Critical CMMS properties for mobile needs

May 26, 2009
David Berger, P.Eng., contributing editor, details critical CMMS properties for organizations on the move.

In this rapidly changing world, you need a CMMS that can adapt easily to the breadth and depth of your current and future needs. Whether you’re a small, standalone plant or a large multinational, your needs rarely are static. Insist on CMMS features and functions that provide flexibility, agility and scalability relevant to every user, in your one or more facilities wherever they might be located, during at least the next three to five years.

Web architecture: A Web-architected CMMS requires nothing more than a Web browser to obtain full access to the application via the Internet. A Web-enabled CMMS requires a browser and some additional software (e.g., Citrix) on each user’s computer to run the application via the Internet. Therefore, the Web-architected solution can be simpler and more cost-effective because there’s no additional required software to buy or support for each user. Furthermore, it might provide greater flexibility and scalability in the long run because it’s an Internet-based service that is accessible from any computer in the world that has a browser.

Advanced security: A modern CMMS has extensive capability to ensure a given user or user group (e.g., maintenance planners, maintenance supervisors or maintainers) sees and does only what’s needed to be done efficiently, effectively and in a secure manner. For example, certain screens, menu items, hot keys, links, reports, fields or whole modules can be marked as hidden if a given user doesn’t require it, or it represents a security risk. As well, individual users or groups can be allowed read-only access to certain fields, and perhaps some combination of add, change or delete capability for other fields. This functionality is critical for flexibility and scalability in terms of security or data integrity, as well as increasing productivity by displaying only what is necessary.


Multi-company/site: The ultimate in scalability is to accommodate rapid and large-scale expansion or contraction, whether it occurs organically or through merger, acquisition or divestiture. The more advanced CMMS packages allow administrators to establish multiple businesses, divisions, locations, departments and warehouses quickly. Companies or sites can be run on a single database, with either shared or restricted access across any combination of silos. Access is typically controlled through the security features described above. For example, purchasing agents in the corporate office might require full access to the inventory management module across companies and sites, but might not be allowed to access individual work orders at each site.

Parameter-driven setup: Agility means that changes can be made quickly and easily as business needs evolve. Today’s more sophisticated CMMS packages can be configured quickly using a parameter-driven setup. This implies that certain features and functions can be turned on or modified by simple parameter switches, such as selecting from multiple formulas for calculating the economic order quantity (EOQ), choosing whether closed work orders can ever be reopened, or determining whether inventory is valued using LIFO, FIFO or average cost.

Forms-based data input and output: CMMS users spend much of their time managing data input through various forms or templates, and data output via listings or reports. The more comprehensive CMMS packages can add flexibility by facilitating formatting and editing of input and output screens. For data-entry, advanced features include the ability to build specification templates for object categories such as asset classes, inventory type and organizational position. This allows you to record only relevant tombstone data for each template category, for example, specification templates for motors versus pipes versus drywall.

For data output, high-end CMMS packages have sophisticated filter and sort capability involving any field, and including Boolean logic. Additionally, any listing or report can be viewed in spreadsheet-like mode, providing drag-and-drop as well as edit capability. Users should then be allowed to save each query setup if there’s a chance that the report will be run again.

Database configurator: A database configurator can be useful for adding fields or changing their properties, although only administrators should be given permission to do so. This provides flexibility to configure the CMMS to a company’s specific needs. For example, system administrators can add a date field, coded field, tick box or perhaps a whole tab filled with descriptive fields. They also might want to add default values, error-checking capability, or even a call to a software program to check or calculate the value for a new or existing field.

Workflow engine: One of the most powerful features providing flexibility, agility and scalability for a CMMS package is the graphical workflow engine. The graphical workflow screen allows users to visualize key processes, including current status and statistics. Drag-and-drop capability allows users to change the workflow easily. Parameters can be edited, including approvers, priority, triggers (e.g., when to trigger an escalation process or alarm), or action required (e.g., send an email or print a work order).

Explorer-style hierarchy: A popular feature that enables flexibility is the use of an MS Windows Explorer-style hierarchy for equipment, components, parts, suppliers, corporate structure, warehouses, employees, projects, work orders, help and so on. For example, equipment and components are presented in a hierarchical format using an indented list. Components can be dragged and dropped within the hierarchy and the history will follow.

In addition to flexibility, an Explorer-style hierarchy allows users to navigate through the CMMS maze with ease. Many CMMS packages that have this feature also display related information interactively in one or more adjacent windows, such as a graphical representation of the hierarchy, or any relevant header information or history.

Business intelligence: As your company’s needs shift, it’s critical to monitor the transformation and report how your business is doing to support timely and effective decisions. The more advanced CMMS packages provide comprehensive business intelligence tools that assist users in data collection, analysis and reporting. A popular tool is the dashboard, which provides an easy-to-read, graphical representation of the state of key performance indicators like asset availability, equipment performance, labor efficiency, budget variance and inventory stockouts.

Just like the dashboard of your car, gauges, warning lights, speedometers, alarms or graphs show the current state of the KPIs. This allows users to quickly identify problem areas (e.g., budget overrun), drill down on the graphic for more detailed information (e.g., a list of work orders that are more than 10% over budget), drill around to find the root cause (e.g., one large project that is in trouble), and then take action (e.g., launch an escalation workflow). Dashboards can be tailored to the specific needs of each user or user group, and can be easily modified as requirements change.

Integration aids: CMMS software vendors are constantly looking for ways to meet your changing demands. One of the easiest ways to keep up with demand is to establish partnerships with vendors of specialized software and hardware that extends the utility of the CMMS. A few of the more popular partners include vendors of RFID, bar code, SCADA and mobile solutions, as well as vendors of GIS, project-management and reliability software. Look for CMMS software that is flexible enough to allow easy and cost-effective integration with these external products.

E-mail Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., partner, Western Management Consultants, at [email protected].

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