Henry Wilson’s first day as the chief engineer at the 400-room Sunset Resort on the Gulf Coast of Florida was a day he would not soon forget. In his job interview with the hotel’s owners, he had been warned about the hotel’s antiquated preventative maintenance system. What he found on that first day, however, was a chaotic situation far worse than he ever could have imagined.

The Sunset Resort’s previous chief engineer kept such inadequate maintenance records that work orders from as far back as six months remained outstanding. Maintenance records were kept in unmarked filing cabinets scattered around the basement of the hotel and only half of the hotel’s equipment warranties were on file.

In an early morning meeting with the hotel’s general manager, Wilson learned that guestrooms were not being maintained properly, guest complaints were up 50 percent over the past two months, energy costs were rising for unknown reasons, the hotel’s occupancy rate was plummeting and equipment that cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace was not being checked. On top of all of that, maintenance personnel were working overtime but not logging their work properly.

Sitting in that meeting on his first day, Wilson sighed and wondered what he was going to do to turn that hotel around. His previous job began looking a lot better than it once did.

Does Wilson’s situation sound all too familiar? While Henry Wilson is fictional, the problems described at the Sunset Resort are ones that many engineers still encounter—especially in hotels using manual preventative maintenance systems. The good news is that there are numerous automated systems available that add efficiencies to preventative maintenance, rounds, work orders and room inspections.

Manual Processes are Labor-Intensive

In a typical hotel using a manual preventative maintenance system, an engineer responsible for conducting equipment checks will get a checklist. As each task is performed, he will check it off the list. He will then place this form with other checklists for recording into a spreadsheet. This process is problematic because of the potential for incorrect data entry. In some cases, large equipment’s scheduled maintenance is listed on an erasable board. What happens if that information is accidentally erased?

Engineers performing rounds with a paper-based system face the same dilemma. Meter readings typically captured on work sheets often are rewritten on another piece of paper before being recorded in a spreadsheet. Each time data is transferred there is the potential for incorrect data entry. Paper-based systems also are inherently labor-intensive and eat away at the bottom line.

There are numerous other disadvantages to manual systems. Accountability is an issue because there is no way to guarantee that an engineer actually went to a piece of equipment or how much time was spent there. Managers in charge of maintenance at multiple properties also do not have the ability to quickly access a particular property’s maintenance records. Information on overdue rounds, outstanding work orders and equipment warranties typically is difficult to access quickly.

Several lodging industry vendors offer automated preventative maintenance systems that are much more efficient than paper-based systems. They minimize the number of error opportunities, simplify processes, help extend the life of valuable assets, save time and money. One such vendor is Dunedin, Fla.-based Mintek Mobile Data Solutions. Mintek’s WinTrack PM solution features a mobile, handheld device produced by Symbol Technologies. The handheld unit includes a built-in scanner that reads bar codes placed on or near equipment needing to be checked.

Questions or task lists that correspond to each piece of equipment are built into WinTrack PM. When performing a preventative maintenance check, the engineer takes the handheld to the equipment and scans the associated barcode. That scan prompts a series of questions that the engineer must answer directly on the handheld. If a response entered into the handheld indicates that a work order is warranted, the system will automatically generate it. Work orders are then pushed to the appropriate engineer who then uses the device to complete and record the job.

Automated System Ensures Accountability

There are many benefits to using a system like WinTrack PM. Scheduling is automated while rounds and preventative maintenance are tracked quickly and easily. The barcode scanning system records that an engineer was actually on a piece of equipment and for how long. The system automatically prompts an alert or generates a work order if a rounds reading is out of range. Missed rounds are identified. Work orders to be scheduled, those in progress and those outstanding also can be monitored.

If an engineer happens to see something that requires attention during an inspection, it can be entered into the handheld and it will show up as an open work order within WinTrack PM. With other types of systems, oftentimes an impromptu maintenance issue will get lost if it is written down manually or announced by radio.

At the fictional Sunset Resort, warranty information kept in file cabinets was difficult to access quickly. In hotels using automated systems like WinTrack PM, equipment warranty information—including vendor phone numbers—can be added to the system and viewed on the handheld.

Most vendors that produce automated preventative maintenance systems offer some type of maintenance scheduling and tracking options. Mintek Mobile Data Solutions’ system is unique, however, because it enables management level personnel to view Hotel property maintenance information not only via an onsite PC but also via an online Management Portal. Preventative maintenance statistics, open work orders, associate work load and rounds history all can be viewed from any location with Internet access.

