One of the most satisfying elements of good software is the ability to tailor the application to the user's needs in an intuitive manner. Imagine approaching your terminal in the morning to find a single screen half-filled with "green" key performance indicators related to equipment availability and PM compliance, a night-shift activity summary, a graph showing the work load balance and work orders by craft for the week, and a table comparing actual expenditure versus budget to date. By drilling down on the only "red" indicator, you discover one of the capital projects is falling dangerously behind schedule because of difficulties in planning downtime with a production department.
Is this a dream for the next decade? Not at all. Vendors of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) have come a long way in meeting the diverse needs of their user base. Modern CMMS packages are flexible and powerful enough to conform to the needs of each user.
Security settings for multiple levels that include modules, screens, menus, functions and fields are powerful means for configuring some CMMS packages. Each user or user group is granted access to these levels in terms of read/write capability, read only or access denied. If access is denied, a few packages provide further options, namely "visible" or "suppressed." For example, if a user's designated rights to a given field are "access denied, but visible," the field appears on the screen, but is slightly greyed out and can't be used or modified.
Screen customization is another feature. Many CMMS packages enable users to change the look and feel of any screen. Some allow users to increase or decrease field size, mask a field, move fields, change field labels, change colors, add validation tables for error-checking fields, activate user-definable fields, define defaults for coded fields and more. The opening screen can be a user-defined "portal" with dashboard-like gauges and indicators, tables and graphs for summarizing data (including drill-down capability) and hyperlinks to data.
Programmable hot keys access pre-defined destinations. CMMS vendors have struggled with user demands for ease of navigation through the complex maze of menus, screens and reports. The first improvement was programmable hot keys. Eventually, users could change the hot key source and destination. Programmable hot keys are quickly being replaced by more sophisticated features, such as hyperlinks, macros and an MS-Explorer-style hierarchy.
Macros are similar to those offered by word processing packages. CMMS macros remember any keystrokes for easy user access.
Report generators are perhaps one of the most important developments for CMMS packages. In the early days of CMMS, there were few problems getting the data into the computer, but efficient and effective reporting was problematic. The CMMS vendor usually offered more than a hundred standard reports to extract the needed information and many access points for each report.
With the advent of the report generator, users could customize a report and save it for future retrieval. The report generator also made possible ad hoc queries.
Vendors bundle the CMMS with powerful third-party report generating software. Not only can users produce custom reports and ad hoc queries more efficiently, but the standard reports the vendor included also can be used as templates. Thus the user can add, edit or eliminate standard reports. The reports also can be easily customized with bolding, multiple fonts, justification and so on. More sophisticated report generators even have built-in programming capability to allow users to manipulate the reported data and perform mathematical or statistical analysis, such as a mean-time-between-failure calculation.
Graphics generators make possible, in many cases, a graphical rendition of a given report to enhance its impact. Graphics generators work almost identically to report generators, except they produce multi-color line or bar graphs, pie charts and scatter diagrams in two or three dimensions.
Forms generators work similarly to report generators to produce user-definable forms, such as work orders, purchase orders, bar code labels and so on. Especially useful for quick entry of a lot of data is the ability to enter data in tabular or spreadsheet format, where only mandatory and user-selected fields are displayed as column headings, and the user moves from column to column entering data.
Workflow issues are easier with packages that use a powerful workflow engine with configurable approvals, notification and automated transactions based on user-defined business rules. For example, users can customize authorization schemes by establishing limit rules by work groups and type of approval. The system can be arranged to request the next level of authorization when necessary. The system also can be configured to allow only certain people to approve emergency work orders.
Attachments refers to a feature on many Windows-based CMMS packages that allows users to attach memos or graphics or embed video or sound clips. Attachments can be useful for ISO 9000 and OSHA compliance, for example, for recording anomalies or logging operating conditions. Embedded video and sound objects are helpful for training, but many users feel they're somewhat gimmicky.
Objects that link to other applications, such as spreadsheets or CAD and project management software, are useful for tapping into powerful third-party software. In some cases, macros launch an application and port data to and from the CMMS. For example, some CMMS vendors use macros to launch project management software and populate the application with data to facilitate the job planning and scheduling, including what-if analysis. The revised data is then uploaded into the CMMS.
Contributing Editor David Berger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.