Your Ultimate Guide to Computerized Maintenance Management and Choosing CMMS Software

By Joe Weller | November 20, 2016

Businesses depend on their equipment. In manufacturing, machines make products; in healthcare, they are vital to treating and saving lives. No matter the industry, equipment is often at the center of the drive to serve customers, so outages can be hugely detrimental - both for the customers and the providers.

In a big operation, equipment preservation and upkeep is complex and includes managing maintenance, scheduling repairs, tracking spare parts and monitoring asset lifecycles. Luckily, computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) have emerged to simplify this job. In this article, we have compiled insights from leading computerized maintenance management system experts into this complete guide on CMMS.  

You’ll find an overview of CMMS, an explanation of how it fits in the landscape of workplace management software and a discussion of the benefits and features of CMMS solutions. We then walk through the considerations in choosing CMMS software and look at common implementation problems as well as how to solve them.

History of Computerized Maintenance Management Systems

CMMS started in the 1960s with mainframe-based systems aimed at standardizing manufacturing processes. The first systems appeared around 1965 in the biggest manufacturing companies of the time, said CMMS specialist Jeff O’Brien of Maintenance Assistant. “Since then, CMMS software has changed and expanded dramatically due to the phenomenal growth in computing power and the emergence of the Internet, making the functionality accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises everywhere,” he added. 

Today’s CMMS software has its origins in applications designed in the 1990s as networked computers emerged. Later generations became browser-based and then, in the 2000s, web-hosted. Today’s cloud-based software is the next step in the evolution of computerized maintenance management. It is built on multi-tenant architecture, which allows all clients to access the same application. 

CMMS software keeps a record of equipment, tracks and schedules maintenance, logs completed work, manages inventories of parts and supplies for machines, and provides an audit trail for insurance and regulatory compliance. It also supports reliability-centered maintenance (RCM), which is used to build a cost-effective maintenance strategy that keeps equipment dependably running. 

In its Whole Building Design Guide, the National Institute of Building Sciences defines CMMS as “software that is used to schedule and record operation and preventive/planned maintenance activities associated with facility equipment. The CMMS can generate and prioritize work orders and schedules for staff to support ‘trouble’ calls and to perform periodic/planned equipment maintenance. Upon completion of a work order, performance information, such as the date work was performed, supplies/inventory, and man-hours expended, typically is loaded into the database for tracking, to support future operations/planning.”

How CMMS Fits with Other Workplace Management Software

Newcomers to CMMS often get confused by how computerized maintenance management systems relate to other kinds of facility management solutions since there are a lot of overlapping acronyms. One of the most common is computer-aided facilities management (CAFM), which you can read about in our guide

Computer Aided Facility (or Facilities) Management (CAFM) is often turned into a word pronounced “caf-em” by practitioners, and its applications include space planning, asset management, move management, and building maintenance management. 

CMMS focuses on managing the maintenance needed for critical equipment within a facility. It performs functions such as maintenance scheduling and tracking spare parts. CAFM and CMMS systems are sometimes combined under the name Integrated Work Order Management Systems (IWOMS).

Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) encompasses CMMS and extends it with applications for managing physical assets through their lifecycle including procurement, commissioning, and replacement. 

Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) is the evolution and expansion of CAFM. These suites add to CAFM features by incorporating CMMS as well as real estate management functions like lease management, project management, and environmental/energy planning. IWMS are comprehensive enterprise platforms for managing large facilities and real estate portfolios.

Work Order Management Software (WOMS) is a solution that specifically manages requests for maintenance and repairs. CMMS software incorporates this as a feature. WOMS is similar to Preventive Maintenance Software (PMS), a system that focuses on scheduling maintenance that is also routinely part of CMMS.

Predictive Maintenance Software (PdMS) harnesses data to predict when a machine will need service before it suffers downtime and is often a module in CMMS. 

Fleet Maintenance Software is a system focused on transportation fleets with features such as  driver, vehicle, lease, and mileage tracking.

Where CMMS Is Most Commonly Used

Paul Lachance, president of Smartware Group (a company that makes CMMS software), explained that any organization that has a maintenance department is a candidate for CMMS. But computerized maintenance management systems are especially suitable for asset-intensive companies such as manufacturers.

