Once again, manufacturing is clearing a path for institutional and commercial facilities. Maintenance managers specifying a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) might want to pay particular attention.
The issue is system integration, the ability to transfer electronic data among applications, such as between software modules, between departments in an organization, and between separate organizations. Many departments might have encountered one of these types of system integration. But whatever form it takes, the spread of computer and Internet technology is likely to push the issue higher up the priority list for a growing number of maintenance and engineering departments.
Managers might want to check out their industrial counterparts for guidance.
“The manufacturing side of the world has been using this approach for years,” says Dave Bertolini, managing principal and software implementation specialist with Life Cycle Engineering. In manufacturing, software that monitors and controls production must integrate with many other software applications, including those for maintenance management and purchasing, to keep production lines running with as few interruptions as possible.
Relatively few facilities maintenance departments, however, have seen the need to make this particular feature of a CMMS a high priority so far. In part, the roadblock has been education.
“Facilities people often don’t realize the full power of integration,” Bertolini says. For example, it allows users to quickly check inventory for spare parts, share billing information with the purchasing department and efficiently order equipment from vendors.
Some departments are ahead of the curve. At California State University-Long Beach, system integration was a “top priority” in selecting a CMMS, says Randy Walsh, division information systems manager for physical planning and facilities management.
“Our steering committee felt that double entry was a complete waste of resources and wanted an integrated package that did not require double entry and provided a seamless, intuitive interface to the end user so that when they performed multiple job functions, it was easy for them to use a common interface,” he says.
Today, managers seeking to specify a CMMS with such capabilities might have options to choose from, but the issue presented Walsh with challenges.
“At the time we went out on our search, end-to-end integrated package was still an emerging concept, and there were a limited number of vendors that offered what we were looking for,” he says. “However, the concept of integrating disparate software packages defeated one of our main goals of a common user interface, not to mention the software maintenance headaches of keeping multiple software packages in synch with each other.
For system integration to take hold, changes probably first need to occur within facilities.
“I think there needs to be a lot of education among facilities people in understanding the full value of the CMMS,” Bertolini says. “Then the value of integration will follow.”