CMMS / Software / EAM / Asset Management System

Peak usability: The top CMMS trends now

These are the features and functionalities coming to the fore in CMMS/EAM systems for 2018 and beyond.

By David Berger, The Lamus Group

CMMS/EAM vendors have worked diligently over the decades to provide asset management software that maximizes value for every function within an organization, in any industry, and at any level from shop floor to executive suite. Of course, no one package can do it all, but significant improvements in technology have facilitated most vendors in delivering more features and functions each year. Recent mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures have fueled investment in research and development and stoked the flames of competition among those vendors still standing. So far, this increased activity is great news for all of us – it’s producing better solutions delivered at prices that are more competitive.

The CMMS/EAM industry as a whole is clearly listening to the market. However, some vendors are better at doing so than others. It’s up to customers to sort through vendor offerings and determine which solution will most cost-effectively meet their requirements – both current and future. This is not an easy task. To assist with the purchase of a new CMMS/EAM, the upgrade of an old one, or optimization of an existing package, following are some key considerations in each of 10 specific areas.

1. Improved user interface

As long as humans are involved in maintaining physical assets, it remains crucial for CMMS/EAM software to be intuitive to all users. The usability of the CMMS/EAM package is especially important for frequent users. The reward of having software with superior user-centered design elements is a much happier workforce and an enormous gain in productivity. Below are some examples:

  • Reduction of errors in data entry – Avoid software with busy screens and no error-checking capability. The software should have intelligent warnings and should help the user correct errors – or better yet, prevent them from occurring in the first place.
  • Fewer keystrokes needed to complete a procedure – How many keystrokes are required to access the information you need? Look for software that minimizes keystrokes for routine workflows. This can be accomplished using cleverly designed screen layouts complete with tabs, shortcuts, icons, and other navigation aids. Your CMMS/EAM should also accommodate the workflow of a given role such as a maintainer or maintenance planner, as through tailored data entry and reporting screens that show only the information necessary to do the job.
  • Increased efficiency through easily accessible help – For highly repetitive tasks, users do not typically rely upon the “help” function. However, for new employees or for tasks that are infrequent, such as a year-end procedure, an easy-to-find and easy-to-use “help” feature is vital in reducing task completion time.
  • An intuitive CMMS/EAM that lowers the cost of software implementation and maintenance – User-friendly software means lower training costs and a shorter implementation time.

2. More “best practices” infrastructure

Your CMMS/EAM package should assist in moving your operations closer to the goal of conforming to industry best practices. To this end, most CMMS/EAM packages have functionality designed in accordance with a known standard of excellence, such as ISO 55000, an international asset management standard based on the British standard PAS 55. There are many other standards, regulatory requirements, management frameworks, and known industry best practices that CMMS/EAM vendors have adopted to assist you in meeting your objectives.

Check to see whether a given CMMS/EAM vendor claims to assist in implementing best practices or a specific standard relevant to your business. If so, determine whether the design of the company’s master files, data-entry screens, workflows, and reports upholds the claim. Ensure that this functionality is as close to out-of-the-box as possible to maximize realization of benefits quickly following implementation.

For example, is there an out-of-the-box report, query, or dashboard element to report on critical PMs that are approaching a regulated time constraint? If the vendor says the system is configurable, how much time and money would it take to set up the functionality? In other words, look for a package that quickly and cost-effectively delivers access to the “best practices” functionality that’s most relevant to you.

3. Better controls

Our rising dependence on smarter, more-complex and costlier assets in a digital age means that these assets’ failure can bring catastrophic consequences. This is one reason why regulatory bodies have increased their pressure on companies across industries. Pressure comes in the form of mandated policies and procedures, compliance audits, mandatory certification, hefty penalties for noncompliance, and large fines and even jail time for the individuals deemed responsible.

Asset management software vendors have recognized this trend and have developed features and functions that can assist senior management in implementing more-effective controls and reducing risk. These features include electronic signature, risk-scoring, document management, alarms and notifications, and more. In addition, numerous health, safety, and environmental modules have been integrated into the CMMS/EAM: risk management, compliance management, safety management, change management, event management, incident management, environmental management, sustainability, energy management, and case management among them. These modules ensure that controls are in place to protect your workers, the environment, and the public.

4. More-sophisticated mobile solutions

One of the most promising trends continues to be the improvements made to CMMS/EAM mobile solutions. Given the rapid change in technology used in laptops, tablets and especially smartphones, it has been difficult for CMMS/EAM vendors to keep up with what’s available. This is exacerbated by the multitude of devices, operating systems, software, and telecommunications technology on the market. Most vendors have made numerous attempts at developing software for mobile, but there is opportunity to do much more. For example, the number of sensors, tools, and apps available on a typical smartphone is staggering. This will make it easier for CMMS/EAM vendors and others to develop context-sensitive functionality – in other words, to support better decision-making through greater knowledge of you and your environment.

One example of how context-sensitive functionality works involves GPS technology built into a mobile device. Your CMMS/EAM application should be able to incorporate maintainer location into way-finding and scheduling functionalities. Similarly, a built-in camera is useful for taking photos or videos or even live-streaming from a problematic asset in support of root-cause analysis. RFID tags affixed to critical assets on the move can be used to track assets’ whereabouts. Ultimately, look for mobile solutions that empower and reduce administrative work for the front line, as well as promote improved communications between the front line and management.