“Any organization that needs to preserve the life of its assets, as well as maintain their facilities, is an ideal CMMS user,” Lachance said. “These types of organizations rely heavily on strong preventive and corrective maintenance, environment/health/safety, spare parts inventory, purchasing, and reporting/analysis functionality. Modern CMMS offers this core functionality along with native mobile apps for camera integration, geo-tagging capabilities, and QR code scanning, for example.”

Several fields are strong adopters of CMMS:

  • Production/manufacturing - Companies that make physical products and employ equipment such as assembly lines, fabrication machinery, forklifts, and other heavy equipment.
  • Facilities management - Organizations that operate large numbers of buildings such as offices, government departments, apartment complexes, and school campuses. They use CMMS to manage heating and cooling equipment, plumbing, elevators, and more.
  • Fleet maintenance - Companies that need to manage large numbers of vehicles like delivery vans, transit buses, construction equipment, rental cars, airplanes, and helicopters. CMMS manages their maintenance and repairs and provides important documentation of compliance with maintenance schedules that may be needed in the event of accidents and insurance claims.
  • Health care facilities - Hospitals, surgery centers, and nursing homes have specialized equipment that must perform to exact specifications and be reliable at all times. Additionally, these businesses need to manage systems for infection control, cleaning/sterilization, and record keeping in compliance with regulations imposed by insurers, privacy laws, and accreditation commissions.
  • Linear asset maintenance - This applies to organizations that have assets that cover large distances such as roads, pipes, wiring, and cables and might include cities, phone companies, and energy utilities.

Within those scenarios, users may come from various departments of the organization including production, maintenance, customer service, accounting, and asset management. 

Businesses have realized that optimized maintenance improves profitability. More companies see maintenance as a potential profit center rather than a cost center, meaning the dollars spent yield a positive return on investment (ROI).

Looking to the future, the Internet of Things is making maintenance management easier and more affordable, paving the way for more robust CMMS. “The integration of asset condition monitoring with CMMS for predictive maintenance ... will only grow in importance as the IoT takes hold,” said Lachance of Smartware.

While CMMS has typically been the province of bigger operations, Taylor Short of Software Advice (a company that hosts reviews of CMMS software) said that more small and mid-sized businesses are adopting it. “Without software, staff are forced to manage with manual methods, such as paper work orders or spreadsheets and calendars. CMMS users can streamline this process by automating much of the manual tasks to increase efficiency. In particular, CMMS can address challenges faced by SMBs," he said.

How CMMS Transforms Maintenance Operations

When computerized maintenance management systems are introduced into an organization, they usually replace an ad hoc combination of log books, paper records, spreadsheets, and email communication. Those systems make it difficult to track maintenance schedules, repair histories, and spending. Without that information, managers can’t be proactive, make cost-benefit analyses, and develop predictive maintenance protocols. 

Ryan Ziegler, director of facilities for a Pennsylvania food warehouse operated by third-party logistics provider Romark, told Food Engineering magazine that before CMMS, his team struggled with maintenance for the vital equipment that controls temperature and humidity, ensuring the safety of the food products handled by the company.

“We had stacks of paperwork orders and PM (preventive maintenance) logs,” he recalled. “Before CMMS, if we handled a repair internally, we’d make the repair and rely on email to notify everyone when the system was back in service, but at no time, was this repair history being organized or connected to the asset.

“And if an outside contractor made the repair, the technician would leave a paper work-order receipt, and I would scan the receipt into the abyss,” said Ziegler. “All of our scanned documents were in a server somewhere. It was impossible to retrieve past repair information to track costs.  We’d have to go through the binder to see what we had to check, or we’d be busy and miss pending PMs. It was an inadequate system,” he said. “[Now] we’re saving thousands of dollars a year by eliminating reactive maintenance and avoiding potential problems that could lead to devastating losses.”

Positive ROI from the first auto-generated work order with a new CMMS system prompted Romark to spread it to its warehouses throughout the United States, he told the magazine.

