How to configure CMMS tools to fit the needs of your plant

July 8, 2013
David Berger says align maintenance processes with CMMS functionality.

It used to be said of computerized maintenance management and other systems that you had to shoehorn your business into the system to make them work. Your only other option was customization — either building a software solution from scratch or tailoring an existing software package to your specific needs by writing custom code. Either approach was expensive and time-consuming to develop the initial software and maintain it over time.

However, technology has improved immensely. If you really understand your user requirements, you can usually find a CMMS package that will fit your needs without having to touch the source code. Just look for a modern CMMS solution that provides adequate tools for configuration as described.

Configuration tools

The more advanced CMMS vendors provide framework software that can be configured to the needs of a given industry or the specifics of your company. The power behind this approach is the variety of tools at your disposal to ensure the software fits your needs. The following is a sampling of these tools:

Optional functions: Many of the features and functions of the better CMMS packages can be switched on and off or be adjusted to fit your needs. For example, most CMMS vendors offer optional modules on top of the core product, such as a keys management solution or sophisticated root cause analysis tools. Within the core product or optional modules, users are usually provided many choices such as currency, language, costing methodology, and manual versus automated scheduling. Users can also choose from a variety of algorithms, such as which equation to use for calculating economical order quantity (EOQ) for spare parts or how to calculate the default value for a given field. Finally, users can turn various features on and off, such as whether or not work orders can be reopened once they are closed or whether approval is required for editing a given document.

Table-driven fields: Another form of configuration is defining the values for table-driven fields, such as work order priority, asset criticality, spare parts classification, and maintainer skills. Although this takes considerable work to set up, it is well worth the effort. Descriptive text fields have their places, but it is near impossible to sort, filter, and analyze information dumped into these fields. For example, the manner in which maintainers report on work done will be inconsistent, unless maintainers select from a short list of pre-defined action codes.

User-definable fields: After purchasing a CMMS, users may find the need to change the name of a given field, or even add one or more fields. For example, suppose you require fields that describe the asset grouping called “hosing.” It is highly unlikely that CMMS vendors would have anticipated the need for these specific fields, such as color code, pressure rating, or inner wall thickness. It is impossible to anticipate field requirements for every data entry form, master file, or even menu, given the wide range of industry requirements. Thus, most CMMS vendors allow users to add fields somewhere on the relevant screen, on a nearby tab, or a quick click away.

Some CMMS vendors have restrictions on the number, location, and characteristics of user-defined fields, whereas others pose few limitations. Make sure users have the flexibility to select the type of field to add, such as alpha, alphanumeric, and date fields. As well, look for packages that treat user-defined fields like off-the-shelf fields, allowing users to assign defaults, mark them as required fields, restrict access based on security level, check for errors, use them to filter and sort data, and other important features.

Hierarchical superstructure: Another useful tool for configuring your software is the use of numerous hierarchies such as companies (legal entities), organizational structure (people), departments, G/L and other account codes, locations, assets and components, asset position (right front passenger), bill of materials/parts, failure tree, and projects and work orders (work breakdown structure). This gives you the ability to easily organize, aggregate, analyze, and report on your data across numerous dimensions.

Flexible user interface: Most modern packages have some level of flexibility when it comes to allowing users to configure the user interface, including changing screen and form layouts, moving and hiding fields, and reorganizing menus. A few of the higher-end packages also let users show data in tabular or columnar formats, making it more flexible for searching, data entry, or reporting.

Configurable workflow engine: One of the most powerful configuration tools is the workflow engine, which allows users to translate detailed process maps into the logic that drives CMMS workflows. Two of the most popular uses of the workflow engine are routing documents for approval, and taking user-definable actions when a given condition is met. The latter functionality, sometimes called alerts, notifications, alarms, or control loops, can help users manage by exception, such as sending an email to the plant manager when a given PM is past due by one full cycle. More advanced workflow engines allow users to define more complex workflows, such as mapping the steps required for each type of anomaly reported, such as an accident, unexpected downtime of a certain type, or an anomalous reading upon inspection.

David 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 [email protected].
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Business intelligence tools: The more configurable the business intelligence tools, the more value users will extract from the CMMS. Of course, many modern CMMS vendors offer business intelligence, either embedded within their products or available through third parties. However, not all business intelligence tools are created equal. Look for functionality that is easy to configure and use, such as a dashboard that is easy to create green/yellow/red thresholds, adjust dashboard update frequency, manipulate the size and placement on any screen, and drill-down for greater detail.

Integration bridge software: The CMMS market has matured over the past 50+ years of existence. One of the most significant developments over those years has been bridging the islands of automation across the enterprise and along the entire asset lifecycle. Look for software that has functionality relevant to your industry, such as calibration software for biotech companies, lockout/tagout functionality for power generation companies, and linear asset capability for pipeline companies. But also ensure that your CMMS easily integrates with other software products within your company because no one software company can do it all, or at least do it all well. The more sophisticated CMMS packages have bridging software tools and open systems that facilitate integration with virtually any other software, running on any platform, using any database. Be wary of software vendors that make integration difficult with their platform dependency or proprietary, “black box” mentality.

Mobile readiness: One of the most promising technology breakthroughs of the past decade is the mobile solution. The most advanced CMMS vendors have recognized the huge potential in configuring CMMS using this technology. Smartphones, tablets, pads, laptops and other more personal devices have changed the way we do business. Look for CMMS vendors who have recognized the potential for huge productivity gains, if these devices are configured to the specific needs of maintainers, not simply extending the desktop to the shop floor or field. For example, data entry should be simple, equipment history readily available, and drawings, maps, photos, and videos easily accessible. Mobile solutions should also incorporate GPS, barcode, RFID, camera, video, digital signature, and many other device-specific functions.

Training aids: Your CMMS should also incorporate a variety of configurable training tools that support the breadth of skills, competencies and learning styles across a typical organization. This includes wizards, online help, bubble help, cheat sheets, computer-based training, videos, and documentation, that can be tailored to the needs of each user or user group.

Read David Berger's monthly column, Asset Manager.