CMMS and the operational reliability maturity continuum

Dave Army

One of the tools that we, as maintenance professionals, rely on for our day-to-day activities is the CMMS (computerized maintenance management system). You know, the good old maintenance department computer. Without aging myself too much, I recall the first time a computer was made available to me. It was located in purchasing (sound familiar) and based on COBOL language. You remember COBOL, don’t you? Well, we were able to enter rudimentary work order information and track some of the information. Being technically inclined, I thought this was the greatest thing since sliced bread, although sorely limited. The good news was that I did learn how to map out process flows, a great tool for later in life.

At another facility, I was introduced to a more robust system. This was IBM-based, a proprietary, system-wide program and, alas, required an information technology department for support. Here was a rude awakening, another corporate system, obtained for purchasing, payroll and billing with maintenance as an “oh-by-the-way” add-on. Does this sound familiar? There is a theme appearing.

This program was much more robust than any previously used, but still flawed. I noticed that when operators entered a work request, they would call the same piece of equipment by different names. Not always would system information be correct. Therefore, sorting and reviewing work requests/orders was difficult. When asked to help correct these issues, say with a protected table of equipment names and systems, I couldn’t wait to jump to the rescue. Unfortunately, their idea of jump, was expressed in time units quite different than mine. As for training, there was no training, it was all learn on the job.

Let’s fast forward a few years. Now as a consultant with all that experience behind me, I visited a company where an advanced CMMS was in place and all information was dutifully entered. This was in Taiwan and the plant personnel were meticulous about entering work order information. That was the good news. Having identified a problem in the field, I asked the maintenance engineers to research the CMMS for previous occurrences. After the appropriate level of open-mouthed wonderment, I discovered that no one had been trained to retrieve data. In this case, it was good information in, nothing out. As it turned out, the real purpose of the CMMS was to collect time-keeping and accounting information. Again, does this sound familiar?

As maintenance professionals, we understand the powerful value of today’s CMMS as an enabler for work management processes. Some of my previous articles have addressed planning, prioritization, backlog management, scheduling, identification, execution, etc. All made easier with the appropriate application of a CMMS. We can use history to identify chronic problems, a work order database to identify and group-related work, capture job plans for future use, ties costs to asset registers. The list goes on. We understand this concept. Herein lies the rub, not all do! CMMS is the key to making your maintenance management system more effective. However, a CMMS alone will not solve your problems. The CMMS is not a silver bullet. Once, while visiting a potential client (plant manager) I remarked on the importance of having a well-documented process for scheduling work activities. I was told that this would no longer be an issue. His company had just purchased a brand new, Windows-driven CMMS that would solve their scheduling problems. I thanked him for his time and left. How many installations of a CMMS are based on financial requirements, with maintenance as an afterthought?

Often, we are strapped with a legacy CMMS or one of the newer versions of CMMS on the market. Whether the system is corporate-based, standalone, Windows-based or any other variation, I have the following recommendations. First of all, it has been my experience that any CMMS will work, in some manner, shape or form.

The issue is that your maintenance management system must be adjusted to ensure that field processes are closely aligned to the CMMS. In the case of a new CMMS, if you have the luxury, you might be able to specify a design that matches your existing process. If you're not so lucky, then you will have to carefully map out your process, identify all required CMMS touch points and adjust where necessary. Then, and this is most important, train, train, train. Train not only maintenance personnel, but anyone who may be involved in the process. Operators are often neglected and enter work information as they see fit. Work identification should be structured, priorities understood, etc. In some cases, EINs (equipment identification numbers) will require modification. The list goes on. A well-designed CMMS, closely linked to your work management process, will serve you well. Misalignment is a nightmare.

In closing, if you are either considering the purchase of, or have recently purchased, a CMMS, please take the time to identify the linkages with your work management process. You may have to make some revisions, but they will be well worth it. Document what you’ve done, then train tirelessly. A CMMS is a valuable tool if used properly.

About the author:

Dave Army is the vice president of results delivery for Strategic Asset Management Inc. (SAMI). His expertise includes analysis, design and implementation of maintenance and operations solutions for numerous industries. He currently oversees all SAMI implementation activities. For more information, e-mail Dave at

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