CMMS solution? Look to the Web

Kris Bagadia
Tags: CMMS and EAM

A local area network (LAN) is a group of computers and associated devices that shares a common communications

line or wireless link. It typically shares the resources of a single processor or server within a small geographic area (for example, an office building). Usually, the server has applications and data storage that are shared in common by multiple computer

users. A local area network may serve as few as two or three users

(for example, in a home network) or as many as thousands of users. Most LANs are confined to a single building or group of buildings. However, one LAN can be connected to other LANs over any distance via telephone lines and radio waves. A system of LANs

connected in this way is called a wide area network (WAN).

PC-based computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) systems became available in the early 1980s. Initially, they were DOS based and available on a single PC. They gradually progressed to LAN- and WAN-based systems commonly referred to as client server technology (CST).

More recently, we have seen the availability of Web-based CMMS. With a Web-based system, you can access your maintenance data securely from anywhere in the world. All you need is Internet access. Simply log in through your Web browser and a full-featured application comes up for your use.

For years, organizations have put up with CMMS systems that take forever to install, crash your servers, are a pain to upgrade and require a ton of expensive hardware. There is also the challenge of multiple databases (multiple plants) and synchronizing data between locations, not to mention day-to-day maintenance and support. All of these hidden costs add up in a hurry.

The Web-based CMMS model has taken off because it solves these problems. Let's review why organizations are moving to Web-based CMMS.


Figure 1. National Client Server Setup

A Web-based CMMS system is a better choice for a number of reasons. These include:

There are two options for installing a Web-based CMMS. You can install it on your own server or it can be hosted by a vendor (service provider). The second option (hosted by the vendor) is called ASP (application service provider). One of the major benefits of the ASP option is that hardware maintenance is the vendor's responsibility. It also minimizes the initial investment. The ASP option is proving to be very attractive for many organizations.

In general, Web-based technology offers much flexibility. If your server is down, you can quickly host the application with a third-party vendor.

Web-based CMMS allows maintenance managers and supervisors to use the program anywhere there is an Internet connection. It lets managers order parts, review work requests and generate work orders from anywhere in the world. As long as you have an Internet connection, a user ID and a password, the CMMS is available. Here are some application examples:

Work request: Typically, the maintenance department receives requests from other departments. These requests can come from anywhere. They are usually delivered verbally or sent by phone or e-mail. A work order is then created by a clerical staff member. Commonly experienced problems with this setup are:

With a Web-based CMMS, this process is simplified. The requesters can access the system from anywhere and easily enter the information into the system. The request instantly becomes a work order.

Off-hour calls: It isn't uncommon to receive phone calls in the middle of the night when there are serious breakdowns. With a Web-based CMMS, you can access the system right at home, review the history of breakdowns and offer a solution to the problem within a short time. This eliminates a trip to the site (saving time and money) and minimizes downtime.

Managing remotely: If you deal with fleet vehicles (semis, trucks, etc.), with Web-based, you can perform maintenance activities and record them at the point of performance using a laptop or personal digital assistant (PDA). The information will be transferred to your CMMS instantly (real time assuming proper set-up is available).

Work assignments: Imagine that you are stranded out of town. You have a staff of 20 technicians. You are supposed to assign them work on Monday morning. But, you are stuck hundreds or thousands of miles away. However, you have Web-based CMMS. You check into a hotel, access the system through the hotel's wireless service and assign work orders to your technicians. You sleep well instead of feeling stressed out.

Figure 1. Web-based Architecture

Another advantage of Web-based CMMS is its lower overall cost.

Installation costs: With client server technology, you have to install CMMS on both client PCs and the server. This is labor intensive. If you use a vendor to do the installation, it could become very expensive. With Web-based, there is little if any installation (if using an ASP model).

Maintenance costs: With CST, maintenance costs are much higher since you have to support multiple PCs. Something can go wrong with the CMMS installed on any one of the PCs.

Hardware costs: With CST, you may have to invest in hardware if current hardware doesn't support the CMMS requirements. With Web-based, as long as you have Internet access, you don't need to upgrade your hardware.

IT costs: With the ASP option, there is no installations, no daily backups and no hardware headaches. Another issue is printer support. With CST, you need to have device drivers on each workstation. With the Web-based option, you are essentially printing off your browser. Less work for a company's information technology department means less money spent.

Lower overall costs mean a better overall value.

With CST, there could be delays. You must wait for IT to install the software into each of the network computers. If the IT department is backed up with other projects, or if the IT department doesn't see maintenance as a priority, installing the CMMS might be postponed by weeks. As mentioned earlier, with Web-based, there is little if any installation.

