Is your CMMS too complex?

David Berger says focus on the basics when your CMMS is so advanced.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

Not everyone celebrates the tremendous sophistication available in many of today’s CMMS packages. Some users are frustrated by the enormity of options, the sheer volume of screens and fields, and the numerous ways to slice and dice the data. Maintainers that are looking for simplicity sometimes find themselves faced with a level of complexity that makes the CMMS appear more of a burden than a helpful tool. This column outlines how to make the best of the situation, or avoid the problem in the first place.

How can it happen?

In part, purchasing a CMMS that is excessively complex may stem from ignoring the simple needs of your maintenance operations. Perhaps the rest of the company required a more advanced ERP package, and adding the maintenance module was an easy sell to management because it was a relatively inexpensive, fully-integrated add-on. Maybe the Request for Proposal (RFP) sent to possible CMMS vendors did not adequately reflect all of the many maintenance stakeholders, so incorrect assumptions were made regarding user needs. Finally, it could be there was no RFP process at all, or the vendor choices were so limited that Maintenance felt pushed into adopting the corporate solution.

Another possible reason for the disconnect is poor communications and change management. It is critical to get early buy-in of all key stakeholder groups, and to manage expectations throughout design, selection and implementation phases.

When basics are sufficient

Despite potential problems, the following are legitimate cases where implementing an advanced CMMS makes sense, even when a basic package appears sufficient.

  1. Growth potential: Your company may be small today, but expected to grow over the next few years. The more sophisticated features of the CMMS may be necessary to support and sustain the growth. It may also be necessary to ensure compatibility with a merged or acquiring company.
  2. Small fish, big pond: In any large, multi-plant company, there may be a number of smaller facilities. When a system is purchased, it must not only accommodate the largest, most complex facilities, but also the smaller, less sophisticated ones.
  3. The learning curve: Even if your company is an asset-intensive company with sophisticated needs, it may be years before maintainers are ready to implement any advanced features. Therefore, it might be more prudent to start with the basics and roll out the more esoteric functionality over time, once users have gone down the learning curve.
  4. The cost: Even if your facility can justify a more sophisticated CMMS, the cost of implementation may be prohibitive. Management may rightly choose to buy more advanced software, but implement it over a longer timeline in order to spread the cost over multiple years. Although this may mean benefits realization is delayed, if implementation is properly planned, it will allow extra time for get-ready activities and properly staging the many changes.
  5. Technical requirements: No matter what the size of your company, user needs may be so advanced that a basic CMMS package is insufficient in satisfying technical requirements. For example, suppose a small group of technicians are responsible for maintaining a small number of third-party linear assets spread over a large geographic area, using mobile devices. The specifications for linear assets, third-party service management, field-based maintainers, and mobile solutions can be very sophisticated, even though the company is quite small.
  6. Size matters: Even if your company operates out of a single facility and you have simple needs, at a certain threshold, size will most likely drive you to more advanced CMMS requirements. For example, bigger companies will typically need more sophisticated planning and scheduling, more diverse data collection options, greater accounting and regulatory controls, and better analysis and reporting tools.

The magic of configurability

If you do not fall into one of the six categories above, then selecting a basic CMMS package is probably right for you. Otherwise, you may find that a more advanced CMMS solution will be better in the long run, even if the functionality is best phased in over time. Make sure that your CMMS package allows you to configure the software in this manner.

David Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto officeDavid Berger, a Certified Management Consultant (C.M.C.) registered in Ontario, Canada, is a Principal of Western Management Consultants, based in the Toronto office. David has written more than 200 articles on a variety of topics such as maintenance management, operations management, information technology, e-commerce, organizational design, and strategy. In Plant Services magazine, he has written a monthly column on maintenance management in the United States, as well as three very extensive reviews of maintenance management systems available in North America. David has done extensive work in the areas of strategy, information technology and business process re-engineering. He can be reached at
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Look for software that provides a modular approach to adding functionality. For example, perhaps all you need initially is a simple preventive maintenance system. Can the other modules be turned off temporarily?

Your CMMS should also have the ability to turn functionality on or off within a given module. Most users are intimidated or annoyed by the appearance of field names they do not understand or menu items they never use. Can users configure the software to hide fields, tabs, screens and menu items until users are ready to activate more advanced features?

Some CMMS vendors use profiles and security access to help configure their software for each user group or individual users. For example, maintenance planners might be set up as a separate user profile, allowing access to a given set of menu items, reports, tabs, fields, and even table options. Maintainers, maintenance supervisors, storeskeepers, and other user groups can be configured very differently depending on needs. Even within a given user group, individuals can be configured in a different way, if so desired.

Basic features

If your company falls into any one of the six categories described above, the key to getting the most out of your investment in a CMMS, is to acquire a package that can be configured to the needs of the corporation, now and into the future. Start by turning on the most basic features, and learn to use them efficiently and effectively before turning on more advanced functionality. The following are some of the more basic functions:

Asset master: Most companies, regardless of size or industry, are interested in getting their house in order, and moving to a more planned environment. The first priority is most likely recording the base attributes of your assets in the asset master, starting with the most critical equipment, identified on the asset master through the “equipment criticality” field.

Maintenance policy: For each of the critical assets, determine how maintenance should be triggered — fail-based maintenance; use-based maintenance by time, meter reading or event; or condition-based maintenance. If the best policy for any assets or components is fail-based maintenance (FBM), then a work order system will be required to manage it. If use-based maintenance (UBM) is required, then simple preventive maintenance functionality will be necessary. If condition-based maintenance (CBM) is warranted, then more sophisticated functionality will have to be turned on to determine the condition indicators and what to do about them.

Inventory control: For some companies, spare parts inventory may be handled by a separate corporate group using the corporate ERP solution. In this case, the CMMS module for inventory control is not required. However, it might be required if your company does not have a corporate solution, or would prefer to have tighter integration of spare parts inventory control within the CMMS.

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Planning and scheduling: To keep it simple, planning and scheduling can be as easy as printing a work backlog report, and assigning work manually on a regular basis.

Analysis and reporting: Even the simplest CMMS implementation should ensure that maintainers record on each work order the hours worked, materials used, and problem/cause/action codes on a timely basis. This allows maintenance management to run basic but meaningful reports on schedule compliance, actual versus planned budget, top ten problems, and simple root cause analysis.