How managers can move their organization from reactive emergencies to planned activities
Angela Testa, senior vice president of operations at American Campus Communities, strengthens operations without compromising a healthy work environment
A properly implemented computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is a powerful management tool. Maintenance and engineering managers can use it to justify resources and activities, as well as to document work history.
But managers also might need to implement a CMMS to comply with federal, state or local mandates, follow the results of internal or external audits; justify resources; or establish an automated management system.
One challenge in this process is developing an efficient process to select and implement the “right” CMMS. Too often, managers select a CMMS, then change existing processes to match the software’s capabilities.
The four phases of upgrading a CMMS include: conducting an operations review; writing a request for proposal (RFP); selecting the software; and implementing it.
The most useful aspect of an operations review is identifying areas of improvement within a department. Identifying these areas can help managers to change department priorities, as well as to bring a more professional business approach to maintenance operations by using basic management functions, such as planning, organizing, directing and improving.
Most importantly, the information can provide both managers and facility executives with the data necessary to justify the purchase or upgrade of a CMMS.
The initial step in an operations review is collecting baseline information. This data includes the number of facilities and key assets, inventories, asset condition, and maintenance activities.
Using the compiled information, managers can compare and benchmark it against activities in similar organizations in terms of performance and quality. Such organizations should be roughly comparable and perform the same functions as the department seeking to upgrade its CMMS.
The next step is establishing recommendations based on these findings. Managers should confirm the accuracy of the information by involving employees from all levels of the organization. This step will establish a relationship with employees in preparation for future implementation.
The recommendations from the operations review should identify specific improvements to department technology and practices that would improve operations. Just as importantly in this case, managers can use the recommendations to select the most appropriate software.
Finally, the operations review allows a department to implement best management practices through the CMMS, rather than allowing the CMMS to guide the department’s practices.
Determining software needs and drafting the RFP is challenging, but clearly defining a department’s needs in this area will go a long way in ensuring a smooth implementation. During the needs-development process, managers will need to carefully review the requirements of software being considered because not all CMMS applications offer the same capabilities.
Managers also need to clearly define the scope of the implementation. Doing so gives vendors a better idea of related tasks that might be necessary to implement their systems, such as training a specific number of individuals, building a database, and linking to other software in the organization.
The RFP consists largely of the purpose, scope and department needs. But managers also must include such information as the format for submitting a proposal, timelines, contact information and deadlines.
The RFP also can ask a vendor to submit a response via e-mail announcing its intention to submit a proposal. This step will allow a manager to research all submitters before proposals arrive, as well as to respond to all vendors when addressing questions from one vendor.
To allow reviewers to more easily compare the different vendors’ capabilities, the RFP should carefully define the format of the proposal. It also should require vendor to submit references with contact information.
Finally, the RFP should include a sheet indicating the scoring and weights given to each category or task so vendors can align their submittal with department needs. Here is a sample scoring sheet.
Each software vendor should receive a notification that also is posted on the department web site and in trade publications to ensure the RFP reaches as many possible vendors as possible.
Once the department has received all proposals, managers need to create a short list of vendors. This list helps narrow down vendors to the most qualified, but not for final selection. The first step in creating a short list is remove proposals that do not meet the RFP’s minimum requirements.
Next, the committee assigned to evaluate the proposals should review the scoring criterion before reviewing proposals. This step will minimize personal bias and create a fairer scoring environment.
Each committee member should fill out one sheet per submitted proposal. At the end of the meeting, each vendor receives a score based on the outlined criterion. Vendors with highest scores are the likely candidates for the short listed.
Once this process is complete, the qualified vendors should receive a specific time to demonstrate their system. The schedule must provide enough time to demonstrate the software’s technology and capabilities.
Before the demonstration, the department should give sample maintenance data to vendors. This step will allow vendors to use specific information and create a demonstration of the software’s capabilities with understandable and relevant data.
Once interviews are complete, the committee should score each one again, using the same criteria as used before. Committee members should update the scoring sheet to include information regarding the demonstrated capabilities. They also should check references to help determine if a vendor’s customers are satisfied.
If no single vendor appears to outperform the others, or if several seem to be an equally good fit, managers might consider performing site visits to maintenance departments that use the software under review.
During a site visit, managers should talk with the system users, not just people involved in the selection and purchase. The key is to select a system that best works for a department’s needs, not one that met another department’s requirements.
Once the committee members have scored all of the vendors a second time, they should turn to cost considerations. In this evaluation, it is important to look at life-cycle costs, not just the price of the software. The price of training, support hardware and software, database creation, and annual upgrades can greatly impact the total cost.
In selecting software, committee members need to strike a balance between cost and capability. Even if the cost of the highest-scoring vendor exceeds the others, it is possible to negotiate a lower price and still get the desired capabilities.
Initially, if the cost seems excessive, managers should not exclude the highest-scoring vendor until that company has a chance to renegotiate. If negotiations fail to generate a price that is acceptable for the department, then move on to the vendor with the second-highest-scoring software and begin negotiations.
After the vendor and the customer sign a contract, system implementation can begin. Implementation entails considerably more then simply installing software. For example, during this stage it is common for technicians to integrate data on several inventories into the database for ease of access and use.
Although a CMMS can increase a department’s level of automation and enable easier data access for managers, supervisors and front-line technicians, the key to maximizing a system’s performance is proper training.
Initially, a department’s staff will need training on using the system. Maintenance crews must be taught to complete daily work-reporting forms and data entry. Administrative personnel will need to learn how to enter data, take work requests, close out files, and maintain resource-cost files. Managers and supervisors will need training on interpreting reports that provide valuable decision-making data.
Once the CMMS is in place, managers will need to carry out key management practices — planning, organizing, directing and controlling — to ensure the system’s continuous improvement. This process prepares the department for annual updates, as well as helps create performance data and comparisons of planned versus actual work.
Once the CMMS is operating properly, technicians can link it to accounting systems, geographic information systems and wireless units, providing more ways to improve operations.
The success of a CMMS lies in basic management concepts: senior management support, staff involvement and training, selection of the system best able to meet changing needs, and integration into, not overlay on, daily operations. Many departments experience dramatic results from upgrading a CMMS; some departments experiencing 25-30 percent efficiency savings during the first year and continuous savings each year thereafter.
Harry Lorick, P.E. is president of LA Consulting in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Lydia Cox is a senior consultant with the firm. Established in 1993, LA Consulting provides planning, systems and technology services applied public agencies and municipalities, with an emphasis on systems implementation and technical support for public works operations and maintenance.