MRO Magazine

Avoiding software selection pitfalls

When it comes time to select a new CMMS software program, the up-front time and effort you spend will pay off many times over, now and in the future.There are literally hundreds of software programs a...


February 1, 2003
By Peter Phillips

When it comes time to select a new CMMS software program, the up-front time and effort you spend will pay off many times over, now and in the future.

There are literally hundreds of software programs available today, ranging in cost from a few hundred dollars to many thousands. That’s just one of the reasons that picking the right program for your organization can be time consuming. Using an Internet search engine with the keywords CMMS can result in pages and pages of lists of vendors. So how can you decide what product is the right fit for you?

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself before making a final selection and some examples of what I’ve experienced in my travels.

You need to consider your present need for a program and also your plans for it in the future. How much maintenance information do you want to track? Are you just interested in equipment maintenance or do you want to use it for inventory and purchasing? Will you want to expand it in the future to include other departments, users or locations? Will you want it to interface with other software you are already using?

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Software samples

To get an idea of what different software will do, get as much information about it as you can. It’s always helpful to obtain a demo disk, or even better, sample software. Some vendors offer evaluation software which will work for a limited number of hours or uses so you can have a test drive.

Test the demo software. Does the program look user friendly? When you first purchase software, it is often set up and used by computer savvy people, however down the road you may expect some computer challenged folks to use it too. So it’s important that the program can be customized for different user levels to make it easy to use. Security features come into play here as well to prevent accidental deletion of important records.

Find out if custom changes can be done in-house or if they need to be done by the CMMS provider. If the vendor must do the work, how much does that cost?

Is the software adaptable and flexible to fit your needs? Some programs are rigid, while others are extremely flexible and are limited only by your imagination. I’ve seen flexible software adapted for use in hospitals where patient rooms are pieces of equipment and their contents are equipment components, and other setups where items that don’t exist in inventory are assigned to work orders and are actually purchase order numbers.

Is the program capable of directly importing equipment and inventory files into the CMMS from other programs you are already using? If it can import this data, it will save an unbelievable amount of time by not needing to rekey the information manually.

Upgrades and support

Is the program upgradeable? Eventually you’ll probably want to expand or upgrade your program as the usage changes. Does the program interface with other software, such as accounting and material management programs?

Ask the vendor if upgrading is seamless or if it needs an expert to handle the integration, and find out how much it will cost. If you need to get more users on the program at the same time, you’ll need additional so-called “seats.” Also, add-ons such as bar coding probably will cost more. If you purchase an add-on, look for any hidden costs.

The next important consideration is customer support. Can you call 24/7 with your problems? Believe me, there will be growing pains, from simple user questions to software glitches. Support for the program is important. As in all software, there are “patches” available to correct program errors or to upgrade your current version. You should ask how you’ll receive the patches and if they are free.

Find out the cost of annual support. If you add more seats or add-ons, will the cost of support go up? Also ask, if for some reason you discontinue customer support, whether you can still get program patches. With some CMMS providers, the access to patches is unavailable if you stop your support, so you end up with program glitches even though you paid a lot of money for your system.

As new software programs evolve, old ones are phased out. For example, getting support for programs based on Windows 3.1 — or older DOS programs — is difficult today. Software programs have a life cycle as new versions and technology change. Find out how long the current version of the program will be supported by the vendor and what you can expect when the program reaches the end of its lifespan.

Another important question is about local support. Many but not all CMMS providers are based in the U.S.A. and if you need on-site help with implementation and training, it can cost a bundle. I know that it’s hard enough to come up with the money for the program, let alone a bunch more for on-site service. Local support from a nearby office or representative is an extreme advantage.

As with most other software in the marketplace, there are alternate support services. For example, you usually don’t call Microsoft for implementation and training for Windows programs. It has been my experience that there are exceptional aftermarket services for most CMMS programs. However it may take a little research to find them, as your supplier usually won’t tell you who they are. It’s sort of like a new car dealership not recommending local car care garages. If the local supporter is experienced, it can be very cost effective as the daily rates can be much less than the vendor’s. Also, air travel and hotel costs are not an issue.

I previously mentioned the life cycle of a program. You may well want to keep the version you have long after vendor customer support ends. When this happens, aftermarket services are a big advantage to keep your CMMS baby — now an adult — running as long as possible.

To find local support, ask other users of the program where they get services, surf the Internet, or check trade magazines for advertisements of CMMS services.

Peter Phillips of Trailwalk Holdings Ltd. in Windsor, N.S., a CMMS consulting and training company, is a certified millwright, industrial electrician and electronics technician. He also was preventive maintenance coordinator at Michelin Tire Canada Ltd. for 18 years. He can be reached at 902-798-3601 or by e-mail at peter@trailwalk.ca.