In last month's column on e-procurement, I examined how using the Internet can help you manage your supply chain better. Here are a few more ways you can use the Internet with your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).
Many CMMS vendors offer the ability to access data and applications using the Internet. Ideally, the browser-based version of the CMMS should have the same look and feel, and offer the same functionality, as the client server version. CMMS vendors accomplish this in three ways:
Microsoft Terminal Server
Many CMMS vendors run Web applications using MS Terminal Server. It uses terminal emulation software to provide full client/server functionality. Thus, processing takes place on the server. For some companies, this is a good thing because it represents a "thin-client solution" that avoids the expensive "fat-client" hardware and application software licenses. Another advantage is that training is minimal because users are accessing the existing client/server.
On the other hand, some argue that this approach limits performance because it strains server resources as the number of remote users increases. Thus Terminal Server is best suited for a small number of users (approximately 20 to 25). Furthermore, companies must acquire a software license for Terminal Server on the LAN, including client- and server-based software. For remote users, there may be heightened security risks in allowing access to the application via the Internet as opposed to a closed Intranet or virtual private network.
Several CMMS vendors use Citrix to deliver Web-based solutions because early versions of MS Terminal Server had performance and feature deficiencies, and problems printing to multiple drivers.
After several modifications by Microsoft, Terminal Server is now virtually identical to Citrix. The only difference appears to be that MS Terminal Server works only with MS Windows while Citrix works on that platform and others.
Some experts argue CMMS vendors will eventually rewrite their applications in Java and Java Server Pages, just as they rewrote them to take advantage of client-server technology, However, this is being debated hotly because of the improvements made in "screen scraping" technologies, such as MS Terminal Server and Citrix.[pullquote]
For one thing, Java requires specific environments to operate correctly. They can be affected by browser or workstation upgrades because the server expects a given version for compatibility. For Citrix and Terminal Server users, the application runs within a separate client, so browsers and other software can be upgraded without experiencing an interference problem.
One advantage of Java is that the client browser and server exchange data only. As a result, fewer resources are required from the server, which creates greater scalability. Although Citrix and Terminal Server are fast, each process requires a large amount of server resources per user to provide memory, processing, etc.
Web-based work requests
Most vendors also offer varying degrees of Web-based work requests. For example, some vendors have a maintenance request form that sits on the client, but does not require a license seat. Other vendors use a Web browser to post work request forms. This permits any user to create a work request and view its status, including acknowledgement approval. Work requests can then be sent via e-mail or the Web. Once received into the CMMS, work requests are queued for review and approval by the maintenance planner.
Some vendors use an e-mail system, which is either internal or external to the CMMS, to send a work request to the appropriate approver and an acknowledgement to the originator. More sophisticated packages use internal or external workflow engines that route the request based on pre-established business rules. These rules can be more sophisticated than who needs to approve what type of request. For example, if a work request is not approved within 24 hours, a reminder is sent. If not approved within 48 hours, a note is then sent to a supervisor. All of this can be completely Web-based.
Some workflow engines provide users with a graphical view of workflow. Icons denote activities, such as decision boxes and notifications. Even standard-versus-actual times for each activity are available with certain workflow engines.
David Berger is a principal with Western Management Consultants in Toronto, Canada. He is a certified Management Consultant and a registered Professional Engineer. He is Founding President of the Plant Engineering & Maintenance Association of Canada, past President of the Toronto Chapter of the Canadian Society for Industrial Engineering, and a past Vice President of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. He can be reached via email at [email protected].