What makes a CMMS solution flexible? – Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part post that discusses the answers to the following questions:

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

In the first post we discussed 3 functional areas of flexibility:

• Workflow enabled documents
• UI customization
• Navigation configuration

In this post we will talk about 3 more areas for consideration as well as avoiding flexibility mistakes and the benefits of a flexible CMMS solution.

4. Reports
Have you ever felt you spend far more time putting information into a CMMS system than you’ll ever hope to get out of it? As a matter of fact, your CMMS may be so stingy when it comes to output you feel it’s only supposed to print out work orders and PM’s. If that is the case, chances are your CMMS has no flexibility when it comes to reporting. Reporting flexibility is essential for anyone considering a CMMS for one simple reason, no matter how many reports the CMMS vendor includes in the baseline software package, they will rarely have the exact reports your organization will need. Therefore, the flexibility to create custom reports, and query and sort the resulting data in a way that makes sense for you is a key feature for achieving meaningful output from your maintenance management database.

5. Integration
Do you ever have to expend time and energy to regularly re-enter the same data into multiple systems? Perhaps you have to go to great lengths to get financial, human resources and other important information out of your CMMS and into other systems. If so, your CMMS probably lacks the flexibility of an open architecture and the innate ability to talk with related systems. Often times, the last thing selection committees consider when choosing a CMMS system is what other vital business systems need to exchange information with the new CMMS and how it is accomplished.

If you are not careful, you can wind up with a system that is unable to speak to anyone about anything, that transmits only the most basic information in a very specific way, or that can only be made to talk with a lot of time, energy and money. The end result of all three scenarios is disappointment. If your CMMS cannot relate the appropriate information to external systems, then data entry déjà vu will be experienced. If your CMMS transmits only the most basic information in a very specific way, you will find yourself lacking vital information and creating work-arounds to provide the additional data transfer requirements. The third disappointing scenario usually results in abandoning the whole integration idea, leaving the CMMS data totally disconnected and reverting to scenario one.

The best way to eliminate data entry work arounds and interface money pits is to make sure the CMMS you select has the baseline application program interface (API’s) flexibility. Any flexible CMMS worth its salt will have open-ended architecture with the ability to automatically transfer important information (i.e. work order costs, general ledger JE data, time management data, etc.) to related business applications.

6. Scalability
Another important aspect of CMMS flexibility often overlooked during the selection process is in regard to system growth potential, usually termed scalability. Scalability boils down to how many people can use the system at one time and how much information can the software and database process and store. During software product demonstrations you are often shown a demonstration system with a demonstration database. Under those conditions a system will no doubt appear fast. Just ask yourself, would anyone buy a system that painfully churns through thousands of rows of data looking for your favorite piece of equipment? Hardly. So, what you see in the software demonstration may not be what you get in the way of performance and speed. The obvious solution is to take a look at the size and deployment options available for any proposed solution and talk to the existing client base. Depending on the scale of your particular project, it may even be advisable to go as far as making site visits to see firsthand how many people are using the system and how fast it reacts to the load.

How to avoid flexibility mistakes
It is obvious from the foregoing that flexibility plays an important role in CMMS selection, satisfaction and overall success. Remember, the priority of flexibility characteristics will be different for each organization acquiring a new CMMS. The key is to identify how much flexibility is required for your particular circumstance. However, once you have determined your flexibility needs, there are a few suggestions you should keep in mind that will help you avoid some common mistakes.

First of all, even if you’ve purchased a CMMS with flexibility, know and use your new software in its baseline form for an extended period of time prior to making any dramatic changes. Many clients have made the mistake of effecting unnecessary changes and modifications simply because they could. The wasted time and resources, as well as the frustration in learning that the application is now more complex and difficult to manage usually becomes painfully obvious only after months of computing misery and re-training.

The second point dovetails with the first. Simply stated, don’t make your software bend over backwards to prove its flexibility if it isn’t necessary. The old adage applies here; KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Make only the changes necessary, and that will make your daily CMMS experience easier.

Another key to using any flexibility feature inherent in your new CMMS is to track every change you make in detail. That way, when it comes to version upgrades, IT personnel turnover, or even management change you’ll maintain a clear picture of what has happened, when and why.

If you need assistance in making sure your CMMS flexibility changes are maintained, engage your software vendor in a custom annual software maintenance agreement. If they have not heard of such an agreement, chances are they are not the right vendor to guarantee success.

Benefits of implementing a flexible CMMS
The benefit derived from implementing a CMMS with true flexibility is measurable and substantial:

• Your software will look and feel as though the system was developed specifically for your organization and the way you do business
• Your users will view the application as intuitive and meaningful
• The software will be able to perform business processes the way you want to do business today and adapt as your requirements change over time
• The solution will be able to grow with your business, as more departments come on board and as data accumulates in the database

A truly flexible CMMS will maintain its value far longer than one that is not, resulting in a dramatically
reduced total cost of ownership (TOC). It will also enhance the productivity of your users and add profits
to the bottom line of your organization.

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