What makes a CMMS solution flexible? – Part 1

Do you prefer one size fits all or tailored?

In apparel, your decision is likely determined by the function of the garment. But how would you answer these questions when it comes to CMMS? If your inclination is to answer ‘both’, ask yourself: Is that a realistic expectation of CMMS?

• What is a flexible CMMS?
• How can a flexible CMMS be tailored?
• What are the benefits of flexibility?
• What are the common mistakes?

In this two-part post we will address these questions. You’ll learn how to identify a flexible CMMS and avoid common ‘flexible’ mistakes. Then you’ll decide which approach is right for you.

Flexibility and CMMS Software

When it comes to application software, there are a number of characteristics contributing to flexibility. In this post we will consider 3:

• Workflow enabled documents
• UI customization
• Navigation configuration

Each of these flexibility aspects will be valued differently by each organization. This really depends on your business processes and the overall system implementation strategy and long-term support requirements you have. Let’s take a closer look at each area and see how our view of flexibility might be impacted.

1. Workflow

When it comes to workflow there are some questions you need to answer. To begin with, what is workflow? Do all CMMS systems have workflow? And more importantly, does my CMMS system need workflow capabilities?

Workflow is the ability to:

• Take an application document, such as a work order, and easily create as many types of that document as you need (i.e. emergency, corrective, blanket, project, hot/cold, inspection, etc.)
• Define unlimited business rules (i.e. request, in planning, ready for scheduling, scheduled, in process, completed, closed, cancelled, etc.)
• Establish the process flow relationship between business rules, approval routing and user defined business rule sub-states or conditions

Not all systems have a rule-based workflow engine. Among those that do, fewer still meet all of these items completely. More importantly, deciding whether or not you will really need to manipulate application document workflow should be a primary factor when considering a new CMMS. If your CMMS requirements fit well within the framework of commercially available software with no changes required into the foreseeable future, then you have no need for this type of flexibility.

However, if the CMMS software you are reviewing appears to have been developed for someone else, a
rule-based workflow engine may make the difference between success and failure when it comes to implementing a new package. Additionally, if you anticipate any appreciable change over time, then the power of flexibility means a greater ROI as your organization grows and processes mature with a CMMS in place that can keep the pace.

2. UI Customization

Another important aspect of flexibility is the means to customize the layout of the user interface (UI) within the system. UI customization means far more than the ability to label a set number of pre-defined columns in the database. For true customization flexibility, the user should be able to add columns of their choosing to the database. The new fields should be the types and sizes required, and provide default value capability. Advanced UI customization flexibility also includes:

• Renaming, moving and resizing fields
• Changing tab order
• Specifying required fields
• Changing column validation rules

As with workflow, the important question related to UI customization is how much customization will your CMMS solution really need? If you track standard information common to any basic CMMS package, UI customization may be nothing more than a simple configuration tool. On the other hand, if UI modification and additional data tracking requirements are a must, UI customization may be the most critical element in having whatever flavor you want while maintaining a truly “vanilla” solution.

3. Navigation Configuration

One of the most common complaints about CMMS software is the many mouse clicks and steps required to get anywhere in the system. Why do you have to be trained in navigating a complex maze of icons, menus and options you are never going to remember, much less use, in order to get to where you need to go?

The answer is you don’t, as long as your software has the flexibility to allow you to configure system navigation. If your users were to only see options they needed and had obvious direct paths to the windows they use, the software would appear simplistic and easy to use. Now you would have what is called an intuitive system. Once the users login, the system would recognize them and know exactly where they would want to go and what they need to do. If this flexibility sounds like the answer to your users requests, then navigation configuration in your CMMS is a must.

We have 3 more areas of CMMS flexibility to discuss. In our next post, ‘What makes a CMMS Solution Flexible? – Part 2’, we will also highlight some of the dangers of flexibility.

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