2010 CMMS/EAM Review: CMMS/EAM software tackles today's toughest challenges

10 key trends in the industry, including important features and functions to consider if you're contemplating the purchase of any CMMS/EAM products or services.

By David Berger, P.Eng., Contributing Editor

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Despite the uncertainty regarding the global economy, and the maturing of the computerized maintenance management system/enterprise asset management (CMMS/EAM) software industry, companies from every sector continue to upgrade, replace or buy new asset management software applications. This is especially true for asset-intensive industries because of the pressure to better manage ever-increasing asset lifecycle costs, while increasing the quantity and quality of production through greater asset reliability and performance. Another key driver appears to be the growing demands of regulatory bodies that seek tighter controls, greater accountability, and more detailed data capture and reporting.

Many senior management teams have come to the realization that, given the aging workforce being replaced across North America with younger, less experienced technical resources, modern knowledge management tools such as a CMMS/EAM are critical to help smooth the transition. These tools retain much of the knowledge lost when technicians and other maintenance staff retire or leave, for example, standard operating procedures and job plans, failure analysis data,diagnostic techniques and a complete asset history. Furthermore, younger technical resources have come to expect these tools, and are comfortable and proficient in their use.

There are 10 key trends in the industry, including important features and functions to consider if you’re contemplating the purchase of any CMMS/EAM products or services. Many of these features and functions are excerpted from the online Plant Services CMMS/EAM Software Review (www.plantservices.com/cmms_review), where you can directly compare the capabilities of a wide range of software packages.

1. Industry specialization

In the eyes of customers, one of the most important criteria in selecting a CMMS/EAM vendor and its products or services is the perception of how well vendors can demonstrate that they fully understand your business. This includes knowledge of your industry, asset classes, regulatory pressures, competitive challenges and even equipment. A large nuclear plant will have different CMMS/EAM needs than those of a small transportation company or a municipality.

In the eyes of customers, one of the most important criteria in selecting a CMMS/EAM vendor and its products or services is the perception of how well vendors can demonstrate that they fully understand your business.

Thus, if a vendor claims to specialize in a given industry, it should have experts on staff with deep experience working for companies in the customer’s industry. This facilitates developing features and functions that satisfy the needs of the industry, as well as configuring and implementing the software in a manner that fully exploits its potential. Examples of specialized functionality are calibration capability for Life Science companies, electronic signature for the food industry, Facility Condition Index (FCI) for university campuses, auto-polling of networked IT assets and help desk capability for IT maintenance service providers, and ability to handle compatible units and job estimating for the telecommunications industry. Other factors to look for in a CMMS/EAM vendor include:

Percentage of sales volume stemming from the specialty industry

  • Number of customers in the industry
  • An independent industry user group that meets on a regular basis
  • An advisory council that provides input into the vendor’s product development
  • Beta development programs to partner with the industry for product development
  • A Web site specific to the industry presenting customer networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities 
  • Industry-specific newsletters
  • Standard industry data like VMRS codes and equipment hierarchy for fleet management companies, oil and gas industry failure codes or aircraft industry problem/cause/action codes

2. Enterprise thinking

More companies, big and small, are looking for enterprise asset management solutions that span the needs of multiple departments, divisions and strategic business units. A typical mining enterprise, for example, might have one solution for maintaining production equipment at a given site, one for mobile equipment, another for managing multiple facility assets and yet another software solution for maintaining IT assets. Consider finding an enterprise-wide solution to help you think more strategically about managing your company’s assets.

This doesn’t necessarily require using a single software vendor for enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), human resource information system (HRIS), EAM/CMMS and other applications. There are excellent best-of-breed solutions for each of your asset management requirements that you should consider. Conduct a needs assessment and cost-benefit analysis to determine the best approach to managing your assets across the enterprise.

From a strategic perspective, whatever you choose, integration will be a key issue. The trend towards more strategic asset management across the enterprise is accompanied by a greater need for integration of various applications, from the shop floor to the executive suite. This is especially apparent in complex production environments, where large-scale manufacturing execution systems (MES), human machine interface (HMI), programmable logic control (PLC), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems are tracking product, process, environmental and asset conditions.

More and more, these shop-floor data collection vendors are looking to the CMMS/EAM world to trigger maintenance work that keeps the machines running efficiently and effectively. The CMMS/EAM is the meat in the sandwich, integrating with shop floor-level applications and higher-level systems such as ERP.

Enterprise thinking for your CMMS/EAM application also must consider the complete asset lifecycle, including key stages such as engineering design, build and/or procurement, operation, maintenance, modification and disposal. In the past, each stage was a silo with respect to people, processes and systems. The trend during the past few years has been to manage assets throughout their lifecycles better by improving the integration across silos. For example, advanced CMMS/EAM vendors track asset lifecycle costs, asset/component move history including modifications performed externally, and all major and minor revisions to an asset from “as designed” to “as installed” to “as modified” throughout its life.

