Find the best-fit CMMS while minimizing trade-offs

David Berger outlines important differences in how CMMS vendors bundle and market their software.

By David Berger

Selecting and remaining with a CMMS package for many years to come hinges on many factors. But one of the most significant predictors of success is “fit, — that is, how well the CMMS meets your unique requirements. This simple truth should be no surprise to anyone, especially if you have implemented one or more CMMS solutions in the past. The onus is on you to define and prioritize both current and future specifications as carefully as possible, so that you can determine the best-fit CMMS from a business and technology perspective.

Gone are the days when many companies were forced to accept one of two options: either mold your business to fit the CMMS or customize the solution to achieve a sufficient level of fit with your business. Today, CMMS vendors offer a wide range of features that accommodate different asset classes, business functions, geographic challenges, company sizes, and many other considerations. However, CMMS vendors differ in how they package and sell their functionality. This column outlines important differences in how CMMS vendors bundle and market their software, both vertically and horizontally, including key trade-offs.


There are several terms that are used to describe how CMMS vendors choose to bundle their software solutions, in response to the demands of a given marketplace. CMMS vendors will market their products both vertically and horizontally, depending on their competitive strengths and areas of specialization. Vertical and horizontal markets are defined as follows, as well as other relevant terms.

Specialization: Software vendors may choose to specialize in a given grouping of functions (for example, reliability-centered maintenance), asset classes (for example, facilities vs. fleet assets), types of equipment (for example, roofing), industries (for example, healthcare), technologies (for example, mobile solutions), customer segments (for example, accessible products), or service offerings (for example, hosted online, including call center). Alternatively, vendors might prefer to stay general and offer multiple products and services that appeal to as many segments as possible. But most vendors fall somewhere in between, offering a number of specialty products and services that appeal to a given vertical or horizontal market. The latter terms are discussed below.

Vertical market: One of the most popular means of assessing the suitability of CMMS packages is to determine the functionality and level of experience relevant to your industry. For this reason, CMMS vendors tend to bundle their software functionality to meet the needs of a given vertical market — that is, an industry grouping along the entire supply chain.

For example, suppose you are in the food processing industry and are looking for a CMMS package with features and functions relevant to your vertical market, from food production and packaging to warehousing and distribution and ultimately to company-owned retail stores and restaurants. If you are that vertically integrated along the supply chain and you are looking for an enterprise-wide asset management solution, then you must find a best-fit CMMS solution in terms of software functionality and vendor experience. You should look for a vendor that has successfully implemented its CMMS software in food processors of a similar type, size, and geographic marketplace. Even if you are a smaller company that is less vertically integrated, look for a CMMS vendor that fits your needs within your vertical market.

Horizontal market: If a vertical market spans the complete supply chain for a given industry, a horizontal market goes across all industries for a given asset class, function, or work type. For example, a CMMS vendor might specialize in fleet assets, regardless of industry. Another CMMS vendor might focus on reliability-centered maintenance as its horizontal market, or perhaps calibration software. By concentrating efforts on a given horizontal market, a CMMS vendor hopes to achieve a level of functional specialization satisfactory to companies in any industry.

Core functionality: Regardless of choice of target market — vertical, horizontal or some combination of the two — a CMMS vendor must offer strong core functionality at a minimum, that is, basic asset management features such as work order control, preventive maintenance, spare parts inventory management, and equipment history.

Expected trade-offs from CMMS market differentiation

At the highest level, many companies debate the value of purchasing either:

  • multiple best-of-breed, specialized software packages, such as the absolute best-fit CMMS, enterprise resource planning (ERP), calibration, and document management software packages
  • as few fully-integrated software solutions as possible — for example, a single package offering many integrated modules that have sufficient features relevant to your industry and that adequately satisfy the needs of maintenance, operations, finance, marketing, and other functional areas.

The most obvious trade-off between these high-level options is fit and price. Typically, more specialized software with a focus on your particular needs will have a greater appeal, but at what price. Your information technology department will be quick to point out the cost of developing and maintaining interfaces to avoid having silos of automation. However, if you have properly determined, documented, and prioritized your needs and linked your requirements to a detailed business case, then the value for money can be compared for each alternative.

Regardless of which high-level option you select, your next dilemma will be to differentiate between:

  • framework software, providing a framework of core functionality onto which specialized software modules may be added, such as a nuclear industry module
  • template software, which gives you the entire suite of core and specialized functionality, such that all core features are available, plus any specialized functions according to established vertical templates, and any additional specialized functions of your choosing.

At this level the key trade-offs are flexibility, fit, and price. Template software has greater flexibility, as individual features or whole vertical templates can be easily turned on. If your diverse needs do not exactly fit any single vertical under the framework option and you see multiple specialized features that are applicable to your business, then template software will likely be a more cost-effective solution.

Your choice at each level above will drive you to the lowest level, where for each business requirement you must determine how each CMMS vendor proposes to meet your specifications. There are five possibilities at this level, including:

  • the function is available out-of-the-box
  • the function can be configured without any programming changes to the source code, for example, using a user-friendly workflow engine, report generator, query tool, screen designer, or easily defining a business rule
  • the feature is available through an interface with more specialized third-party software
  • the function can be customized; the source code must be extended to include your unique requirements
  • the feature is simply not available or requires a significant workaround.
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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Thus, your choice of best-of-breed CMMS versus fully-integrated software that includes CMMS functionality, as well as whether the package is framework versus template software, will ultimately affect how well a vendor option meets your business requirements and at what cost to you. This is why it is so important to spend adequate time with multiple stakeholders to develop detailed and prioritized specifications and the business case expected as a result.


Regardless of whether or not your company is vertically or horizontally integrated, large or small, or any other factor, there is a best-fit CMMS solution for you that both maximizes benefits and minimizes trade-offs. Only through extensive preparation of specifications and the corresponding business case will you be able to discern which software solution has the strongest core and specialized functionality to meet your high-priority needs, now and as your business changes.

Read David Berger's monthly column, Asset Manager.