When using a Web-based CMMS, you can be certain that your vendor will automatically upgrade the program. This means that you will never have to receive upgrades in the mail (disk, CDs, etc.) or via e-mail and spend time installing it. With Web-based, the upgrading is an ongoing process. That is why there is very little training required. With CST, you typically receive upgrades every 12 to 18 months (plus some in the interim). Again, you must go through the process of installation and training as it is almost like having a new product.

The navigation in a Web-based CMMS is based on a Web browser. Therefore, users feel comfortable as they are already familiar with common browser elements such as links, buttons, forms, etc.

A Web-based CMMS system has much less potential for viruses. You run the program off of a browser, so there is no local data to damage. If your disk crashes due to a virus, there is nothing to worry about. The Web-based server is automatically backing it up at all times.

Contrary to what many people might assume, there is a much higher level of security in Web-based software. With the ASP option, your service provider usually has an enterprise-class firewall to prevent unauthorized users. Additionally, when you access the system, data passes back and forth under the highest encryption available in your Internet browser. Incidentally, this is the same type of security that banks use for online transactions. Besides, Web-based technology lets you take advantage of Web security protocols and products.

Another beneficial security feature is confirming data entry against predefined criteria. For example, users who forgot their password might be asked a question that only they would know. Only after answering this obscure or personal question could the employee gain access into the system.

With CST, it is often hard to explain the exact problem to the tech support personnel. It is very common to hear from vendor's tech support, "Well, I can't really see what's wrong. Can you send your data to me? I'll take a look at exactly what's going on and get back to you." You can easily lose seven to 10 days in this process.

With a Web-based CMMS, the provider's tech support can log right in and see exactly what you are seeing and then troubleshoot. That means faster resolution of problems, concerns or questions.

Multiple facilities are much easier to handle with Web-based technology. Each facility has its own database, yet managers with specific passwords have access to other facilities' data. This is a very useful feature. For example, if one of the facilities is out of a critical part, you can see if any of the other facilities has that part in stock. Your problem can be solved in minutes.

Also, multiple locations can work on the same real-time data all the time. There is never a need to merge, synchronize or duplicate CMMS data. CMMS reports are always up to the minute, no matter where you are.

Most Web-based service providers claim an uptime of 99 percent or better, which is probably better than most CST-based CMMS systems. This is because the service provider has an excellent IT staff and data center facility with plenty of redundancy. You get these benefits without having to pay for all of the hardware and staff yourself.

With CST, data entry is always within the network. For example, you can't enter data from home or if you are out of town. If you did, there will be a problem with synchronizing the data. With Web-based, you can enter the data from anywhere in the world.

Here's an application example. Typically, an organization deals with many outside contractors. These contractors perform a variety of activities including repair, preventive maintenance and inspection. It's important to keep a history of work performed by these contractors. With a Web-based system, it's possible to give limited access to your contractors so they can directly enter details of work performed into the CMMS. This eliminates duplication of work.

With a Web-based ASP option, data is backed up continuously. If you like your own backup besides the vendor's continuous backup, there is usually a provision for that. In fact, most organizations do their own backup, as well. This leads to another advantage of Web-based CMMS whereby data backup is done at two separate locations. So, if one location experiences a disaster, you still have a backup copy at another location.

With Web-based, everyone is always using the same version. Bugs can be fixed as soon as they are discovered. There are two types of bugs.

The first type is serious in nature and should be fixed immediately. With CST, the vendor sends a CD to all users, or fixes are sent via e-mail. Either way, the user has to go through installation, etc. Imagine finding a bug of this nature and having to go through this with hundreds or thousands of customers (that's a ton of work for the vendor).

The second type is not serious in nature; however, these bugs cause inconvenience or are annoying. With CST, you accumulate these kinds of bugs and send the fixes along with another release. Until then, the users have to put up with annoyance or inconvenience. Also, with CST, you normally fix a "pool of bugs" at one time closer to the upgrade release date. Fixing a bug in something written six months ago is much harder and involves more work. Again, with a Web-based system, you fix bugs as soon as they are discovered.

The advantages of a Web-based CMMS system are clear. It offers better quality service at a lower overall cost. The fact that plant and maintenance managers can use Web-based CMMS from anywhere is very beneficial. This is an option that offers better service, lower overall costs and more convenience.

Kris Bagadia is the president of PEAK Industrial Solutions. Contact him at 262-783-6260 or