There has been a lot going on in the kitchen since last years CMMS/EAM software review. Incremental gains in CMMS features and functions have made many packages better at handling the myriad and specialized requirements of particular industries and facilities. But the big news has been the plethora of vendor mergers and acquisitions, which have left plant professionals concerned about whether and how their current system or future selection will be supported.
Increased software capabilities in 2006 prompted us to expand the scope of the Plant Services CMMS/EAM Software Review, our detailed hands-on comparison of current offerings. The Review is now far too comprehensive to fit on the pages of the magazine it resides on a purpose-built Web site at www.PlantServices.com/CMMS_Review. There, you can find detailed information in the form of verified answers to a detailed questionnaire covering 30 areas of vendor profile and package capabilities (see sidebar, Characteristics quantified). You can assign weight to every aspect to reflect its importance in your facility, and the site will rank the packages according to how well they fit your requirements.
This year, along with incorporating new owners and package names two-thirds of the listings being new or revised. There is now data on 13 packages from 12 vendors (Table 1). More continue to be added as they launch new versions and choose to participate.
The site also offers many resources and solid information for anyone who wants to better understand CMMS/EAM capabilities, solve an application problem or more fully use an existing system. But before you rush off for a hearty dose of data at www.PlantServices.com/CMMS_Review, enjoy this years juicy bits of background for an appetizer.
In the entire history of the CMMS industry, North America has never seen such a merger and acquisition frenzy as we have witnessed during the past few years. Best-of-breed vendors both big and small have been snapped up by companies representing quite a wide range of industries, including:
- ERP software
- Venture capital
- Plant automation
- Technology services
- General software
- General manufacturing
There are several theories about what is transpiring to cause this heightened activity:
- Many of the entrepreneurs who started these CMMS companies in the 80s or earlier are close to retirement age and are looking to cash out.
- Large, best-of-breed CMMS vendors are facing increased competition from Tier 1 ERP vendors that have been growing through acquisition and natural growth. These large ERP vendors are hungry for opportunities to expand their customer base and product mix.
- There is still lots of business to be won during the next few years, especially for those CMMS vendors that are targeting small- and medium-sized companies. Surveys Ive conducted during the past five years have shown that about 30% of companies still dont have a CMMS, and many plan to replace what they have. As the packages become progressively more sophisticated and easier to use, and as manufacturing and other industry executives look for ways to trim costs from areas that dont produce revenue, the CMMS has proven to be a valuable tool for improving their return on assets.
- Theres no clear market leader in the standalone CMMS world. This is especially true for CMMS vendors in Tiers 2, 3, and 4, for which there are hundreds of package options. Although there are fewer Tier 1 standalone CMMS vendors, the market is certainly not as concentrated as that of Tier 1 ERP vendors. This leaves the opportunity for a company to build market dominance through acquisition of one or more CMMS vendors.
- Some technology-based companies interested in acquiring CMMS vendors are simply looking to expand their product and service offerings, vertically and/or horizontally. The CMMS provides an excellent complement to many such businesses.
Time will tell whether this increased merger and acquisition activity is in the best interests of the market. Certainly, if it means a greater pool of capital is available for areas such as research and development, and if competition remains healthy enough that prices dont begin to climb, then its likely a good thing. This, of course, presupposes the CMMS industry remains a growth industry, and thus the acquirers of the CMMS vendors can extract a return on their investment. A shrinking market would likely require a reduction in the number of CMMS vendors for any of them to turn a profit.
Specialties bring in picky patrons
Although some might argue that industry and product specialization are more marketing gimmicks than real value to the customer, theres no question that its a recent trend. I would say that companies are simply looking for a CMMS package that meets their unique needs, and a vendor that understands their industry. Some examples are as follows:
- Pharmaceuticals require a CMMS that has electronic signature capability to comply with FDA 21 CFR Part 11.
- Municipalities are looking for a CMMS package with sophisticated linear asset functionality for handling parks, underground water and wastewater networks, and so on.
- Telecommunications companies want estimating capability with features such as compatible units.
- Companies with considerable mobile equipment are looking for fleet management functionality, such as compliance with the vehicle maintenance reporting standards (VMRS) coding structure or the American Trucking Associations standard listing of components.
- Pipeline companies need inspection and risk assessment features.
- Large oil and gas or nuclear plants need sophisticated safety-related functionality such as lockout/tagout.
- Third-party service providers want features such as contract management, third-party billing, help desk and dispatch.