5. Greater industry focus

Every industry has its own terminology, procedures, asset hierarchy, key performance indicators, and so on. Ultimately, this translates into unique user requirements that CMMS/EAM software must satisfy to build market share in a given industry. Under the wider umbrella of asset classes, different industries and their respective industry-specific requirements can be grouped. Here are examples:

Operational equipment

  • General manufacturing – ability to distinguish between an asset hierarchy identifying unique serialized assets and a functional or positional hierarchy identifying where a serialized asset fits (e.g., tire #30789 fits on functional asset “right passenger wheel”)
  • Pharmaceutical – electronic signature

Facilities

  • Municipalities – ability to enter results of a building condition assessment on a mobile device and report on key performance indicators, such as the facility condition index
  • Property management – help desk and service management functionality for handling tenant complaints and service requests as well as dispatching maintainers

Fleet

  • Public transit – vehicle maintenance reporting standards (VMRS) codes built into the CMMS/EAM asset hierarchy
  • Transportation – sustainability features relevant to the fleet, such as the ability to track fuel consumption rates, tire and brake wear, etc.

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Infrastructure (e.g., linear assets)

  • Oil and gas pipelines – full integration with geographic information systems (GIS) so that complete work-order history is accessible via a point, line, or polygon on a map
  • Parks management – the ability to record work completion for a given time period and track cumulative results and performance (e.g., mowed 85% of grass area in a park over a six-hour period)

Information technology (IT)

  • Communications service providers (CSP) – the ability to integrate asset management history with applications that find faults on the CSP network in real time to enhance the fault resolution process
  • School boards – autopolling of networked IT assets for maintaining complete software/hardware demographics database

6. Easier configurability

To deliver greater functionality that fits the unique requirements of a given asset class, industry, company, site, or even a user or system within a site, CMMS/EAM vendors have designed their software to be highly configurable. This must be balanced with sufficient out-of-the-box functionality; otherwise, customers spend too much time and money building and testing a system that meets their needs. Customers also may be unfamiliar with what they can and should do with the CMMS/EAM to derive the most value from the software.

One example of striking the right balance relates to how many canned reports, queries, dashboards, templates, forms, etc., should be available to customers out of the box. In my view, the more the better. Moreover, the CMMS/EAM package should be easy for users to reconfigure and tailor so that each report meets their needs – far easier than configuration from scratch. An out-of-the-box report that shows, say, mean time between failure (MTBF) for a given asset at least shows a customer that such a report is possible, and it will be a great starting point for configuration.

7. Increased connectivity

Greater connectivity has become a tremendous area of focus for CMMS/EAM vendors. Even the simplest assets come with control software or optional internet connectivity (the internet of things, or IoT). Through integration with the CMMS/EAM, data is captured in raw or summarized form for analysis and reporting. For example, condition data can be collected from programmable controllers, SCADA systems, handheld metering devices, production equipment, and other points of integration directly or via the internet. In turn, the CMMS/EAM analyzes this data to determine whether some action needs to be triggered, such as the launch of a follow-up work order because the temperature has exceeded an upper control limit.

Of course, CMMS/EAM packages should also integrate with old favorites, such as project management and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, as well as emerging software tools that assist with reliability engineering, capital planning, and regulatory reporting.

8. More comprehensive analysis and reporting

The typical rule of thumb for CMMS/EAM packages is that if data is entered into the system, it should be possible to report on it. However, the important question is: How easy is it for users to extract information? Reports range from those generated often, such as a summary of work backlog used for scheduling, to one-off queries or reports, such as a one-time request for information by an auditor. It can be confusing for users because modern CMMS/EAM packages have a plethora of ways to report, including dashboards, queries, master listings, canned reports, and a host of third-party options from basic spreadsheets to sophisticated report generators.

To realize the benefits of implementing a CMMS/EAM, it’s critical that reporting be highly intuitive, regardless of how many options the vendor boasts are available.

9. Early artificial intelligence (AI)

One of the most exciting trends being considered by some leading-edge CMMS/EAM vendors is the incorporation of AI. Will assets ever be maintained without a technician, as through automated repair or replacement of parts and components? To be sure, the answer is “not for a while.” However, there are early steps you can take to assist maintainers and improve productivity: For example, you can build a troubleshooting database from a combination of the CMMS/EAM asset history and the engineering data from the original equipment manufacturer. This will provide maintainers with a diagnostic tool for quickly determining root causes and recommended actions based on failure probabilities and failures’ potential impact.

10. Deeper partnerships

A final important trend is the deepening of the relationship between CMMS/EAM vendors and their customers. A vendor understands how best to use its CMMS/EAM as an effective tool, and you, the customer, are the expert in your business. The synergy possible is incredible. Although some vendors are still focused on selling software and moving on to the next customer as quickly as possible, many are realizing the benefits of partnering with customers over the long term.

As a result, pricing is slowly shifting away from one-time licenses and annual maintenance fees to variations of a subscription fee that’s based on time, the number and type of users, and/or the actual system use. Typically, maintenance and support fees are included in the subscription fee. Vendor hosting is also on the rise, which means that customers need less capital up front; updates are automatic; and support is improved.

Another sign that partnerships are strengthening is the emergence of more-sophisticated user groups that provide networking opportunities for participants and help vendors build a road map for more-frequent software updates. Additionally, some vendors are working more closely with specialized hardware and software providers to strengthen their software’s functionality and configurability to meet the changing needs of their customer base.

Because of these efforts and a growing partnership mentality, companies are upgrading and reconfiguring their CMMS/EAM software more often and replacing their vendor less often. In turn, return on the CMMS/EAM investment improves dramatically, and vendors increase the lifetime value of each customer.