Are CMMS/EAM user needs being met? Survey says no

The first installment ofPlant Services magazine's CMMS/EAM user survey says many needs are not being met

By David Berger, P.Eng.

Whether you are interested in getting more out of your current CMMS, upgrading it or looking for a replacement, you need to gather as much information as possible prior to making any decisions. Think of how much effort goes into far less critical decisions, such as selecting a good book to read. For this comparatively minor decision, you might read a critical review by an expert, examine what readers have said about the book, borrow the book to check it out yourself, and so on. Each of these inputs helps you make a more educated decision

When it comes to deciding what to do with your CMMS, Plant Services magazine can provide you with at least two valuable inputs. First, we brought you the expert view, “CMMS Stress Test” in the April 2004 issue (click here for details about the review).

Now we’re bringing you the users’ perspective based on a survey of our readership spread over five modules. The first of these modules, covering base functionality and work order management, is now complete and is the basis of this article. The next four modules will cover inventory control and purchasing, preventive and condition-based maintenance, equipment history, and general features and functions.

For this module, e-mail invitations were sent to 8,000 Plant Services subscribers who influence the purchase of maintenance-related software. The invitations included a link to a Web-based survey, which allows only those who received an invitation to fill out a survey. It also only allows one completed survey per qualified e-mail address. The results presented here are based on 117 completed surveys.

We are collecting detailed data by vendor and package so we can track reader viewpoints for a given software product. Like the expert survey, our goal is to raise the knowledge level of both readers and vendors so everyone wins.

 Although both reader and expert perspectives are valid and useful, there may at times be differing opinions. This may be caused by a number of reasons:

  • Each reader surveyed is concerned with his industry and the needs of his specific facility, whereas the expert has a more general outlook.
  • Readers generally have experience with only a very small number of CMMS packages, whereas the expert provides a broader perspective.
  • Readers may have older versions of a given package, a homegrown CMMS or no CMMS at all, whereas the expert always reviews the most recent version of commercially-available software.

Regardless of source, the more knowledge you can amass about your options, the better your decisions will be. This assumes you understand the circumstances and assumptions underlying each data source.

Thanks to all of you who participated in this first part of our reader survey. If you are invited by e-mail to participate in future modules, we encourage you to do so. This will help us build a reliable knowledgebase.

Any CMMS/EAM user who wants to receive future survey invitations should e-mail Editor in Chief Paul Studebaker at pstudebaker@putman.net. You’ll have to pass our screening to validate your user status: Vendors need not apply.

Base functionality
Of the five reader survey questions covering base functionality of the CMMS, results for three are shown graphically in Figures 1-3. [Editor's Note: All Figures can be viewed by clicking on the Download Now button at the bottom of this article.] Base functionality can be defined as those features that are available throughout the system in support of the maintenance-specific functions. These features can be found on many other software applications, such as ERP packages.

The five base functions referred to in the reader survey are error-handling capability, ability to define default values, online help, workflow and drill-down capability. It is interesting to see that all five questions point to the overwhelming importance placed on providing base functionality in a comprehensive manner. On average, an incredible 86% of users responded that these five features are “important,” “very important” or “extremely important” to provide comprehensively. An average of 40% of respondents felt it was either “very important” or “extremely important.”

This dramatic appeal for CMMS vendors to deliver base functionality in a comprehensive manner can be contrasted sharply with how poorly respondents feel their current CMMS fulfills their needs. More than half of respondents, on average, are clearly not satisfied with how well their CMMS meets their needs. A surprising 31% stated their needs are not being met at all.

Error-checking capability (Figure 1) was rated either “very important” or “extremely important” by about half of respondents, a rating exceeding that of any other feature in the entire survey. Unfortunately, about half of respondents also feel that their current CMMS does not adequately satisfy their needs.

At a time when Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and other productivity and quality-improvement initiatives have gained momentum across North American industry, it is perhaps not surprising that users see error reduction as a key objective in designing data-entry processes. Error checking can be a means of catching honest mistakes or deliberate attempts at breaching security. Think of how much data is entered into a CMMS each day by everyone in a given facility, and you can see why it is so important for users to get it right the first time.

Comprehensive error-checking capability includes sophisticated features such as allowing users to apply Boolean logic or define an entire formula to determine the validity of data entered into a given field. There are three types of error-checking: format, range and logic. Checking for format ensures that, for example, all part numbers begin with two alpha characters followed by five numeric digits. A check on range could reveal, for example, an attempt at entering a vendor number that was not between 15,000 and 35,000. Error checking for logic verifies that a given value makes sense, for example, the right engine for a given vehicle, or too many pumps for a given parent piece of equipment.

Online help (Figure 2) was rated as “important,” “very important” or “extremely important” by more respondents than any other feature in the survey, although this was weighted more toward the middle of the importance scale. A mere 10% of respondents think online help is not important. However, upon reflection as to how well their CMMS satisfies their need for online help, 56% of respondents are dissatisfied.

