How to select a CMMS/EAM

I get a lot of e-mails from readers seeking suggestions on which CMMS/EAM package they should select. Since I really don't know their requirements, I have no problem responding with generalities.


I get a lot of e-mails from readers seeking suggestions on which CMMS/EAM package they should select. Since I really don't know their requirements, I have no problem responding with generalities. Besides, from a professional and legal standpoint, it doesn't pay to make a recommendation based on the contents of an e-mail. But all the questions that I have received confirm a belief I have acquired from years of experience: The CMMS/EAM selection process can generate a considerable amount of anxiety and uncertainty in people.

I don't think this observation is a surprise to anyone involved in the process. Whether selecting a single-user system or an enterprise-wide solution, acquiring a CMMS/EAM package is a major purchase for any maintenance department. Like any other major purchase, we fixate on making the right choice. The thought of selecting the "wrong" solution is untenable for many people. We must get the best bang for our bucks.

Consider the approaches

So what is the best way to go about selecting a CMMS/EAM? Since there is usually more than one path to the truth, let me identify the following approaches for your consideration.

  1. Rate the functionality of a prequalified group of packages against the perceived needs of the maintenance department. Select the best-fit package within a predefined budget.

  2. Search trade journals, visit vendor and trade association web sites, attend trade shows, review vendor client lists, and contact peers. Identify the vendor with the best reputation in your industry.

  3. Ask your IT department to select the package based on its ability to provide support.

  4. Select the vendor with the most sales and/or the largest installed base.

  5. Select the vendor with the best advertisements or coolest web site.

  6. Identify where vendors hold their user conferences. Select the vendor with the best record of selecting places that appeal to you.

  7. Write the name of each vendor within your price range with more than five reference sites on pieces of paper. Drop the slips into a bowl, shake, and select the winner.

    1. Undoubtedly, most readers will gravitate toward the first two approaches. They appear to be the most technically sound. I'm sure that most organizations that have undertaken a CMMS/EAM selection would point to #1 as their primary approach. They probably would also say that they incorporated #2 and #3 into the process. I'm sure that #4 plays a role in many selections despite the fact that few people will probably admit it. The safety of "nobody ever got fired for selecting..." is too strong to ignore for many maintenance departments.

      We tend to treat the software selection process as a technical exercise where the vendor who accumulates the most points is the winner. Many maintenance organizations devote considerable time and effort to selecting what they feel is the right CMMS/EAM package for their operation. They form cross-functional teams that religiously dissect prospective offerings in their quest to find the best solution. But are their efforts always well spent?

      Most CMMS/EAM packages can do a more than adequate job of supporting any maintenance department's information needs. Once you account for organization size, most prospective solutions are going to provide the same core functionality. There certainly is a best-fit solution for any maintenance department's information needs. But is it really that different from all the runners-up to warrant a major investment in the selection process?

      If we think of the selection process only in terms of rating packages, perhaps we are better off employing a lower cost approach. It may not yield a "best fit," but after the implementation dust settles the results will probably be the same as the more expensive, structured selection approaches. To be truly successful, a CMMS/EAM selection must be more than a mechanical exercise of choosing a winner from a field of prospective candidates.

      Define operational goals

      Whether selecting a system for the first time or looking to replace an existing CMMS/EAM, a maintenance department should not start the selection process without clearly defined operational goals and objectives. It needs to invest the same energy into developing and refining these goals and objectives as it does to evaluating and rating software packages. This step should be an iterative endeavor where the needs and desired direction of the total operation are evaluated and analyzed.

      The software selection process is an ideal time for a maintenance organization to evaluate the way it does business. Software is about automating processes and procedures. With few exceptions, we are looking to do things differently when we implement a CMMS/EAM. Consequently, every aspect of an operation should be open for review in the quest to find a better way of doing things. This quest needs to start at the beginning of the selection process.

      It is very easy to get caught up in the quest for functionality during a selection. After all, functionality determines what a software package can and cannot do. Software selections must use functionality to rate the differences between competing packages. But it is a definite mistake to equate software functionality with change and operational improvement. It is only an instrument of change.

      Most CMMS/EAM selections start out with some basic operational goals and objectives. From work request management to reliability, they seek to improve various aspects of the way business is done. But then they usually jump right into evaluating packages without any significant review of how their operations should really function. They don't take the time to reengineer their processes and procedures to achieve real operational improvements.

      Design procedures and processes

      Procedures and process designs can take place after a software package has been selected. During implementation, software functionality can be mapped against operational needs. Opportunities for improvement also can be identified and flushed out at implementation. But to relegate these activities solely to implementation is wrong.

      If we are trying to find a best fit solution during selection, then exactly what are we trying to fit? We need to have a fairly good idea of what we want to accomplish before we make a final decision on a tool to make it happen. More importantly, if we wait until implementation to address the operational details, then our focus isn't where it should be. We are implicitly downgrading operational improvement to second place. We may never get the organizational support, time, or momentum to place it at the top where it belongs.

      Why CMMS/EAM implementations fail

      CMMS/EAM implementations fail for a variety of reasons. But most of the failures and subperformers that I have seen started going wrong during the selection process. They went through the exercises of evaluating software package functionality but came up woefully short after implementation. They failed to think through what they should be doing from operational and business perspectives. Technology was implemented for technology's sake.

      It is a matter of emphasis and approach. To have a truly successful implementation, a maintenance department must be willing to take an indepth look at how it operates and where maintenance fits into the total operation. It must actively seek areas for improvement and the means to obtain these improvements. Software functionality is merely one of these means.

      This quest for operational improvement needs to start at software selection. While the improvement process must be continuous, software selection is its critical incubation time. Because a maintenance department is seeking to automate processes and procedures when it selects a CMMS/EAM, it has an implicit charter to evaluate and redesign the way it does business. Software is supposed to be about finding a new, better way of doing things.

      Process design and improvement are not an easy mission to undertake. It will significantly add to the effort invested in a software selection. It will require support and input from the entire organization. It may even require some outside resources. But it is the only approach that will allow your operation to meet its real goals and objectives.

      Tom Singer is an information technology consultant who specializes in designing, developing, and implementing systems solutions that meet client operational needs. He has worked both as a developer and integrator of CMMS solutions. He is principal of Tompkins Associates. He can be contacted by phone at 630-472-1524 or by e-mail at tsinger@

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