Benefits of Computerized Maintenance Management Systems

As the example reported by Food Engineering magazine demonstrates, CMMS offers critical advantages to businesses. Among them are:

  • The ability to plan equipment maintenance and improve reliability. This includes scheduled maintenance and the use of strategies like condition-based maintenance which uses readings from performance data, visual inspections, and other monitoring about the health of a machine to determine when maintenance should be done. CMMS also facilitates total productive maintenance, a system for improving production by keeping all equipment in prime working condition while avoiding breakdowns, defects and accidents by empowering operators to help maintain machinery. 
  • Reduced spending on repairs, which cost more than planned maintenance. An economic analysis of planned maintenance on a chiller in various theoretical scenarios found a 545 percent return on investment. 
  • Longer lifespan for assets, which are capital intensive and require less downtime.
  • Seamless data capture on the status of maintenance work, equipment performance, and spending. This enables instant reports on how money has been spent and better decision making on when machinery should be repaired or replaced. Data also enables better forecasts of future spending. 
  • Central storage and easy retrieval of documentation, files, manuals, schematics, fault and failure logs, permits, photos, and other information. A central repository of pertinent information allows the creation of a history for every asset including records of troubleshooting that can be consulted for similar equipment. These features eliminate paperwork. 
  • Automation of work requests makes maintenance operations more efficient vs. a system where requests might come by phone, email, and written notes. This enables better prioritization of jobs and optimal allocation of staff time, and also reduces the chance of a work request being overlooked. 
  • Creates a system for approving work orders. If a technician recommends a repair and needs to order parts, you can set levels of approval based on the dollar amount. This ensures needed oversight but prevents logjams.  
  • Better management of parts inventory and control of inventory expenses. CMMS tracks and updates inventory levels and eases coordination with suppliers. It also gives you clear ideas of how much needs to be on hand, which minimizes over-ordering and enables efficient replenishment. 
  • Improved safety record for the company and accident prevention by making sure inspections and maintenance happen when they should. 
  • Lower energy consumption because well-maintained equipment operates more efficiently.
  • Opportunity to standardize maintenance procedures by creating checklists and processes that can be easily replicated. 
  • Creation of an audit trail for regulatory compliance, warranty documentation, and insurance. 
  • Decreased defect and reject rates for manufacturers because equipment performs well and is properly calibrated. 
  • Enhanced productivity for maintenance staff because they have better and more complete information about their jobs, and the inclusion of mobile apps allow them to communicate and check inventory real time. 


The Business Case for CMMS

CMMS has spread because it helps companies fulfill several key business objectives: minimizing or eliminating costly equipment downtime, achieving savings through preventive maintenance, prolonging asset usability, and reducing the total cost of ownership. 

CMMS specialists say there is a straightforward case to justify investment in CMMS software. “CMMS will lower overall cost of ownership, extend the life of your assets, streamline processes for higher productivity and help you make data-driven decisions,” said Shane McCallay, a CMMS enterprise software consultant for MicroMain Corp. 

“A CMMS, when provided with adequate reporting, will show how your maintenance department plays a big role with your sales team, customer service, operations, marketing, R&D, and every other department in your company. At the end of the day, a CMMS plays a big role with your customer long-term value,” he said.  

David Berger, a consultant at StraNexus Inc., in a 2010 article quantified the potential improvements from using CMMS:

  • Asset availability 1% to 10%
  • Asset utilization up to 15% (zero if 7/24 operation)
  • Asset performance up to 5%
  • Quality of output up to 5%
  • Asset reliability 3% to 5%
  • Total cost of ownership 5% to 20%
  • Wrench time (a measure of how long staff are at work directly on equipment) 5% to 30%
  • Labor productivity 10% to 30%
  • Capital asset replacements 3% to 5% reduction
  • Warranty recoveries 10% to 50%
  • Spare parts inventory levels 10% to 30% reduction
  • Spare parts inventory stockouts 5% to 10% reduction
  • Number of rush and expedited orders 3% to 15% reduction

High-Level Buying Considerations in CMMS Software

You may be convinced that CMMS is the way to go for your company, but choosing a specific solution can be complex. There are both high-level considerations and feature-specific considerations. 

The broad considerations include some decisions that are common in any software selection:

  • Should you choose open source or proprietary software?
  • Should you choose a hosted or cloud-based solution?
  • What integrations are important to have?
  • What is its profile for ease of use and flexibility?
  • Does the solution have a mobile interface?
  • What are the self-service capabilities?
  • Do you need industry customization?
  • How much does it cost?

Let’s explore each of these.

Open Source vs. Proprietary - There are many open-source solutions, which some companies prefer because they do not want to be restricted to a specific vendor. Another attraction of open source software is that it is usually free or inexpensive, and can be installed wherever desired without needing to track license restrictions. On the downside, there is no dedicated support or commitment by the authors to update it, which proprietary software often provides. 

