Every management group is looking for an easy-to-use smart management tool that will support the group’s operations. We’re very familiar with the “management tool” part, which is why every CMMS has more-than-adequate functionality for data entry and reporting. It’s the “smart” part that really differentiates not only the features and functions of CMMS package software but also – and of more importance – how management uses the CMMS.
This article is part of our monthly Asset Manager column. Read more from David Berger.
By “smart” I mean analytical, which implies working with the data to determine trends or patterns, calculate ratios, understand cost/benefit, run what-if scenarios, compare alternative solutions, present recommendations, or take action. By “management,” I mean using the information to make an informed decision, such whether to repair or replace a given piece of equipment. By “tool” I mean that the system is merely an aid in decision-making, not a replacement for people.
Organizations’ increasingly urgent search for smart management tools follows from two major trends emerging in the software marketplace: greater integration and deeper data analysis capability.
Greater integration for CMMS vendors means partnering or merging with providers of related software, such as tools focused on enterprise resource planning (ERP), reliability-centered maintenance, accounting, shop-floor data collection, or human resources. Some vendors have their own related products, which (perhaps surprisingly) may not integrate especially well with their CMMS offerings. Other CMMS vendors maintain a relationship with a third-party provider of related tools. Regardless, every CMMS vendor should offer the flexibility for users to integrate the vendor’s CMMS software with a wide range of other popular software packages.
The evolution to greater software integration has also led to the evolution of human job integration. The term “asset management” puts maintenance on par with operations and underlines the importance of partnership between the two functions. In theory, the maintenance department manages assets to ensure availability, performance and reliability. This is so that the operations department can better manage the operators of the assets and the material that flows through the assets to achieve maximum productivity, quality and service. However, as automation and integration increases, lines are blurred between the roles of operator/maintainer. Many companies have at least considered combining these functions in order to keep constant vigilance on all integrated data related to the product, process, equipment and work environment. This is especially true for highly automated facilities.
The second key trend in the software industry is better analytics or “smart” technology. Today, better analysis capability allows CMMS vendors to legitimately call their products “smart.” For companies with a large asset base, a smart CMMS used effectively can deliver substantial reductions in cost and even increased sales potential over CMMS predecessors. The increased sales are made possible by increasing the availability of production equipment and eliminating or minimizing the causes of poor product quality, such as that which results when equipment is improperly maintained. This is relevant for companies at capacity – those companies that can sell whatever they produce.
So what’s the catch, you ask? Well, virtually every CMMS vendor will claim its software package is smart. To some extent, the vendors are right – every CMMS has some level of smarts built into the product. But the onus is on management to use the tool effectively. That means taking a strategic approach by setting goals and objectives for what any smart CMMS and the processes it supports are to accomplish, and using the tool to track against key performance targets. For example, what is a reasonable target reduction for asset downtime or spare-parts inventory level?
Use the sophisticated features and functions of a smart CMMS, such as automated workflow and reliability-centered maintenance, to change the way the business is managed. This is not a project you undertake every few years. There must be a culture of continuous improvement in place. Shared performance targets can be used to ensure close alignment of operations and maintenance.
Four criteria of a smart system
Described below are four key criteria that differentiate a smart system. How does your current package stack up?
- Scalable. Every CMMS is adequate for a centralized, single-plant operation. However, large multinationals have struggled for years with each of their plants choosing separate packages. Even if the corporation decided on a single CMMS, standards such as numbering conventions were rarely set or adhered to, and data was minimally shared. Today, the scalability of smart systems means acting like one big virtual plant operation so that more cost-effective decisions can be made.
- Adaptive. Companies that can change rapidly have a huge competitive advantage in today’s fast-paced global marketplace. A smart CMMS gives you the ability to reconfigure the system quickly to meet new business requirements by employing user-definable business rules embedded in the software.
- Predictive. A CMMS emphasizes preventive maintenance (PM) – clearly an improvement over firefighting or reactive maintenance. But smart CMMS tools properly deployed help ensure that maintenance is performed precisely when it is needed, thereby reducing costs. Replacing a high-wear component when it first shows signs of breaking down (condition-based or predictive maintenance) is clearly superior to replacing it every six months during a shutdown (preventive maintenance) or whenever it breaks (reactive maintenance). Smart CMMS packages also give you what-if analysis capability to determine the best course of action. For example, a smart CMMS could help you ascertain the effects of moving from two eight-hour shifts to two 12-hour shifts to accommodate a plant shutdown.
- Corrective. A smart CMMS has the ability to make “decisions” or present alternatives to management, based on predefined business rules, the analysis of data, and even artificial intelligence. For example, you may set up a business rule that if a work order of value greater than $100,000 for parts and $10,000 labor goes more than 10% over budget, the system will take action. Possible actions are to automatically send an email to the supervisor with a warning, queue the work order for senior management approval, or disallow further charges to the work order. Artificial intelligence might add the ability to spot patterns and suspicious out-of-the-ordinary behaviors, such as multiple approvals for similar jobs/amounts.
A smart CMMS can become a smart management tool that boosts productivity and provides a real competitive advantage for any company with a large asset base.