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Tame the beast: How to wrap your arms around your CMMS options

Nov. 19, 2019
Overwhelmed by CMMS/EAM choices? What to look for, and what to weigh before you buy.

In this article:

One of the most important factors influencing CMMS/EAM software development today is connectivity by way of the internet. This has been shaping software of all kinds for a while, but it is connectivity with assets through the internet, or the “internet of things” (IoT), that is so fundamental to asset management software, i.e., CMMS/EAM platforms. Industrial assets such as production equipment can be large, complex, and expensive. Thus, connecting them through the industrial IoT can be hugely beneficial for functions such as centralized equipment monitoring and control.

But the internet of things is actually only one strategic component of a bigger industry trend known as Industry 4.0, around which considerable confusion exists. In this article, I will try to present a mainstream view as it relates to asset management and your CMMS/EAM system.

What does Industry 4.0 encompass?

Given that Industry 4.0 is a relatively new term, there are many conflicting versions of its definition and composition. However, there is general agreement that Industry 4.0 is a merger of the digital world and the internet world to form automated production processes. Some key components are as follows:

  1. The industrial internet of things – IIoT is the glue that binds industrial assets together to execute, control, secure, report on, and continuously improve automated processes. A modern CMMS/EAM package will assist in these functions.
  2. Cloud computing – This term refers to hosting IT applications and storing data in some location other than your facility, i.e., via the internet. Many companies prefer to subscribe to software applications such as a CMMS/EAM running in the cloud to reduce upfront costs, reduce implementation time, and benefit from economies of scale associated with large cloud service providers (CSPs). In turn, economies of scale can contribute to lower maintenance costs, greater data security, improved scalability, an improved upgrade path, and so on.
  3. Cybersecurity – With greater connectivity of assets via the web comes greater accessibility for hackers to inflict immense damage. This is a top-of-mind problem for executives around the globe. Although the rise of Industry 4.0 has not been significantly stymied by the accompanying upward trend in security breaches, it is a growing concern and focus area. The CMMS/EAM package is no exception. Modern CMMS/EAM software has exceptional security features and functions that make unwanted access difficult.
  4. Artificial intelligence – One of the most promising components of Industry 4.0 is the management and continuous improvement of processes, technology, assets, and products using artificial intelligence (AI). AI models the human brain in that it continuously learns on its own (i.e., machine learning). For example, a CMMS/EAM package supported by artificial intelligence might continuously learn how to better predict, prevent, and diagnose failures of assets and their components. Training on artificial intelligence is in high demand by students enrolled in university computer science programs and in short supply for many companies that employ software developers.
  5. Integration – With Industry 4.0 comes seamless integration of systems across the enterprise and along the length of the supply chain. This is the only means of machines properly communicating with each other. Your CMMS/EAM solution is no exception: It must effectively interface with numerous data sources – internally across departments, from shop floor to C-suite, and externally to equipment and parts suppliers.
  6. Big Data – Proper analysis of the reams and reams of data flowing from all levels of a company and along its supply chain requires specialized software tools. These tools help identify patterns, trends, and correlations in the data, allowing AI software to reach its full potential. A CMMS/EAM system is important as both the transmitter and recipient of Big Data. The potential for failure analysis and reliability-centered maintenance is enormous.
  7. Simulation – With automation comes the need for simulation – approximating a system or process using software. Before spending millions on assets and a fully automated operation, companies can model aspects of an Industry 4.0 implementation using simulation software. Advanced CMMS/EAM packages may run certain simulation algorithms, such as scheduling or workflow. In addition, some CMMS/EAM packages have integration capability with simulation software.
  8. Disruptive technologies – The raw power of Industry 4.0 comes from disruptive technologies that shake up existing industries and create new ones. For example, 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) is transforming industries in terms of how product is made. An entire house can be framed in less than 24 hours with large, somewhat portable 3D printing technology without the intervention of humans. Similarly, via autonomous robotics, machines can function independently of humans, using artificial intelligence to navigate their environment. The connection to CMMS/EAM software is quite basic – many of these disruptive technologies (for example, 3D printers) are just expensive assets that will require a good asset management program. 

