MRO Magazine

Successful Implementation Strategies

By Peter Phillips   


When it comes to implementing a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), often the users know best -- or more appropriately, know best what doesn't work. That fact came to light at a recent maintenance conference.In April, I...

When it comes to implementing a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), often the users know best — or more appropriately, know best what doesn’t work. That fact came to light at a recent maintenance conference.

In April, I attended and was a speaker at the MainTrain conference in St. John’s, NF, organized by the Plant Engineering & Maintenance Association of Canada (PEMAC). The conference was well-attended and there was a wide cross-section of industries represented at it. With a variety of training sessions and speakers, the conference was a great experience.

It was interesting to listen to the people during the Bear Pit sessions, where everyone gets a chance to ask and answer questions regarding issues they are facing. Although the people there came from different industries, it was obvious they all had the same issues. Problems ranged from not getting enough time to service equipment to not being able to find and retain qualified tradespeople.

The topic of my presentation was How to Successfully Implement a CMMS. With a show of hands, I discovered that the majority of the people in the room already had a CMMS in place. However some of them found that after their implementation, they could not retrieve the reports they required. They also experienced difficulty finding equipment and parts and other information in their software. A couple even thought their equipment and parts records were a real mess.


During my hour on the podium, we talked about:

• What a CMMS can do for you

• Different ways to implement a CMMS

• The steps needed to guarantee a successful program

• Special considerations when implementing multi-site programs, and finally

• Keeping your CMMS healthy.

Everyone agreed that a CMMS is a powerful maintenance tool and the ROI (return on investment) will often take less than a year. Maintenance programs formalize and standardize the way maintenance activities get done and should be done. They save a mountain of time looking for equipment history instead of looking through a file cabinet.

Those who used purchase order books before they started purchasing with the software said there’s no comparison. The CMMS is just so much faster, as information is at your fingertips.

With an aging and mobile workforce, the CMMS has become the best tool to capture maintenance knowledge before people retire or move to a new job. One of the themes of the conference was retaining skilled tradespeople. Knowledge can walk out the door at any time. The CMMS has become a tool to harvest and store maintenance information.

As I explained to the audience, there are four methods to implement a CMMS:

• Go it alone

• Vendor-implemented

• Implementation by a consultant, or

• A combination of the above.

Regardless of the method chosen, a CMMS implementation is not often viewed as an important maintenance event. The best implementations are planned and executed like any other project, such as a new equipment installation or major plant shutdown.

Many people had the experience that the ‘Go It Alone’ method can cause long-term problems. With little or no training on the software, they flew by the seat of their pants and did the best job they could. In the end, they realized the initial set-up was not done correctly. With no project plan, they got discouraged trying to work on the software startup while doing their regular jobs as well. In most cases, the end result was to bring in the CMMS vendor or a consultant to fix the program implementation.

When this happens, the system usually can be repaired and set on the right track. With some of the newer programs though, it becomes more difficult because data in key fields of the software are locked and difficult or impossible to change. In this case, bringing in outside help to fix your implementation can be expensive.

The ‘Vendor Implementation’ option requires the least amount of the maintenance department’s time. The issues with this method range from no participation or buy-in from the maintenance team, to the program not working with their processes.

Although vendors will know the software very well, they may not understand production and maintenance issues. People were more satisfied with the implementation when they asked the vendors or consultants about their experience with the software, their knowledge of maintenance, and when they and asked for references.

The ‘Consultant Implementation’ method was found to be less expensive than vendor implementation. Consultants often bring with them the knowledge of the software and have a wide range of experiences with different industries and maintenance departments. They bring with them benchmarks, best practices and experience with what works.

The ‘Combination Implementation’ method was the favourite of the group and is generally the most effective. A good project plan blends the know-how of an outside expert with the knowledge of the maintenance department. This method ensures buy-in from the users because they have a part in the implementation. It guarantees the program is set up properly, with correct nomenclatures and processes. It identifies bottlenecks and other problems early in the installation, so they can be corrected promptly.

Everyone agreed one element of the installation that must take place is the early involvement of the operation’s information technology (IT) department. Those who didn’t do this suffered software support issues.

The steps to implement a program are as simple as PPE (plan, prepare and execute). Knowing the what, when, where, who and how of every step is the only way to successfully get the CMMS up and running. Follow the same steps for any project. Map out your nomenclatures to use in the software and identify SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) before you start.

Those that implemented a multi-site CMMS experienced some special challenges. They needed a gatekeeper to keep an eye on the database as different plants added their own information. The gatekeeper needed to make sure naming conventions and SOPs were followed. They acted like police, informing people when they were outside the implementation boundaries.

They also needed a site administrator to be the main contact for users and outside support services. They are the ones that facilitate conference calls with other plants to discuss database changes.

IT support was again a key element to do backups of the data and to apply program updates. This team would look after the care and maintenance of the software.

The audience agreed that the CMMS project must be executed properly. Too much precious time and money is wasted when it is not. The message was clear: Do it once and do it right.

Peter Phillips of Trailwalk Holdings, a CMMS consulting and training company based in Nova Scotia, can be reached at 902-798-3601 or by e-mail at


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