CMMS: 50 Questions Before Computerization

Joel Levitt

Before you venture down the road to computerization of your maintenance organization, ask yourself:

  1. Is there enough time, money and interest to involve all levels within the maintenance department and other stakeholders in the decision process to buy a computerized maintenance management software (CMMS) system? Is there support from top management to see you through the inevitable ups and downs of the entire installation process? Management support is essential.

  2. Sufficient resources for a complete installation are also essential. The resources include training dollars, time replaced on the shop floor and computer access. If necessary, can you get typing and basic computer skills training for your mechanics? Will management tolerate the initial research and keying of files by your mechanics and staffers? Can you get the budget authorization to replace the mechanic’s slot on the shop floor by overtime or by a contract worker?

  3. After the maintenance system is in operation will mechanics and supervisors have the training, knowledge, positive attitude and access into the CMMS to investigate a problem? Is there continuing training in advanced concepts beyond “which key strokes to get which reports” type classes? Is there regular time set aside for thinking and using the system for research into problem areas? Do mechanics and supervisors have easy access to terminals or personal computers? Are these devices hardened against the shop environment?

  4. Is there organizational willpower to insure that garbage and faked data will be kept out of the system? Another way to put that is, is falsifying a work order to fill eight hours viewed as a joke or a crime? Will the data coming out of the system be commonly held by management and the workers to be accurate and useful? Are maintenance records treated as seriously as payroll or other accounting records?

  5. Does anyone (including mechanics) have the time to investigate repair history to detect repeat repairs, trends and new problems? Related to No. 3 above, do they have the training to use the system to answer the questions that they have?

  6. Can you and your staff spend enough time designing the system’s categories to make meaningful comparisons between like machines, buildings and cost centers? This is a two-step process. The first step is to have the vendor’s trainer conduct a class in the category model of that system and how things are commonly handled. The second step is to actually fight out the categories that you want to use. It is critical to understand and wrestle the decisions that you make at the early steps in the setup of a system.

  7. If you have 100 pumps, probably 20 of them create the most maintenance load. This rule of management has tremendous application in maintenance. It is called the Pareto principle. Has the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) been taught and used to isolate the “bad actors” (that is, to identify the problem machines, craftspeople or parts)? Be sure you understand how to generate these Pareto analysis or exception reports in the system you chose.

  8. Will you have the support of a responsive data processing department (or a very responsive vendor)? You will want changes, fixes and enhancements. In fact, your ability to handle technology and sophisticated systems will improve after the first six months. Many organizations outgrow their first systems in a year or two.

  9. Does the longer-range plan include CMMS integration with stores, MRP, purchasing, payroll, CAD/engineering? The trend is toward company-wide networks. Organizations want everyone discussing a problem to be working from the same data. This means linkages of the maintenance information system to the corporate information systems with all the links and hooks that that implies. Increasingly information systems are viewed as strategic advantages. Access to information makes a major difference.

50 questions/notes to help in your CMMS search
What follows are questions/notes to ask yourself and vendors to help you avoid the most common pitfalls of choosing, purchasing and installing computer control and information systems.

A full-function CMMS should be able to help in many areas. Many organizations purchase systems to solve specific problems. They don’t need other functions or don’t consider them important at the time of purchase. The following questions/notes will help you focus your attention in the various areas. They are not in priority order.

Work orders

  1. Can the system produce an easy-to-use work order that allows future conversion to bar codes, handheld terminals and other improvements to technology?

  2. Can the system classify all work orders by some kind of repair reason code: preventive maintenance, corrective, breakdown, management decision, etc.?

  3. Is there an easy way for a single person to screen work orders entered before authorization that work can begin? Some systems have a field that has to be checked by a supervisor or manager to release the job to the next processing step.

  4. Can the system print up-to-date lockout procedures on all work orders automatically? Does it have the ability to access a lockout file and incorporate the right lockout scheme (there might be only 10 variations for the whole plant)? Less desirable by still OK would be an individual lockout file for each machine.

  5. A good system can automatically cost work orders. Can the system you are examining look up the value of a part in the inventory and bring the cost across to the maintenance work order? Can it also look up the charge rate for the individual mechanic?

  6. Can the system provide status of all outstanding work orders? Does it allow sorts on different status codes? An example would be to print or display all work orders waiting for engineering.

  7. Can it record service calls (who, what, time stamp, where, how) which can be printed in a log format?

  8. Does it allow production to find out what happened (what status) to their work request without being able to make changes?

  9. Can it calculate backlog of work and display it by craft?

  10. Can both open and closed work orders be displayed or printed very easily? Keep work orders available for at least five years and preferably form birth to retirement of the equipment.

  11. Does the system facilitate labor scheduling with labor standards by task, ability to sort and resort the open work orders by location of work, craft, other ways?

    Stock room

  12. Will the system facilitate big-ticket analysis by printing all parts over $500? Will it facilitate A-F analysis by printing the product of (in descending order) the unit cost times the annual usage?

