CMMS applications can be much more than a data depository and report generator

David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, says search engines, data warehouses and workflow engines can enhance your information gathering and analysis.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

A popular phrase floating around the IT world these days is "knowledge management." Whereas information is best defined as data, knowledge management describes what to do with that data. Systems such as a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) provide companies with vast quantities of data. However, it's only the better packages that provide sophisticated knowledge management tools, which help organizations make better decisions.

From this example, it's clear that a CMMS has potential to be more than a mere data depository and report generator. As a result, the new recruit could use its sophisticated knowledge management tools to help optimize decisions.

The more comprehensive CMMS packages can walk the maintainer through the most appropriate workflow, and assist troubleshooting by listing the probabilities of the most likely causes of a problem. They also supply the most appropriate steps to take, required tools and spare parts, equipment and components diagrams, safety instructions, warranty information and other relevant data.

Implementation tools

Constructing a knowledge base starts long before CMMS implementation. Some CMMS vendors have separate software tools to assist with process analysis and build the knowledge base. The goal is to document the most efficient and effective process flows, which may involve decisions such as who can request maintenance work, what information must be collected, how approvals are made and by whom, how work orders are prioritized and scheduled. Features, functions and parameters to activate also can be determined.

Online help

Once the initial process analysis is complete, some vendors import the knowledge base into the CMMS directly. Sophisticated CMMS packages have on-line help that provides flowcharts depicting key processes, with drill-down capability on each activity, to access detailed procedural help.

Another useful help feature is a troubleshooting assistant or wizard. For example, it explains how to prepare a budget, set up a PM routine or diagnose an equipment downtime situation. Some vendors provide a wizard that walks you live through each step and decision point in the process.

Search engine

One of the most obvious knowledge management tools is a search engine. We already recognize its value when we venture onto the Web. Within a CMMS, it is an efficient and effective means of finding specific objects, such as a work order, purchase order, employee file or equipment record. The better search engines can query based on different criteria, as well as filter and sort returned data.

Data warehouse

A data warehouse is archived transaction data that is organized to provide efficient querying, reporting and analysis. Advanced CMMS packages have appropriate interfaces with popular third-party data warehouse applications, which allows data to be sliced and diced more effectively. Sometimes CMMS data is combined with other databases, such as enterprise asset planning. For example, this allows one to analyze the maintenance cost per production unit of a specific production line, trended over a given time period.

Workflow engine

One of the most sophisticated and useful knowledge management tools is a workflow engine. It routes data automatically, based on user-defined business rules. For example, a standard workflow can be established for routing work orders to the appropriate approver based on the labor and material dollars.

Other sophisticated workflow features include:

  • Users can determine workflow status for a given item directly from a graphical representation.
  • Users can determine statistics, such as volume of workflow transactions for a given time period, or the average time it takes to complete a specific activity.
  • Standard times can be entered for workflow activities, to predict how long a process should take and create reports on actual versus standard completion times.
  • Activities can be made mandatory or optional, depending on the characteristics of the objects moving through the workflow.

David Berger is a principal with Western Management Consultants in Toronto, Canada. 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 via email at david@wmc.on.ca.

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