Unlocking a CMMS: Strategies and Tactics  

For departments with no CMMS or an underperforming application, managers have opportunities to tap into the technology’s many potential benefits.

By Dan Hounsell, Senior Editor  

Computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) have a long and successful track record of helping maintenance and engineering managers improve the productivity and efficiency of their technicians and departments. The ability of the software to capture data related to technician activities, equipment condition and maintenance costs, among many other things, gives managers a powerful tool to improve the facilities maintenance. 

Unfortunately, not all facilities have reaped these benefits. In some cases, departments have not been able to maximize the capabilities of a CMMS, while in other cases, departments have no CMMS at all and opt for a manual system to manage technicians and tasks.

In either case, managers have a host of options and opportunities to tap into the benefits CMMS can bring to departments and organizations.

Alternate maintenance management

The benefits of a CMMS for maintenance departments have been well documented. In short, they give managers the data gathering and reporting tools they need to make smarter decisions about technician workload, equipment and spare parts inventory, project planning and many other critical areas.

Some maintenance departments try to achieve these goals using an alternate system, such as a spreadsheet or even paper. There are several reasons for these situations. One common reason is the size of the organization. 

Smaller facilities sometimes won’t invest in a CMMS because they don’t understand that a CMMS system is able to scale with the organization's growth,” says Baron Brown, project engineer with FST Technical Services. “When you're only dealing with, say, five air handlers or one 11-ton chiller or something like that, and you're going to spend $15,000 to implement a CMMS, how do they say that's worth doing on the facility side?”

Then there is the ever-present issue of cost, which is especially important for maintenance departments, which often are seen as necessary evils in facilities — cost centers, not revenue generators. 

"There is an investment both in time of the management staff, as well as the dollars to engage and get it under contract,” says John Edwards, chief executive officer with FEA. “There's the upfront cost and the recurring cost, and for some folks in a small, single building, maybe that doesn't make a lot of sense. The juice isn't worth the squeeze, as they say.”

Making the CMMS case 

For managers operating without a CMMS who want to build the case for the organization to invest in the software, the process often starts with helping the C-suite understand the potential financial impact of such a move.

“The most successful approaches we've seen are relating to the cost of avoidances and the cost savings,” Edwards says, adding that having planned maintenance work via a CMMS can result in "a lack of disruption to the organization because you're properly performing facility maintenance. You're doing your preventive maintenance on time, and you're not disrupting operations.” 

The cost benefits do not end there. 

“You can tie it to not just the cost of the facility repair, but to the cost to the organization when they have an outage, when they have align stoppage, when they have to let people go home because they can't work on their office because there is no heating or there is no cooling,” he says. “Those are very practical things. You can say spending money on a CMMS will offset three hours of downtime on the production line. It is well worth it to take care of it.”

A CMMS also can have a longer-term financial impact that can make the investment more appealing to the C-suite. 

"A CMMS is going to let you track the life expectancy of a piece of equipment,” Brown says. “It helps management understand budgeting for the next year, especially in a facility. With a CMMS, my selling point to any industry, any building or facility that I ran, the reason for having it is I can help you budget better with the CMMS because I can forecast costs over the next five years for you.”

Beyond the bottom line, a CMMS can help managers plan work better, which in turn improves the productivity and efficiency of technicians.

"If you have the CMMS properly configured and loaded, you could have your preventive maintenance work in the system and have that coming out on a proper schedule so you can incorporate that into work planning, as well as taking customer requests or corrective work and being able to triage those by priority,” Edwards says. “That's one of the basic tools that a CMMS provides is that planning effort.”

Perhaps the broadest potential benefit of a CMMS is helping to move a maintenance department beyond putting out fires

"With a CMMS, you’re able to take your campus or facility from being a reactive facility,” Brown says. “Without a CMMS, most of the time, you're being reactive instead of proactive. A CMMS gives you that ability to ensure that maintenance on key pieces of equipment is done in a timely manner. Whether you’re using an outside contractor or using your own on-site personnel, it's done in a timely manner.” 

Roadblocks to efficiency 

For managers in facilities that have invested in a CMMS but have not come close to maximizing its potential benefits, a range of explanations exist. Often, the challenges start well before the CMMS arrives. In some cases, the issue is the department’s personnel. 

"I can have a CMMS in my building all day long, but it goes back to personnel,” Brown says. “Am I hiring the personnel to maintain that? You can have 1,000 worker bees, but if you don't have that person or that facility within your department to maintain a CMMS for you, it's just like any other thing. You have to have the proper people there to maintain, to keep things updated, to track it, to check it on a daily basis.”

Besides not having enough personnel or the right personnel, problems also can arise from the attitudes of existing workers. 

Edwards says the success of a CMMS can hinge on front-line technicians “not understanding what the world will look like after the CMMS is in place and, therefore, having this sense of fear that they’re going to lose control. Change management is a big part of a CMMS implementation. If you're putting in a new tool like a CMMS system, there's a certain cultural component. You have to get over the hurdle of cultural resistance and change management.” 

In other cases, an underperforming CMMS can result from the preparation managers put in — or fail to — during the initial specification.

"Unfortunately, by the time an organization discovers problems, it's because they didn't do the upfront work before purchasing the CMMS,” Edwards says. “They've had it in place for a year or two, and the resistance to change happened, and people didn't use it.”

Managers need to understand the importance of such issues as accurate data input, the objectives of the CMMS, the definition of a successful implementation and the processes the CMMS will automate.

“All those things should be done before you make the purchase decision,” he says. “If you don't, it's much more difficult to retool because now you’ve got a couple of years' worth of data in there, or it’s partial or it's bad. Convincing people to go back and reconfigure and recreate becomes traumatic because they're already angry about the CMMS implementation not going the way they thought." 

Overcoming CMMS roadblocks

To remedy these problems and increase the performance of a CMMS, managers can benefit from additional help and guidance. 

"If you need help, get it,” Edwards says. “If you really don't have the in-house expertise to think through and understand the implementation, get some outside help. You're going to have a spike in management workload during this period of time, and if you're trying to do that on top of all your other day-to-day duties, you may not be able to do it well, and you may not know enough to do it well." 

Managers also need to address perhaps the toughest challenge facing anyone looking to implement change in an organization — effective change management. 

“That's the job of a building manager — to show his team the benefit and what he's trying to accomplish,” Brown says, adding that part of that effort involves giving in-house staff the support and training they need to buy into the CMMS. 

“When you select the CMMS vendor to sell you that software, find out what type of training they offer,” he says. “Their job, once they sell me a product, is to make my guys comfortable with it by the time it's implemented. For a building manager, that's one of the main things I want to know. How much training do they offer? How long am I going to be able to get this training for my guys? When I do updates to my CMMS, are you going to provide the training to my guys that keeps them comfortable with this?” 

Whether managers are operating without a CMMS or working with an underperforming application, success can be traced back to one critical consideration — understanding their organizations’ resources, goals and needs.

"As you're considering implementing a CMMS, you want to pick one that meets your organization's needs, and take some time to think about why you are doing this,” Edwards says, adding that this means both for the department and the organization. “The CFO is going to have to sign off on the purchase, and you know those customers are going to be affected. You really have to do your homework and find one that meets your organization where you are. 

“Wherever it is, find the system that meets your organization's objectives, not just the one that looked the coolest on the web or gave you the best dog and pony show when you had your presentation.” 

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

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  posted on 6/14/2024   Article Use Policy

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