Hosted vs. Cloud-Based - There are two main advantages of hosted software: the potential to keep your data more secure, and having greater control over the software asset. However, upfront costs are higher, and hosted options also pose some security risks. In addition, you take on greater responsibility for maintenance and updates. Many users are moving to cloud solutions because they often offer lower costs over the product lifecycle, make it easy to add or subtract users or locations, and the vendor handles support, maintenance, and updates.

Integrations - You want a solution that integrates well with the other software and tools your organization uses such as computer-aided design (CAD), geographic information systems (GIS), file-hosting services, spreadsheets, data storage, email, digital signing, calendars, app integrators, programs, and developer tools. 

Ease of Use/Flexibility - You want software that your team members can quickly figure out and use, and that will scale easily as your needs change. It can be tempting to choose a system with every possible feature, but the pros say it’s important not to overcomplicate the tool. 

“One mistake buyers can make when shopping for a CMMS is selecting a system with more features than they need,” said Short of Software Advice. “Smaller companies can get a ton of use out of the core maintenance management functionality, such as work order management and preventive maintenance, but larger companies may want to add modules for advanced reporting or mobile capabilities.”

Mobile - The ability for maintenance managers and technicians to stay in easy communication and obtain the information they need at the job site is increasingly critical, experts say. “CMMS apps, designed specifically for iOS and Android devices, should offer access to core functionality as well as mobile-specific features, like offline work order editing and labor timers for real-time labor data capture,” said Lachance of Smartware.

Self-service capabilities - Many companies now want equipment users to be able to log trouble calls themselves online. 

Customization - Some vendors are more heavily used in certain sectors, so consider looking at solutions that are tailored for your facility type or use case such as hospitals or vehicle fleets. 

Cost - Of course, cost is a major consideration. Self-hosted software is more expensive than a software-as-a-service (SaaS) subscription. Many platforms charge an initial, one-time starting cost and then an ongoing subscription fee. You also need to factor in required hardware, training, and any other expenses.

Key Features of CMMS Software

Once you have defined the broad parameters of your ideal CMMS solution, it’s time to evaluate features. Some features are core offerings found in virtually every computerized maintenance management system, while others are optional or aimed at multi-location operators or users in other niches. 

Among the most common features and functionalities are:


  • Work orders - These are the entries that track preventive maintenance and repairs and provide such information as what was the issue?, what was done?, how long did it take?, what was the outcome?, what parts were needed?, and who did the work? 
  • Asset records - This centralizes all the information about the equipment including purchase date, price, warranty, location and serial number. This can be a fixed asset register (FAR). 
  • Preventive maintenance scheduling - A system for defining, monitoring, assigning, and executing your scheduled maintenance. Often there are options for scheduling based on time or another measure, such as cycles completed. 
  • Technician records - This feature enables you to store all the details about your maintenance staff including certifications, training, and other information.
  • Inventory management and purchasing - This functionality collects information on your spare parts and supplies such as quantity on hand, supplier, and location. You can receive notifications when stock needs replenishing or integrate with a purchasing module.  
  • Mobile interface - This provides the ability for staff to access the system using mobile devices.
  • Multi-location management - The capacity to handle multiple facilities within the system.
  • Service request capability - A way for users and internal customers to log service requests.
  • Barcode or RFID scanning of assets - Capability to integrate the system with asset tracking technology.
  • Tracking of safety, permits, lockouts-tagouts - Monitors compliance with safety protocols, manages permits and licenses, and tracks use of access badges and keys.  Lockout-tagout covers safety procedures to protect workers from accidental start-up of dangerous machinery during maintenance.
  • Reporting and analytics - These can range from basic standardized template reports created by the software provider to more sophisticated and customized analytics. 
  • Cost center and lifecycle cost tracking 
  • Integrations with other applications
  • Predictive maintenance - Using your actual work history and real-time data to forecast machine problems before they happen.  

Gaining Insights Through CMMS Analytics

One big advance offered by computerized maintenance management systems is the ability to improve decision-making with insights revealed by analytics. If you are already manually generating reports, CMMS will automate these and offers the opportunity to analyze your data in many more ways. 