Vice presidents in charge of engineering, design or construction have found it especially advantageous to be able to monitor maintenance progress so easily. Managers responsible for assets (typically design and construction) and who are interested in preserving and extending the life of hotel assets also benefit from an automated system like WinTrack PM. It facilitates capital asset tracking and enables one to project costs over coming years.

The Cost of Improper Maintenance

Prior to implementing WinTrack PM, the general manager of one Hawaii resort assumed that the property’s equipment was not being checked. The result? Each year, the resort had unexpected equipment failures and incurred costs related to repairs, parts, labor and wasted energy. Resort personnel also worked in a less safe work environment because of inadequate preventative maintenance.

The director of engineering at another property with multiple floors was fined $25,000 by the local fire marshal for not having fire extinguishers that were charged or in place. Now, with WinTrack PM in use, checks of each extinguisher are recorded and alerts are generated if a single extinguisher goes unchecked.

Equipment manufacturers’ estimates vary widely but a generally accepted rule is that equipment that is not maintained will last only 80 percent of its useful life. However, the life of some equipment can be cut in half without a preventative maintenanceprogram in place. This is typically true of packaged terminal air conditioner units in limited service hotels.

In one company that implemented an automated preventative maintenance system in 30 of its hotels, almost $12,000 in engineering labor costs (per property, or $360,000) was saved in the first year. Engineers spent one hour less each day performing preventative maintenance tasks and managers cut their work loads similarly by eliminating paper-based processes. The director of engineering at one hotel says the implementation of an automated system has saved him an entire day of work each week.

At another company, one senior manager reported that preventative maintenance was not being done due to lack of management oversight. Once an automated system to monitor work performance at an enterprise level was put in place, the company’s 30 percent preventative maintenance ratio was increased to more than 90 percent within 12 months.

In addition to monitoring major assets such as chillers and electrical equipment, systems like WinTrack PM also can be used to perform guest room preventative maintenance. The checklist for the room checks is uploaded into the handheld. This saves having to store paper and input data. If a repair cannot be made at the time of the inspection, a work order can be generated quickly. Proactive replacement of items such as light bulbs can be scheduled, inventory can be tracked and housekeeping work also can be monitored with the system.

Automated Systems Impact Guest Experience

Automated solutions clearly add efficiencies to the preventative maintenance process. What many owners and managers don’t realize is the direct impact those efficiencies have on guests. Many studies have shown that guests are most concerned about cleanliness when staying in a hotel. Although cleanliness is deemed a responsibility of housekeeping, the perception among guests is that several factors affect cleanliness. They include age, maintenance, décor, staff efficiency and issues such as lighting.

A standardized, repetitive rooms PM program can have a huge impact on the guest experience. When guests are not impacted by maintenance issues, they are more satisfied and much more likely to return to a hotel. Fewer guest complaints are registered and maintenance personnel are able to spend more time on preventative maintenance instead of reacting to problems.

Before implementing WinTrack PM at one New Orleans hotel, the director of engineering used a paper-based filing system that resulted in some guest rooms going unchecked. Oftentimes, it was not until a guest called about a problem that the missed room check was recognized. Now, with WinTrack PM in place, the director of engineering expects 70 percent to 90 percent of guest complaints to be eliminated.

Management Commitment Required

Without the commitment of hotel owners and managers—at both an individual hotel and company-wide level—automated preventative maintenance systems will not solve the problems of the Henry Wilsons of the lodging industry. However, if a system such as WinTrack PM is used properly and consistently, it can add accountability to the preventative maintenance process, improve communication within the maintenance department, provide a helicopter view of maintenance to management, and add other efficiencies to property maintenance operations.

An investment in an automated system like WinTrack PM can be easily justified, especially when considering how it can help prolong the life of expensive assets. It also can reduce the amount of investment in parts, repairs and overtime hours worked. Even more important, a smoothly running preventative maintenance operation will ensure that guest stays remain problem free and that they will have every reason to keep coming back for more.

For more information about WinTrack PM, contact Mintek at 800-798-7226 or visit Mintek.

Glenn Hasek is president of Cleveland, Ohio-based Hasek Communications (www.hasekcom.com), a public relations company specializing in the lodging industry. He can be reached at (216) 476-9663 or by e-mail at hasekcom@aol.com.

Mark Sokol, Director of Product Marketing
Mintek Mobile Data Solutions
(727) 734-9175
E-mail: mark.sokol@mintek.com

Glenn Hasek, President
Hasek Communications
(216) 476-9663; cell: (216) 702-0334
E-mail: hasekcom@aol.com