Thus, your strategic asset management thinking at the enterprise level must consider integration along three dimensions as described above:

  • Horizontally across the many locations, divisions, departments, etc.,
  • Vertically from the shop-floor to the executive suite
  • Over the entire life of the asset, from design to disposal

3. The Web

During the past decade, many CMMS/EAM vendors struggled with how best to transform their client/server offerings to Web-enabled or Web-based products. Some vendors went the Web-enabled route, which requires their customers to have software such as Microsoft Terminal Server or Citrix to run the client-server application via the Web. For those vendors that took the more expensive Web-based route, their software had to be rewritten to run native within the Web environment. Web-based applications don’t require users to have any additional software on their computers, other than an Internet browser for simply displaying the user interface, not running the application nor processing data.

Although the debate continues to rage, many customer IT departments insist on web-based software only, due to a long list of advantages such as:

  • The application runs entirely on the server for better control over performance, integration, security, etc.
  • The application is available from any computer in the world using a common browser, without any additional software such as Citrix required
  • There’s no threat of interference from other applications or a mismatch of software versions on the user’s computer

Another key trend in the Web world is the rising popularity of e-procurement. CMMS/EAM vendors have added a variety of features during the years, including links to MRO parts supplier catalogs within the CMMS/EAM application, e-quotations, electronic release management, electronic purchase orders, management of purchase cards and electronic funds transfer. This has reduced costs for some companies dramatically through better management of supplier performance, improved pricing, reduced paperwork and administration, lower inventory levels and reduced stockouts.

4. Operational excellence and best practices

With today’s intense global competition and the recent economic downturn, it’s not surprising that companies are fixated on best practices, measurement and the pursuit of operational excellence. CMMS/EAM vendors responded to this trend with a powerful array of software tools such as key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor important measures, dashboards to display critical information in a format makes it easy to spot anomalies and monitor trends, and plant optimization and analytics to identify problem areas, their root causes and the most appropriate corrective actions.

With today’s intense global competition and the recent economic downturn, it’s not surprising that companies are fixated on best practices, measurement and the pursuit of operational excellence.

Plant optimization requires integration with shop-floor data collection systems, as described above, to monitor the general health of assets. As well, advanced techniques, such as root cause analysis (RCA) and reliability-centered maintenance (RCM), are becoming more popular to optimize asset performance and reliability.

5. Sustainability

It used to be said that until sustainability has a clear payback, businesses wouldn’t be interested in much more than paying lip service to it. However, on average, manufacturers spend almost four times as much on energy as they do on MRO capital equipment and services. As well, some large international companies prefer suppliers that have carbon management programs, such as many of the member companies of the Carbon Disclosure Project, a not-for-profit company formed in 2000 for collecting climate change data. So, with energy prices rising, regulatory pressures increasing and better monitoring technology, there’s now plenty of motivation for a focus on sustainability.

Most modern CMMS packages provide at least the basic tracking of energy consumption by asset or asset type for commodities such as electricity, gas and water, using condition-based monitoring functionality. More sophisticated packages offer such features as:

  • A dashboard layout or thermal map representing energy consumption of your assets, with drill-down capability on hot spots to determine actual-versus-expected energy consumption of an individual asset flagged as “in the red”
  • A carbon footprint calculator and tracker, to translate energy consumption into level of carbon emission and assist in carbon management
  • A workflow engine or notification capability to alert users to any anomalous situations, such as rising energy consumption for a given asset, sustainability-related preventive maintenance tasks that are long overdue, or repetitive problems like excessive power surges

6. Risk management

As assets become smarter, computers more complex and humans more dependent on technology, the risk of catastrophic failure increases. As a result, every company has experienced a steady rise in regulatory pressures from industry groups and all levels of government. CMMS/EAM vendors have responded with better controls to mitigate risks and improved reporting capability to facilitate communication with regulatory bodies. For example, development of electronic signatures was a direct result of the Food and Drug Administration’s 21 CFR Part 11 ruling for food processors and pharmaceutical companies.

Other features that assist in better management of risk and reporting to regulators include:

  • Sophisticated security for user groups or individuals to prevent unauthorized actions such as editing of data within a given module, screen, field, etc.
  • Audit trail capability that tracks user login and logout, as well as all changes to the database
  • Error-checking capability for validating the format, range or logic of data that is entered by the user
  • Notification or alarming functionality to alert management of any anomalous situations, such as when a key performance indicator is trending out of control
  • Automated workflow, such as approvals, for ensuring procedures are followed
  • A powerful report generator that can filter and sort data in a matter acceptable to regulators

7. Mobile technology

In my view, one of the most important emerging trends is the growth of mobile technology. Although mobile solutions began as the answer to the needs of remote and mobile workers in industries such as transportation, municipal government and real estate, it has proven to be of much greater potential in every sector. The key isn’t to think of the mobile device as just a terminal onto the main system that happens to have a smaller screen. This is exactly the thinking when companies outfit vehicles with laptops for their maintenance workers and simply configure them as a remote office. However, the real potential lies with the rapidly-changing market for smaller personal devices like small tablets, Apple iPad or iPod, Android devices, Blackberry devices, Symbian devices, Pilot units and so on.

