ERP solutions: Are they right for maintenance management?

Since its inception, "best-of-breed" software vendors specializing primarily in maintenance solutions have dominated the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) marketplace. As the complexity of the marketplace and customer needs grew, top-tiered CMMS solutions evolved into enterprise asset management (EAM) systems.

By Tom Singer Contributing Editor, Principal, Tompkins Associates, Oak Brook, IL November 15, 2002

Since its inception, “best-of-breed” software vendors specializing primarily in maintenance solutions have dominated the computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) marketplace. As the complexity of the marketplace and customer needs grew, top-tiered CMMS solutions evolved into enterprise asset management (EAM) systems. This change reflected the need to expand maintenance management software beyond the boundaries of work order and preventive maintenance management. Solutions were needed to provide integrated support of all maintenance functions within the enterprise — from procurement to decision support.

Since maintenance does not stop at the boundaries of the maintenance department, many organizations needed the ability to interface their CMMS/EAM packages with other enterprise systems. Software vendors responded by providing standard or custom interfaces between CMMS/EAM and other business systems. Companies that implemented, and subsequently integrated, separate CMMS/EAM and other enterprise software followed a best-of-breed systems strategy. They chose a variety of business systems from different software vendors to meet specific informational needs.

Enter: ERP

But there is an alternative to the best-of-breed approach. It entails software packages that address a multiplicity of business functions. These solutions are generally called enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, but they are basically software suites that support most business functions inherent within an enterprise. The ERP marketplace is pursued by a wide variety of vendors that typically target specific industry types and company sizes. Like the CMMS/EAM software business, a handful of ERP vendors own a major share of the market. But the marketplace is full of companies pursuing specialty niches.

Because ERP vendors typically tailor their solutions to meet the needs of special customer industry types, ERP packages vary in the modules that they support. Certain vendors concentrate on service industries. Others provide solutions geared for retail distributors. Some offer manufacturing modules that support production planning, scheduling, and execution. Many vendors specialize in multiple arenas.

Enter: maintenance

Since maintenance is a core business component of the enterprise, one would expect ERP vendors to offer maintenance management modules. So it should be no surprise that vendors like SAP ( ) and JD Edwards ( ) have been offering plant maintenance modules for years. But these solutions have historically been the exception. Most ERP vendors have chosen not to address the needs of the maintenance department. While this still remains true, plant maintenance is beginning to play a much more prominent role in the ERP industry.

ERP vendors are beginning to pursue maintenance for a variety of reasons. Some are reacting to the demands of large customers or prospects to provide a plant maintenance solution. Others are driven by the need to constantly expand the functionality of their mature packages in order to stay competitive. Perhaps the industry as a whole is starting to recognize the importance of maintenance in the success of the enterprise. But if the reasons for pursuing maintenance vary, so do the approaches employed by vendors.

Built from the ground up

Some ERP vendors choose to support maintenance management by developing add-on plant maintenance or asset management modules for their existing product suites. These modules are designed and developed as integrated components of the overall product suite. They employ the same user interface, code structure, and database as the rest of their product suite. ERP vendors that support manufacturing operations are the most likely to provide a plant maintenance solution since they can build upon existing work-order-centric functionality. Rather than developing scheduling, project management, inventory, purchasing, quality, and other core maintenance capabilities, they can adapt existing suite modules to support these maintenance needs. They can also offer nonmaintenance users a consistent enterprisewide user interface to access maintenance information.

Oracle Corporation’s Enterprise Asset Management (eAM) module ( ) is a recent entry in the maintenance management software field. According to Oracle’s product brochures, it was “built from the ground up” to be an integrated component of Oracle’s E-Business Suite (11i). Through eAM, Oracle is targeting the maintenance management needs of its existing customer base as well as enhancing the overall appeal of its product suite. Solutions like eAM appeal to ERP customers by offering a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for their maintenance management information needs. They allow organizations to use the same systems, database, support, and implementation infrastructure to meet their maintenance information needs as well as the rest of the enterprise.

Acquisition path

Another established path for ERP vendors interested in addressing maintenance management needs is to acquire a CMMS/EAM package and integrate it into their product suite. While this is not a new path, it may become more popular as the CMMS/EAM industry shrinks and the need for ERP vendors to provide plant maintenance solutions intensifies. Vendors that take this route offer their customers an enterprise solution that addresses maintenance management. But these solutions do not have the seamless look and feel, or the unified architecture of the internally developed ERP plant maintenance modules. Since they do not rely on existing ERP modules to support certain maintenance operations, their complete functionality may provide a better fit to the way certain maintenance departments operate than internally developed ERP solutions.

Some best-of-breed CMMS/EAM vendors also provide standard interfaces between their products and selected ERP suites. While these interfaces may be the result of partnerships between the two vendors, they do not have the strategic importance or organizational cooperation as when one company owns both products. Avantis ( ) is an example of an established EAM solution whose market position will be enhanced by its recent acquisition by an enterprise solution provider. Avantis has undergone several ownership changes over the years. Its recent acquisition by Invensys casts a new light on the package. Invensys’s stated intention to focus resources in integrating Avantis to their Baan ERP suite ( ) as well as their Wonderware and Foxboro industrial automation suites, may inject new life into the product as well as offer Invensys customers a single source for their enterprise maintenance management needs.

Pure bred

Evolution accounts for the origins of some ERP plant maintenance modules. Some CMMS vendors who target capital asset intensive operations such as utilities, mining, and forestry may end up enhancing their product to meet informational needs beyond the boundaries of the maintenance department. Since asset management plays a predominant role in these industries, CMMS/EAM vendors who specialize in this area frequently find themselves as the primary enterprise software solution provider for their customers. They respond by enhancing their inventory, human resources, purchasing, and financial capabilities to the point where they transcend the borders of maintenance management and become enterprise-wide business suites.

IFS Applications ( ) is an example of an ERP solution whose roots can be traced back to plant maintenance. Its first commercial software product, introduced in 1986, was a maintenance management solution. Since then, IFS has enhanced its product suite to include financials, sales, manufacturing, distribution, and human resources modules.

Enterprise considerations

Functionality, cost, implementation timeline, and vendor viability should drive the decision making process when selecting a maintenance management solution for the enterprise. If available, an ERP plant maintenance module should be evaluated against clearly defined criteria just like other CMMS/EAM solutions. The end results will vary from operation to operation. But all end-users should benefit from the competition that ERP vendors bring to the CMMS/EAM industry.

Author Information
Tom Singer is an information technology consultant who specializes in designing, developing, and implementing systems solutions that meet client operational needs.