MRO Magazine

CMMS: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

CMMS is a great tool for maintenance including planning and scheduling, but be careful and don’t abuse it. There is good and bad we need to recognize in using CMMS functionality over a paper system. Get the good, avoid the bad, and be better at maintenance.

March 22, 2021 | By Doc Palmer

Photo: Goodvibes Photo -

Photo: Goodvibes Photo –

Almost above all, CMMS allows us to make living job plans that can be updated over time. Gone are the days of researching old work orders to come up with a job plan for this time. Beyond the great benefit of the living job plan, the good from CMMS for maintenance includes standardizing work processes, inventory control, information galore, finding work orders, schedule manipulation, PM generation, and
problem diagnosis.

With computers we get better adherence to standard information and processes. We can make fields required, and users have to fill them. For example, they have to pick a priority; which can’t be left blank. They have to pick an asset. They have to pick a work type. Nonetheless, they might pick an inappropriate priority, the wrong asset, or the wrong work type. However, at least they have to think about it. Consider having an “unsure” or “not applicable” choice for some required fields.

Better inventory control is a great return on investment. Automatic reorder points, links of spare parts to assets, usage records, current stock levels, and other features are better online. How many stock items have levels below the reorder point, but no purchase order for replenishment? That is great information that we might not be reordering as we should. Many CMMSs have a feature that can automatically build bills of material (BOM) for assets whenever parts are used on a work order.

Information in general is better with a CMMS, especially for metrics and reports. Are we doing more PM each year or less? What is our most troublesome asset, work wise and cost wise? Would we know as well without a CMMS?


The linking of information to assets in a common database is an especially helpful aspect of a CMMS. We can avoid different groups having different databases for nameplate information, motor frame size, and equipment history.

The computer offers great potential for scheduling. I’d like for the CMMS to help us pick work to schedule, but unfortunately many CMMS believe we already know what work to schedule. They guide in assigning known work a week in advance to individuals on specific days. It would be better if the system said, “for the labour capacity next week, how does this batch of work look?”

PM generation is wonderful in all CMMS. We don’t have to remember to recreate the monthly work order and get it to the right crew. Perhaps one of the best features is problem diagnosis. The computer can help us find if we’ve had this problem before and where? How widespread is the problem?

Among the bad and ugly are issues with processes, costing, employee evaluations, abandoning thinking for ourselves, user friendliness, and metrics.

Gaining great benefit from a CMMS is more complicated than simply implementing it. Management is buying a great sports car, but we need to know how to drive it.

We must realize that if we don’t know what maintenance is, a CMMS won’t help us at all. No one has any business with a hand held calculator if they do not first know how to add, multiply, subtract, and divide. A CMMS will only speed up a faulty maintenance process.
Maintenance is keeping things from breaking, not simply fixing them as soon as they break. Does the CMMS help you realize that? Of course not. The CMMS helps you track work of whatever type you think you should do. We must avoid the thinking that “As soon as the CMMS is fully implemented, everything will be fine.”

Another issue is that people sometimes charge work or parts to the wrong work order number. Be careful analyzing the cost of past work.
Do not use the CMMS for employee evaluations. We want to know how long the job actually took. We don’t want to have perfect matching of estimates versus actuals. Don’t encourage people to input bad information in the CMMS for fear of looking bad. Use supervisors in the field to see how employees are doing.

Also, be careful not to abandon thinking to the CMMS. “Why did the plant burn down? The CMMS forgot to tell us to work on the fire sprinkler system.” No, we forgot to put that work into the CMMS.

User friendliness is a concern. We could all retrieve an old work order out of a paper file. But the CMMS requires logging in and knowing how to do things online. Some systems are more “user friendly” than others, but don’t skimp on training as you implement a new CMMS, or bring new people on board.

Finally, one of the problems with the CMMS is measuring everything, just because we can. I’ve seen plants utilize the planner to gather CMMS data to compile metrics that management never uses. It takes time to assemble information and I’d rather the planner not spend an entire day each week doing that. Planners should be planning. IT people can automate the metrics.

Gaining great benefit from a CMMS is more complicated than simply implementing it. Management is buying a great sports car, but we need to know how to drive it. Also, we need to know where we are going. Therefore, why did we buy the car? Why to improve plant reliability, of course. MRO

Doc Palmer, PE, MBA, CMRP is the author of McGraw-Hill’s Maintenance Planning and Scheduling Handbook and as managing partner of Richard Palmer and Associates helps companies worldwide with planning and scheduling success. For more information including online help and currently scheduled public workshops, visit or email Doc at docpalmer@palmer


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