  13. Does the store room part of the system have part location to help the mechanic or store keeper find infrequently used parts?

  14. Can the system generate a parts catalog by type of part or by current vendor with yearly usage to facilitate blanket contract negotiation?

  15. Does the system recommend stock levels, order points, order quantities? 

    Maintenance history and reporting

  16. Can the system maintain maintenance history that is detailed enough to tell what happened years later?

  17. Can it provide information to track the service request/maintenance work order issue/work complete/customer satisfied cycle? Does it include elapsed time and other analysis factors?

  18. Can it provide reports for budgets, staffing analysis, program evaluation, performance?

  19. Can it provide information for work planning, scheduling and job assignment? Does it have the capability to store and retrieve work plans, copy old work plans and modify existing plans when new information comes in?

  20. Is it able to isolate all work done (sort, arrange, analyze, select or list) by work order, mechanic, asset, building, process, product, division, floor, room, type of equipment or asset?

  21. Does it provide the ability to easily structure ad hoc (on the spur of the moment) reports to answer questions that come up? This is called a report writer.

  22. Does it have the ability to generate equipment/asset history from birth (installation, construction or connection) to present with all major repairs and summaries of smaller repairs?

  23. Are system reports designed around Pareto principles, where the system helps identify the few important factors and helps you manage the important few vs. the trivial many?

  24. Does the system report on contractor vs. in-house work? Can the system track contractor work in as much detail as in-house work?

  25. Can it provide reports charging back maintenance cost to department or cost center?

  26. Does it have reports with mean time between failures (MTBF) that show how often the unit has failed, how many days (or machine hours) lapsed between failures, and the duration of each repair (MTTR)?

  27. Will the system highlight repeat repairs when a technician needs some help?

    PM system

  28. Does the system allow mechanics to easily write up deficiencies found on PM inspection tours? Can the system then automatically generate and track a planned maintenance work order?

  29. Can it automatically produce PM work orders on the right day, right meter reading, etc.? Can the PM system sort work orders by location to minimize travel time?

  30. Is it able to display PM work load for a future period such as a year by week or month by trade?

  31. Is it able to record short repairs done by a PM mechanic in addition to the PM and actual time spent?

  32. Does the system support multiple levels of PM on the same asset (such as a 30-day A level and a 180-day B level on the same asset)? Does it reset the clock if the high level is done (if you do a yearly rebuild, does the monthly PM clock get reset)? A resetting feature prevents a 30-day PM coming up a week after a rebuild.

  33. Are PMs generated by location by trade to facilitate efficient use of people and minimize travel?

  34. Does the system allow the input of data from predictive maintenance subsystems? This might include trending, days to alarm, baseline and comparison to previous readings.

  35. Can it highlight situations where the PM activity is more expensive than the breakdown?

  36. Are there simple reports that relate the PM hours/materials to the corrective hours/materials to the emergency hours/materials? This will show the effectiveness of the PM program. These ratios become benchmarks for improvement.


  37. Can the system handle three to four times more assets then you imagine having? Even medium-sized and smaller companies go on acquisition hunts. A successful small manufacturer might find itself tripling or more in size overnight.

  38. Does the system have a logical location system to locate assets and where work is done?

  39. Can the system track the warranty for components and flag warranty work to recover funds?

  40. Is it easy to use and learn for novices and quick to use for power users?

  41. Is the system integrated or can it be integrated to purchasing, engineering, payroll/accounting, etc.?

  42. Can the system easily handle a string PM such as a lube route or filter change route?

  43. Does the system run on standard computer hardware (not special hardware incompatible with everything else)? Is the system compatible with existing Local Area Networks (if it is a PC product)?

  44. Does the system vendor have the financial strength to complete the contract (and stay in business for several years after installation)?

  45. Does the vendor have software support people? Can you easily get through to a person? Is there an 800 number? Once you get through, do the people know the product? Do they know factory maintenance?

  46. Can the vendor provide economical customization? Do they have ongoing enhancement? Are the programmers employees of the vendor or contract workers?

  47. Does the vendor have a local installation organization?

  48. Are they experienced in management of installation projects for the the size of your facility? Do they have start-up experience with projects this size?

  49. Are the vendor’s technical people well cross-trained (software, hardware and reality wear)? It’s important that the installation people have experience with maintenance.

  50. Has the vendor been in business for five or more years?

About the author:
Joel Levitt is a leading trainer of maintenance professionals. He has trained more than 10,000 maintenance leaders from 3,000 organizations in 20 countries in over 500 sessions. Since 1980, he has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services all sized clients on a wide range of maintenance issues. He has almost 25 years experience in many facets of maintenance, including as a process control designer, source equipment inspector, electrician, field service technician, merchant marine worker, manufacturing manager and property manager. Prior to that Levitt worked for a CMMS vendor and in manufacturing management. To learn more, visit or call 800-242-5656.

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