Mobile technology can help you get the most out of your CMMS

How mobile technology gets more out of a CMMS

By David Berger


Perhaps one of the most significant emerging trends for maintenance shops is mobile technology. These devices have put the power of the CMMS into the hands of maintenance technicians.

Those who view mobile technology as a strategic advantage have been rewarded with anywhere from 10% to more than 30% improvement in productivity. This gain justifies additional hardware, software and training. Even more impressive is the behavior and attitude change in maintenance technicians. This isn't unlike the effect of the cell phone on business people around the world.

Levels of implementation
Level 1 is simple batch implementation. Most CMMS vendors offer simple support of mobile technology. As a minimum, CMMS vendors have built an interface to mobile devices for simple tasks, such as downloading work orders. At this level, companies are merely migrating existing CMMS functionality onto remote devices. The key motivator for companies is to reduce paperwork.
Level 2 is a simple online implementation. Mobile devices are connected to the CMMS using radio frequency (RF), cell or other  technology. Although this adds to the cost, the functionality provides a means for workers to download the most up-to-date information and it ensures the database is kept current with uploaded work completion, inventory status, work requests and so on.

Level 3 is advanced batch implementation that recognizes the strategic significance of a mobile device. Optimum results require more than Levels 1 and 2. It requires using the mobile technology as an enabler to change the attitude, behavior and practices of the maintenance staff.

The intent is to make the mobile device the key tool that maintenance people use for planning and executing work efficiently and effectively. Doing so requires accessing most of the information in the CMMS database. Maintenance technicians might be provided with access to:

  Aids for locating problems (a graphics parts book, schematic diagram and GIS mapping).

  A full work history for a given asset.

  Move history so that technicians know where an asset has been installed.

  Diagnostic tools for determining the most likely root cause and actions required.

  Inventory records to determine a part's availability before wasting time searching the stockroom.

  Equipment records to determine warranty information, specifications, procedural help and the like.

  Alarming, condition monitoring and preventive maintenance tables and history.
The mobile device also can be loaded with error-checking capability to reduce data-entry mistakes.

It's wonderful to place this additional functionality in the palm of each technician, no matter where they may be. However, it must be coupled with changes in maintenance processes to reap the full benefit. For example, maintenance planners must assign work to individual people rather than merely distributing a backlog. As well, it requires that technicians enter data regarding start/stop for each job, problem/ cause/action codes, parts used, on-the-fly work requests and so on. In other words, maintenance techs must use their mobile devices fully.
Level 4 refers to advanced online implementation. This adds online capability to the functionality described in Level 3. It puts incredible power in the hands of each technician. For example, maintenance techs can be notified of a downtime situation on a real-time basis, and then have access to the live alarming screens, condition-monitoring data and analysis tools to assess the situation. After scurrying to the asset that is experiencing downtime, they can acknowledge the alarm using the mobile device and then access the online graphics parts book, complete history for any component, any relevant diagnostic tools and current parts availability.

Thus, maintenance responds faster and more effectively to unplanned downtime. Additionally, the tech can use the online mobile device to provide up-to-the-minute feedback regarding work completed and retrieve any on-the-fly work requests that may require immediate attention.

Beware backlash
The biggest obstacle facing those who venture into Level 3 or 4 implementation is the initial reaction of maintenance workers that this smacks of "Big Brother." This is especially true of the online version, as management can theoretically track the whereabouts and efficiency of each person at any time. However, once you put their minds at ease about this tool being used for disciplinary purposes, and once they see how it radically improves their ability to do a job, the dependency can grow so great that it becomes difficult for people to imagine a world without a mobile device.

The ways it pays
The following are the key contributors to the 10% to 30% improvement in productivity experienced by many who already implemented mobile technology, as well as other benefits:

  Reduced paperwork.

  Easier tracking of small jobs requiring fewer than 30 minutes.

  Greater accuracy and timeliness of data entry that eliminates end-of-day data recording.

  Better tracking of work order statistics, such as response time, efficiency, planned-versus-actual using the built-in "start/stop" feature.

  Easier access to data and analysis tools for maintenance technicians so they can do the job quickly and correctly the first time.

  Empowerment of maintenance technicians to work more effectively and independently, yet feel plugged into the system and part of the bigger picture.

To get started
Implementing mobile technology doesn't have to be an onerous task. Timing for Level 1 implementation is about three days to five days and about 60 days for Level 4 implementation, with an average installation time of about 10 days. The hardware cost can range from about $300 to $2,500 per device, depending on features selected, such as wireless, built-in barcode scanner, extra memory and ruggedized versions.


A one-time software license fee that includes some canned software and a development environment will run about $500 to $2,000. Add 15% to 20% for an annual maintenance fee. If doing your own software development isn't an option, allow additional funds to cover the cost of the vendor customizing the software for you.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger at david@wmc.on.ca.

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