Improvements in CMMS data entry make systems more efficient

July 2, 2007
CMMS vendors have developed data tools for helping you enter data as efficiently and painlessly as possible. These are especially useful, given the harsh environments some maintenance departments face.

Ever since computers were invented, users have been searching for ways to improve the accuracy and timeliness of data that gets entered, and that concern applies to a CMMS, in spades. There’s no point in collecting plant data if it’s entered either incorrectly or too late to support decisions or actions.
CMMS vendors have developed data tools for helping you enter data as efficiently and painlessly as possible. These are especially useful, given the harsh environments some maintenance departments face.

Static data

A CMMS needs two basic types of data. The first is static, or “tombstone,” data. This refers to data that sits on a master file with little or no change for the life of a given asset such as a facility, a piece of equipment, a component, part, supplier, technician and so on. Simple examples of static data fields include name, number and description.

One of the most useful CMMS features is the ability to define specification templates. These allow you to establish meaningful static data fields for any subset of a given object’s characteristics. For example, the specific details of your motors would be described differently than those of your pumps or valves, even though all of them are asset components. Similarly, you’d require different descriptors for mobile equipment compared to a bridge or rooms in a building. Once the tombstone data is entered, you can sort and filter the data for search and reporting purposes.

Another useful feature for some users with security authorization is the ability to add missing static data to master files and coded field tables on the fly when entering data, without leaving the working screen. This functionality might be useful, for example, if a user tries to initiate a work order and finds that the subject equipment is missing from the master records. Similarly, if checking the part availability for a work order reveals that the required spare part is missing from the master file, this feature allows you to add the part without exiting the work order.

Transactional data

The second type of data entered into the CMMS is transactional, or dynamic, data. This data changes with time. Examples include data entered on work orders after a job is completed, or parts are issued from stores. It’s the accumulation of transactional data that permits analysis and management reporting such as budget-versus-actual maintenance expenditures, or asset evaluation according to key performance indicators.

One valuable feature CMMS vendors made available is the ability to enter data in spreadsheet mode instead of having to tab through numerous fields spread all over a screen and across multiple screens.

This allows you to select only the relevant data entry fields and present them as columns in a single spreadsheet, which in turn, facilitates rapid entry of a large volume of transactional data.

Columns can be dragged and dropped, adjusted in width by dragging either side, and used for data sorting by simply clicking the column heading. More advanced CMMS packages present a split screen showing both spreadsheet and tabular formats allowing either means of data entry, or to provide users with pre-populated or summary data in the tabular format.

Data entry modes

There are many options available today to get the data into your CMMS - manually or electronically, incrementally or continuously, and with varying speeds and quantities. Some of the more popular options are discussed below.

Manual keying is by far the most familiar means of getting data into your CMMS via computer keyboards, handheld devices, touch screens and even telephone keypads. Although it’s the most prevalent method of data entry, manual keying of data is fraught with weaknesses such as:

  • Human error
  • Variable productivity, given the variance in people’s ability to type
  • Dependence on the user’s motivation to input sufficient quality and quantity of data
  • Increased cost to implement because of greater error checking required, more user training and more expensive devices to accommodate keying in harsh environments

Voice recognition systems have been around for more than two decades, although the technology has made only limited penetration into the CMMS world. There are but a few CMMS vendors that offer interactive voice response (IVR) capability that allows entering completed work order data by voice or touch tones. The key benefit of this technology is that phones are ubiquitous, cheap and easy to use.

Voice recognition technology is just now becoming perceived as accurate enough for limited industrial use.

Bulk load refers to the ability to load data in large quantities when first implementing a CMMS and whenever significant additions must be made to master files to accommodate a new wing or production line. You’re be able to import data from an Excel spreadsheet or another recognized file format. Some CMMS vendors even assist in electronic conversion of data from legacy applications using simple programs. Obviously, productivity is higher when you bulk load data. However, you must be wary of the bulk data’s completeness and accuracy.

Scanning is a most efficient means of entering data collected by barcode, RFID, transponders and magnetic strips. Scans can be done manually using handheld barcode scanners or swiping employee badges, or scanning can be automated, such as in automated pick systems for replacement parts.
Online real-time data entry is the ultimate in terms of efficiency and accuracy. Condition monitoring via an interface with plant automation is a good example of this approach. Note that this form of data entry can be overwhelming with respect to cost and the volume of data to analyze.

Tips and traps

A few pieces of critical advice for CMMS data entry:

  • Use wizards (available on a few CMMS packages) to facilitate data entry while training or for processes that are used infrequently.
  • Use the “copy” feature available on most CMMS packages to duplicate data from a similar record.
  • Save keystrokes by hiding fields that aren’t needed during data entry.
  • Avoid unnecessary keying by using default values whenever your CMMS package allows you to do so.

There are also things to avoid when entering data.

  • Don’t focus on the benefits that accurate and timely data entry will provide for the company. Focus on how it will ultimately make the technician’s job easier.
  • Don’t use clerical staff for data entry if you want to foster CMMS ownership among your technicians and their supervisors.
  • Don’t burden users with excessive data to enter, which might lead to a partial or total lack of support.
  • Don’t waste time and money porting data from legacy systems to a new CMMS. Most often it’s more cost-efficient to re-key clean static data into the new software and leave old transactional data in some retrievable format.

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

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About the Author

David Berger | P.Eng. (AB), MBA, president of The Lamus Group Inc.

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].

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