Successful CMMS Implementation: Getting Your House In Order

EP Editorial Staff | August 1, 2001

To select a CMMS that is the best fit for functional and business needs, define the business process and IT requirements; then choose a reputable, stable vendor.

More CMMS implementations fail than succeed. According to a 1998 study by The Standish Group, West Yarmouth, MA, 74 percent of all information technology (IT) projects fail. Why?

While there are many contributing factors, the most common is a poor selection process—or no process at all. However, a selection process does not guarantee success. Failures still occur when the selection criteria miss the organization’s requirements. This article explains the components of a formal, proven selection process that can reduce risk in system selection. The main purpose is to provide a solid foundation to align computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) functionality with the organization’s maintenance practices and needs.

Virtually all CMMS provide the same basic tools. However, these capabilities can be applied in a number of ways affecting the ease of use and the type of organization best served. The goal of a selection process is to find the system that best matches how an organization operates.

It is important to understand the differences between types of CMMSs to ensure selection of the right software for a specific business environment. The two basic CMMS design philosophies are:


  • Asset specific systems. These systems direct their design and terminology to specific groups of assets, such as infrastructure (i.e., pipes, pipe/line segments, manholes, etc.). The systems are aimed at selected business market segments, such as water and wastewater collection and distribution maintenance, facility-based maintenance, transportation-based maintenance, etc. They work well in their intended environment, but fall short in environments that are outside the niche.
  • Generic asset management systems. These systems do not direct their design and terminology to any specific group of assets. Instead their terminology is more generic and uses terms such as asset or object. The philosophy behind these systems is an asset is an asset whether it is a pipe, pump, motor, building, or vehicle. These systems typically have greater functionality and flexibility.
  • Another important aspect of software selection is to understand the differences between a fully integrated system and a best of breed system that needs to be integrated.
  • Fully integrated systems contain modules or subsystems that are designed to work together. Individual modules may be directed at maintenance, work management, materials management, purchasing, or other areas. This type of system excels in its ease of use, seamless navigation, and data exchange between components or modules. For example, changing the status of a work order in the work management module causes an automatic parts reservation in the materials management module for parts needed on the work order. A weak point of this modular approach is that one or more of the modules may not possess the same level of functionality or sophistication as the others. A system may have a strong work management module but lack capability in the materials or purchasing modules.
  • The best of breed approach selects the best systems from various vendors: asset management, work management, materials management, purchasing, etc. This approach requires the various systems to be linked in order to integrate processes. The strong point of this approach is that it provides the best match between functionality and requirements. The weak point is that it requires substantial integration effort to make the systems talk to each other. The more systems that are involved, the larger the effort required to integrate them. Far too often, these systems never achieve the desired level of inter-related communication.

Outline of a proven selection process
Before the project starts, stakeholders, decision makers, and the executive sponsor must commit to a selection process that is driven by business needs. They must consider the value a new system will add to overall business effectiveness and profitability. Defining the expected return on investment (ROI) for the new system provides this focus.

Selection team and communication
Before starting the CMMS selection process, the organization should identify a selection team as the main working group. This team should represent each area the new system will affect: maintenance, operations, warehouse, purchasing, engineering, accounting, IT, etc.

Throughout the project, the champion and selection team must ensure that the requirements of the organization are considered and clearly defined. They also should participate in the entire system selection process, including demonstrations, vendor selection, implementation planning, implementation, and training. Furthermore, the champion and selection team should provide ongoing leadership to keep the new system alive and well after implementation is complete.

Many organizations look to professional assistance from consultants to guide and facilitate the project. While this may add an outside perspective and a proven process to define requirements, the consultant should not select the system. Doing so removes ownership and responsibility from the selection team.

Once the project is approved and ready to go, a kick-off meeting will ensure that it gets off to a good start. Use this meeting to communicate the project plan (especially the selection phase) and objectives, and to define its scope and team member roles to ensure everyone is in sync.

Change management plan
Selecting a CMMS is like buying a hammer. A house cannot be built without it but the hammer will not build the house by itself. A CMMS is a tool to manage maintenance information. The system will not do maintenance or input information by itself. To manage the flow of information in the way the new system requires, the maintenance organization must change. Many organizations overlook the fact that they must adapt to the new system to make the implementation work.

However, changes cannot be prescribed or installed like a pump or pipe. Because every organization operates differently, this article cannot say exactly what will change. However, in any organization some practices and procedures must change. Managing those changes effectively is important because they affect the employees who make the work happen. Understanding how people react to change and guiding them through the change will help smooth the transition to the new system.

In any change situation, a person goes through five phases: denial, resistance, understanding, exploration, and commitment. People move through these phases at different rates depending on their personalities, the severity of the change, and the degree to which the change affects them. Most people resist change initially but ultimately gravitate toward good ideas or positive changes.

Mentoring people through the phases will accelerate the process of full system utilization. Ignoring or punishing people for their natural tendency to resist will slow the rate of change. In some cases, managing change poorly will cause an implementation to fail.

A clear change management plan should include:

  • Education on changing attitudes by the leader of the implementation.
  • Open discussion about change and the change plan during the kick-off meeting.
  • Follow up to determine what phases people are in as changes begin.
  • Mentoring each person from phase to phase to eliminate roadblocks and ensure progression.

Identifying real requirements
Real CMMS requirements fall into three major categories:

  • Vendor requirements
  • Technical requirements
  • Functional requirements

When evaluating vendor qualifications, consider their longevity, financial soundness, and commitment and knowledge of the appropriate market. Look for vendors with at least five years of business experience. Vendors with a strong financial position will be around to provide technical support and upgrades in the future. Vendors who work with organizations similar to yours in size, business requirements, and market are likely to know your core business needs. This will reduce the learning curve. There will be an added benefit from their understanding of practices that are unique to your industry. The full nature of these requirements should be identified and leveraged throughout the selection process.

It is extremely important to fully define and document the technical environment, requirements, and standards of the organization that will affect the new system. The IT department needs to identify the “as is” and “to be” environment including hardware, operating system(s), network, database, and software standards. These requirements help ensure that the selected system will not require a technical component that is outside the organization’s environment or standards. It is pointless to review systems that are outside the supportable environment.

However, be aware of the pitfall of overemphasizing technical requirements at the expense of other considerations. A system may match all the technical specifications but fall short of the functional needs. The priority is a tool that helps manage business information while fitting the technical environment, not a system that matches the technical environment and might provide the information management tools needed.

Functional requirements are a major component of defining total system requirements. Functional requirements should state how the tool is expected to meet business and process needs. To effectively identify an organization’s true requirements, the selection team must understand the details of how maintenance, inventory, purchasing, and other relevant organizations really work. The team also must understand how various departments work together and what they need from each other. The selection team must understand and document all business processes and their respective workflows. This provides a snapshot of the starting point and serves as the baseline for gap analysis. The gap indicates where an organization is relative to where it wants or needs to be.

Since a CMMS helps manage maintenance and materials information, the functional requirements need to identify what an organization expects the new system to provide. Does the organization have or intend to have planners or schedulers? If so, requirements should include robust planning and scheduling capabilities. Is the maintenance organization reactive, responding to emergencies as they occur? Does the organization desire or need to become more proactive? How are parts and materials obtained? Does the organization have warehouses or storerooms dedicated to maintenance parts? Who controls and manages the inventory and on-hand balances? Are parts and materials unavailable when needed? Define who, what, why, when, where, and how for each department and process. Finally, determine how the new system should facilitate each of these requirements. The functional requirements should address these questions and more.

After defining an exhaustive list of potential requirements, it is a good practice to categorize and prioritize them. One of the best methods is to identify a short list of showstoppers—requirements that satisfy essential business needs. This is one of the best means to compare system capabilities relative to needs.

Any requirements that are unique and specific to the organization also must be considered and identified. These stand a strong chance of either not being provided or, if provided, may not function in the manner necessary for the organization. It is best to find out up front rather than during implementation. Both rating methods provide insight into what each system actually provides.

It is also important to weight requirements to determine the relative importance of each. Weighting factors should be used during the evaluation process to rank how the various systems meet the needs of the organization. There is a nearly infinite number of possible metrics that are unique to each organization.

Develop best practices, streamline the process
After conducting an exhaustive search to identify technical and functional requirements, the next step is to rework maintenance and other processes to eliminate duplicate or nonproductive steps. This provides a preliminary roadmap that defines how the CMMS is expected to operate. If this step is not taken, the CMMS may simply automate existing problems, making existing mistakes and problems occur faster.

To ensure progress, identify how to measure success. Key performance indicators provide a starting point and baseline. They identify business areas with the most significant problems and the areas for significant improvement. These indicators need to continuously track progress as well as identify barriers and areas that may threaten the project’s success.

Vendor search and prequalification
After the requirements have been identified, categorized, weighted, and prioritized, the next step is to determine an initial group of potential candidates that match the technical environment and provide the best match to functional needs. Limit this initial list to 30 vendors that are predominant in your business area. Resources for finding vendors include:

  • CMMS ratings and advertisements in maintenance publications (such as Maintenance Technology)
  • Web-based maintenance services
  • Web-based searches
  • Software rating and analysis services (such as the Gartner Group)
  • CMMS consultants

Effective advance research should help refine this group to about 10 vendors. This can be accomplished by preparing and distributing a detailed Request For Information (RFI) or through a telephone screen. Smaller organizations with minimal requirements and complexity may choose a phone screening process to reduce costs.

Regardless of how this screening is conducted, carefully prepare questions that represent key requirements from all three categories. Using Yes/No questions allows objective measurement and tabulation of responses. Additionally, be sure to allow for narrative responses to fully explain how a particular feature addresses your requirements.

After collecting vendor responses or the RFIs, conduct a detailed evaluation of responding vendors and rank them based on their responses. System purchase and implementation costs should not be a consideration at this point. Conducting a thorough screening will result in the best mix of vendors/systems that move to the next step: a formal Request for Quotation/Request for Proposal (RFQ/RFP).

RFQ/RFP development, distribution, and evaluation
After refining the number of vendors to a prequalified list, prepare and distribute an RFQ/RFP. The RFQ/RFP should contain the original set of requirements, combined with the weighting method and a significant narrative area for each requirement.

The vendor needs to describe how its system meets each requirement. Essential or unique requirements require narrative. It is highly recommended to get as much narrative as possible as this provides insight into how the vendor understands the requirements. Sales literature can be included with the RFQ/RFP, but should not be allowable as a requirement response.

Once the proposals are received, use an evaluation worksheet to rate and compare vendors’ responses based on the RFQ/RFP requirements. Cost can be included with the RFQ/RFP responses but should not play a role in the evaluation process. Evaluating the vendor responses should result in a short list of two or three vendors. This sets the stage for the next and final evaluation step.

Vendor demonstrations and evaluation
The final step in the evaluation process is to see a detailed demonstration of each system on the short list. A common flaw of many selection processes is to limit the time for demonstrations. At minimum, plan on three days for a comprehensive demonstration. Anything less can result in schedule conflicts, not being able to see all the capabilities of a system, or the selection team not being able to ask probing questions.

Vendors should be provided with an agenda, script, and sample data. The script should depict scenarios for the organization’s work processes and use by functional position. Each vendor should be required to address the scenarios and use the sample data. Not using the scenarios and sample data provided should be considered grounds for disqualification. Most vendors will jump at the opportunity to showcase their system’s strengths in a personalized setting.

Provide the preliminary information vendors ask for. This helps them present the absolute best they have to offer.

The demonstration is the most crucial selection step. The entire selection team should attend each demonstration and be familiar with the requirements they expect to see. It is helpful to use a simple form for notes, to check key components, and document strengths and weaknesses. Keep the form simple so selection team members spend their time paying attention to the demonstration rather than working with the form. Prepare the form in advance and solicit input on the content to ensure that it captures all the key criteria.

To avoid blur, have the selection team meet immediately after each demonstration and before starting the next. Use this meeting to discuss observations and document the consensus of how well the system meets requirements. Identify and document follow-up questions that need to be resolved before final selection.

At the conclusion of the meeting, prepare an official evaluation containing the original weight assigned to each requirement. Also rate or rank how well each requirement is met. Be sure to allot enough time for this process. A single, half-day to wrap up three days of demonstrations is grossly inadequate.

Final selection, approval, and contract negotiation
After the demonstrations and evaluations are complete, the selection team needs to conduct a final selection meeting to:

  • Compare the demonstration evaluations and decide how each system met requirements.
  • Analyze the cost of each system and relative value based on how well each requirement was met.

The meeting should result in objective reasons for the team’s selection of a specific CMMS.

Finally, the selection should be presented to the organization’s executive management for approval. The presentation should include the documentation supporting the selection, the ROI specific to the selected system, any new benefits identified during the selection process specific to the selected system, and any other information pertinent to the organization.

After executive management approval, contract negotiations can begin. Consider the following issues during negotiation:

  • Software licensing and any hardware to be provided by the vendor
  • Annual support
  • Overall vendor responsibilities and schedule
  • Overall organization responsibilities and schedule
  • Implementation plan, schedule, and responsibilities including training, interface/integration development, data conversion, testing and system acceptance criteria, “go live,” and support
  • All costs
  • Legal review

The selection process is not easy. It demands consideration and management of numerous details. However, this process has been proven effective, as it has been refined from more than 30 major system selections. It helps avoid the pitfalls and problems of selection that cause failure. By following this process, an organization will feel confident that it is ensuring the best system selection possible and increasing the potential for a successful implementation.

Previous article in this series: “Avoiding Pitfalls in CMMS Implementation” (MT, 7/01, pg 15). The next article will focus on the implementation process and steps that help bypass the problems and pitfalls that can derail a CMMS project. MT

Derold Davis and Joe Mikes are senior consultants at Westin Engineering; (916) 852-2111. They both have more than 15 years of experience in providing system selection and implementation methodologies, proven maintenance practices, productivity improvement practices, and methods and strategies for increasing operational reliability and reducing maintenance overhead.




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