Use CMMS features to optimize workflow

Dec. 4, 2006
If you’re looking for ways to improve maintenance department efficiency and effectiveness, and ultimately get more out of your assets, consider streamlining your critical workflows - work order management, PM and condition-based maintenance, scheduling and reporting.

If you’re looking for ways to improve maintenance department efficiency and effectiveness, and ultimately get more out of your assets, consider streamlining your critical workflows - work order management, PM and condition-based maintenance, scheduling and reporting. As you might expect, certain CMMS features and functions, including an automated workflow engine, can be used to optimize your critical workflows.

Work order management

The work order is the focal point of any CMMS, which makes it critical for users to have access to as much information as possible from within the work order screen. To this end, your CMMS should:

  • Provide access to parts in stock, on order, on reserve, in transit, in repair and in QA inspection.
  • Link to relevant third-party software such as video or document viewers, GIS mapping tools, and the like.
  • Provide work order history, statistics and analysis tools.

Some CMMS vendors have developed subsystems including warranty, safety and tool requirements that integrate with the CMMS work order control module. As more companies turn to contract maintenance as a way of reducing costs and dealing with more specialized equipment, they’re looking for more sophisticated software tools for tracking labor and material costs associated with multiple contracts, hence the emergence of sophisticated contract maintenance functionality.

PM and CBM

Condition-based monitoring is probably the simplest module for most CMMS vendors to include, and one of the most important for many maintenance shops. Some of the more sophisticated features for optimizing the workflow are multiple PM triggers; schedule flexibility that accounts for seasonality, multiple formats, zoom, and simulation; and condition monitoring for user-defined data. Another helpful feature is task shadowing or banding. This allows you to skip a weekly PM routine if the short-term schedule has an upcoming monthly routine that includes the same weekly tasks.

Information from data collection systems, such as barcode-based time reporting, SCADA and HMI, can automatically feed your CMMS with the condition of assets and the use of maintenance labor and material. If a variance is detected, it can be explained via drill-down to the source data. The condition-based maintenance functionality on your CMMS can be used to establish the control limits that trigger actions such as cutting a work order or paging a technician, thereby increasing workflow efficiency and effectiveness.


This is an area where different CMMS packages exhibit significant variance. At the least, you should expect your CMMS to match the demand for maintenance work (open work orders) with the supply of labor (resource availability). Although every CMMS vendor provides for the demand side of scheduling, surprisingly few can cover the supply side.
Some systems compare the work backlog with a listing of available hours, all similarly sorted and filtered. Often, this is shown as a bar graph, online or hardcopy, which allows the planner to identify workload balancing problems.

The ideal system provides a split screen with this bar graph on the top half of the screen. The bottom half lists the work orders graphically represented in the top half. The planner can change work order due dates, crewing and other details on the bottom of the screen to refresh the bar graph above. The full work order also should be accessible from the summary listing on the bottom half of the screen, without having to leave the scheduling module. The planner then balances the workload and saves the work order modifications.

Only a few packages are close to providing this level of sophistication.

Some of the leading CMMS packages have taken a different tack for increasing their level of sophistication. Seamless linkage to home-grown or third-party project management software gives users access to comprehensive features such as critical path analysis, Gantt charting and resource utilization optimization.

Probably the most exciting breakthrough in scheduling functionality is the ability to perform “what-if” analysis. By playing with variables such as estimated duration of work, work order priority and labor availability, the maintenance planner can fine-tune the schedule without having to make a permanent change in the source data. Only after the planner is satisfied that the schedule is optimal is the data frozen and the source data updated.


Asset management is an area where good reporting and analysis are critical. Equipment history reports on actual labor, planned labor, material and other costs. The more advanced features include tracking maintenance costs in accordance with user-defined statistics and tracking and analysis of equipment status, problems, causes, actions and delay codes. Equipment history also reports on static tombstone data.

Other reporting features that help optimize workflow are analysis of equipment availability and performance, mean-time-between-failure (MTBF) and drill-down capability to determine the root cause of downtime.

One CMMS shows MTBF and average corrective cost in a graph. In addition, this package has a simple built-in fixed asset accounting subsystem. Features include depreciation schedule, capital cost budgeting for major repairs and replacements, and remaining asset lifespan. It also has a repair/replace analysis for showing graphically where the cost of a new asset exceeds the historical trend cost of repairing it, all based on a user-defined amortization period and inflation rate.

Automated workflow engines

One of the most sophisticated and useful management tools you’ll find in a CMMS package today is automated workflow. The workflow engine allows automatic routing of data through an optimized process, including configurable approvals, notification, and automated transactions based on user-defined business rules.

For example, you can establish a standard workflow for routing work orders to the appropriate approver depending on the total labor and material dollars booked. Furthermore, you can establish limit rules by work group and approval type for customizing authorization schemes. The system can be set up to request the next level of authorization when the actual dollar expenditure logged exceeds a user-defined percentage. Thus, work orders or projects can be monitored for significant overruns. The system also can be configured to allow only certain people to approve emergency work orders.

You can establish elaborate business rules, if desired. For example, a work order of a certain type and dollar value is sequentially routed to two approvers. If the first approver doesn’t approve the work order within a certain time period, the supervisor is notified by pager. You also can designate alternate approvers under certain conditions, such as when the approver is on vacation. Other sophisticated features for workflow optimization include:

  • Manipulating workflows by drag and drop on a color-coded graphical user interface having a similar look and feel as Microsoft Visio.
  • Determining status for a given workflow item directly from a table, dashboard or a graphical representation.
  • Determining statistics such as volume of transactions that went through a given workflow in a given time period, or the average time to complete a specific workflow activity.
  • Entering standard times for workflow activities to predict how long a process should take, and to report on actual versus standard completion time.
  • Making activities mandatory or optional, depending on the characteristics of the objects moving through the workflow (eg, skip the approval step if a work order is urgent).

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

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