Niche CMMS products seem like a good idea, but make sure vendor's credentials are in order

Oct. 7, 2006
As software functionality and user needs become more sophisticated, CMMS vendors are developing niche features, modules or entire product lines that cater to a given market segment. Contributing Editor David Berger, P.Eng., says for true industry specialization, look for CMMS vendors with industry experts on staff.

As software functionality and user needs become more sophisticated, CMMS vendors are developing niche features, modules or entire product lines that cater to a given market segment. For some industries, such as nuclear and pharmaceutical, the driver is compliance with more stringent regulatory requirements. For others, such as transportation, municipalities or contract maintenance providers, it’s the specific requirements of the particular business.

Functional specialization

When CMMS vendors first appeared more than three decades ago, they usually focused on servicing a single maintenance function. Modern CMMS packages now address as many as seven types of maintenance functions:

  • Plant maintenance
  • Fleet or mobile equipment
  • Facilities or buildings
  • Infrastructure (linear assets), including roads, pipelines and sewers
  • IT asset management, including computers, servers, network devices and other hardware, software and telecommunications assets
  • Service management, including contract maintenance, third-party billing, help desk and dispatch
  • Capital management, including long-term asset repair/replacement planning, capital project planning and transitioning from capital asset engineering design to maintenance

It once was that CMMS packages covered the functional requirements of only one or two of these areas. With time, customer demands and the desire to broaden the customer base have led some CMMS vendors to expand into four or more functional areas. Some customers, such as airports, regional governments and large mining companies, can make use of functionality from each of the seven areas. Thus, CMMS vendors continue to add more features relevant to each area.

Interestingly, increased competition and regulatory pressures are driving vendors to return to industry specialization as a means of differentiating their product. For example, within plant maintenance, some asset-intensive industries demand more specific functionality in security (food processing). Within infrastructure maintenance, some industries are under increasing pressure to do a better job of condition-based monitoring (long-distance pipelines). Similar examples can be found for the other five maintenance functions listed earlier.

Regulatory pressures

One of the most important drivers of change these days is government. Regulatory pressures abound, from sources such as the environment, health and safety, security, governance, corporate social responsibility and many others. Public companies are particularly in the spotlight as evidenced by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Despite the wide assortment of legislative sources, there appears to be a common thread running through most, if not all, regulatory requirements for any industry — proper documentation. Industry regulators vary in terms of their demands regarding documentation, including:

  • The processes that require documentation
  • The nature of documentation, especially the level of detail and timeliness
  • How secure it must be
  • Risk management issues and approvals
  • Quality control issues
  • Information access
  • Audit trail generation

Although each industry is subject to government scrutiny, some, like the aerospace, nuclear or municipal water treatment industries, are more heavily regulated than others. Many CMMS vendors have done a good job of packaging and marketing the regulatory requirements as part of their software offerings.

Integration

For many years, CMMS software companies have collaborated with vendors that offer industry-specific hardware and software products. The more open architecture of recent years has provided an even greater impetus for vendors to work together in partnerships. Some of the more popular software applications that are integrated with CMMS are:

  • SCADA systems in facilities and plant operations
  • HMIs and PLCs in heavy manufacturing or process industries
  • Wireless and handheld applications for assisting remote field service maintenance workers
  • GIS for the transportation industry and utilities

Workflow and notification

It’s too easy to forget that the CMMS software is but a tool in support of your maintenance processes, from handling a work request, to ordering parts, to performing a PM routine. The software should, therefore, facilitate the best-practices workflow at each step in the process in your industry. A workflow engine captures the process flow on computer using customizable business rules, allowing users to see a graphical representation of the flow and determine the current status of items moving through that flow. Workflow also enables some parts of the process to be automated, such as approvals and notification. The latter refers to the routing of critical data to a person’s e-mail, pager, telephone or handheld device.

Each industry has a workflow based on unique operations. A high-end CMMS is flexible enough to tailor its workflow to the distinctiveness of a given industry, and in turn, to a given company. For example, the hotel and property management industries lend themselves to using a centralized call center, help desk or dispatch center approach to initiate work, as opposed to the more decentralized or distributed workflow in most manufacturing industries.

Condition monitoring

One of the most visible improvements during the past few years is an increased emphasis on reliability. Operations, maintenance and engineering departments are working together to minimize variability in products, processes, the environment and equipment operations through use of condition monitoring and other tools. The more sophisticated CMMS packages can apply trend analysis to a variety of meters and combinations of triggers, as well as alarm users, schedule a PM routine, and take automatic corrective action when a condition is reached. Each industry has a unique set of relevant measures and benchmarked targets that can be part of a CMMS vendor’s toolkit.

Supply chain management

A critical success factor in capital-intensive, remote-locations industries like mining and forestry products is the ability to procure MRO parts quickly and cheaply. Ever since the collapse of the dot.com bubble, CMMS vendors have been building the functionality of their software in anticipation of rising user demand for those “e-words” once again. E-commerce, e-procurement and e-marketplace, for example, hold promise for users who want to reduce costs tremendously by automating many of the supply chain functions. Advanced features include standardized electronic catalogs, portals into MRO part supplier Web sites, electronic quotations and purchase orders, electronic payment upon receipt of parts, and used equipment sold through an electronic marketplace.

Business intelligence

One of the most exciting developments across the CMMS world has been the improvement of analysis and reporting tools. After all, management and workers can’t be expected to meet or exceed industry benchmarks without timely and accurate feedback of results. Business intelligence brings to your desktop an effective means of presenting and probing results, fully configurable by each user. By custom tailoring an analysis and reporting tool to the needs of a given industry, CMMS vendors can help companies focus on more relevant metrics. Additionally, a few CMMS vendors maintain and sell standard industry data.

Just a marketing tool?

A more cynical view of industry specialization is that it’s more of a marketing tool for the vendors than a true industry advantage. For example, selling to the pharmaceutical industry means CMMS vendors help customers comply with FDA requirements by offering such features as enhanced audit trail and electronic signatures. However, many other industries can use these same features.

Furthermore, adding or deleting some fields, or changing field labels and templates to incorporate the lingo of a specific industry are fairly superficial ways of achieving industry specialization. If you’re looking for true industry specialization, look for CMMS vendors with industry experts on staff and a track record of successful installations in your industry.

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

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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