Some common reports generated by CMMS solutions include:

  • Site comparison – Maintenance and repair expenses among facilities.
  • Site summary –  Maintenance history, cost, and other details for a specific site.
  • Labor report – Breakdown of work hours, work type, labor per task type, regular vs. overtime, wage costs, and related data. 
  • Parts used by each asset – Frequency of parts replacement with location and cost information. 
  • Analysis of trends  Cost of repair/maintenance by work order, by time frame, by age of assets, and future cost predictions

Using analytics is a steppingstone to “reliability excellence,” a term in manufacturing that generally means achieving a high level of reliability while maximizing production and minimizing cost and waste. CMMS can provide data to spur cross-organizational collaboration toward better practices so that maintenance is not the only department tasked with improving reliability. 

According to a study by Life Cycle Engineering of the steel industry, only 17 percent of failures are caused by improper maintenance and maintenance errors, while plant engineering is responsible for 22 percent and production 23 percent. Having the right data can open dialogue on ways to harness all parts of your organization in the reliability effort. 

Similarly, CMMS makes it possible to track key performance indicators (KPIs) for equipment. With easy reporting and analytics, your dashboard may include:

  • Mean time to repair (MTTR) - Average time to fix equipment and return it to service. Tracking this enables you to estimate how long a system or machine will be out of operation for maintenance and is a key indicator of availability. 
  • Mean time between failures (MTBF) - Average time between equipment breakdowns.  This KPI tells you how long your system is operating normally and is an indicator of both availability and reliability.
  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) - A measure that determines the percentage of manufacturing time that is truly productive with no defects, slowdowns or stops.
  • Preventive maintenance compliance (PMC) - Percentage of preventive maintenance tasks completed out of those scheduled in a specified time period.  
  • Planned maintenance percentage (PMP) - A measure of how much time is spent on planned maintenance vs. unplanned/emergency maintenance due to breakdowns. Spending more time on preventive maintenance than repairs is a mark of excellence for maintenance teams. The benchmark for best practice is spending at least 85 percent of total maintenance time on preventive maintenance.
  • Maintenance cost - This is often measured as a percentage of manufacturing cost.   

Some organizations also gauge performance in the context of the Royal Academy ratio or 1:5:200, which says that if the initial construction costs of a building is one, maintenance and operating costs are five, and business operating costs is 200.

Expert Tips for Your CMMS Selection Process

Once you are ready to select software, assess your needs and identify the features most important to you. Using a checklist or spreadsheet, rate each solution under consideration in terms of how it performs on each criteria. 

“Evaluate options as you would any other software product: engage stakeholders in identifying 'must-have' features, set a budget, compare products, create a shortlist, and demo products to make sure they are the best fit before making a final decision," said Short of Software Advice.

President Joel Levitt of Springfield Resources, a maintenance management training and consulting firm, has compiled 50 questions that he recommends companies address in choosing CMMS. Some questions are broad such as whether the organization is sufficiently committed to ongoing training so the system can be maximized, while others offer ways to evaluate specific features. 

McCallay of MicroMain recommends buyers pay careful attention to user experience, workflow, integration, dashboards, and reports. “The software has to work for you. Not you work for the software,” he said.

Lachance of Smartware emphasizes that cost isn’t the only consideration; flexibility and scalability to grow with your needs is crucial. “Too often maintenance professionals and organizations zero-in on costs, only to have to ‘rip and replace’ a system later because it didn’t meet their needs fully,” he said. 

How to Successfully Implement CMMS

Once you have decided on the right software, your work isn’t finished. Successful implementation requires training and support from management. Both McCallay and Lachance recommend organizations take advantage of consulting, training, and support services - potentially those offered by the software developer - to make the transition a success. “These services are critical to getting an advanced CMMS implemented correctly for the long-haul,” said Lachance.

John Reeve, a reliability consultant at TRM, said that it’s imperative to involve the reliability engineer in CMMS implementation. “Ask him what he wants out of the system - specifically the failure analytic. Once he draws that up then make sure those data fields are actually being captured,” he said. 

Being able to track the codes for different failure causes is crucial to improving equipment reliability, he advised, urging companies to establish a basic failure analysis process as part of their CMMS. “Implementing a CMMS product without complete buy-in from engineering is a lost opportunity,” Reeve said. 

Another frequent pitfall is not having necessary policies and procedures in place. “You must define maintenance best practices and benchmarks. Updating information, entering data, retrieving data must be done properly and on time,” said McCallay.

Using Smartsheet to Centralize Computerized Maintenance Management Needs

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