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A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is a software package that maintains and manages information about the facility’s maintenance operation. The CMMS can be hosted locally or on the web.  Local hosting of the CMMS typically requires the end-user to purchase the software, install it on their servers, and maintain the system throughout its useful life.  In contrast, web-hosted programs are hosted on an external server and maintained by the CMMS company.

I’ve used different CMMS options and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. The primary advantage for a web-hosted solution is that it can be more cost-effective with lower up-front costs. The biggest disadvantage is that all of your maintenance information is out of your control.  Also, while it is cheaper in the near-term, keep in mind that you pay a monthly charge for the service for as long as you use it.  I currently use a web-hosted software as a service (SaaS) application in which I had a very small up-front cost to set up the system, but pay a recurring monthly cost for hosting and support.  I prefer this option because all upgrade and server maintenance is performed by the CMMS company.  My current CMMS is provided by Dude Solutions.

Do you need a CMMS?

The short answer is absolutely. However, it really depends on how efficient you want to be.  It is technically possible to be a facility manager without one, but these software packages make your job much more manageable.  The basic functions of a CMMS are work order management, asset management, planned maintenance scheduling, and other modules that can be beneficial depending on which service you choose.  In addition to managing these processes with considerably more efficiency, the major benefit to using a CMMS is the ability to pull reports on any of the functions it manages.

For instance, if I only use the work order management and asset management modules, I can assign the costs of labor and materials from each work order to a specific asset. I can then run a report and filter by asset type, location, dates, etc., to analyze and report to management how we are spending maintenance dollars.  I also use this information in my life-cycle analysis to recommend an asset replacement strategy based off of a facility condition index (which we will cover later).  Let’s look at these modules in a little greater detail.

Work Order Management

This is the heart of the CMMS and will greatly aid in your success. This module is a portal where work orders are requested, managed, and closed through a web interface or smartphone app.  The facility’s work order manager (or FM if you don’t have one) authorizes users and sets their level of responsibility.

For instance, I give every manager in our facility access to request maintenance work in their area of responsibility (the fitness manager sends in work orders for the fitness center, the tennis manager sends in work orders for the tennis center, etc.). The CMMS automatically emails me to let me know a work order has been scheduled.  The work order then gets automatically routed and assigned to one of the maintenance technicians depending on the type of work order it is (lighting goes to one person, kitchen equipment goes to another, etc.).

The maintenance tech then opens the work order and responds accordingly. They have the option of adding notes (for instance if parts had to be ordered), adding their time and materials (if they had to repair it), and closing the work order when finished.  When the work order is closed, it automatically emails the requester to let them know it has been completed.  Assuming the work was performed on a building asset with a serial number, the costs are assigned to that asset for tracking and future reporting.  This allows you to pinpoint exactly which pieces of equipment are costing the organization money when it comes time to recommend capital purchases.

Prior to this implementation, my facility used a system where a manager requesting a work order would need to call the receptionist, who would email a lady in accounting, who would print off an excel form with the information for the FM, who would give it to a technician, who would record time and materials on it and give it back to the FM when complete. As far as I can tell, the information was never tracked or recorded beyond that point.  Needless to say, our CMMS has been beneficial to the maintenance department.  You want to know how much money we spent last year for HVAC repair in the main building?  No problem.  You want to know how much money we spent on materials for plumbing repair two years ago?  Easy.  And yes, that type of information comes in very useful at times.

The work order module is the most important part of the CMMS (in my humble opinion). The different systems that I’ve worked with all record much of the same information, but you will want to make sure the modules you need are included in a CMMS before purchasing.

Also, be sure to evaluate and compare the ease of use when looking at purchasing a CMMS. The one I used at my previous FM job, Camp Gruber (military installation), took between five and 10 minutes just to close a work order.  The CMMS I use now takes 30 seconds.  While the one at Camp Gruber included more modules like budgeting and project management, I don’t need those here.  You can imagine how frustrating it would be to spend all of your time opening and closing work orders. At Camp Gruber, we hired a full-time work order administrator and it was still frustrating.

Asset Management

Not every CMMS has an asset management database integrated into it. That said, I would highly recommend getting one that does.  You probably already know you need to keep an asset inventory.  It just makes sense to keep it in the same program the facility uses to manage work orders so costs can be automatically assigned.

That said, I actually keep mine in two places for redundancy. The other system I use lets me geo-locate the assets on a series of digital floorplans as icons.  I can turn each type of building system on visually by turning the individual layers off and on.  To get more information about an asset, I simply click on the icon and the detailed information such as model/serial numbers, power requirements, photos, and O&M manuals pops up on the screen.  It’s pretty handy, but not necessary if you don’t have the time or money to get a secondary system like this.

Planned Maintenance Scheduling

Putting your preventative maintenance strategy in a calendar helps to visualize what needs to be done and when. This module lets you put information into a digital calendar and assign it to an employee.  When it’s time for that employee to conduct the maintenance, the CMMS will automatically generate a work order and send it to the employee, give them a place to record their time and materials, and give you a record of the maintenance being performed.  It takes some effort to set up initially, but will save you time in the long-run.

Other Modules

Other modules that might or might not benefit you as an FM are inventory management, budgeting forecasts, project requests, and more. If your facility does not currently have a CMMS and you intend to get one, start your search with work order management, asset management, and scheduling.  Then, narrow down with additional modules that will benefit you in the future.

The biggest key with implementing a CMMS is to require its use by all employees. Be diligent, as it might take some time to change the habits of all employees, but it will pay off when they do. Don’t allow them to fall into old habits such as calling in a work order or not closing one out. Implement the process and then stick to it.

Wrapping it Up

So those are the ins and outs of what a CMMS does and the most important modules it contains.  There are many choices for CMMS providers, but I suggest picking three to compare.  It can get overwhelming quickly.  Bottom line — make sure you have a system in place to track your work orders, assets, and costs.  It will pay off dividends in the future.

Please let me know your thoughts.  You can leave comments below or email me at dan@learningfm.com.  Thanks so much for reading!