- Government departments are keen on sophisticated budgeting capability including encumbrance accounting.
- Asset-intensive companies experiencing considerable capital expansion can save millions of dollars if the CMMS can help integrate and follow the complete life cycle of asset-related data from engineering design to deployment to maintenance.
Thus, CMMS vendors continue to try to develop a competitive advantage and dominate a given market niche through industry/product specialization.
Ordering a la Web
The decade-long battle between Web-based and Web-enabled technology continues, where Web-based software is written for the Web from the ground up, and Web-enabled software is older client-server technology that has been adapted to run quite efficiently and cost-effectively on the Web. However, Web-based technology has clearly turned a corner in that many IT departments insist on it, and many CMMS vendors have rewritten their software accordingly. In my view, theres still a place for Web-enabled software and companies should think twice about eliminating software solely on the basis of how it runs on the Web.
Better blending of mixed applications
Increased merger and acquisition activity, greater specialization, and even the movement to Web-based technology have accelerated the need for building better integration capability. This development can be summarized as follows:
- The acquirers of CMMS vendors are looking to integrate with their existing software offerings, and build the necessary bridges to applications running in their respective customer bases.
- Industry specialization sometimes requires integration with key applications that dominate a given industry, such as ESRIs Geographical Information System (GIS) software, popular with companies that have assets strewn over a large geographical area.
- By rewriting software as Web-based, CMMS vendors have an opportunity to re-position their application as more open, thus facilitating integration with other applications.
Also, there are software companies that specialize in standard and customized tools for integrating to popular applications, data extraction and analysis and reporting. The demand for improved integration capability will no doubt continue as companies look for ways to bridge the many islands of automation in their businesses.
Prix not fixe
One approach CMMS vendors have found useful in attracting new customers is offering creative pricing schemes aimed at different customer needs. Besides the usual pricing of software based on concurrent users, named users and a variety of ASP or hosting options, there are a couple of newer options that have emerged as follows:
- Software as a Service (SaaS) is all-inclusive pricing per increment of use (eg, dollars for each block of 80 hours of use) where costs are built into the one SaaS fee including software, hosting and implementation, unlimited training and support, and free upgrades and maintenance.
- Fixed pricing per site regardless of number of users for small- to medium-sized companies (large companies have historically been able to negotiate a site license).
- Pricing based on incremental functions as they are turned on.
Season to taste with user-centered design
One of the most important trends in the eyes of users is the improvements seen in user-centered design or usability during recent years. For those CMMS packages that re-wrote their software to become Web-based, a new and improved user interface was a welcome secondary benefit.
One of my favorite informal measures of usability that I hear so often from users goes something like,
How many screens do I typically have to plod through to get at the information I need? Some users have even developed several scenarios to compare prospective CMMS vendors as to how many screens it takes to complete a given series of tasks and over what time period. The Web-based software packages offer some improvement over older systems, with features such as:
- Search toolbar
- History pull-down, which provides a listing of screens that you have visited in the past, in chronological order, including hyperlinks
- Back and Forward buttons to move back and forth through your last viewed screens
- URL toolbar, which allows you to key in any screen address or Web site reference (like a go to feature)
By contrast, one of the things you give up in moving to Web-based products is some of the more sophisticated graphics capability. For example, its difficult to build and display a graphical schedule showing scheduled-versus-available hours for next week, with a red bar over each day representing available hours, and a blue bar beside it showing total scheduled hours. As well, it would be difficult to hover the cursor over the blue bar to show the work order segments that make up the bar, and interactively see the cursor move to the appropriate work order in a work order backlog listing in another quadrant of the screen. It would also be difficult to allow users to drag and drop work order segments that make up each blue bar and move them to shorter blue bars for better workload balancing. Finally, it would be difficult to make these changes while in simulation mode, ie, only save changes when you were happy with the proposed schedule. These features are easier to program in the old client/server environments.
