Software

Top CMMS trends affecting the industry

Configurability and user-centered design lead the trends that are shaping CMMS/EAM systems.

By David Berger, P.Eng., Contributing Editor

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It has taken half a century, but computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software, also known as enterprise asset management (EAM) software, may have finally become a mature product. This is not unlike many other software applications that have undergone a similar transformation following years of rapidly improving technology. Although mergers and acquisitions have left fewer CMMS options for larger companies, there are still more than a hundred CMMS packages available for small to mid-sized companies. 

This article outlines significant trends in CMMS software for companies big and small.  If you think there is a business case for upgrading or replacing your current CMMS, look for a software solution that has the latest features and functions described below that best fit your needs. 

Implementation – It’s not just about the software

Learn from the mistakes of the past 50 years of CMMS implementations and do not simply replace your software. Implementing a new CMMS or managing a major upgrade requires process change to be successful. In turn, significant behavioral change is needed for all stakeholders throughout the company. To be sure, managing change is no easy feat.

Thus, the most important takeaway here is that choosing the right CMMS package based on features alone is insufficient, even as CMMS software functionality continues to improve. Instead, success stems more from:

  • The quantity and quality of cross-functional resources involved in the project,
  • The optics of ensuring the project is seen as an operations project, not an IT project, as by selecting a project manager (a key decision-maker) from operations,
  • The level of effort that all stakeholders expend to understand the problems each stakeholder group faces, document future-state processes and supporting system requirements that will address these issues, and outline an organizational structure in light of proposed changes, all accomplished before selecting a CMMS solution,
  • Selecting a long-term vendor partner with whom you can work effectively over the long term, not just as a one-time supplier of software,
  • Implementing the CMMS solution with a focus on process and behavior changes, rather than merely the installation of new software, and
  • Establishing a center of excellence responsible for continuous improvement of processes and systems in partnership with your CMMS vendor.

Be wary of slick sales demonstrations, flashy websites, and the lure of technology you really do not need. Develop detailed test scripts and force short-listed vendors to walk you through your future-state processes using your data, not theirs, to prove that the software does the important things you need it to do. Of the most importance, make sure the best resources are available from each stakeholder group and ensure that sufficient time is allocated to prepare for and implement changes to processes, organizational structure, and ultimately human behaviors. This may require backfilling key positions.

User-centered design

Among the most significant improvements to CMMS software are changes to the user interface. Look for a CMMS solution that is designed with an understanding of how users work with the software. This includes features that make the software easy to learn and use, regardless of your technical ability or how often you use the feature.

Examples of what to look for in a CMMS:

  • Easy access to a variety of online help tools. These can take the form of a short explanation of a field name when you cursor over it, more extensive help available a click away, “how-to” help that provides examples and screen shots, wizards for walking you slowly through a process that is unfamiliar, and multimedia attachments to supplement the help
  • Navigation tools, such as a browser-style hierarchy that lets users jump quickly to where they want to go, a bread crumb trail showing where you are in the program at all times, and multiple interactive windows for tracking results of changes made in any one window
  • Smart screen design, such as the ability to hide or add fields, change field descriptors, manipulate size and location of fields, and change colors
  • Error handling, such as meaningful warning and error messages that guide you through needed corrections, an error-checking capability that prevents you from entering data that is out of range or illogical, and undo functionality to reverse your steps
  • Data entry and reporting aids, such as optional spreadsheet format for both data entry and reporting and comprehensive filtering and sorting of data

Configurability

As with user-centered design, modern CMMS packages allow users to tailor the software to the unique requirements of a given industry, country, company, department, function or individual user. Configuration is not the same as customization. The latter involves making changes to the source code, which typically renders the future upgrade path difficult and costly at best. The better CMMS packages today provide configuration tools that do not require programmers.

Examples of configuration capability include

  • The language, currency, and units of measure used for all screens, reports, and forms
  • Security-level access that includes which features, functions, and data fields can be viewed and edited by which roles or individual users
  • Menu items, tabs, and icons that can be seen by the user
  • A graphical workflow engine that provides the business rules and sequencing of virtually every process governed by the CMMS – for example, approval limits and signatories, any conditions or contingencies for these (e.g., directions for when the approver is on vacation), and notifications or alarms when certain conditions are met, such as when a critical PM is significantly past due
  • A home page or dashboard that is geared to a particular role/individual, providing a single location for most of the needs of that role/individual, (e.g., an inbox for work that needs attention, graphs and charts showing how various processes, assets and people are performing, a summary of alarms and notifications, quick access to reports and data entry screens, and drill-down capability to get at successive levels of detail)

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Enterprise-wide integration and the Internet of Things

CMMS software companies have for many years collaborated with partner vendors, offering a variety of hardware and software products. The more-open architecture we've seen with Web services in recent years has provided an even greater impetus for vendors to work together in all kinds of partnerships.

Some of the more popular software applications integrated with CMMS today are

  • SCADA systems in facilities and plant operations
  • Manufacturing execution systems (MES), human-machine interface (HMI), and programmable controllers (PC) in heavy manufacturing or process industries
  • Proprietary production equipment, test equipment, mobile equipment and even individual smart assets through the “Internet of Things” (IoT)
  • Wireless and handheld applications for assisting maintainers in the field or on the shop floor
  • Geographical information systems (GIS) for the transportation industry, utilities, municipalities, and many other industries that require mapping or geospatial software

One of the most important points of integration, of course, is to your enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other business management systems. This includes finance, human resources, sales and marketing, operations management, quality assurance, engineering, supply chain, risk management, change management, document management, and other possible functions depending on the ERP package implemented.

