Industry experts, academics, maintenance and facilities managers recognize and cite the benefits of facility management software in research studies, articles, and other sources. Software companies boast potentially high return on investments with maintenance software implementations.

Often cited as CMMS software benefits are:

  • Ability to manage and track work orders efficiently
  • Automatic triggering of preventive maintenance work orders
  • Automated alerts for upcoming events and when inventory is low
  • Improved scheduling and management of labor
  • Improved communication between maintenance and other departments
  • Cost savings gained through better inventory management
  • Work orders, updates and other transactions are accurately logged and can be reported on
  • Generate clear and accurate reports for industry audits and regulatory compliance inspections
  • Access to maintenance data anywhere, anytime
  • Real time updates

Despite all the CMMS benefits, why are so many maintenance and facility managers still clinging on to spreadsheets to track their operations? In a recent survey, 45% of facility managers reported that they were still using manual methods to track their maintenance operations, indicating that they are “drowning in paper”. 15% of managers also said their maintenance tracking was not at all established and 67% stated their tracking was somewhat established.

The Problem With Spreadsheets

It may be justified for a maintenance department to start-off using spreadsheets, paper based work orders, and a system of emails and phone calls to communicate jobs, however the long-term success of these methods offers diminishing returns. After all, spreadsheets aren’t designed with your maintenance department in mind. For example, errors may occur when saving spreadsheet modifications if more than one person is responsible for updating it. In this case, hours of data input may be lost or saved over. In addition, spreadsheets do not send out scheduled email alerts when preventive maintenance tasks are coming or when spare parts are running low. They are also unable to create work orders or purchase orders, and gauging metrics like maintenance history, equipment downtime, and labor utilization is manual, cumbersome and less accurate.

Although we began this article by mentioning common benefits of maintenance management software, using it’s work order software feature to manage work orders. it is also important to discuss disadvantages or costs that can come along with implementing a CMMS. These disadvantages are key reasons why maintenance and facility managers continue to choose to use spreadsheets to track maintenance operations.

5 Reasons Why Managers Still Use Spreadsheets over CMMS Software…and what we can do about it.

1. Lack of support from upper management:

In times of economic downturn or financial trouble, organizations often downsize to offset costs, and one of the first departments to be affected is maintenance. This is because upper management typically views maintenance as an expense. Management has a tendency to look at P&L statements with an overly simplified view. They reduce expenses in order to increase short term profits. Oddly enough studies show that if implemented properly CMMS software yields high return on investment. Even stranger, with short term downsizing tactics, companies don’t reduce the number of assets (buildings and equipment), but reduce the resources maintenance departments have to maintain them, a clear recipe for an overworked maintenance team and deteriorated facility. Having decision makers that think this way makes it very difficult to get a computerized maintenance management system in place as a CMMS is considered as an extra expense only.

2. High up -front costs:

There are well over 150 maintenance management software systems to choose from, all ranging in price and fee structure. Traditionally, most CMMS deployments were on-premise, or installed on PCs. These deployments involved high installation and set up costs which deterred managers from making the investment. There were too many “what ifs?”  What if the maintenance staff resisted the new technology? What if the CMMS vendor stopped supporting the application? What if the software did not produce the results promised? What would the switching costs look like? All of these unknowns made the idea of installing maintenance management software very risky and sticking with spreadsheets a comfortable alternative. In the last ten years there has been a shift toward web-based CMMS with low up-front and switching costs, nullifying a lot of the risks mentioned above. In addition, most systems allow you to migrate your historical maintenance data, users, assets and equipment to your new system free of charge. You won’t have to start from scratch collecting data and you are able to run historical maintenance reports right away. Prior implementation costs from the old system are never lost when migrating to a new one.

3. Hidden and intangible costs:

On the surface, it’s pretty easy to calculate the cost of implementing a maintenance management software system. For example, if you are looking at a web-based CMMS with unlimited users (not uncommon these days), you might expect costs to be $3,000 in annual software license fees and an additional $1,500 in training and initial set up fees. That would be $4,500 for the first year and $3,000/year thereafter, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. We’ve overlooked a number of intangible costs connected with installing computerized maintenance management software(CMMS Software). Some of these are:

a. Costs involved with evaluating different CMMS vendors:

Often overlooked is the time it takes to evaluate different software vendors. Managers who have gone through this process before are probably used to on-site visits from the software vendor, flights, accommodations, lunches, etc. With all the time and expense involved many managers will resist evaluating maintenance software solutions. Times have changed, and all these hassles can be avoided. Most maintenance software evaluations can be conducted online through live webinars, and personalized demos. Gone are the days of site visits, wining and dining, and negotiating over travel expenses.