Another key trend in user-centered design has been the flexibility in customizing the application to the varying needs of individuals, or tailoring it to different roles such as maintenance planner versus tradesperson versus stockkeeper. This trend has been widely praised by users, as it decreases training time, simplifies execution of day-to-day processes, improves accuracy and speed of data entry, and facilitates extraction of relevant information that lead to better, faster decision making. Examples of customization capability are:
- Security access that defines who sees what fields, screens, menus, etc., and whether data is read-only or even visible on-screen
- Screen layouts including which fields are viewed on which screen or tab, field labels, size and shape of each field, field position, colors, tab labels and content, size and position of columnar data, and default values
- Help and error messages
- Language that a package displays, as well as currency used
- Start-up or main menu, ie, what menu options, shortcuts, report highlights, KPIs, dashboard elements, alarms, drill-downs, notifications and so on that a user wants on their home page, and in what level of detail
- Reports or searches that are customized by the user in terms of filters and sort criteria, as well as how they appear on screen or printed
- Workflow and business logic that define approvals, notifications, automated processes, and generally, who gets what information when and under what conditions
- Forms and templates that can make data entry easier
Data analysis satisfies discriminating palates
Vendors and the user community are slowly learning the incredible power of the CMMS to take raw data and turn it into knowledge that can reduce your costs dramatically, through use of sophisticated analysis tools. Its not enough to collect data and report on it there is far more to be gained by even simple techniques such as Pareto analysis, which looks at, say, your top 10 problems by dollar value experienced last month in a given area. This allows you to uncover the biggest problems first, and then drill down on root causes such as faulty spare parts from a given manufacturer, inadequate training of maintainer or operator error.
Many CMMS vendors have been working diligently to improve their failure analysis capability in response to the ever-increasing interest in failure modes and effects analysis (FMEA), reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) and root cause analysis (RCA). Asset-intensive companies are finding it painfully slow and complex to implement these advanced techniques, however, especially when used on critical equipment, the potential payback is enormous. That is why CMMS vendors are eagerly looking for ways to remove some of the pain through better analysis tools.
Another group of analysis tools for which demand is steadily growing is costing and budgeting tools such as life-cycle costing. Capturing costs associated with an asset, from its procurement to its disposition, gives management greater insight into the total cost of ownership or economic life of various assets and asset classes. The benefits of tracking life-cycle costs are many, including:
- Comparing the cost of various vendor offerings of the same asset type (eg, comparing, say, a Toyota versus Nissan forklift with the same or similar specifications)
- Understanding the trade-off between asset performance and the total cost of ownership (eg, deciding how long it is economic to hold on to vehicles within your fleet in theory, the useful life of an asset can be extended forever through repair and part replacement, but when is it economical to replace it?)
- Forecasting costs of assets based on the life-cycle cost profile of similar assets
- Becoming more aware of costs to better control them
The CMMS can help in tracking life-cycle costs by accumulating relevant labor, material, contract and overhead costs associated with a given asset, even if the asset is moved, sent outside for repair, seen to deteriorate faster or slower than expected, and depreciates or appreciates in value. There also are costs other than maintenance that must be considered such as operating costs, installation costs, risk assessment (eg, health, safety and environmental impact), and so on.
Life-cycle cost analysis can be quite complex, especially for facilities or infrastructure that require monitoring and assessment of the assets condition and rate of deterioration. As well, there are multi-year considerations such as discount rates used in net present value (NPV) calculations, and assumptions around how the business, market and product alternatives will change over time.
Salting in CBM
As CMMS packages become more easily integrated with plant automation, and as demand for advanced analysis tools grows, its no surprise that condition-based maintenance (CBM) functionality has been steadily improving. Users are looking for CMMS packages that facilitate the movement to a more planned environment, especially for critical assets.
A few CMMS vendors have even built direct interfaces with human-machine interface (HMI), manufacturing execution system (MES), programmable logic controller (PLC), supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and other shop-floor data collection technology. These interfaces allow users to access both maintenance and operational data in real time through the CMMS for tracking the condition of assets, operating environment, operational process and the product. In turn, users can build multiple triggers within the CMMS for taking preventive or corrective action when key condition indicators trend outside acceptable ranges.
There are many advanced features emerging relevant to CBM including graphical display of the asset showing key condition indicators and their status, multiple triggers with reset capability, nesting of triggers with different cycles, use of Boolean logic or even an external software program to validate data input and dictate when complex triggers are to occur, and so on. These features help users detect and predict failures so that action can be taken, thereby minimizing equipment downtime.
The mobile feast
The popularity of mobile technology continues to rise as more users realize its power. As well, the telecommunications networks continue to expand their geographic reach and their ability to handle interference. The handheld devices are also improving in terms of functionality and affordability.
Much of the functionality of a desktop terminal can be put in the hands of a mobile user, including uploading and downloading work order and spare parts inventory information, accessing equipment history and reports, and even viewing or redlining GIS maps. In my view, mobile technology is one of the most important trends in the CMMS industry, just as the BlackBerry took business to a whole new level.