In some cases, your CMMS functionality is embedded in and therefore fully integrated with your ERP package, sharing the same software platform and vendor. This one-stop shopping is clearly an advantage; however, it may come at the expense of meeting all of your CMMS requirements. Best-of-breed CMMS packages are completely focused on building a highly-specialized asset management system that may better fit your needs but will require integration with your ERP solution. 

The fully integrated versus best-of-breed debate has been raging for many years. Always base your decision on which software best meets your overall needs and provides the best value proposition. If you are an asset-intensive company in, for example, mining, forestry, or heavy manufacturing, you may derive considerable benefit from more-specialized CMMS functionality that a fully integrated solution may or may not provide.  Consider which solution will best support your competitive advantage and how important it is to be fully integrated in the short term. For example, you may decide that a best-of-breed CMMS would best meet your key requirements and that interfaces can be cost-justified and built over time, starting with those that offer the highest payback.

Measurement and analysis tools

Most senior managers are driven by setting measurable goals and developing an action plan to achieve them. A CMMS can be used to monitor progress on key measures and to benchmark against best-in-class competitors. In addition, analysis tools help you understand how to improve on measures to reach targets. Key features to look for in a CMMS are:

  • predefined key performance indicators (KPIs) such as PM compliance, mean-time-between-failure, asset availability, spare parts inventory level and turns, and lost time injuries
  • business intelligence including configurable dashboards, graphics, standard reports and queries, etc. to facilitate the tracking of measures against targets
  • data analysis and decision support tools to drill down on variances, for example, Pareto analysis to identify recurring problems, what-if analysis, Monte Carlo simulation, root cause analysis (RCA), failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), lifecycle analysis, Weibull analysis, risk analysis, regression analysis, time series and correlation

Regulatory reporting

Regulators have intensified their demand for better controls and detailed reporting from companies to protect employees and the public from the catastrophic asset failure. CMMS vendors have responded with an ever-increasing array of features and functions that help satisfy the needs of regulatory bodies from every industry. These include

  • flexible reporting tools that allow users to easily create reports in a format and level of detail sufficient to meet relevant regulatory requirements
  • advanced approval capability to ensure adequate control over expenditures, work initiation, deferral of work orders, reopening of a closed work order, configuration of the CMMS, and so on
  • security features such as log-in password, digital signatures, and read/write access down to the field level for roles or individual users
  • error-checking capability for format, range, and logic (for example, to prevent a planner from reserving the wrong part for a given asset)
  • an audit trail function that records all changes to the database

Mobile solutions

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One of the most significant developments in the CMMS industry is solutions specific to mobile technology. Companies are experiencing a 15%–30% bump in productivity when maintainers are given mobile devices with relevant software for downloading work orders, accessing drawings or equipment history, and entering data such as parts used, problem/cause/action codes, condition or calibration readings, etc. Another useful feature is a built-in running clock that automatically assigns labor hours as you open and close work orders. 

Mobile devices for industrial use also now feature a variety of accessories (and work with peripheral devices) to automate or at least facilitate data entry. These include built-in GPS readers, barcode or RFID scanners, cameras, voice recorders, flashlights, and Wi-Fi/mobile network access. CMMS vendors are constantly rewriting their mobile software to accommodate the ever-changing list of mobile devices, their operating systems, and peripheral devices.

Sustainability

Modern CMMS packages can play a huge role in monitoring assets' energy consumption and carbon emissions to ensure that costs are properly managed. The following CMMS features can help identify opportunities to reduce your energy/carbon footprint:

  • condition-based monitoring to track energy consumption and carbon emissions for a given asset, including user-definable upper and lower control limits, trend analysis, and the triggering of preventive maintenance work orders when levels meet user-defined condition criteria
  • the ability to correlate energy consumption and carbon footprint with variables such as environmental conditions, operational output, equipment manufacturer, age of equipment, PM history and so on to determine factors that minimize energy consumption and carbon emissions
  • repair/replacement and lifecycle-management decision-making that incorporates energy consumption and carbon footprint (as by determining whether it would be cost-effective to replace an asset with a new one that consumes less energy)

Cloud computing

Cloud computing allows users to access the CMMS from anywhere via the Web because the software, data and/or hardware are hosted outside your company. Cloud computing builds on interoperability standards and minimizes expensive interfaces between applications and databases, which in turn results in greater efficiencies and better decision-making. Users, therefore, should care about cloud computing as a means of more easily and quickly accessing the most recent version of CMMS software and all of the required data regardless of source. 

Some potential disadvantages of cloud computing to consider when weighing CMMS options can be identified by asking the following questions:

  • Which company is really hosting your application, data, and backups, and in what country, with what safeguards regarding privacy and security?
  • Who legally owns the data and what are the limits on sharing?
  • What happens if data is lost or stolen, and how will your service provider prevent it?
  • How do you ensure continuity of service if your service provider goes on strike, suffers a power failure, experiences a natural disaster, goes bankrupt, is purchased by a third party, is noncompliant with government regulations, etc.? 
  • If you ever become unhappy with your service provider, how difficult is it to break away and find the budget, resources, space, and time to take your business elsewhere or bring it in-house?