CMMS versus EAM

Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., says it's the most frequently asked question during the past decade.

By David Berger, Contributing Editor

What is the difference between a CMMS and an EAM system? It’s a fair question, indeed. These acronyms appear repeatedly in articles, seminars and advertising, in association with numerous products and services. Read on as I attempt to provide you with an answer to this and related questions, including, “Why should I care?”

The early days

A key difference between CMMS and EAM is that CMMS has a significantly longer history, which explains the reluctance among the more experienced maintenance professionals to cease using the term. Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) have been around for more than 30 years. The first CMMS software ran on large mainframe computers and was affordable only to the very largest of companies with a heavy asset management focus. The CMMS was essentially a computerized version of the manual maintenance management systems of the time. This included four basic modules:

Work order control: By entering work orders and printing a work backlog report, maintenance supervisors were able to assign work to the appropriate trades. Work orders were printed and handed to the crews, as was done in manual systems. The actual time technicians spent on each work order was written on time cards or on the work order. Clerks entered the time data into the system along with a description of the work done.

Preventive maintenance (PM): Early manual PM systems had two parts: a tickler file and a scheduling board. The CMMS easily automated these two simple tools. The computerized tickler file used time-based triggers to initiate the printing of PM work orders on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. The automated scheduling component printed PM work orders when meter readings the clerks entered reached meter-based trigger intervals as defined in the PM module. Work was assigned and the results were entered in the same manner as with the work-order control module.

Inventory control: The third module in early CMMS software was an item master that automated the manual Cardex systems of the day. These systems kept track of the part number, name, description, supplier and other basic information for each spare part kept in inventory. Data needed to manage the inventory included reorder point, reorder quantity and lead time. Clerks entered parts usage into the CMMS from forms the stockkeeper completed or as noted by technicians on work orders. Because the CMMS automatically triggered a purchase order when an item’s stock level fell to the designated reorder point, it successfully displaced the labor-intensive and error-prone manual inventory-control systems.

Equipment history: The fourth module was an asset registry or equipment master, as well as the reporting of labor and material costs for each asset derived from work orders. The equipment master contained information such as equipment name, number, location and description for each asset within a facility. Later CMMS software provided a very simple budgeting function that recorded monthly budget figures.

CMMS development stages

The earliest CMMS were used merely as automated repositories of data entered into the four basic modules described above. Reporting was primitive and confusing. I remember a 1982 project with a mine site that defined its equipment hierarchy in such detail that it took more than an entire shift to print the weekly reports summarizing equipment history.

The CMMS went through a boom during the 1980s when mini-computers became popular and the age of the microcomputer began. CMMS vendors strengthened the product offering by adding features and functions, including improved data entry and reporting. During this decade, the CMMS was confined primarily to a single computer or later, a small network. There was little functionality that supported anything but a single department or facility. CMMS vendors typically specialized in a given asset class such as plant equipment, facilities, fleet/mobile and infrastructure (e.g., roadways and pipes).

In the 1990s, computers became smaller, faster and cheaper. Networks and telecommunication systems grew in size and sophistication. CMMS vendors continued to enhance their product offerings with a host of new features such as better security, notification and workflow, and more comprehensive planning, budgeting and scheduling.

The arrival of EAM

The term “enterprise asset management” first appeared in the 1990s as a way to distinguish the standalone CMMS, which serviced the needs of a given function or department, from something applicable to an entire enterprise. The ability to handle multiple plants, warehouses, currencies and asset classes appealed to large companies that had many sites and types of business. Now, they could standardize on a single-vendor solution and consolidate data across the enterprise.

Up to this time, each plant purchased its own CMMS to serve local needs. A multinational company with 10 facilities might be supporting 10 different CMMS solutions across the enterprise. This made it difficult to standardize processes, nomenclature, coding and charge accounts. It also made it difficult to support and integrate with corporate accounting systems and other such applications. Determining which plant had what spare parts was next to impossible because it was difficult to share data among facilities.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Internet emerged as an efficient way to share data across an enterprise and throughout the supply chain. This rewrote the business case for multiplant organizations standardizing on a single EAM solution. Many large corporations planned to replace standalone legacy systems anyway to avoid Y2K problems, making it easier to cost-justify and even mandate movement to enterprise-wide software applications. Security also became an important factor in selecting a software package because of the ever-increasing openness and connectivity the Internet offered.

CMMS vendors reacted quickly to the changing landscape and took full advantage of the improved technology, including the progression from standalone computers to local area networks, client-server technology and, finally, Web-based solutions. Many CMMS vendors rewrote their software several times to keep pace with changing technology and better service their clients’ needs — including the need for enterprise asset management.

As a result, most of the more popular CMMS vendors quickly morphed into EAM system vendors, or merged with another company that could fund the transition, or faded into obsolescence. There never was a period during which you could make a clear distinction between a mainstream CMMS vendor and an EAM system vendor, although many vendors and industry analysts tried. Sure, there always were small, local CMMS vendors that offered cheap or free shareware for standalone CMMS applications. On the other end of the spectrum, there always were companies such as SAP that sold total solutions for large enterprises, for which EAM was but one of many fully integrated applications.

Some vendors, consultants and industry analysts continue to push the distinction between CMMS and EAM but so far, in my experience, it causes nothing but confusion in the marketplace. Most of the more popular CMMS packages can be used as an EAM solution. Therefore, in my view, the distinction is no longer useful. Sometimes I’ll use the expression CMMS/EAM when referencing the vendor or application, but I find most users are quite comfortable with simply calling it CMMS.

If you have strong feelings about this subject, please share your thoughts with me at the e-mail address below.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at david@wmc.on.ca.

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