Configure your own CMMS software

David Berger says today's software should allow users to modify without the expense or risk of customization.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

There are many factors to consider when selecting a CMMS, including ability to meet your technical specifications, vendor track record, and pricing. But in this dynamic world, plants need software that can mold to the constant changes customers, employees, management, and regulatory bodies precipitate. CMMS vendors and their software solutions must be flexible, agile, and configurable to meet the ever-changing demands placed on them.

In earlier years, software packages were customized to close the gap between user requirements and the application’s capability. Typical areas of customization were industry- or company-specific anomalies, interfaces to other applications, and more complex requirements for data entry, reporting, and business logic (error-checking algorithms and workflow). Any custom changes required considerable time and money to implement, and there was no guarantee that future releases of the base package would be compatible with the custom source code. Moreover, as business grows and needs continue to evolve, the custom code no longer fits with current business realities.

Modern CMMS software can be configured to meet the needs of today and tomorrow for most companies, without the expense and risk associated with customization. Configuration doesn’t require changes to the source code. Usually, all that is required to configure the software is a one-time setup, for example, ticking a box on a master file, selecting a given menu option, or dragging and dropping an object on a particular screen. This typically can be done by your system administrator or super-user, as opposed to the vendor. Let’s highlight some advanced features and functions that help you stay relevant as your business needs change.

User configurability

One of the most visible difference between modern CMMS packages and older, less flexible applications is the ability to tailor the software to a given user or user group, such as planners. Examples of screen configuration options are:

  • the language used for screens, reports, and forms
  • security level access that includes which features, functions, and data fields are visible to the user
  • menu items, tabs, and icons that the user can see
  • field labels, field position, and the amount of space a given field occupies on screen.

Sophisticated CMMS packages also will allow the addition of user-definable fields on a given menu, tab or screen. In some cases, this includes whatever algorithm or Boolean logic that might be necessary to generate a value, such as generating a default value.

Navigation aids

Companies need the flexibility to add fields that are relevant to a given asset class or type.

Another popular feature that ensures greater agility is the ability for users to navigate throughout the system to get at information quickly and easily. For example, the better CMMS packages not only have drill-down capability to obtain greater and greater levels of detail, but they allow users to drill around to find related information. For example, when viewing a purchase order line item on screen, a user might wish to jump to the relevant item master information, then do a “where used” query, and then drill into one of the assets that use the item.

One of the most powerful navigation aids is the MS Explorer-style lookup capability for equipment, parts, projects, account codes, employees, suppliers, online help, and many other data hierarchies. The more sophisticated CMMS packages allow users to drag and drop elements of the hierarchy, for example, moving a serialized component from one asset to another, including carrying its full history.

Other high-end navigation features are:

  • a “favorites” menu where users can store frequently used links to screens within the CMMS
  • a navigation bar that shows where you are within the system
  • a “history” tab to show where you have been within a user-defined period of time
  • an internal search engine to determine where a given screen or field might be.

Workflow engine

The business logic and workflow must be fluid for software to bend and shape to an ever-changing business. A modern workflow engine is the backbone on which a CMMS is built, carrying the business rules and sequencing of virtually every process the software governs. For example, companies need to be able to adjust approval limits and signatories, as well as conditions (budget remaining) or contingencies (approver on vacation). The workflow engine also can launch notifications or alarms when certain conditions are met, such as when a critical PM is significantly past due, or when a project budget is exceeded.

Some CMMS vendors have a graphical workflow engine, where activities, arrows, and decision boxes within the flow can be dragged and dropped to allow users to build or adjust the workflow logic easily. For some packages, the procedural help (how to initiate a work order) can be linked to the graphical workflow so that users can better understand the process. Users can toggle back and forth between the process flow and the appropriate help screens.

User-definable specification template

Different businesses describe their assets differently. Computer screens are sized in inches by referring to the diagonal distance across the backlit portion of the screen. The size of a motor is typically described by its horsepower, voltage, revolutions per minute, and torque. Clearly, companies need the flexibility to add fields that are relevant to a given asset class or type such as computer monitors, motors, doors, and sewers. This is accomplished through user-definable specification templates for entering and reporting on tombstone data relevant to each asset or component.

Forms and report generators

There are three major activities for which your CMMS provides tremendous support – data entry, data analysis, and reporting. The forms generator gives users the ability to configure any data input form (work request, purchase request, timesheet) in a manner that maximizes efficiency and reduces the chance of errors.

Modern features include:

  • spreadsheet mode for quick data entry, as opposed to the usual tabular mode
  • ability to hide, add, manipulate, and format fields and field labels
  • ability to associate Boolean logic and formulae to a given data entry field for the purpose of error checking
  • copy feature for entering repetitive data
  • extensive default values based on optional algorithms (most frequent, last used, fixed value, formula based).

Similarly, data output or reporting functionality must be easily modified to fit the needs of your company, including:

  • ability to hide, add, manipulate, and format fields and field labels
  • ability to apply simple math, Boolean logic, or even more advanced formulae to any field or grouping of data for reporting
  • sort and filter capability for reports, listings, and queries, including use of Boolean logic, simple math, and formulae
  • drill-down capability on any fields
  • extensive graphics capability for displaying data or a subset thereof, including a user-definable dashboard.

Document management

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Another feature that brings tremendous flexibility is sophisticated document management capability. Relevant external documents such as equipment manuals, drawings, safety sheets, and contracts abound in the maintenance world. Documents arrive in multiple formats, from handwritten notes scribbled on a scrap of paper to sophisticated 3-D CAD drawings or even a training video. It should be easy to attach these documents to the appropriate CMMS master file (drawings on the asset registry) or to objects such as work orders or purchase orders. More sophisticated features to look for are version control (management of change), application launch option, and the ability to edit, index and redline.

Email Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at