b. Costs involved with purchasing maintenance software:

If you are working for a larger organization there is usually a formal procurement process. The more formalities in place, the more time and people involved. Purchasing software in particular, requires inputs from different departments; Maintenance must research the functional software requirements and decide whether the cost fits their budget, IT needs to be sure that the maintenance software passes their security requirements, and legal needs to make sure the service level agreement is sound. The accounting department might want it to integrate with their accounting software, while upper-management may be looking for flashy reporting features. With all of these needs, the price tag of CMMS software just went up significantly. Luckily smaller organizations do not need to jump through all these hoops and maintenance managers have the authority to make the decision with very little involvement from other departments. Larger organizations should learn to loosen their grip and give maintenance managers more autonomy or solidify the needs of each department and cater to the most important. If the CMMS is a SaaS (Software as a Service) deal, it’s quite easy to get out of the arrangement if unsatisfied.


c. Time involved for set up: 

Anyone who has had experience going through business software implementation knows that a lot of time is involved with the set up process and a lot can go wrong. If you are working at a small facility (small single hotel, manufacturing plant) with only 50 pieces of equipment and only seeking to get an automated preventive maintenance software in place, the set up involved is pretty simple. All that is required is getting a list of assets, and setting up the maintenance schedules. However, if you oversee multiple facilities with hundreds or thousands of assets and are looking to track inventory, vendors, labor costs, suppliers, and repairs, the time involved for setting up the maintenance management system is much more. Maintenance managers may be aware of the benefits that CMMS software can deliver, but simply don’t have the time to set up the system. Putting out fires and making sure systems are up and running takes precedent over setting up a new maintenance program.

d. Time involved for training:

The larger the operation and the more functional requirements involved, the more time required to train staff on CMMS. Making things more difficult is having a maintenance team that is not tech savvy. In many organizations we see a huge variety of technical skill level amongst the maintenance team. Departments that skew older in demographic have a more difficult time adopting new technologies. On the bright side, as more Millennials enter the work force we will see a shift toward faster adoption and less resistance to new technologies. This is not to say that older generations cannot learn maintenance management software, but it may imply that your team will require more training hours to become comfortable with the software. Keep in mind that many CMMS vendors offer free training for clients and are quick to provide quality support services. Also making things easier is the increasing trend of user-friendly CMMS software. Vendors are pushing out new versions of their software with simpler design and intuitive navigation to increase the user experience.

e. Software customization costs: 

Often after purchasing maintenance management software a company realizes that changes must be made so the software better fits their specific operational needs. In the past, when CMMS installations were solely on-premise and purchased outright, software customizations were expected and came at a high cost. Today, with more companies opting for SaaS arrangements, the issue of customizing the software is contentious. Clients are less willing to invest large amounts in software customization fees for software that they are essentially leasing. However, even if maintenance software vendors are not making software that users can customize, they are willing to partner up with clients to listen to their development needs and sharing some of the customization costs.

4. High risk of failure:

The sad truth is maintenance management installations do not have the best track record. Some studies suggest failure rates of 40% while others report as high as 80%. High failure rates are attributed to poor implementation plans, poor set up, lack of vendor support, resistance from users, and insufficient training. Whatever the reason, maintenance software vendors are working harder to make software that is more user-friendly, offering more support and better training.

5. Resistance from end users:

Staff’s resistance to change is a major barrier for moving away from spreadsheets to computerized maintenance management software. Both managers and subordinates resist change for various reasons. Maintenance staff often view CMMS software as a tool used to measure their performance and can easily feel threatened or weary of the change. They also see using it as additional work that they don’t have time for. In order to mitigate resistance, managers need to involve their staff early, clearly explain the purpose of implementing the system (and not emphasize tracking their performance), and show how the tool will make their lives easier.  Once you have the buy in from your team, they will support ditching the spreadsheets for maintenance software.


The list of CMMS benefits is extensive. In theory, it seems like a logical solution for any maintenance department. It would be difficult to conceive why a maintenance or facility manager would continue to use spreadsheets and not implement a maintenance software system knowing all the advantages. As we look closer at the situation we see that there are many risks that go with maintenance software installations. Managers are reluctant to make the change due to unforeseen hidden costs, resistance from staff, and fear of failure. However, CMMS vendors are addressing this by producing software that is less expensive with more flexible payment plans and more user-friendly CMMS. Moreover, more tech savvy maintenance people are entering the work force and are open to maintenance software technologies.

About The Author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.
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