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In the latest in our Women in Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths (STEM) series, we meet Melissa Ruth.

During her 20-year career, Melissa has directed multiple large, complex technology projects and worked with some of industry’s biggest names – Xerox, Chevron, Microsoft, Rio Tinto, Lockheed Martin, and more.

Today, as a senior Cohesive advisor in the Americas, she helps organisations keep their critical assets in peak condition through implementing technology solutions along with the right processes and practices.

She talks to us about software, silos, and super-hero strengths.

Maintenance – it lacks the glamour of innovation?

We often celebrate those who are good at solving problems when problems appear (aka the superheroes in the company) but very often, we fail to celebrate when the problems don’t exist.

When asset maintenance is optimized in a way that improves reliability, maintenance is not the only department that wins. It leads to improved productivity and streamlines functionality in all departments.

Consider for a moment how production changes when your assets are only down for the planned amount of time required to do preventative maintenance instead of down for repairs.

Consider how morale changes when your employees show up to work and are able to get their planned work done without the inconvenience of downtime.

Sure, some things may come up, but planning downtime appropriately and optimizing that downtime is critical to the success of every employee.

Your role – people, process or technology?

I have never really looked at myself as someone who is in technology management – though it is an aspect of it. I see myself as someone who is in people and process optimization.

Understanding their current processes, how they interact with each other, how each individual needs things to work, and how important it is for them to be able to adopt the solution helps me to ensure that the solution exceeds their expectations. That has been the same across every across every industry I have worked with – from transportation, to government, to energy and utilities.

Buzzwords abound out there….Generative AI, wicked infrastructure, digital twins..Where do asset owners start?

It is important to understand that new technologies are just tools. It’s how they are implemented in the business that makes the difference.  If it does not provide true efficiencies or if it violates the basic precepts that are at the core of your industry, you potentially cause harm to the enterprise.

One of my favourite questions I like to ask clients in my discovery is, “if you could be the CEO for a day, what would you change or improve in the day to day of those doing your job?”

You see, this answer is all about practicality. People rarely speak about grandiose ideas like changing how the company operates.  They just want the information they need, in an easy way, and to be able to access it quickly without all the struggle that usually comes with it.

What are the main mistakes asset intensive organisations make with regard to their introduction of digital tools and ways of working?

Don’t lose sight of the human element in your journey for asset predictability and optimization.  In fact, many of your employees are dealing with change fatigue which will negatively impact the potential success of anything new you bring to the enterprise.  The human factor plays a role in many hidden ways.

I’m neurodivergent which, I feel, is a super-hero strength when utilised correctly."

So often, the leaders of the company will come to us looking at the shiny new technology available and ask us to make it happen. They don’t realise that getting there is a process where they need someone who can understand the journey and all that is needed to get there.

In addition, it’s critically important that we start where their employees are and bring them along with us on the journey, rather than forcing the vision upon them.

Where are the organisations you work with seeing the biggest benefits?

I’d say the biggest benefits can be summarized into a few categories:

  • Employees spend less time searching for and finding the right data. This  saves millions of dollars, and decreases job turnover due to improved employee morale.
  • Better decisions at all levels. This is due to increased transparency across all departments and the right data presented in the right way.  It creates feelings of security and pride in the efficiencies found within the organisation.
  • Increased safety for everyone – saving lives, reducing accidents, and reducing re-work: This is what happens when you ensure you are all working to the latest approved documentation.

Of course, all of this helps to support the benefit that every client is looking for – a true return on investment.

Which piece of work are you most proud of in your career to date?

That’s a hard question to answer. . Over the last few years, we’ve been tasked with many unique challenges, and all have produced a return on investment for our customers.  I’m proud of that.

But I’m most proud of the work I haven’t done yet. The opportunities that have yet to come to fruition.  The work that has yet to be completed.

For example, the current challenge we are working on with one of our customers requires setting the stage for a digital facility that has yet to be created or even designed.

Changing from a previously paper-based world to a digitally enabled world in a strictly regulated industry requires one to think of not only providing new ways of working but of addressing the human factors and change management elements as well. It requires merging the thinking of those who have been using their same processes for years with those who have never known a paper-based world.

This project is a long-term one where the return on investment won’t be seen immediately – they won’t even be breaking ground for a few years.  However, the return on avoidance has already been seen.  By that, I mean, the avoidance of purchasing software that they didn’t need but were told they did or purchasing the wrong software without the end in mind.  Those realizations have already been seen and I’m proud of that while also looking forward to more.

You are a keen promoter of diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Yes, I volunteer as the leader of the People and Culture at Work Consortium for the Reliability Leadership Foundation. We work to improve D&I across the entire reliability and maintenance industry, while ensuring we have a framework for managing people in an effective team that produces the best results possible.

I place great value on my own individual traits that make me ‘me’ – for example, I have worn hearing aids for decades and I’m neurodivergent which, I feel, is a super-hero strength when utilised correctly. I strongly believe that everyone needs to be encouraged by their organisations to bring their best selves to the office.

On a personal level, people need to feel valued for who they are but there is also a strong business case for creating environments where everyone can flourish.

Equally, you need to be in a workplace that is a good ‘fit’ for you. I left Microsoft to return to Cohesive because I felt so strongly that this is where I belonged…or rather, where my ‘tribe’ was.  You see, the power of the work I do is that we are better as a team than we are individually.  Working as a team enables us all to understand the many nuances that play a role in a digital world and how those affected might react.

Anyone can come in with new technology that could change the world, but only those who have lived those transitions multiples understand the nuances of how new technology can affect every role and every person.

Could change be happening more quickly in this arena?

In my opinion, many organisations are too busy checking the boxes from ‘HR’, counting how many physically diverse employees we have – but ignoring the almost imperceptible differences that make us each unique.

Based on this, it is my belief that the change in diversity we are looking for but not seeing is because we, as individuals need to not only work to understand our biases but also, management needs to fully believe that they need individuals to lean into who they are, rather than “just get along.”

How have you found juggling a full-on career with a full-on family life? Any tips?

I have 4 now adult children, as well as 3 dogs, 1 cat, and a very talkative Quaker parrot.   In addition, my mother-in-law has also lived with us for decades.  The reality is that she takes care of us while we take care of her.

I’ve worked from home for over a decade, which has enabled me to lead a family life alongside my professional life instead of devoting hours to sitting in traffic.

While one might be tempted to think this is all hard to manage, the following principles have helped me immensely:

Always get up like you are going to the office. Give 100% of your time when you are at your desk. Take breaks for your mind – it helps productivity. Use your camera but make sure you are considering how you show up.

For more information on how Cohesive can support you to get the best out of your assets with digital solutions and a data-driven approach, please contact us here.

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