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More effectively evaluate vendor solutions



Experts may argue over the probability of a successful CMMS implementation, but few, if any, would estimate more than a 50-per-cent success rate. In fact, what percentage of companies even adequately define what success looks like? Once companies have properly defined “success,” they must then define user requirements that support improved processes, and evaluate vendor offerings that best satisfy user needs.

All too often, packages are selected on the basis of which vendor has the most impressive sales pitch. As a result, vendors have invested heavily in perfecting their dog-and-pony shows. Although many large companies with significantly large maintenance budgets usually do conduct a more thorough evaluation process, they do not necessarily apply the same level rigor on other fronts. For example, the bulk of the process engineering work, which in my view should drive the definition of user specifications, is often left until implementation of the CMMS or later.

Another alarming trend is exhibited by senior management determined to implement the perfect, fully integrated, enterprise-wide system that does it all, from shop floor to the executive suite. A huge software package with so much functionality does not necessarily fit the needs of a given maintenance shop in a given industry. Perhaps it does, but without going through a process design, needs analysis and vendor selection process, how do you know you are getting a tool that fits your requirements? Even if it is the best solution for maintenance, processes need to be optimized to get the most out of the software. As well, without due process, buy-in from maintainers, planners and their supervisors may be weak or non-existent, which will make it difficult if not impossible to realize any benefits from the system.

Whether big or small, most companies can learn a few tricks from those organizations that have conducted an effective vendor evaluation process. To be successful, these companies have made the following changes to the typical evaluation process:

1. More detailed specifications based on process engineering:
Companies have taken a more proactive approach to evaluating CMMS options. Rather than jumping immediately to the exploration of software options, most of the energy is expended on first determining the specific needs of the users based on rigorous examination of process change requirements. Users will take the time to sort out what is important versus what is simply nice to have, providing vendors with weightings for each specification criteria.

For large companies, a very formal request for proposal (RFP) document is sent to an appropriate number of CMMS vendors, including enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages with a fully integrated CMMS module. The RFP contains such things as your objectives in implementing a new CMMS, critical success factors, background on your company including the technical and business environment, and procurement terms and conditions. In the appendix of the RFP, technical and user specifications are provided in the form of hundreds or even thousands of user criteria related to the vendor, its products and services.

The vendors are expected to respond directly to the RFP by stating whether or not each specification can be met, how, and at what cost. When the vendor responses are received by the users, they are evaluated based on a number of pre-determined criteria. The scoring of vendor options is then used to determine a short-list of one to three candidates. A more detailed evaluation of the short-listed packages is conducted face to face with each vendor and their package in order to select a winner.

For smaller companies, a formal RFP may be overkill. Vendors may be reluctant to respond because the profit margin on a smaller installation is not enough to adequately cover the cost of responding properly to the RFP. In realizing how expensive it is to buy and implement the “wrong” package, some companies are quite willing to pay the vendors to respond. Regardless of whether or not a formal RFP is issued, the specifications document can still be used as a guide in judging any of the vendor options, including status quo or upgrading your existing CMMS.

2. More meaningful vendor demos:
CMMS vendors are seeing a trend to more meticulous testing of their software by prospective customers during the final selection stage. Increasingly, companies will send detailed test scripts to short-listed CMMS vendors ahead of a vendor demonstration, so that the software is evaluated based on real data and relevant procedures. For example, test data and procedures can be compiled for entering sample equipment, suppliers, parts and trades; simulating the creation and completion of corrective work requests and purchase requisitions; and reporting on equipment and supplier history. Test scripts can be prepared during the writing of the specifications.

3. Greater cross-company involvement:
Ten years ago, the selection of CMMS packages was considered the sole responsibility of the information systems and/or maintenance departments. Today, it’s a family affair. Operations for one, has seen the value in participating in the development of performance standards, as it relates directly to the service level agreements with the maintenance department. As well, the CMMS can be used to directly monitor the condition of assets, operating conditions or even production levels.

Accounting and finance departments have an interest in the writing of the CMMS specifications in order to ensure viable interfaces with modules such as accounts payable, activity-based costing, project tracking, fixed asset management, and so on. Purchasing and Stores need to be involved in integrating with the purchasing and materials management modules. Engineering is concerned about change control on engineering drawings, project tracking, reliability engineering, etc. The human resources department needs to understand the relevant features and functions related to payroll, resource scheduling, skills inventory, and others.

4. Improved reference checking:
In the past, companies have typically asked vendors for a list of references. However, these references were not pursued that aggressively, if at all. Over the years, companies have learned the ease and importance of phoning and visiting reference sites for benchmarking purposes. Much information can be gleaned at all levels in the reference company as to the strengths and weaknesses of the CMMS vendor and package. Critical success factors can be discussed regarding software and hardware implementation, managing the vendor relationship, ensuring proper process design to fit the package and many other areas.

5. Greater emphasis on vendor partnership:
After more than a decade of three-letter acronyms such as Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), Reliability-Centred Maintenance (RCM) and so on, forming supplier partnerships or strategic alliances has become a natural part of the vendor selection process. Companies have realized that they are not just buying the CMMS package that best meets technical specifications. They are entering a relationship with a supplier/partner that can add value over an extended period of time. This explains why companies are interested in such services as implementation, training, Internet and telephone support, consulting, and user groups.