Must have CMMS features

Nov. 1, 2005
When serving internal or external customers, certain CMMS features are indispensable. David Berger tells you which ones these are in his monthly column.

As more companies investigate outsourcing to keep costs in line, CMMS vendors have added features and functions to their packages so outsourced services can be managed properly. Demand for service management functionality in a CMMS also stems from three additional areas, including a company’s field service function, a help desk or dispatch function, and a function to support formal service level agreements with operating units within the company.

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Contract maintenance
When you contract the services of a third party to maintain an asset, it doesn’t mean that the responsibility for generating a knowledge base regarding the asset is no longer necessary. For example, consider who is tracking the equipment history to ensure that ineffective repairs aren’t repeated, equipment that is expensive to maintain is not re-purchased, operators are properly trained to detect and avoid breakdowns, maintenance technicians are working consistently across shifts, and costs are trending down as valuable knowledge is accumulated. Who should be responsible for collecting and analyzing data –- you or the outsource service provider?

These are difficult questions for some plants, although any given division of responsibility can work if you have a clearly written contract and a feature-rich CMMS that can produce reports for both parties. Modern CMMS packages have no problem accommodating the needs of either party. However, in some cases, you may be using one vendor’s software and the outsource service provider is using another not-so-compatible CMMS package. Of course, it’s always possible to integrate any two software packages, but something may be lost in the translation, resulting in, for example, truncated data, a different user interface or a significant outlay of time and money.

Some outsource service providers are happy to use whatever CMMS package you desire. Others are reluctant to do so as they’ve made a significant investment in a given vendor’s training, standard reporting and so on. They’ll supply you with whatever management reports you want. Where possible, I’d suggest having your outsourcer on the same system for maximum accessibility to the knowledge base.

Field service
For some plants, maintenance management doesn’t end when the product is shipped. Your company might assume responsibility for the products or the equipment used for servicing them. A full range of CMMS features and functions is required for planning and controlling any preventive maintenance or repair work done to products and equipment in the field, or returned to the company for servicing. A work order is initiated, the history is tracked, an inventory of spare parts is managed, and a warranty cost is accounted for or the customer is backcharged for the service work.

Help desk/dispatch service
A help desk typically takes phone calls and provides the caller with diagnostic information or equipment repair guidance from the CMMS over the phone. A dispatch service records into a CMMS the caller’s basic work order information and then sends someone out to provide a follow-up service (eg, property manager dispatches maintenance when a tenant complains about the HVAC system). In either case, callers can be external customers phoning in for help regarding the repair of products purchased, the maintenance of equipment or facilities leased, or the servicing of computer hardware and software. Callers also can be internal operating units phoning the maintenance area with work requests. The CMMS can be used to log requests and the history of services rendered.

Formal internal service provider
Any plant with an internal maintenance function can opt to establish a formal service level agreement (SLA) with the operating units they service. The SLA isn’t necessarily as formal as a third-party contract discussed above, however, some plants have spun off their maintenance department into a true profit center that operates like an external contract maintenance provider. Some of these profit centers do indeed seek maintenance contracts with external clientele. By at least establishing an SLA with operations, the maintenance department can ensure there’s a two-way understanding of expectations regarding response time, equipment availability and true cost of services. The CMMS is then used for tracking actual service levels against plan and helping to better manage the SLA.

More importantly, communicating formally with operations regarding an SLA is an important step in fostering a true partnership in which maintenance shares equally in the goals, objectives, measures and targets of the lines of business they service. This eliminates the parent-child or master-slave attitude so typical of operations and maintenance relationships. It also builds trust within the company that maintenance is aligned strategically, and that it’s offering high-quality service at competitive rates.

Service management features and functions
Regardless of which of the four service management applications you implement, the following are a few of the enabling features and functions to look for in a CMMS.
Customer relationship management (CRM): If you’re selling services to multiple external customers, then you’ll need a CMMS that features either a CRM module or integration with third-party CRM software. This software helps with managing the contact and the sales funnel.
Contract management: If you’ll be entering into formal contracts with your customers, then you’ll need software to initiate and manage the contracts, including payment plans, and purchase, lease or rental agreements.
Service level agreement: Whether your customers are internal or external, your CMMS should assist in preparing a SLA. This includes such features as

  • Qualitative and quantitative service goals and objectives.
  • A catalog of services offered with pricing and costing.
  • Service level expectations for each service regarding min/max, realistic, and stretch goals.
  • Procedural expectations such as outlining a standard process for how a given repair or PM will be done, including labor skills required.
  • Escalation workflow that will notify key managers if target service levels aren’t met.

Customer care center: A few CMMS packages will have call center software relevant to a help desk or dispatch function. Alternatively, some CMMS vendors have integrated third-party solutions. Features include call tracking, work requests, problem diagnostics and response tracking.
Scheduling: Although any CMMS has some level of work planning and scheduling, the specific needs for service management include the ability to match available labor skills and resources to the work needed to complete a job. This must be accomplished within the constraints of the service level agreement and with maximum productivity.
Mobile technology: PDA devices featuring fully integrated CMMS functionality are extremely helpful for a mobile workforce. Useful features include remote access to work orders, asset history and warranty information, diagnostics data, and customer and SLA information. Additionally, technicians should be able to log hours worked and materials used, as well as record root cause of the problem, action taken and follow-up required.
Financial management: Features such as third-party billing, chargebacks and tight integration with accounting modules are required for properly managing your service accounts.

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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