4 functions of multimedia content in your CMMS

David Berger says enhance the CMMS user experience with maps, video, and other multimedia.

By David Berger

Simply put, your CMMS provides a solid framework on which to record the planning and execution of work and any anomalies experienced. It also provides tools to analyze and report on the data collected, for improving your work program and making management decisions regarding recruitment, training, workplace layout, signage, capital replacement, and so on. Although the CMMS vendor may provide some content, most do not want to carry the liability of getting it wrong, such as a standard operating procedure that is not quite relevant to your specialized equipment.

Thus, the onus is on you to use the rich functionality of your CMMS to its fullest. Too little detail and you will find it difficult to optimize your maintenance program. Too much detail and you will lose focus, consume valuable resources unnecessarily, and be buried in data. However, in some cases, it is more about quality than quantity. For example, should maintainers write lots of detail describing what problems they encountered, the suspected cause, and what action was taken? More often than not, the answer is "absolutely not," because you cannot search on descriptive fields, which means you will be unable to easily analyze the data collected. But if you are investigating a particular problem, then you do want detailed descriptions to better understand what happens under which set of circumstances.

As CMMS features and functions have improved over the years, the number of options for adding detailed multimedia content on a wide assortment of technology platforms has increased dramatically. This column describes some of the more popular multimedia options other than text, including videos, animation, photos, drawings, maps, and audio, and how best to use them.

For any CMMS package, there are four main functions of multimedia content:

Communicate the plan – This includes the work plan, schedule, procedures, equipment, location, way finding, special instructions, and any other information that might be necessary or useful for employees to do their work efficiently and effectively.

Training – Expanding on the function above, training content provides greater detail on the “how to” aspect of doing your job optimally. Whereas the job plan might provide a simple standard procedure such as “change the light bulb”, the training content might be multiple videos describing in detail how to change a wide variety of light bulb types, under different conditions, in different locations, with detailed safety instructions, and important tips and traps.

Communicate feedback on plan execution – Once the plan is executed, maintainers and their supervisors have an opportunity to provide multimedia feedback on what was actually done, what was observed, where it occurred, any anomalies observed, and any analysis as to why.

Suggest improvement opportunities – Maintainers and their supervisors may want to communicate suggestions for improvement using multimedia content, for example, an asset labelled incorrectly or a procedure that should be changed.

Forms of multimedia content

Video – This is probably the fastest growing media. If a picture is worth a thousand words, just think of what a video is worth. Historically, a video required skilled resources, special equipment, and ideal lighting and environmental conditions. As well, production, storage, and access costs were prohibitive for most applications. With costs coming down every year, while ease of use and ability to access the media improves, the video is increasingly in high demand.

This is especially true for short training videos. Check out the website of your industry association, any industrial publications to which you subscribe, most consulting firms, or many original equipment manufacturers. It may surprise you as to how many “how to”, self-help or expert videos are readily available. With most smart phones, pads and tablets today, you can take acceptable quality videos. Modern CMMS packages allow users to easily access video files via a link (e.g., to view a training video on your mobile device).

Videos are also a great way for maintainers to provide feedback to engineers and management, documenting:

  • what happened during execution (e.g., how a component was inspected and repaired in the field),
  • any surprises encountered (e.g., an asset that was unexpectedly leaking), or
  • suggested improvements (e.g., a new procedure that takes half the time).

Almost all CMMS packages allow users to attach videos to documents such as work orders.

Animation – Similar to video, animation can be used to walk users through more detailed and graphic “how to” instruction, such as how to complete a work order on a screen-by-screen basis. The most powerful media for training purposes though appears to be a combination of video and animation. For example, imagine a training video of how to properly shut down production equipment prior to a repair. The video will show say, someone walking over to the control panel and pressing a button. Adding animation might highlight or draw a box around the button. You might also use animation to draw a big red “X” over any button that should not be pressed.

Photos – Sometimes videos add little value over and above a good-quality snapshot, especially when you consider the additional time and cost to produce and view a typical video. For example, showing the location of a switch on a given asset using a video may be complete overkill compared to a photo with a coloured circle outlining the switch in question. Multiple photos can be captured quickly on a good quality camera or a simple cell phone. They can be touched up and annotated using a number of free software tools, or using more sophisticated but still reasonably-priced software.

Photos are also a quick and easy way for maintainers to record work executed, anomalies observed and improvement ideas. For example, if you are doing field work, photos are proof that the work was done properly, including any restoration work such as laying sod. This is especially important for proof of regulatory compliance or dealing directly with external customers (e.g., a utility working on a given landowner’s property).

Another important use of photos is that it provides a more in-depth appreciation of follow-on work required. For example, suppose a maintainer conducting an inspection is surprised by what is observed. One or more pictures may help the maintenance planner and asset owner understand and validate what work is required, as diagnosed and estimated by the maintainer and/or supervisor.

Drawings – Although digital drawings have been around for quite some time, the CMMS and integrated software applications such as document management systems continue to improve their combined capability. This includes providing access to the latest version of drawings, ability to redline or annotate drawings without affecting the original, and finding the right drawings using sort, filter and search functionality. Furthermore, if you have ever seen demonstrations of 3D drawings, it is nothing less than impressive, especially in simulation mode. However, for most users the perceived workload to create 3D drawings and simulations still exceeds the expected benefits.

Maps – There is no question that rapidly-improving mapping technology is in high demand for many CMMS users, from way-finding to fully integrated Geographic Information Systems (GIS). I have written several columns on this topic alone. Suffice to say that maps help with asset location and directions, and that a GIS interface is critical for any company that has linear assets (e.g., roads, sewers, pipelines, parks, rail).

Audio – Some of the multimedia content forms above come with integrated audio, such as a video or animation soundtrack, or the navigation voiceover for way-finding. But sometimes an audio recording can stand on its own merits with less hassle and much of the benefits of a video, especially when you need both hands free.

Read David Berger's monthly column, Asset Manager.