Every business needs engineers and contractors with expertise they can trust. But engineers who hoard ‘local knowledge’ to become super-heroes can be a risk for FM teams trying to optimise the way they work.
What is local knowledge in facilities management?
Local knowledge in Facilities Management (also known as ‘tribal knowledge’) is the intimate understanding of the particular way assets work and the fixes for pieces of equipment that the rest of the business do not know. This knowledge is often not documented and can be restricted to one individual in a team.
The danger of local knowledge
There’s that one engineer or contractor you always depend on, they’ve been working with your business for years. They know your equipment and its quirks better than anyone else and they can get it working quicker than anyone else. What’s more you don’t even need to brief them in detail, one phone call and they’re round with the right parts. They’ll go the extra mile and their heroics have often helped you out of a tight spot. But they might not be sharing their expertise and, worse, they might be deliberately hoarding it to increase their value to a business.
Don’t rely on one ‘superhero’
If you’re relying on one person with ‘local knowledge’ to fix and maintain equipment:
- What happens when they leave, go sick or retire?
- How do you know they’re documenting everything they’re doing?
- Are you able to track their time and costs properly?
- How will you train other team members in what they do?
- How can you ensure their methods are really best practice?
- How can you leverage other people’s expertise to improve asset performance?
- Can you really say you have a ‘process’?
Local knowledge can be deeply rooted and extremely valuable, but it can also hold you back if it belongs to one person or even one team. You need to appreciate and reward expertise, and have the tools to make that knowledge universal.
6 tips to capture and make ‘local knowledge’ universal
1. Don’t fuel a hero culture
Everyone loves a superhero. It’s hard not to when they’ve come to the rescue and saved you money and reputation. But how do you reward them? Are you seeking them out every time a specific problem recurs? Are you giving them accolades and paying them overtime to attend, not just because you know they’ll do the best job - but because they’re the only one who can do that job? That’s the way to create a vicious circle of knowledge hoarding and dependency.
2. Develop a culture of reliability instead
But if you’ve developed a hero culture in your business it’s usually because there are no systems in place to properly capture ‘local knowledge’ about assets - like service histories and maintenance needs. You may have no way of tracking equipment life cycles or implementing PPM strategies to predict and prolong them. Without the right digital tools you can be forced to rely on and glorify a reactive approach. In contrast to this, a 'reliability culture' can focus a business on developing preventive strategies and sharing knowledge for continuous improvement by the whole team. It can help operations become more data and process driven - and not hinge on one person to ‘bail you out’ when things go wrong.
3. Build a digital asset register
Develop a digital asset register that’s part of a CAFM system that tracks the lifecycle of your assets. These digital tools can give all your engineers instant access to information vital to maintaining and fixing key assets:
- Location - where is the asset located in the building
- Documentation - user manuals, warranty information etc
- Media - photos and even videos of the assets
- Meta data - purchase date, installation date, condition, status, manufacturer, model number
- Service history - a full record of maintenance activity, persistent issues, call outs, fixes, results etc
4. Become process driven
Get out of the habit of just picking up the phone to your superhero engineer to sort out an asset. Automate your workflows and create a repeatable process for dealing with and documenting issues to build up organisational knowledge. Choose a CAFM that that can help:
- Workers document asset problems with photos and videos
- Engineers record time spent, record fixes implemented
- Schedule ongoing servicing for preventing emergencies and managing equipment deterioration
5. Be data driven
If you’ve got the right processes in place and engineers are automatically recording equipment performance and maintenance activity, you’ll build data over time that will help you predict service needs more accurately. This will cut down on the need for ‘heroic intervention’ and keep costs down
6. Select software for usability
If you want your star performers to share their knowledge, you’re going to need a star performing piece of software to help them do so. Make sure your CAFM is intuitive and quick to use. Make sure it’s:
Mobile first - it should be easy for everyone to log issues, record maintenance activity etc on any device wherever they are.
Genuinely useful - a CAFM should not just be a place to record what you’ve done, but to check details of service history, to ask questions of equipment users and be a engineers ‘single source of truth’.
And make sure you’re able to incentivise the use of the software, too. If contractors know they can bill instantly and get paid more quickly if they use your CAFM they’re more likely to do so - and play by your rules.
So ditch the spandex, capes and lantern jaws. Superhero engineers with exclusive local knowledge aren’t sustainable solutions for improving business performance. They can hold you back by fixating you on minor miracles instead of long term reliability. Ditch the habits of dependency and choose the digital tools that can supercharge everyone’s performance.
Forget the heroics and concentrate on building better team work through: