A good friend once told me “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

As we start a journey to talk about the reliability business, first we must talk about “direction” and recount some thoughts I wrote into a recent book on Business Performance Management  (The Maximo Managers Guide to Business Performance Management).

Compass on MAERSK SHIP in Dalian Ship Yard


Reliability Roadmap

At the same time – let’s occasionally mix in a balance of some science and our life to keep things light so as to keep our journey together both interesting and enjoyable.

So, to start us off, let’s ask one simple question.

What is “True North”?

In the scientific sense the term “True North” refers to the axis of the earth or the North Pole. Magnetically there is a slightly different pole, or center spot near the North Pole where the Earth’s magnetic fields converge and this “convergence” occasionally contribute to wonderful late night light shows called “Aurora Boriallis”.

The 2 “poles” are actually not in exactly the same place which is why when you pick up an old compass and map you need to adjust slightly for the difference dependent upon where you are in the world and this is called the “declination” – or difference angle.  The advent of Global Positioning Systems makes the adjustment calculation almost a relic of folk lore. It serves to illustrate that even though you think you are going north, you might not be even if your “compass” says you are.

So what really is True North?

For each organization or company it is different.

In the context of business – True North is the direction your organization seeks to travel. Our business interests and directions or goals span the globe in both content and breadth. For each of us they are directionally correct for what our organization is working to accomplish and our reliability goals also have a north direction.

Our “reliability compass” (or business metrics), are considerably more complex and perhaps some might argue, more advanced, although I would offer still, some organizations cannot link their reliability metrics to the organizational strategic plan goals. Generally though our metrics, scorecards key performance indicators and analytics are made up of a suite of software tools which help us understand which direction we are headed.  But are they really more advanced than a magnetic compass?

Interestingly, our “Reliability Indicators” are not that much different from a compass in the 1700’s and surprisingly not always as accurate as the compass built in the 1700’s. We need to look into how our current reliability “compass” was made to understand why occasionally they allow us to sail a perils’ course.

Aurora Borealis


First a little science.

Since the discovery of the compass in China in perhaps the first century, the compass design and craftsmanship has evolved with hundreds of years of care, and development to provide the most accurate of indicator performance. This development evolved under the watchful eye of master craftsmen and the every wary reminder of shipwreck and certain death as motivation for the diligence to avoid poor quality.

Recently I lived in Dalian China for 3 years, which today has a vibrant ship building business and is a corner stone of the global ship supply business. One only has to drive by to marvel at the wide array of ships and platforms under construction to understand the scale of global commerce.

It is still quite interesting from a reliability perspective that in an era of a ship borne arrays of satellite navigation equipment, all commercial ships built in the Dalian Shipyard by A P Moller-Maersk are still fitted with a ships compass says, Pedar Madsen of Maersk , Manager for Ship Engineering at the Dalian Shipyard.

Pedar shared with me that a considerable amount of special care to this day is taken in the design of this dated indicator including the surrounding ship’s metal (Stainless steel and brass), and indicator placement on the ships centerline which ensures in turbulent seas, the ships compass still reads true and reliably.

I found it quite interesting to learn that once a ship is commissioned each day thereafter, the crew daily logs the difference between the sophisticated Electronic array and the ships compass to ensure the “digital Indicators” are still “pointing north”.  While this is checking every day to ensure you don’t end up on the rocks, it also is a predictive inspection task,  that is quite simply checking to see if the ships sophisticated navigation circuits have drifted or failed.

You see the reliability of gravity outlasts all man made items.

So, how often do we check to see if our reliability and business metrics are still accurate?

Or perhaps a better question is – “Are your reliability indicators even accurate”?

Unfortunately, our reliability indicators receive far less scrutiny in their development and protection of the integrity of the indicator once placed into service. We often take a leap of faith that the data in our electronic world is accurate and complete.  Occasionally accept that the well published indicators are gospel, and in the pursuit of excellence, we often collect mounds of useless data for which we have no clear purpose.
























The truth is our reliability and business indicators and analytics all too often are derived from data that is incomplete or damaged. Conversely, sometimes, as CEO of Business Objects, Bernard Lieutaud has said, “There is too much data and it is duplicated hundreds of times. The mistake companies make is that they start from the data they have”… and I’ll add – not the data they need.

So when some whiz kid develops your next set of business metrics by consolidating the needed data into a flashy dashboard, can you trust it?

If you have to hesitate to answer that question, you’re undoubtedly spending some time deciding whether the indicators you use today are trustworthy and complete and then deciding whether you can rely on the “north” indication they provide.

But when does data become “good data”?

I devoted a portion of my new book to develop the concept of a data integrity map. End to End data controls that ensure the business indicators you rely upon are built with at least as much care and devotion as a ships compass. If you are going to monitor and use any data set to indicate the organizational direction, should you not make sure the data points “north?”

So the next time you pick up your Reliability, key performance indicators, financials, or whatever they are called in your organization, ask yourself this simple question.

Does your reliability organization’s directional “North”  point “True North”?

PICTURE 1: Aurora Borealis – http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/115688main_ojeda_full.jpg
PICTURE 2: Compass on MAERSK SHIP in Dalian Ship Yard – Courtesy Maersk

About Philip Sage

SAP PM Expert - Design Architect of Green Field SAP and Reliability Plant. SAP MM QM, HR, PP extremely knowledgeable. Configured SAP DMS and integrated with SAP PM.

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