CMMS software goes head-to-head

Most management teams are faced with the ever-more-difficult decision: Are we better off with a best-of-breed or single-vendor integrated solution? David Berger discusses the pros and cons for each option.

By David Berger

One of the most heated debates in the IT world concerns the value of a best-of-breed solution versus a single-vendor, fully integrated solution. This not only applies to a CMMS application, but extends to many other applications, such as various shop-floor data collection systems, customer relationship management, human resources, payroll and others. This is by no means a new debate. However, recent merger activity within the CMMS world, as well as recent investment in a new or updated CMMS module by the large, integrated solution vendors, has raised more than a few eyebrows in the industry.

The best-of-breed CMMS vendors are being squeezed from above by single-vendor integrated solutions from ERP vendors, and from below by the plant automation vendors. ERP vendors, reeling from relatively poor sales compared to the glory years leading up to Y2K, have increased spending on development and marketing of their CMMS modules. To their credit, many ERP vendors are finally recognizing that a good CMMS module can provide clients with significant savings through better management of assets, labor, as well as spare parts inventory and supply chain. These savings go a long way to contributing toward the considerable return on investment ERP vendors promised when their integrated solutions were sold in the first place.

Plant automation vendors finally have recognized the value of the CMMS module as the most logical interface between data collection systems on the shop floor and the higher-level management systems such as ERP. This has resulted in recent partnerships with, and acquisitions of, CMMS software vendors. Integration of the plant automation and CMMS worlds have contributed to the market’s recent thirst for greater analysis tools, such as condition monitoring, predictive maintenance and reliability-centered maintenance.

This is great news for you, the customer, as options continue to grow. But the problem remains for most management teams when faced with the ever-more-difficult decision: Are we better off with a best-of-breed or single-vendor integrated solution? Below is a discussion of pros and cons for each option.

One for all?
During the past few years, the quality of the single-vendor integrated solution has improved dramatically. This is reflected in the results of the most recent review of CMMS packages (“CMMS Stress Test,” Plant Services, April 2004).

Dealing with a single vendor can mean greater leverage and purchasing power when it comes to extracting the best price for software licenses, training, implementation services and annual maintenance.

Having only one vendor to contend with means clear accountability and no mistake about who is responsible when things go wrong, especially regarding cross-module integration issues. In turn, clear accountability means problems are uncovered and resolved faster.

More seamless integration addresses the most problematic integration issue: database compatibility. A typical integration problem is one package using a single, 45-character, two-line supplier address field and another using two 20-character lines for the address. To solve the problem, one or both packages can be customized, a conversion table can be constructed for batch transfer of data, or data can be re-keyed manually from one package to another. Note that any attempts at converting data either on a batch or on-line basis may result in data being truncated if field lengths or types are not matched. Thus, the single-vendor integrated solution results in more seamless integration across a greater number of modules.

An easier upgrade path is another issue. Just when you think you have all the interfaces figured out, along comes an upgrade to one of your integrated applications or the underlying software. A single vendor reduces the number of distinct interfaces and, by extension, the tedious and costly work of rebuilding, testing and certifying the various points of integration.

A single vendor means each module will have a consistent user interface. The same overall look and feel means potentially fewer errors, faster learning time and lower training costs.

It is more straightforward to design end-to-end processes that cross multiple modules from a single vendor than it is to do it across multiple vendors’ applications. It’s especially suboptimal when each best-of-breed vendor offers its own process design expertise, software tools and utilities.

Greater top management support is the result of the tendency of large ERP vendors to deal directly with the most senior corporate-level management, as well as local management teams, during implementation. Compared to the smaller best-of-breed CMMS vendors that tend to deal more with divisional or even plant-level management, corporate management buy-in is greater, decisions can be made more quickly and price discounts are more favorable.

Having a single vendor makes it easier to standardize the underlying and connected technology, such as the operating system, workflow engine, GIS, mobile devices and document management system. This, in turn, reduces the cost of software licenses, training, implementation and maintenance.

Suit yourself
If you’re after the “best fit” solution for your maintenance function, then the “best of breed” offers greater focus on asset management. A single vendor can’t be all things to all companies. The key questions to ask are:

  • How much better a fit is the best-of-breed solution?
  •  Is that enough to outweigh the benefits of a single vendor?

Stand-alone module availability is an issue. Many single vendors won’t sell CMMS modules separately as do the best-of-breed vendors. Instead they require you to purchase several modules that carry unnecessary functionality, such as a complex inventory control module geared to operations that will be used only for spare parts, a comprehensive HR module that is necessary only for the simple tracking of maintenance personnel, or a sophisticated QC module that is required only for the much less complicated condition monitoring functionality.

To survive, best-of-breed vendors have had to adopt an open architecture to facilitate integration with ERP, plant automation and other applications. By contrast, single vendors are more likely to lock you into a given technology platform and architecture, thereby limiting your integration and upgrade options.

Think about the vendor’s spending on maintenance-related R&D. Single vendors have many modules to keep current, whereas best-of-breed CMMS vendors, of course, target R&D spending on asset management.

Greater scalability is another consideration. You can find a best-of-breed solution for the maintenance function at companies of every size and industry.

Single vendors are less flexible in that sometimes a match for the good of the whole company will outweigh the needs of the maintenance function. This is especially true for smaller maintenance functions within a large facility or within a multi-plant environment. Additionally, there are not a lot of single-vendor solutions having fully integrated CMMS modules that meet the needs of the many smaller companies in North America.

In general, even the larger CMMS best-of-breed vendors are smaller, more flexible and less bureaucratic than the large single vendors with whom they compete.

Because best-of-breed CMMS solutions are less complex than single vendor solutions, they typically involve a shorter lead time for configuration and implementation within the maintenance function. However, note that a single-vendor solution may take less time to implement across every function within every facility because of standardized tools, look and feel, training, lack of integration issues and greater economies of scale.

Shopping for CMMS
When breaking down your CMMS vendor options, there are two questions you need to ask: 

  • How much better a fit is the best-of-breed solution?
  • Is that enough to outweigh the benefits of a single vendor?

David Berger, P.Eng., is Contributing Editor for Plant Services magazine. Contact him at david@wmc.on.ca.

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