CMMS/EAM package selection and utilization trends

If you are looking to replace or upgrade your current CMMS/EAM, you will not be disappointed with the quantity and quality of options available. However, in the many conferences and seminars I have conducted over the past 10 years, I have discovered that the vast majority of users admit to using a mere 15%–30% of the features available on their current CMMS/EAM.

To ensure success and get the most out of your CMMS/EAM, you must first determine your overall maintenance strategy and the specific performance measures and targets that will define “success” quantitatively. You must then optimize, in light of strategic goals and objectives, end-to-end processes performed by maintenance, operations, and other stakeholders. This means having the fortitude to address issues that have plagued the organization for many years and are barriers to success.

In parallel to redesigning processes, you must define key CMMS/EAM specifications that support the new processes and help meet performance targets. You will then use these specifications to select your best-fit CMMS/EAM package and vendor. Finally, the system requirements will be used to flesh out the technology architecture required for the CMMS/EAM and other integrated systems.

Yet there is an argument that you cannot define efficient and effective processes without understanding how CMMS/EAM and related technology can be used as an enabler. It is for this reason that the trending of specific features and functions is presented below. 

CMMS/EAM vendor trends

Each vendor must make strategic choices regardless of whether a formal planning process exists. In selecting a CMMS/EAM, you not only choose a software package, but you must also partner with a vendor whose strategy best meets your needs. Key differences are summarized as follows:

Service vs. software. Some vendors derive most of their income from selling “shrink-wrap” software and little else, whereas others source the majority of revenue from value-added services such as software customization, training, implementation services, and support. In the former case, the software is usually more functionally rich and/or appeals to a broader customer base, but the CMMS/EAM vendor relies more heavily on partners and/or resellers to provide the value-add services. Neither of the two approaches is necessarily bad or good, but be aware of the implications to your requirements.

Research and development (R&D) spending. Look for a vendor that will stay on top of new developments in the industry, such as enabling the software for Industry 4.0. Some companies spend as much as 30% of their revenue on R&D.

Target market. Be wary of vendors that claim to be all things to all companies. CMMS/EAM software vendors will be differentiated in terms of the following:

  • The size of the company – some vendors are better suited to handle large multinational customers, while other vendors deal more effectively with smaller asset management programs
  • Industry specialization such as pulp and paper, mining, municipalities, and so on
  • Functional specialization, including infrastructure (roads, bridges, sewers), facilities, plants, technology, and vehicle maintenance
  • Regional specialization – a focus on a local market or on servicing companies globally.

Product architecture. Choose a vendor whose architecture can handle your requirements, such as multicompany on a single database, internet capability, hardware compatibility, cloud computing capabilities, and so on.

Product specialization. Many vendors have developed comprehensive specialty modules in response to customer demand. Examples include tool tracking, key tracking, hazardous materials management, contract maintenance, lockout/tagout, turnaround, utility tracking, event scheduling, housekeeping management, energy efficiency management, space management, roof maintenance, land-asset management, linear asset tracking, and long-term capital planning.

Integration. One of the key differentiators among vendors is how well their products integrate vertically through the supply chain and horizontally across the enterprise (hence the term enterprise asset management, or EAM). Vendors also must be able to integrate with third-party software such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, shop-floor data collection and project management tools, manufacturing execution systems (MES), and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems.

E-business. Every vendor is scrambling to incorporate e-business and e-commerce capability into their software offering. This suite of software products integrates with the supply chain including parts and equipment vendors. An advanced CMMS/EAM facilitates the digital transformation of obtaining quotations, issuing purchase orders (PO), order tracking throughout the supply chain, recording the receipt of product, warehousing the product, receiving invoices electronically and matching automatically to POs and receipts, invoice payment, handling returns, and so on.

Pricing. You should choose a vendor that provides the best value-for-money solution, not necessarily the cheapest software package. As stated earlier, this requires significant preparatory work in determining your strategic goals and objectives, performance measures and targets, optimum processes, and supporting system requirements.

CMMS/EAM user-centered design trends

CMMS/EAM packages range dramatically in terms of how easy they are to install, implement, use, and maintain.

