Why CMMS implementations fail

Many companies have purchased a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) or enterprise asset management system (EAMS) intending it to be the silver bullet that solves all maintenance problems. But a functional CMMS is only a tool.
By Bob Long, Maintenance Management Training Consultant, Technical Training Div. of Life Cycle Engineering, Inc., N. Charleston, SC June 1, 2000

Many companies have purchased a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) or enterprise asset management system (EAMS) intending it to be the silver bullet that solves all maintenance problems. But a functional CMMS is only a tool. It is a repository for data that can be instantly accessed to assist in the decision-making process to continuously improve equipment reliability.

When properly implemented, a CMMS is a very useful tool for resource management, materials management, equipment reliability, budgeting, maintenance cost reporting and management, and planning and scheduling. Unfortunately 90-95% of all CMMS implementations fail to deliver the desired results and are forsaken or underutilized.

CMMSs fail for many reasons, but rarely are the failures caused by the actual capabilities of the software. What is the difference between plants that have a successful operating CMMS and those that do not?

Implement with a team approach

As with any process for improvement, upper management must champion the cause and commit the resources to ensure a successful implementation. Without full support from all participants within the organization, failure is imminent from the start. Every person involved must buy into the program and want to realize the benefits that it can provide.

For example, one plant hired a new accountant as plant comptroller. The accountant came from a plant that had a successful operating CMMS. He knew maintenance expenditures were the largest controllable cost in the operation. The maintenance manager, also newly hired, wanted to get control of his maintenance costs, eliminate reactive maintenance, and accurately plan work and manage personnel.

However, this plant did not have a CMMS. Its philosophy was that maintenance was a necessary evil. When equipment broke, it was fixed as soon as possible with whatever means available. The maintenance manager and the comptroller decided that CMMS implementation would solve their problems. Software was selected and installed. Maintenance personnel and supervisors felt they were stuck with a system that was selected by upper management, was burdensome to use, and didn’t meet their needs.

Such situations occur frequently. The product wasn’t sold to all participants. Everyone did not have a sense of ownership for the implementation nor did they feel a part of the team. Teamwork is essential for success. The scenario described is a formula for disaster.

A CMMS must be wrapped around a sound maintenance strategy. The need for a CMMS must be determined; then the idea must be sold. A major reason implementations fail is that most maintenance organizations have little or no input into the selection or implementation process. After support is established, an implementation team must be formed. This team should have participation from all areas of the plant.

Sell the CMMS concept

Much thought and examination must be expended to determine the specific CMMS to be implemented. Which areas of your maintenance operation need improvement? Will the chosen CMMS support that improvement? Analyze weak points as well as strengths. Determine a benchmark upon which to develop a plan for improvement.

Next, realistic cost estimates for the implementation must be developed. The cost must not only cover the software, but also training, labor time for implementation, computer hardware upgrades, labor required for data base population, and, if required, outside resources. If you opt to use an outside firm for implementation and their proposal does not include specifics, be prepared for the possibility of massive cost overruns.

Costs are important. Few plant managers will approve an undertaking without knowing how much it will cost, how improvements will be measured, the implementation time frame, and what the return on investment will be. The justification for the CMMS must be sold to those who will influence the purchase and the implementation. Proper selling of the concept ensures that you get the CMMS and the assets needed for proper implementation.

Select the right system

Would you buy a suit off the rack without trying it on? Of course not. The same should be true for a CMMS. Unfortunately, it is not always the case. Remember that salesmen are not maintenance specialists and their idea of success does not always agree with your defined goals.

Selecting the correct system starts by preparing a document that outlines the requirements for both the functionality and computer hardware capacity that your organization desires in a CMMS. Send the document to CMMS vendors that may be able to deliver the system you need. Specify in the document that your company should be contacted only for clarification of the requirements, not for sales calls.

Use the information from the vendors to develop a select list. Have each vendor on the list visit your facility and demonstrate the capabilities of their system. Have representation from all key areas of the plant present at each demonstration. Additional specific questions about the product and its capabilities should be prepared before hand, and if possible, that list should be sent to the vendor prior to the visit.

Based on the demonstrations, determine which package is right for you. Some additional items to consider include the level and cost of technical support, training provided, cost of the training, software upgrades, and cost per user. For example, if you need assistance at 3:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, will someone answer the toll free number and give you the information you need? When an upgrade is released, is it provided to you as part of a service contract, as part of the original cost of the package, or do you have to purchase the upgrade separately? Know such options up front.

