that doesn’t require managers to get so involved, which is completely the opposite of an ERP.
Mobility Work CMMS therefore makes it obligatory to forget about the premises set by ERPs (among other typical aspects of ERP). Yet in order to rethink a whole organization, you basically have to challenge your management process, that is why it has sometimes been complicated to get in touch with some customers.
According to you, how is Mobility Work CMMS different from a conventional ERP?
I would say there is a fundamental difference: ERPs have been defined by strategic and organizational managers, based on the management needs, the persons and ressources. The starting point for defining the needs and the functional specifications of an ERP is the decision-maker.
The aim of an ERP is to centralize managerial decisions and dashboards and then to show the wage bill the industrial operational standards implied by the fact that relevant indicators are now made available. Employees therefore have to enter all the information that the management wants them to provide.
It seems to me like an ERP overlooks as much data as it aims to show. The more fields have to be filled in on certain items, the less effective the system is to analyze others. Above all, where does an ERP’s accuracy come from? Actually executive managers are gathering data, so this accuracy is generated by managerial decisions and originates from the hierarchical structure. But there’s one paradox: the ones who contribute the most to the ERP are the operators, whereas the ones who have authority on the use that has to be made of the ERP are the decisions-makers, who obviously don’t have the same objectives as the biggest contributors. For the tool to be smart, the process has to be centralized, pyramid-based, but involves to lose a lot of information.
That is why Mobility Work CMMS is not an ERP, as the tool can only be smart thanks to the users themselves: the smart the “regular” users are, the smarter the tool is. If qualified users are free to enter data, the information becomes more relevant and detailed. As a consequence, the application is getting bigger and bigger so it is always more interesting to analyze data.
As of today, more than 3 million maintenance hours have been registered in Mobility Work CMMS: once this threshold has been exceeded, one is able to build on Big Data, which of course goes far beyond what an ERP is able to do.
The system stimulates smartness, which is later going to be generated thanks to the app’s users. An ERP works the opposite way: the computational power and the algorithms are going to dictate things and to become very restrictive. Decision-makers indeed asked for a dashboard that is just a corporate vision, not free nor open.
What do you think is the impact of a new generation of technicians on the company’s life? According to you, is it easier for younger generations to use the app?
Based on the feedbacks I received after trial phases, I would say that I have a mixed opinion. Apparently, on one hand some technicians have a certain lack of IT skills and felt quite lost in front of their former ERP, so they will never be real contributors on Mobility Work CMMS's network or handle it as it should be. On the other hand, I was confronted to senior technicians, aged 50 or more, who were truly happy and relieved to have the chance to use Mobility Work. They were using it spontaneously and were interested in it, so they felt really motivated. The more they were getting why Mobility Work was so beneficial for their everyday life at work, the more they were eager to discover the solution. Some technicians are not even regular users anymore but became real bloggers, always posting on the newsfeed! They enhance their expertise while using this mobile app… It just takes for the managers to let them do so.
Back to SMEs: some of them were using really outdated solutions and therefore quickly came to use Mobility Work, which allows them to evaluate the benefits and to see how useful it is. This CMMS is so powerful because it leads users to feel at ease with a technological tool.
In theory, social networks may result into social gaps and various phenomenons, like leaderships and divisions within the community. Those issues have particularly been studied and revealed by two European researchers of the French National Center for Scientific Research (Paola Tubaro and Antonio Casili). Nonetheless, as Mobility Work is a professional network that is used exclusively within companies, I would say that this phenomenon doesn’t exist.
Mobility Work’s philosophy is to say: “First I’m going to install the CMMS tool on your smartphone, and tell me if you find it interesting so we can then talk about it”. No orders are given, which is different from an ERP. In reality, the less injunctions there are, the more a person will want to try the app, as giving orders can stand in the way of change. That is why Mobility Work can definitely be profitable for a larger amount of people.
As you said, Mobility Work CMMS challenges hierarchy and gives power to operators. How do you think managers see this evolution?
I never encountered any maintenance manager who was complaining about it, maybe it will happen in the future. But one thing is clear: the very first users of Mobility Work (when the first versions of the app were tested) instinctively opted for a quantity-self approach. Field users could evaluate their work thanks to the application and it was really rewarding for them to be able to see how their hard-work was used to enhance the tool.
As a conclusion, it is rather beneficial to the users instead of being a source of frustration for managers as on-field operators are able to access all their data, the parts’ prices or the social network they are registered on, which by the way might gather 30, 40 or even 60 contributors. So it is not a threat but rather a great opportunity to motivate and include both managers and executives.
The impact on the social life of a company can be very positive - and I say “can” because managers need to adopt the tool. Mobility Work can be a way to value work and enhance acknowledgement. The system is so transparent that everybody can see what others bring to the network.
It is sometimes said that knowledge transfer is getting more and more complicated in companies. Do you agree?
The SMEs who were the most reluctant to deploy any ERP are the ones who adopted Mobility Work CMMS the most quickly: the deployment was more fluid for them. They just accepted the fact that on-field workers had an expertise and could have an influence on maintenance processes, so it led to less tension in the plant. In other words, the smaller companies are, the more they use the knowledge transfer levers offered by Mobility Work. In return, the bigger and the more rigid companies are, the more they tend to ask for adaptations or even for a whole redesign of the code.
A first assessment is often made when it comes to management and industrial organization methods: avoiding all risks and increasing the productivity of the capital is only possible when the decision-making is centralized and if vertical work division is implemented. It completely challenges the way companies exploit the workforce’s skills and knowledge.
While using Mobility Work, one can quickly notice that this digital tool allows you to optimize how you’re using the equipment thanks to the work of technicians who maintain them. In other words, the more operators provide precise details, the more the app becomes smart. It is then as smart as the operators working on the tool. Mobility Work gives companies the possibility to transfer knowledge more efficiently than if they were using centralized and technocratic industrial solutions.
More and more companies try to work with startups, which was inconceivable a few years ago. What do you think about it?
I think it is not good nor bad; some companies gain economic health while others don’t. According to my observations, I would say that there isn’t any general formula. In my opinion, pragmatism has to prevail over dogmatism and ideology, as they have a very bad influence on the industrial sector. Some fields have to stay the same to remain economically viable, while others need to change their processes.
Working with a startup isn’t necessarily the proof that you are innovative. Historically, very few startups indeed offered a radical change, mainly for structural reasons. Out of the hundreds of startups that are created every year in France, many of them are just following the move. If a company takes a step forward, twenty-five others will follow. Therefore I understand why some companies aren’t systematically carried away, because “startup” isn’t always a synonym for “leap” or “difference”.
The question of innovation is unclear when it comes to listed companies. They have to give proofs for their competitiveness on financial markets regarding various factors, including innovation. Otherwise trust can be dented, which can jeopardize a certain number of industrial objectives. When a company appears to be a safe investment, it becomes quite hard for it to guarantee its stability, the lack of risks as well as its innovative nature.
Such companies tend to be in a place where they receive constant contradictory injunctions and are therefore encouraged to go towards innovation, just because the companies that are as big as them work with Mobility Work for example. But you also have structures that don’t want to accept such innovations like this CMMS and that will never be able to go until the end of the process.
There is no doubt that companies outside the stock exchange are more flexible and are probably the ones that can deeply learn from a solution like Mobility Work in order to change their way of managing people and work. By the way, I think that these large groups may increase their competitiveness by a few points but they won’t be able to revolutionize their way of doing things.