The more sophisticated CMMS packages have online help that provides flowcharts depicting the key processes, with drill-down capability on each activity for accessing detailed procedural help. This is an extremely useful knowledge-management tool, especially when there is a hotlink from the help screen to the corresponding live program and vice versa. Simple CMMS packages offer only help specific to a given screen, function or field.

Another useful help feature is the troubleshooting assistant or wizard. If, for example, you are in doubt as to how to prepare a budget, set up a PM routine or diagnose an equipment downtime situation, a few CMMS vendors provide a wizard that walks you live through each step and decision point in the process.

A fully integrated, comprehensive workflow engine also ranked high in importance, with 86% of respondents rating it “important,” “very important” or “extremely important” (Figure 3). However, 59% of respondents are not happy with how well their CMMS satisfies their needs, the lowest ranking of all base functions surveyed.

Workflow is one of the most sophisticated and useful knowledge-management tools. A workflow engine allows the automatic routing of data through a process, based on user-defined business rules. For example, a standard workflow can be established for routing work orders to the appropriate approver depending on the total labor and material dollars booked. More comprehensive workflow allows users to gather statistics, build in standard times, build whole programs into business rules, and create or edit workflows using drag-and-drop on a graphical representation.

Work-order management
Figures 4-8 highlight the responses to five of the eight reader survey questions on work-order management. Although on average 70% of respondents rated all eight features in this section as “important,” “very important” or “extremely important,” and 31% rated this section “very important” or “extremely important,” this section is generally rated lower by respondents than the base functionality section by about 10-15% on both counts. Despite the understandably lower importance rating of these advanced work-order management features compared to base functionality, overall their importance rating is still quite high.

When asked how well their current CMMS meets their needs regarding the advanced work-order management features, an average of 70% of respondents are clearly not satisfied. A whopping 49% say their needs are not being met at all. This is substantially lower than the satisfaction rating for base functionality. Although satisfaction ratings vary by CMMS vendor and package, in general, the users are not happy with what they have.

Drag-and-drop scheduling (Figure 4) shows 80% of respondents rating this feature as “important” or higher, and 69% are dissatisfied with their CMMS’s ability to deliver the goods. Clearly, many CMMS vendors have a major gap to close in the area of scheduling.
 The better systems today use a bar graph to compare the work backlog, with a listing of available hours sorted and filtered in the same manner. Top-end packages will use different colors to show each of the work orders that comprise each bar on the graph of work backlog. Placing your cursor over a given segment of one of the bars will pop up the work order number beside the cursor. As well, the corresponding work order line item will be highlighted in another window. Users can drag and drop work orders from one bar to another to balance the schedule.

What-if scenarios (Figure 5) were rated by almost 70% of respondents as “important” or higher, and an astounding 77% are not happy with the ability of their CMMS to provide “what-if” capability. This is the lowest satisfaction rating of any feature in the survey.
 Probably the most exciting breakthrough in scheduling functionality is simulation, or the ability to perform “what-if” analysis. By adjusting parameters such as estimated duration of work, work order priority and labor availability, the maintenance planner can fine-tune the schedule without permanently changing the source data. When the planner is satisfied with the results, the schedule can be frozen and the source data is updated accordingly.

Interest is rising in contract maintenance (Figure 6). In light of competitive pressures and, in many cases, the inability to deal effectively with internal labor problems, companies are increasingly turning to contract maintenance. This has placed demands on CMMS vendors to build in functionality that can handle the accounting properly, such as retaining a separate history and costing of labor hours expended and material used by the contractor.

Altogether, 81% of survey respondents rated this feature at least “important,” with 62% sending a clear message that they were not happy with how well their CMMS was able to satisfy their needs.

As the lines continue to blur between CMMS vendors that cater to manufacturing versus facilities maintenance shops, third-party billing features, such as the ability to handle chargebacks, have become more popular. This functionality includes advanced features such as creating a third-party invoice for labor and materials used, adding a percent or dollar markup on actual costs, rounding of time and costs, establishing a minimum labor time or dollar charge, and allowing access by your customer to only their information.

It appears the demand for third-party billing functionality is increasing as evidenced by the 59% of respondents that rated it “important” or higher (Figure 7). But according to 74% of respondents, their CMMS is not yet satisfying their needs.

More and more manufacturing companies are realizing the benefits of better management of warranties, especially for asset-intensive industries. This is strongly endorsed by the 71% of respondents that felt handling warranties in a comprehensive manner was at least an “important” rating (Figure 8). Unfortunately, it appears that some CMMS vendors fall short in terms of satisfying user needs in that 76% of respondents were dissatisfied with their CMMS in this key area. This ranks just shy of last place in terms of features that sufficiently satisfy the needs of the user.

There are some higher-end CMMS packages that have significantly upgraded their warranty-management capability. Advanced features include summary reporting of all work orders on warranty, preparing a warranty claim, recording and tracking multiple warranties per asset, recording warranty types such as manufacturer or vendor, tracking by calendar or meter, and favoring non-serialized parts closer to expiration.

David Berger, P.Eng., is contributing editor for Plant Services magazine. E-mail him at david@wmc.on.ca.

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