Preimplementation tools. The success of a CMMS/EAM implementation will depend heavily on your ability to redesign processes and make maximum use of all the functionality of the software. It also depends on your ability to use the system as a tool in support of the new optimized processes. Some vendors provide supplementary software tools that may be helpful in analyzing and documenting processes. In a few cases, vendors further use the process flows in providing sophisticated procedural help within the CMMS/EAM, or even as a feed to the business logic and workflow of the CMMS/EAM. Additionally, for customers commissioning a green-field operation, a small number of vendors offer software to record asset and process data once, for use during plant design through to start-up. This can save millions of dollars wasted when design data is not updated to reflect reality following the commissioning stage (i.e., when data is painstakingly entered again by those unfamiliar with design intent).

Implementation tools. Once implementation has begun, CMMS/EAM vendors provide tools such as training aids, standard libraries of procedures and PM tasks, quick data-entry utilities, a fully functional training environment, and hotline support.

Usability. A CMMS/EAM package that is easy to learn and use can save millions of dollars in terms of higher levels of utilization and productivity achieved, fewer errors, and reduced training dollars spent. Some vendors design their products with the assistance of usability experts and/or customer involvement. This can make a huge difference in terms of the choice of features and functions available to users, including navigation aids, tabs and menus, the number of keystrokes needed to complete repetitive transactions, mass data-entry assistance, customization capability, screen painters, templates, error-checking flexibility, online help, and default settings.

Adaptability. As your business and environment changes, the CMMS/EAM must be flexible enough to accommodate your changing needs – for example, enhanced scalability and ease of moving and adding assets.

CMMS/EAM trends in supporting business processes

The CMMS/EAM is a tool used to support key business process components as follows:

Planning, monitoring and control. Features such as budgeting, commitment tracking, activity-based costing, project tracking, sophisticated scheduling, notification, and condition monitoring help you plan and achieve strategic goals and objectives.

Shop-floor data collection. Without clean data off of the shop floor, analysis and reporting tools will be useless. To ensure clean data, CMMS/EAM packages employ features such as integration with production data collection systems, online wireless or batch input of data using handheld collection devices, sophisticated error-checking algorithms, approval tracking, and nested problem/cause/action codes that are tied to a given asset.

Knowledge management. Better CMMS/EAM packages will provide greater knowledge and share it more widely, with insights and functionality tailored to a given process and the needs of each individual. They employ features such as automated workflow, document management, graphical parts book and hotspots.

Analysis and reporting. This is probably the single biggest area of differentiation among the CMMS/EAM packages and the most critical in ensuring that performance targets are met. Users should seek (and use) features such as:

About the author: David Berger
David Berger, P.Eng. (AB), MBA, is president of The Lamus Group Inc., a consulting firm that provides advice and training to extract maximum performance, quality and value from your physical assets, processes, information systems and organizational design. Based in Toronto, Berger has held senior positions in industry, including for two large manufacturers, and senior roles in consulting. He has written more than 450 articles on a variety of topics such as asset management, operations management, information technology, e-commerce, organizational design, and strategy. Contact him at [email protected].
  • Business intelligence (for example, dashboards, trend graphs)
  • Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM)
  • Activity based management
  • Vendor performance analysis
  • Production impact assessment (for example, maintenance cost per ton produced)
  • Asset total cost of ownership
  • Equipment history with drill-down capability on costs
  • Process status analysis (e.g., average wait time)
  • Troubleshooting database (i.e., expert system fed by problem, cause, and action codes)
  • Inventory analysis (e.g., ABC/XYZ analysis, service level management)
  • Asset reliability and performance (e.g., mean time between failure, quality index, downtime).


Undoubtedly, much attention is focused on CMMS/EAM industry trends related to the latest and greatest buzzwords – Industry 4.0, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, Big Data, and so on. Capabilities pertaining to these are important, but do not ignore the more-mundane features and functions that differentiate the CMMS/EAM packages to an even greater extent. Many of these features and functions are embedded in the Industry 4.0 framework.

As you will be forming a partnership with the CMMS/EAM vendor for many years to come, be aware of vendor-related trends. Pay attention also to user-centered design trends, as these will be of high interest to the many people who will be using the software on a regular basis. Finally, determine how each CMMS/EAM package option can support the continuous evolution and improvement of your business processes, and select software that best aligns with your short- to long-term asset management strategy and associated user/technical requirements.

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