Ask the right questions before upgrading your CMMS

David Berger says balance the costs and benefits of a CMMS upgrade if you hope to achieve improved performance.

By David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor

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Upgrading your current version of CMMS not only provides users with access to new features and functions, but is also a wonderful excuse to revisit current processes supported by the CMMS. A CMMS upgrade can be used as an opportunity to answer the question, “How can we get more out of our CMMS, especially with this new release of software?” Many companies wait many years to upgrade their CMMS software. In some cases, companies wait until the CMMS vendor threatens to withdraw support. Still others even ignore this threat. This column explores the cost versus benefits of upgrading your CMMS and offers tips on maximizing the return on your investment.

Cost/benefit of upgrade

The decision whether or not to upgrade your CMMS is somewhat obvious if the new functionality offered is completely irrelevant to your company. For example, if you are a single manufacturing plant and the new version offers advanced features for linear assets, such as the ability to create a route work order by drawing a polygon on an integrated map, then there is no point in upgrading. Similarly, if the new version provides essential security upgrades or long-awaited features, then the decision to go ahead with the upgrade is straightforward. However, if the words “nice to have” best describe the functionality expected in the new release, then the go/no-go and timing decisions become more problematic.

Suppose the upgrade feature list includes a new energy management function, better scheduling, more advanced workflow, and some improvements to the user interface such as navigation and reporting aids. Users have mixed reactions. Some say it is about time and will surely use the new functionality, others claim they are quite content with the current version and would not appreciate being forced to relearn what took forever to master, but most do not give it much thought. It is under these circumstances that companies should err on the side of purchasing the upgrade, despite the lukewarm response and uncertain return on investment (ROI). To be sure, upgrades are difficult to cost-justify on a quantitative basis. This is due to a number of factors.

The expected benefits realization never happened on the original purchase, or last upgrade, so what makes this upgrade any different? This is a typical frustration of senior management; however, it may be unfair to disproportionately skew the cost/benefit analysis based on past missteps.

How do I value each of the new or improved features, either individually or as a group? Although it depends on what the relevant features are, it is always possible to value the contributions made by specific features. In the example above, the new energy management feature may lead to savings from reducing energy consumption or gas emissions. Better scheduling may translate into better worker utilization. Advanced workflow and improved user interface might result in savings from increased user efficiency. Most importantly, the upgraded functionality in total may be just what is needed to increase user buy-in and finally achieve the original ROI.

Who actually benefits from the upgrade, and what if it inconveniences many for the good of a few? Even if there is no way to quantify the benefit, perhaps the single most important factor in favor of upgrading is that it provides a boost to a program of continuous improvement. Just as software vendors have a roadmap, software release schedule, and management of change process, so too should your company do the same for continuously improving your asset management strategy, processes, supporting systems, and organizational design. There should be a constant pressure to raise the bar on key performance measures, using your upgraded CMMS to support upgraded processes on a continuous basis.

Customization

The decision whether or not to upgrade your CMMS is somewhat obvious if the new functionality offered is completely irrelevant to your company.

One of the barriers to the ambitious but beneficial approach to upgrades described above is customized functionality provided by your CMMS vendor or a third party. Customization means that a programmer had to develop software to satisfy your business requirements, and therefore, it affects the source code. Configuration is the preferred approach, whereby your CMMS vendor or even your system administrator can make changes to the software without affecting the source code — for example, building a workflow, table, form, or report.

If the source code is customized, it may affect your upgrade path, warranty, and software maintenance costs. Many companies have avoided upgrading the customized CMMS because it would be too complicated, time-consuming, or costly to re-customize the upgraded version. Thus customization can be a significant barrier to upgrading and is yet another good reason to avoid a CMMS that requires custom code to satisfy business needs.

The opportunities log

When a CMMS is first implemented, the probability that it will meet all of your needs on the first pass is low. A formal opportunities log should be maintained throughout the CMMS implementation phase and for all subsequent years, in order to drive the continuous improvement program. The opportunities log is to ensure that good ideas that are too complex, too costly, low-priority, or excessively time-consuming for the initial phase are not forgotten for later phases. The opportunities log can be used to develop a roadmap outlining, say, the next three years of anticipated changes under a continuous improvement program.

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