Many senior management teams have come to the realization that, given the aging workforce being replaced across North America with younger, less experienced technical resources, modern knowledge management tools such as a CMMS/EAM are critical to help smooth the transition.

These devices could bring revolutionary change to the way companies manage their assets, in the same way cell phones transformed the way we communicate. This will only come to pass if CMMS/EAM vendors begin to write applications that are more suited to the size and power of mobile units. Furthermore, the software functionality must significantly assist maintainers in completing their work.

For example, will the mobile device ensure technicians have the right information, parts and tools to complete the job? Is the device fully integrated with a barcode scanner, GPS unit, camera and other technology needed to do the job? Is there a personalized dashboard that can alert technicians to anomalous situations and then provide diagnostic tools to correct the problem quickly? Will the technicians love their easy-to-use devices and wonder how they survived for so long without them?

No doubt we have a ways to go before this scale of transformation occurs. In the meantime, CMMS/EAM vendors are writing mobile applications or working with partner companies to extend the reach of their CMMS/EAM software, as shown in detail in the Plant Services CMMS/EAM Software Review (www.plantservices.com/cmms_review).

8. Condition-based maintenance

For many years, there has been a growing interest in reliability as maintenance departments move from a firefighting mentality to a more planned environment. To accomplish this transition, managers must establish for each asset or component a maintenance policy describing on what basis maintenance is triggered. Policy options are:

  1. Failure-based maintenance: Maintenance triggered by failure of the asset or component (ie, let it run to fail)
  2. Use-based maintenance: Maintenance triggered by time (eg, weekly), by meter (eg, every 5000 miles) or by a given event (eg, a snowfall)
  3. Condition-based maintenance: Maintenance triggered by a condition (eg, temperature exceeds 70 degrees)

Selection depends on the cost of implementing each policy and severity of consequences if the asset or component should fail. For example, changing the oil in a vehicle can be triggered by engine failure, a regular time interval or meter reading such as every 3 months or 5000 miles, or when the level of particulate in the oil exceeds a given threshold. Because of the excessive downtime and maintenance costs involved, as well as potential safety risks, you would not want to let the engine run to failure. On the other extreme, monitoring the level of particulate by sending out oil samples for regular lab testing might be too high a price to pay for the increased accuracy.

Thus, for some vehicles, changing the oil every 3 months or 5000 miles provides the right balance of cost versus benefit. For other vehicles, such as mobile mining equipment, where engine failure might be catastrophic and oil changes expensive, it might indeed pay to monitor the condition of the oil through regular lubrication analyses.

When condition monitoring is the preferred option to optimize the reliability, availability and performance of the asset, the more sophisticated CMMS/EAM packages have a host of advanced features, detailed at www.plantservices.com/cmms_review.

9. Scheduling

Moving to a more planned environment requires better tools for planning, scheduling and coordinating maintenance activities, including major shutdowns. Even failure-based maintenance can be planned in the sense that you make a deliberate choice to run the asset to failure and have a standard job plan ready when it occurs. Today’s CMMS/EAM vendors developed some incredible graphical tools to assist planners, schedulers and turnaround managers in matching the anticipated workload for a user-definable time period, with the availability of the right labor skills and competencies, spare parts, tools, special equipment and facilities. Critical functionalities are listed and evaluated for current package offerings at www.plantservices.com/cmms_review.

10. Pricing

The price typically includes unlimited training, support and implementation assistance. Other pricing schemes are shown the package descriptions in Table 1.

There are almost as many pricing schemes as there are CMMS/EAM packages available. The latest trend in pricing appears to be the recent rise in popularity of software as a service, or SaaS. This option provides a block of hours of login time at a fixed price, regardless of how many users consume those hours. The price typically includes unlimited training, support and implementation assistance. Other pricing schemes are shown the package descriptions in Table 1.

Conclusion

The CMMS/EAM industry continues to mature as evidenced by the mergers and acquisitions of the past decade, although the level of this activity seems to have slowed in recent years. Industry consolidation has resulted in more streamlined costs because of economies of scale, and greater expenditure on research and development to produce a better software product. Additionally, CMMS/EAM vendors have an extensive network of partners that expand their product and service offerings. Many of these vendors have chosen niche markets in which to focus, such as a single asset class (eg, fleet), a given industry (eg, life sciences) or a product/service theme (eg, reliability-centered maintenance). This is all good news for you, their potential customers, as you search for innovative ways to improve bottom-line performance.

Go to the review at www.PlantServices.com/CMMS_Review.

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