Choose the CMMS that works best for you, not just the one with all the bells and whistles

Select a CMMS that best fits your needs, not the one with the most features and functions.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

This year’s software review has revealed many new and exciting trends in the world of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS). If you are replacing or upgrading your current CMMS, you will not be disappointed with the quantity and quality of options available. However, it has never been hard to find a good, feature-rich CMMS package. Furthermore, from my conferences and seminars, I have discovered that the majority of users admit to using only 15 to 30 percent of their current CMMS features.

Many companies seeking a new CMMS use the software review to select the "best" package by adding up the number of ticks and "yes" responses. This is not a good idea. You must find a package that best fits your needs, not the one with the most features and functions. This is a grueling, time-consuming and costly exercise, but one that increases dramatically the likelihood of a successful implementation.

To ensure success and get the most out of your CMMS, you must first determine an overall maintenance strategy and the specific performance measures and targets that will define your "success" quantitatively. You must then optimize the end-to-end processes performed by maintenance, operations and other stakeholders in light of strategic goals and objectives.

In parallel with the redesigning processes, you must define key CMMS specifications that support the new processes and help meet performance targets. These specifications are then used to select the best-fit CMMS package and vendor. Finally, system requirements are used to determine the technology architecture required for the CMMS and other integrated systems.

Yet, there is an argument that you cannot define efficient, effective processes without understanding how CMMS and related technology can be used as an enabler. It is for this reason that we provide the following software review and summary of features and functions. A more detailed description of key trends will be covered in future columns.

Vendor strategy

Each vendor must make strategic choices regardless of whether or not a formal planning process exists. In selecting a CMMS, you must not only evaluate a software package, but determine which vendor’s strategy best satisfies your needs. Key differences to consider include:

Service versus software. Some vendors derive most of their income from selling "shrink-wrap" software and little else, whereas others generate it from value-added services such as training, support, software customization and implementation services. In the former case, the software is usually more functionally rich and/or appeals to a broader customer base, but the vendor relies more heavily on partners and/or re-sellers to provide the value-added services. Neither approach is necessarily good nor bad, but you need to be aware of the implications.

R&D spending. Look for a vendor that will stay on top of new developments in the industry such as enabling software for e-commerce.

Target market. Be wary of vendors that claim to be all things to all companies. Instead, the better vendors will differentiate in terms of:

  • Company size. Some vendors are better suited to handle large multi-national customers, while others deal more effectively with small maintenance shops.
  • Industry specialization. Some packages are designed for specific industries such as pulp and paper, mining and municipalities.
  • Functional specialization. This includes infrastructure (e.g., roads, bridges, sewers), facilities, plant and vehicle maintenance.
  • Regional specialization. Some focus on a local market or servicing companies globally.

Product architecture. Choose a vendor whose architecture can handle your requirements, such as Internet capability and hardware compatibility.

Product specialization. Many vendors have developed comprehensive specialty modules in response to customer demand. Examples include event scheduling, tool tracking and capital planning.

Integration. A key difference among packages is how well they integrate vertically throughout the supply chain and horizontally across the enterprise. In addition, vendors must be able to integrate with third-party software such as spreadsheets, barcode devices and enterprise resource planning.

E-business. Every vendor is scrambling to incorporate e-business and e-commerce capability into their software offering. I have written three columns on this topic.

Pricing. You should choose a vendor that provides the best value-for-money solution, not necessarily the cheapest software package. This requires significant preparatory work in determining your strategic goals and objectives, performance measures and targets, optimum processes and supporting system requirements.

Usability

Packages range dramatically in terms of how easy they are to install, implement, use and maintain.

Pre-implementation tools. A successful implementation depends heavily on your ability to redesign processes and determine how best to use the system as a support tool for the new optimized processes. Some vendors provide supplementary software tools that may help analyze and document processes. In a few cases, vendors use process flows to provide sophisticated procedural help within the CMMS, or even as a feed to the business logic and CMMS workflow.

Implementation tools. Once implementation has begun, vendors provide tools such as training aids, standard libraries of procedures and preventive maintenance tasks, quick data entry utilities and hotline support.

User-centered design. A package that is easy to learn and use can save millions of dollars by lowering error rates, reducing training expenditures and achieving higher levels of utilization and productivity. Some vendors design their products with the assistance of usability experts and/or customer involvement. This can make a huge difference in available features and functions, including navigation aids, default settings and use of tabs and menus.

Adaptability. As your business and environment changes, the CMMS must be flexible enough to accommodate your changing needs. For example, you should be able to change scalability easily.
Business process support

CMMS is a tool that supports the following key business process components:

Planning, monitoring and control. Features such as budgeting, commitment tracking, activity- based costing and project tracking help you plan and achieve strategic goals and objectives.

Shop-floor data collection. Without clean data from the shop floor, analysis and reporting tools are useless. To ensure clean data, CMMS packages use features such as integration with production data collection systems, online wireless or batch input of data using handheld collection devices, sophisticated error-checking algorithms, approval tracking and nested problem/cause/action codes that are tied to a given asset.

Knowledge management. The better packages provide greater knowledge that is more widely shared and tailored to a given process and individual needs. They employ features such as automated workflow, document management, graphical parts book and hotspots.

Analysis and reporting. This is probably the single biggest area of differentiation among packages, and the most critical for ensuring that performance targets are met. Users should seek (and use) features such as:

  • Business intelligence (e.g., dashboards, trend graphs)
  • Reliability-centered maintenance
  • Activity-based management
  • Vendor performance analysis
  • Production impact assessment (e.g., maintenance cost per ton produced) 
  • Total cost of asset ownership.

David Berger is Managing Director of Grant Thorton Management Consulting in Toronto, Ontario. He is a Certified Management Consultant and a registered Professional Engineer. He is Founding President of the Plant Engineering & Maintenance Association of Canada, Past President of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Society for Industrial Engineering, and a past Vice President of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. He can be reached at dberger@GrantThorton.ca