By Lindsay Audin - September 2010 - Maintenance & Operations
Computers are now a standard tool for facility managers, but if they really learned how to use computers optimally and efficiently, the result could be a reduction in operating costs. As budgets get tighter — while demands for efficiency and comfort remain the same — squeezing more out of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) may help keep the red off your balance sheet. Several trends in this field are emerging that may also help facility managers integrate parallel efforts toward improving or upgrading their building operations.
CMMS assist facility personnel in a variety of tasks. While initially used to handle complex industrial operations, CMMS now routinely also support many building management tasks, including:
- Asset management — tracking equipment repairs and upgrades, storing specifications, contracts, and warranties, and logging startups and lifetimes of equipment; some programs also develop or contain benchmarks against which existing performance may be measured.
- Preventive maintenance — cataloging, scheduling, and maintaining routine tasks, instructions for each task, as well as the tools and skills needed to fulfill them.
- Licensing and permits — tracking of regulatory and professional certifications, permits, and other documents required to maintain the legal and safety standing of a facility; some programs also assist related paperwork, such as providing "ticklers" for advance notification for renewing insurance or handling required inspections.
- Work orders — setting up and completing tasks, whether or not routine, by detailing and tracking what must be done, and the expected processes for performing them; some programs also develop and record the cost of each work order.
- Inventory maintenance — ensuring supply and re-ordering of spare parts, tools, and related materials, as well as their locations, shipping/receiving of them, and the quantity and type of items consumed by each work order.
Over two dozen such computerized packages are presently available, with most falling under the general category of "enterprise resource (or asset) management programs." Most reside on a facility's server, but in many cases the software and a facility's essential data are now accessed instead via a contractor's website. Doing so may eliminate the need to involve the facility's IT personnel in the maintenance and upgrading of the program, while adding a backstop in case of a breakdown in a facility's own network. Handled essentially as a subscription service, such web-based software avoids the often large one-time purchase, on-site training, and setup costs of facility-based software.
Capabilities and Issues
Unlike many stand-alone building maintenance software packages, CMMS products are designed to link to and work with a variety of other computer-based activities, such as computer-aided drafting (CAD), office software, databases, BAS/EMS, and others. Brian Zabrocki, a CMMS expert at CE Maintenance Solutions, says that the better CMMS packages offer easy integration and import/export capabilities to work with existing software. One example, he says, is the ability to "close the loop" on a given maintenance activity by having the system send automated e-mails to the person or department requesting a service or repair, detailing the status of that work, and when or how it was resolved.
But how does one differentiate among CMMS offerings, and demonstrate the value they may add to existing facility maintenance efforts?
Zabrocki, who installs and customizes CMMS for his clients, lists several criteria for such evaluation, in addition to the usual characteristics of price, user-friendliness, integration with one's present IT platform and service quality.
- How may a given product be customized for your facility, and especially for individual users, so that screens and reports may be created containing just the information needed?
- Is the graphic user interface (GUI) comparable to or better than existing software so that training and use require minimal time away from work?
- Can it work with wireless handheld devices so that technicians can access data and diagrams without needing access to a terminal?
- What are its limitations with regard to future expandability? For example, how easy will it be to incorporate more users, or various types of existing software?
Focusing on specifics, Zabrocki suggests that a prospective CMMS vendor be asked: "How will I be able, for example, to differentiate certain work orders from others to demonstrate OSHA compliance, or with relevance to a particular capital project, or concerning the work of an individual technician?"