University of Chicago Boosts Maintenance Efficiency with Upgraded CMMS

The University of Chicago upgraded its CMMS to meet the need for data-driven decisions on maintenance activities.

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor  

Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) offer maintenance and engineering departments a host of benefits, from increased technician productivity to decreased inventory costs. The challenge for managers is ensuring a CMMS delivers those benefits and justifies the organization’s investment. As many managers have found out, this goal often is easier said than done.  

For the University of Chicago’s facilities services department, the decision to upgrade its CMMS in 2020 was driven by the realization that the existing software and mobile application were no longer able to effectively support the demands of the urban campus of more than 140 buildings with 11 million square feet across 217 acres. 

Out with the old 

As with many departments trying to keep pace with growing campuses and heightened expectations, the University of Chicago’s facilities services department realized that data collection and analysis were critical to effectively plan and carry out its activities. Adam Lucido, the department’s maintenance program manager, knew firsthand about the challenges presented by the campus’s facilities. 

“I set up the enterprise asset management program for facilities,” Lucido says. “I’ve worked for facilities for over 19 years. I started as a laborer at our utility plants and worked my way up over the course of 15 years before I took this role. I’ve had my hands on the multiple different aspects of maintenance activities, dealing with the CMMS from a field perspective. In my current role, I get into the weeds of developing the CMMS and implementing an overall approach to asset management.” 

The department’s existing CMMS was not up to the challenges facing the department and the university, which is host to 33,000 students, faculty and staff. 

“Our mobile application was really antiquated,” Lucido says. “It was a homegrown application, and it really wasn’t robust enough to get us where we needed to be. Our CMMS database was lacking information as far as the detailed asset information. Our maintenance scheduling wasn’t optimizing our labor, and there was a big push to improve our overall maintenance efficiency and have hard data behind it.” 

This hard data was lacking because of the outdated nature of the existing CMMS. 

“There was definitely a need to get the functionality of entering data into our CMMS from the field because before it was all paper based,” Lucido says. “Our staff would get a paper work order to perform maintenance on a piece of equipment, they would write handwritten notes and turn that into the supervisor or foreman, and once in a blue moon, that data that was collected in the field would actually find its way into our CMMS.” 

While the lack of reliable maintenance and repair data was a problem, the existing CMMS also was not supporting field technicians effectively. 

“Other than reporting labor hours on a work order, there were no benefits for the people in the field,” he says. “There was never a time where I had a question about a specific asset where I went back to (the CMMS) as a resource. The database didn’t really have the detail that was required to benefit the people in the field doing the work.” 

Implementation goals 

In 2020, the facilities services department upgraded to a new CMMS and launched a mobile application. The CMMS database now has 26,310 records, and each record falls into one of 160 different equipment categories. Lucido describes the goals of the upgrade as enhancing the department’s asset management processes, improving maintenance efficiencies and effectiveness and improving data analysis, with this final goal being especially critical. 

“The data analysis portion is the ultimate goal as far as all the technology that is available to us that wasn't before,” he says. “As far as the actual turning the wrench and the actual maintenance goes, they haven’t really improved over the years, but as far as tracking the work and optimizing the work, that technology side of it, enterprise asset management has taken off exponentially in the last couple of years. It all relies on data. Having access to that data and having the ability to easily implement that data from the field, that was our goal.” 

The process of selecting and implementing a new CMMS is complex, given the number of parties involved in the final decision, and among the challenges for Lucido and the department was managing the expectations at every level of the organization. 

“That was probably the hardest thing to kind of wrangle because you have the expectations of the shop supervisor or from leadership about what they would like to get out of fully functional CMMS,” he says. “And that would be totally different from the staff out in the field who are using the CMMS.” 

Managing these expectations involves communicating with all of the interested parties so they understand that the process involves several important steps and does not stop with the purchase. 

“You have to get people to buy in and then to also get them to see the big picture and to understand that initially, there's always homework involved,” he says. “If they have a good understanding and a clear vision of the future and the goals and why the change is being implemented, that's key.” 

Maximizing performance 

The CMMS upgrade has paid the anticipated dividends for the University of Chicago and the facilities services department, especially in the critical area of facilities-related data. 

“We’re getting more valuable data into our system that can be analyzed and used to optimize our maintenance program and optimize our labor resources,” Lucido says.  

Despite the advantages, questions soon arose after installation regarding the time commitment required to populate the CMMS database. 

“Once we implemented our new mobile application in 2020, we saw a huge shift and the labor hours associated with the work orders,” he says. “Right off the bat, everyone was wondering why we’re spending so many man hours on this. What has changed and as far as the actual operations?” 

The answer to that question was that populating the database and analyzing data takes time. 

“The amount of data that is being collected and now available to analyze wasn’t there before,” he says. “When we were developing our mobile application, one of our goals was to make things easier for people to input the data that’s needed. With the changes and the upgrades, there comes more work initially to input the data and then analyze the data from a management perspective.” 

The successful selection and implementation of the CMMS offered the university’s facilities services department valuable lessons, including the need to devote time to spelling out the process from beginning to end. 

“Detailed planning and road mapping was a huge, huge piece of the puzzle,” Lucido says. “The functional testing portion was also another huge piece that we had to get right because obviously, anybody that launches a new application knows there will be flaws, and it might not be well-received. For the road mapping and the functional testing, we put a committee together and got all the stakeholders’ feedback.” 

The CMMS upgrade project’s success also depended on finding a point person. 

“There needs to be a project leader who is intimately familiar with all of the organization’s current and future processes that will be implemented or impacted by the upgrade,” he says. “Having a person in that role was key to wrangling everything together and managing all of the expectations and bringing all those expectations to reality. If the whole process was implemented and everybody’s expectations are met, that would be absolutely great. The reality is there needs to be a stepped approach to making everybody happy.” 

As the university evolves and facilities technology advances, Lucido says he knows the CMMS will have to keep pace. 

“The technology enhancements in the last couple of years are phenomenal,” he says, adding that the advances tend to increase expectations. “There’s meeting somebody’s expectations from last year. That's good, but with all of the advances (in CMMS technology), once the old expectations are met, they have a whole new set of expectations.” 

Dan Hounsell is senior editor of the facilities market. He has more than 30 years of experience writing about facilities maintenance, engineering and management. 

Contact FacilitiesNet Editorial Staff »

  posted on 6/8/2023   Article Use Policy

Related Topics: