The Business Process Review: Redrawing Your CMMS Roadmap

EP Editorial Staff | June 9, 2010


Still trying to make progress on your software journey? If you don’t know where you’re going, you could end up in the wrong place!

There’s a moment in every organization’s life when doubts arise about its chosen CMMS path. Management begins to wonder if increased support costs, substantial upgrade efforts and changing technologies will really solve its facility/maintenance problems. Things had seemed so simple: Install the software and, by default, you would be adhering to industry best practice. Flawed thinking?

If you are at this point, your smartest move may be to turn off your engine, pause the upgrade cycle and conduct a formal business process review. You’ll get to look at the entire maintenance organization, revalidate responsibilities and re-evaluate rules and regulations.

Start by asking how important the CMMS/EAM product is to the mission of the organization. If the answer is “very important,” remind yourself that there are three key components to any system: software, process and organization. It’s those last two that frequently lack definition and emphasis.

Software can be installed and users trained, but then what? Did anyone train the organization on how to make more informed decisions? Is someone able to link management goals back to the point of input? Just like in the maintenance and repair world, bad decisions can be made in CMMS/EAM setup and use. The rationale for the software has to be more than “create electronic work orders so we can report actual man-hours and get paid.” There needs to be a vision for the future, backed by goals and objectives, described by process and procedure and supported by solid data.

Although many users can make dramatic improvements via simplification and standardization of process, the larger challenge is the application of best-practice methods. The most commonly stated purposes behind any CMMS/EAM implementation are (1) enhancement of asset reliability and (2) improvement of workforce productivity/coordination. Unfortunately, most sites fail to perform any basic failure analysis within the software—and most have never successfully created a resource-leveled, weekly maintenance schedule. Benign neglect doesn’t work here. Advanced processes require a strong organization with clear vision and singular focus, but how do you get there?

The first step is to have a vision—and be visionary. You may want to perform some benchmarking to help establish this vision. Once you have a set of goals, work backwards. Is the software set up to support these goals? Are CMMS/EAM procedures in place? Are the roles clearly defined? When was the last time the existing processes were mapped to verify roles and responsibilities? Wishing for efficiency/productivity improvement by merely installing new software is NOT a strategy. Software alone will not fix organizational problems.

Defining a BPI/BPR project
BPI stands for business process improvement…

BPI focuses on organizational design, which, if unclear and performing poorly, will make it impossible to design an effective CMMS/EAM system. In order to review the business process, you must first determine the “size of the puddle.” Which departments and processes are to be reviewed? A formal BPI review includes organizational structure, roles/responsibilities, internal/external rules and regulations, policies, mission/vision statements, process workflows and measurements therein. With this understanding, you should know what performance attributes (data) to manage. Once the roles are understood, ask: “What is the purpose of our CMMS/EAM system, and what do we want it to do?”

BPR stands for business process re-engineering…
BPR questions the original design and seeks to re-verify CMMS/EAM purpose and supporting roles. It focuses more on a future-state design, leveraging critical success factors and supporting tasks. Users look into the future, provide a wish list and imagine future perfect. This type of bold thinking can help a company become more creative, innovative and responsive to change.

A combined BPI/BPR review incorporates the best of both strategies and promotes an environment of continuous improvement, strong vision and user buy-in. This combination strategy helps to create an atmosphere of excitement and reinvention.

Focusing on business process
It’s estimated that 80% of all potential improvement can be found in the surrounding process and procedure of any CMMS/EAM system. Thus, it’s a good idea to periodically reassess (every five years) your success to date; review business objectives; adjust performance metrics; and verify customer satisfaction. In some cases, you may have done nothing different since the day you implemented the product—which could be a problem in itself. Even existing practices can become outdated. It’s also possible that your CMMS/EAM setup could have been ineffective at the outset (at identifying equipment-reliability problems or workforce scheduling). The reason goes back to inadequate vision and linking of goals to actions. A BPI/BPR review can provide a better understanding of how inputs can become outputs and how effective you could be. Even a little change can bring rewards (see Fig. 1 below).


  1. Maintenance department costs are tending upward. CMMS/EAM software cost-to-maintain is also increasing. System benefits are not fully realized.
  2. Best-practice concepts, especially advanced processes, were never understood or successfully implemented.
  3. External benchmarking identified clever ideas, but were never implemented.
  4. CMMS/EAM training covered navigational aspects, but never discussed the endgame. Interviews with the maintenance staff indicated frustration and confusion.
  5. The project team that set up the software is long gone. Documentation (for past customization) was not evident. The system is essentially “tied in knots.” A fresh start may be needed.
  6. You may attempt to implement new, better ideas that never seem to “take.” Cultural-change aspects were not fully understood, and process verification was never set up.
  7. Multiple groups/divisions are using the same software, but their processes are all different. This complicates training, upgrades and standardized measurements.
  8. The reason why we do things a certain way is no longer clear or understood. Outdated process has also lead to inaccurate/incomplete data, making it difficult to derive useful information. The current system is not seen as a true knowledge base.
  9. New or changing regulations (policies) make the current requirements inapplicable.
  10. Management expects staff to do better and find ways to do more with less (be innovative and more efficient). It also has the right to readjust measurement thresholds and priorities.

Struggling to optimize a CMMS/EAM
Why the struggle? Many organizations are mired in reactive maintenance and cannot find a way out—they’re way too comfortable being reactive. This is typically a process/procedure issue. Most can tackle software upgrades but lack best-practice knowledge on how to become more proactive.

The key performance indicators (KPIs) are not adding real decision-making value, e.g. number of work orders completed last month. They’re so busy reacting as an organization that they can’t find time to assess remedies. A formal BPI/BPR review can provide a long-range plan for continuous improvement based on benefit to the organization.

If you interview your CMMS/EAM-user community and your customer base and hear the following, you may have a system or process problem:

  • We have resource/budget limitations; management is asking us to do more with less. We don’t know how to increase efficiency using this system with fewer resources.
  • Staff turnover is draining valuable knowledge. We never captured their knowledge in the system.
  • The customer is complaining about lack of response, or length of time before start, or job quality.
  • People will talk about weekly scheduling, but the software solution involves too much effort (for our small organization).
  • IT staff is struggling to upgrade version/product due to complexity of the current design (customization) and lack of documentation.
  • Long-range improvement plans do exist, but years have passed with very little progress.
  • Failure history is not easily retrieved (if at all). Asset review means “pull out all the paper work orders on this equipment and let’s get together in the conference room.” No methods exist for identifying recurring problems or breakdowns. We’re unable to perform basic failure analysis using the CMMS/EAM system.
  • Backlog is growing and mostly unplanned. And there’s confusion around who’s responsible for reviewing it, or what to review for.
  • No time exists for performing PM tasks, and no PM feedback process exists.
  • The database is mostly inaccurate, the foundation data is incomplete and there’s lack of data ownership. (In other words, there’s no functional review team and no administrator other than IT department.)

How does an organization get in such a mess? Don’t automatically blame the software—it normally does what it’s designed to do. The real problem is that most organizations underestimate the importance of process and procedure. As shown in Table I, the reasons can be numerous.

There is a misconception that implementation of this software, by default, will provide better/best practices to your organization.Software vendors may speak of improved reliability, less downtime and improved workforce scheduling, but few provide training on the detailed steps required to perform these advanced processes. That said, responsibility for this vision lies within the user’s organization.
Rules and regulations created by the organization that installed the software may no longer be applicable. Also, it’s possible that the system was not set up properly to enhance workforce productivity, improve asset reliability and manage cost.Periodically step back and re-validate policies.

CMMS/EAM better/best practice expertise is usually needed. You want an experienced consultant to not only assist with implementation but also advise on advanced processes.

Fear of change can cause an organization to shy away from altering the current process.Cultural management is an important role in any new project/initiative. The end-users need to know what’s in it for them. The benefits need to be clearly explained—and often, involve users in new system definition.

Methods for process improvement
It’s possible to conduct your own BPI/BPR without hiring consultants—if you have adequate time. Internal and external benchmarking can be performed. The project team should be 100% dedicated to this effort, and knowledge in advanced processes is critical. Key steps are as follows:

1. Gather information…
Involve the working level—along with supervisors—in the workshops. The project team should have a leader who facilitates the dialogue. There should be a second team member who records problems, complaints and suggestions. Have a camera for snapshots of notes and attendees. Write up comments by the end of the day and start to categorize this input.

Assure participants that there will be no repercussions for voicing complaints or concerns. Each workshop should be scheduled at least a week in advance. Regarding the “As-Is” workshop, it’s okay to mention “future design” possibilities or opportunities for improvement, but delay extensive dialogue until the “To-Be” workshops.

There can be three types of workshops: current-system discovery (“As-Is”); future-state design (“To-Be”); and process development and vision-setting or brainstorming.

The “As-Is” workshop reviews current organization, roles and policy and identifies key process workflows and data ownership. The hardest part of any process re-engineering project, however, is development of the “To-Be” process. This step requires a clear understanding of the current system, future-state goals and gaps in between. The “To-Be” workshop will look for unnecessary tasks, paperwork and approval processes, plus discuss areas for productivity improvement, efficiency, standardization and automation. The brainstorming sessions can help bring new ideas to the table. Participants should be creative with their ideas and visualize “what could be.”

In addition to workshops, there are many other places to look for key information, including:

  • Organization charts
  • Mission and vision statements; goals and objectives; KPIs and metrics
  • O&M procedures, policies and guidelines; regulatory requirements
  • Commitments to other departments within the company/facility
  • List of current CMMS/EAM system interfaces and any that are planned
  • List of reports, especially analytics
  • Stand-alone databases containing maintenance-related data, as well as paper files and tribal knowledge
  • Facility/plant walk-downs (useful for observing in-progress work methods, staff communications, CMMS/EAM update and asset condition)

2. Create an issues database (or punch list)…
Expect complaints and suggestions throughout the BPI/BPR project. Such feedback should be systematically stored in a spreadsheet for subsequent sorting and categorization. Each entry should be labeled as a “problem/complaint,” “solution to problem/new idea” or “business decision.” Where possible, link any stated solution to the originating problem. For each solution, however, list benefits and obstacles. Set up categories for software/process/organization, critical success factors and the CMMS/EAM application it is related to. Once the list is completed, apply weighted priorities to each entry. A weighted priority consists of user importance (to him/her/them), level of effort (order of magnitude) and payback (cost benefit).

3. Periodically explain the “endgame”…
In a vision-setting workshop, explain the “endgame” to the project team. This technique helps staff understand the purpose behind the system and requirements for success.

Users need to know why it is important to enter data correctly into the CMMS/EAM. Conversely, a lack of proper explanation, or a “just do it” mandate can cause them to shy away from new initiatives and advanced technologies. Informed users are more likely to be motivated and involved in the overall process. Empowering them brings more eyes to the problem—and helps turn them into willing participants in both implementation and operational use.

4. Clarify roles…
Who’s responsible for the accuracy of the database? Accurate and timely input of data is critical. Actual man-hours may be entered, but the main work-order screen lacks accurate input of job status and failure/problem/cause coding. The work-order-completion step is an important update time for any CMMS/EAM system. During a BPI/BPR review, you may discover that key fields on the work-order screen are not clearly identified as to exactly who is responsible for input. No matter who enters the information, there’s going to be confusion over inputting a value versus being responsible for the accuracy of this field. Another example is when a work order involves multiple crafts—but no craft assumes overall responsibility for the whole job, for providing customer status or for updating the CMMS/EAM database.

5. Understand the needs of the organization…
Using a workshop venue, bring the BPI/BPR project team together with the CMMS/EAM power-users. In this vision-setting meeting, the leader asks: “What if your CMMS/EAM product did not exist? What functions would be harder to perform or what would you not be able to do at all?” In other words, why have this software at all? The goal of this meeting is to capture the thoughts of the project team and identify all needs, benefits and success factors for this system and organization. (The facilitator may also suggest ideas based on past experience and best practices.)

6. Create a value-add tree…
A graphical value-add tree can be created from information coming out of the previously described workshop. Its purpose is twofold: (1) to illustrate areas of strategic importance; and (2) to identify supporting tasks. Value points should be color-coded to indicate software, process or organizational element.

7. Perform long-term strategic planning…
Once the workflows are complete and all issues categorized, assess the data. Where do you want to be three to five years from now? What actions will provide the greatest ROI? While your BPI/BPR review may have generated many items for consideration, they won’t all be acted on immediately—if at all. The weighted punch list, however, can provide a “Top 10 List,” a grouping of like items or a sorting by cost. In short, it’s a comprehensive list based upon input from the entire organization. Without this roadmap for the future, it really won’t matter what software you use.

8. Provide for sustainability…
Implementation of any recommendation needs to be followed by periodic auditing and training. Once the executive summary is written and the final presentation is made, the stakeholders will make their decisions based on feasibility and timing. This output becomes your roadmap forward. Culture change is not always easy, and reinforcement is needed. Some of the best organizations also have a functional review team to manage the punch list and help keep focus on priority items.

Where you want to be
People wonder why they underutilize their CMMS/EAM systems. If they’re unwilling to nail down the fundamentals of managing their organizations, the system will never be good enough and the software will always be blamed. When it comes to system administration—IT staff, maintenance, operations and engineering—all have a responsibility. Your software will only be as good as the surrounding process and procedure.

Acquire a solid asset-management strategy that meets the requirements of all stakeholders. Review this strategy at least every five years. Get everyone involved. Listen to their problems. Document the complaints. Then, through a collaborative effort, find solutions. Always be thinking of how you can improve. If end-users from the maintenance organization are never really involved in setting up the system, database accuracy will suffer. When personnel feel empowered, they perform better. The BPI/BPR review lets you jump-start this important process. MT

John Reeve is senior consultant and practice lead for Cohesive Solutions, headquartered in Kennesaw, GA. Telephone: (423) 314-1312; e-mail: JReeve@CohesiveSolutions.com.

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