A CMMS vendor should be more than just a salesperson

David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, says you should expect more than a shrink-wrapped box of software from your supplier.

By David Berger, P.Eng., Contributing Editor

CMMS vendors have seen a lot of change during the past 30 years, including many start-ups and wind-downs, a plethora of mergers and acquisitions, several generations of new technology, a roller coaster of economic activity, and ever-changing demand from a growing customer base. But one of the most significant trends from your perspective as the customer is that CMMS vendors are no longer simply purveyors of software. As CMMS software becomes more sophisticated and mission-critical, the dependence on your vendor increases. It’s therefore important not only to choose a CMMS package that is right for you, but a CMMS vendor with whom you can partner over the long term.

In moving from a supplier of software licenses to a full strategic partner, the CMMS vendor has amassed a number of products and services that can help you manage your growing investment in assets.

Best practices

One noteworthy change in the relationship between you and your CMMS vendor is the increasing reliance on vendor knowledge of asset-management best practices. This stems from the common assumption that because a given vendor has sold CMMS software to hundreds or even thousands of companies, it must have acquired considerable knowledge that it can transfer to its customers. The more savvy vendors have picked up on this supposition, and are offering many of the following products/services:

Industry-specific software: As competition increases, CMMS vendors are looking for more marketable competitive advantages such as deep knowledge of a given industry. This includes software features that ensure compliance with industry-specific legislation, as well as more intimate understanding of industry practices. Some vendors have hired experts with extensive experience in a given industry to help develop relevant product and service offerings.

Standard data: A handful of CMMS vendors have standard data to sell or provide free of charge when customers purchase their software. Standard data can include job plans, standard operating procedures (SOPs), preventive maintenance routines, estimated or standard hours to complete tasks and coded field options (e.g., problem and cause codes). Data can be specific to an asset type or classification, such as data for electrical devices. As well, it can be industry-specific, for example, data relevant to pulp and paper mills.

Process mapping: CMMS vendors can further demonstrate their knowledge of best practices by facilitating process improvement during the software implementation. This typically involves drafting process maps reflecting the current state, and comparing them to future-state processes that incorporate the appropriate CMMS functionality. The gap between current and future states must be addressed carefully in terms of configuration of software, training on processes, project management and, most importantly, change management to ensure CMMS users buy into the new processes.

Configuration: The flexibility of modern CMMS software is demonstrated by the ease with which it can be tailored to your needs, such as configuring menus, data entry screens, reports, alerts, approvals, equipment hierarchy and workflows. In years past, this often required customization, a term synonymous with a large, upfront investment in time and money, and a costly upgrade path. Today’s software is easy to configure to a wide range of business process options, regardless of company size, industry, competitive strength, level of sophistication or organizational readiness. Configuration takes little time and the cost is minimal compared to customization. Because the source code isn’t altered, there is little or no effect on the upgrade path.

Training: Once best practices are embedded in procedures through process mapping and baked into the software via configuration, users must be trained in the new processes and supporting systems. The CMMS vendor plays a critical role, especially if industry experts are available who can better gain the trust and confidence of nervous users and skeptics. Training should be just-in-time and comprehensive to facilitate retention, employing multiple tools and techniques such as classroom, on-the-job, video-based and online training.

Consulting: If you have gaps in the capabilities or availability of specialized resources in your company, the CMMS vendor can fill them in with its consultants. For example, a vendor might have specialists who are familiar with best practices in implementing process, system and organizational change, as well as technical areas like call centers, reliability-centered maintenance, linear assets or calibration. Although CMMS vendors might not be 100% third-party objective, they usually can be relied upon to conduct surveys on organizational readiness before implementation and stakeholder satisfaction following implementation. Vendors also can assist with benchmarking other organizations.

Web site: Another tool that’s fast becoming a preferred source for best practices is the CMMS vendor’s Web site. Users can search for and download information such as white papers, technical bulletins and conference proceedings that cover a host of relevant topics. In addition, some vendor Web sites provide opportunities for users to share tips and traps, solve problems in chat rooms, and conduct surveys.

Fee for results

One option (that admittedly hasn’t yet gained much momentum) is to pay the vendor an amount based on long-term results. This can dramatically increase the probability of a successful implementation for both you and your CMMS vendor if:

  • Objectives are well documented and communicated to everyone, including the performance targets that define success
  • Payment is in the form of a bonus, not built into the vendor’s base fee
  • Users also will receive an equally meaningful bonus for meeting the same objectives
  • Targets are achievable

Software as a service

An option that has received a lot of attention in the past few years, software as a service (SaaS), is a rebirth of a concept popular in the days of early mainframe computers more than 30 years ago. Although CMMS vendors don’t yet define SaaS consistently, there are some common threads. At a minimum, vendors that offer SaaS charge a monthly subscription rate that covers at least software licenses and maintenance fees, for example, $30 per module per user per month. At the other end of the spectrum, some SaaS providers bundle absolutely everything into the subscription price, including software, hosting infrastructure on your site or that of the vendor, maintenance, unlimited support, all the training you want, and whatever implementation services are required. The pricing might be, say, $200 per 100-hour block of use, regardless of the number of named users or modules accessed.

Users have jumped on the SaaS bandwagon because of the reduced burden on cash flow, the appeal of paying only for what is used, and the flexibility to scale up or down quickly in terms of functionality or the number of users. Although some companies argue about the economics of SaaS compared to traditional pricing, there’s no way to tell without crunching the numbers.

Formal long-term partnership

The most intimate relationship possible between you and your CMMS vendor is some sort of formal, long-term contract such as a joint venture or outsource arrangement. Although many CMMS vendors offer hosting services for their CMMS, there are very few that have ventured as far as taking responsibility for maintaining any of your assets. Most are happy to work with a third-party contract maintenance company and supply the CMMS, but are reluctant to supply and manage the maintenance technicians or their managers. Perhaps this will eventually change if CMMS vendors continue on their current path of transformation, from CMMS software supplier to asset-management services provider.

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

(Editor’s note: Now updated for 2009, the Plant Services CMMS/EAM Software Review, at www.PlantServices.com/cmms_review, provides a side-by-side comparison of more than a dozen popular software packages.)

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