Implement the plan

The real work begins after the system is selected. A well-developed, closely followed implementation plan will determine whether or not you are one of the 5-10% of the successful companies. The plan must include clearly defined, achievable goals and objectives. With few exceptions, implementations are performed in phases because few companies have the financial resources to complete the implementation all at once.

Specific tasks should be planned in a logical sequence with defined responsibilities, personnel, progress reviews, and start and completion dates. The plan should include infrastructure, labor and training requirements, and implementation system installation and database development schedules. Poor implementation plan development is one of the leading causes of implementation failure.

A frequent mistake is to assign someone with little or no authority or maintenance knowledge to implement the system. Implementation requires knowledgeable personnel to establish an equipment hierarchy. A method of equipment identification that accounts for the equipment installation in a specific location and also tracks equipment when it is removed must be established and thought out.

Nomenclature for spare parts and bills of material must be uniform and the methodology for descriptions must be compatible with the search and filter functions of the CMMS. Preventive maintenance procedures must be developed and entered and the equipment links made.

Many companies fail in their implementation because the process is only partially completed. They cannot fully implement a CMMS because they lack the understanding of the software and the system’s capabilities. When this occurs, smart companies seek assistance. Many consultants can get a project back on track after spending only a few days with the company. Companies that don’t seek assistance, on average, use only 10-15% of the total CMMS capability.

Ensure sufficient resources

Another major cause of failure is not assigning enough manpower to properly accomplish the implementation. An implementation project is a long-term effort and dedicated management time must be put forth to provide the needed oversight, guidance, and direction. An appropriate project leader to implement a CMMS must know the maintenance process. The manager assigned must also have the authority and backing to complete the implementation.

Most implementations use in-house resources. Many man-years of effort are required to properly implement a CMMS. Most companies do not have this capability. When companies do not have adequate resources allocated, the implementation becomes a job to do when nothing else is going on in maintenance. And we all know there is always work to be done in maintenance, especially in a reactive environment. More often than not, the end result is that employees are asked to put in longer hours to complete the implementation. The result is poor quality, corner-cutting, and low morale. As a result, the primary objectives of improving maintenance operations and providing greater production capacity are never realized.

Change plant culture

When the CMMS is implemented and the database correctly populated so that the system delivers the desired results, it is time to complete the final item. The last cause of implementation failure is the culture of the plant personnel.

Without modifying the workflow process, training plant personnel on the new process, and holding personnel accountable after they have been trained, the desired results of the CMMS will not be delivered. For example, to accurately track the cost of maintenance, parts and labor expenses must be applied to the equipment. Accurate costs can’t be properly determined if maintenance technicians have personal supplies of spares in their locker or tool cart. This is a behavior shift for many maintenance technicians used to working in a reactive environment.

For a CMMS to deliver the desired results, the work flow process must be evaluated. Evaluation and definition of the existing process must be performed during implementation and be included as an integral step in the implementation plan. Maintenance procedures must be implemented that allow craftsmen to properly perform maintenance. There has to be a shift in mentality to allow the planning and scheduling process to work.

When maintenance is planned and scheduled, a 25-person maintenance force can deliver what a crew of 40 could do with no planning. Planning and scheduling are most effective when there is one planner/scheduler for every 20-25 persons in the workforce.

CMMSs are powerful tools that allow companies to significantly reduce costs. These systems are an excellent way to move companies from a reactive maintenance environment to a proactive one and allow them to accurately track maintenance costs and determine manpower utilization.

Implementing a CMMS is not a “quick fix” to correct maintenance problems. It is a time-consuming effort not to be undertaken lightly. Only a small portion of overall savings will be from a reduction in actual costs. The payback comes when a system is fully implemented, the plant is operating in a proactive posture, and the return on investment is seen through a significant rise in production capacity due to reduced equipment failures.

Bob Long specializes in developing and implementing successful skills training, planned maintenance, and maintenance management programs for clients worldwide. He has more than 22-yr experience in the maintenance field as a maintenance supervisor, maintenance planner and scheduler, and maintenance training specialist; and gained a significant portion of his experience as a U.S. Navy nuclear planner and scheduler. He also teaches the “Maintenance Planner and Scheduler Workshop” for MP2, MAXIMO, and SAP users, a curriculum he developed. Contact Bob with questions about this article by phone at 843-744-5530, ext. 248, or by e-mail at blong@ LCE.com.