When selecting a service provider for your wind energy assets, you have tremendous choice. From the Original Equipment Manufacturer, to an Independent Service Provider, or the increasing number of owner operators offering pseudo independent services. There are certain fundamentals for great service that apply to all and these should be understood in depth in order to fully understand what you will and what you won’t be getting from a service provider.
Before you select your next service provider for planned or unplanned operations and maintenance, here are ten questions you should ask them ...and yourself.
1) How good are their people?
Good services are about systems, process and people. Understanding how people operations are run by your service provider is essential. A good service provider invests in their people and can demonstrate employee engagement, a culture of values and an advanced training program.
An accomplished team will have a direct and positive impact on the service which will directly correlate with the positive performance of your assets. Furthermore, the level of corporate support the team gets from their employer will either enable or undermine their ability to perform at the highest standards.
How do they attract, recruit, train and retain the best people? What is their training program like in terms of content, delivery, qualification, tracking and maintenance? How do they benchmark, measure and continuously improve it? Do they have a program to engage with their employees, recognize and reward them? Are their benefits good? Do employees earn bonuses? Are their opinions sought?
Don’t overlook the importance of good people operations, corporate support and getting good people on your project.
2) What's their TRIR?
Every service provider needs to track several OSHA metrics, including Total Recordable Injury Rate (TRIR), a measure of the number of recordable injuries for every 100 employees. It’s a trailing indicator and according to AWEA safety data, the industry average in O&M was 2.2 in 2013.
A healthy team focused on doing the right things, with the right tools and equipment, in the right way, will get more service work completed in less time, making fewer errors and avoiding costly downtime due to getting things wrong.
Ask your service provider about their TRIR, not just the prior year, but the prior 3-5 years so you can see any trends, and the current year and the rolling 12 months TRIR too. Don’t stop there, ask them about first aids, near misses, spills, vehicle incidents, dropped items and observations. Ask how they track safety, benchmark, establish leading indicators and continuously improve.
3) What's their Net Promoter Score?
Quality assurance can ensure that errors don’t occur, are caught and corrected within process, or fixed and details captured within a program that ensures lessons are learned to avoid future repeats. Understanding how your service provider approaches quality is critical, as it will give a clear indication on the service standard you will receive.
Ask about their program and find out whether it is independently audited on an annual basis? Is it ISO registered? Can you get a copy of their last audit? Do they have a Corrective Action Program? Do they track on time delivery? Do they complete regular quality checklists on their projects and complete annual audits? Do they monitor quality compliance and even good housekeeping?
All of these programmatic approaches will give you a strong indicator of service quality, but perhaps the ultimate test is Net Promoter Score (NPS). If your service provider is advanced enough to track NPS, ask for their score and a summary of their surveys, along with proof that they listen to customers and do something with customer feedback.
4) How do they ensure continuous improvement?
Continuous improvement is a fundamental principle of operational excellence. Without seeing a clear commitment to constant progress, systems that will drive it, and a management philosophy that commits to it, you run the risk of losing ground over the service contract term, rather than learning, improving and gaining ground.
Ask your service provider about continuous improvement. How do they implement it? Measure it? Track it? What examples do they have?
5) What's their operating system like?
Great operators don’t just figure out what to track and measure, they also recognize that an operating rhythm is required to provide a framework for communication, discussion, and actions based upon critical information flow.
What critical point summaries does your service provider generate? How do they communicate across their organization? From the field to the office and back to the field? Can they demonstrate a flow of information with decisions that improve performance, with better execution and project results over time?
6) Do they have strong performance engineering capabilities?
Performance engineering analyzes asset performance, reviews faults, and identifies reliability retrofits and performance upgrade opportunities. Not unlike a high quality Independent Engineer, a great service provider should be able to bring these skills and capabilities, at an accomplished level, to the owner in order to drive better production, lower operational costs and longer asset life.
Ask your service provider what they do in this area? Do they have a qualified engineering team? Do they invest in engineering technology and services? Are they implementing Reliability Centered Maintenance? Do they have proof points?
7) Do they have a Data and Knowledge Management system?
Manuals, work instructions and procedures require continuous updating from expertise that is gained through ongoing operations. Service providers can attain higher standards where the knowledge developed throughout an organization can be captured, questioned and shared in an easy to use, systematic manner.
Ask your service provider if they collect data, develop knowledge and have a way of sharing this across their organization? The service provider with the ability to collect data, assimilate and share knowledge will deliver services at a significantly higher standard with asset performance results to match.
8) Can they provide consumables, spare parts and major components?
Developing detailed bill of material data by turbine type is a lengthy process. It can prove invaluable, especially where the owner is looking to transfer major component risk. It’s more than simply sourcing parts, it links to performance engineering capabilities and the ability to identify options for replacements and upgrades that can not only protect and maintain asset performance, but can enhance it too.
Ask your service provider about their parts capability, looking for details on bill of materials completion by turbine type, ensuring they know and understand your assets appropriately.
9) Are they reliable, transparent, service focused, without any conflicts of interest?
Service level and consistent delivery, especially over longer term contracts, can be impacted by the service provider’s organizational focus and structure. With so many options, it is worth considering the pros and cons of the OEM vs. the ISP vs. the pseudo ISP. Are they product or service focused, or both? Is service their core competence and core business? Do they collaborate with their customers, share data and information with full transparency, offering independent advice, updates and recommendations that are free from product or ownership conflicts of interest?
Consider the options, motivations, reliability, consistency and capabilities carefully.
10) What are their project results like?
In the end it comes down to results and you should ask your service provider for details on the performance and results of their services delivered to other owners. Do they drive improved production, lower operating costs and extend asset life?
Get real results and references from real customers. For example, does the service provider exclusively track contractual availability figures, or are they also monitoring overall project availability and efficiency? This can be an indication of whether they are truly in-step with the owner or not.
Are their metrics structured to drive action and continual improvement? In a way that matters to the customer?
In conclusion, a great service company invests in its people, it has great safety records, high net promoter scores, a continuous improvement culture, strong operating systems, great performance engineering capabilities, knowledge management systems, parts and major component sourcing, a dedicated and independent focus on service, and great project results.
A service level promise is more than a tag line or a large business flexing its balance sheet or global reach. It’s about detailed planning and flawless execution for an exceptional customer experience and a deep desire to continuously improve.
Get the facts, analyze the data and make a great choice.