If you’re reading this blog, the differences between CAFM and CMMS aren’t just academic; you need to know so you can decide which one to get. So, let’s start by changing the title to Which One’s Right for Me, Computer-Aided Facilities Management Software or Computerized Maintenance Management Software? 

Yes, that new title is too long, but it does have the advantage of being more accurate. And the best way to find the answer is to work our way toward it. Let’s start with some basics. 

Aren’t CAFM and CMMS basically the same? 

No, not really. But it’s easy to see why people might think they are. In the broadest strokes, they perform the same tasks. Both software solutions help you track, manage, and report on your operations. And they accomplish these tasks by leveraging some of the same technologies. Modern versions tend to use a cloud-based central database, streamlining the data collection process and ensuring everything is kept up to date in real time and accessible from any Internet-connected desktop or mobile device through a dedicated app. 

To see past these similarities to the differences, it helps to ask the same question but switch out CAFM and CMMS. For example, we can ask, Aren’t a Tesla and a golf cart basically the same? In the broadest strokes, they perform the same task. Both move people and things from A to B. And they accomplish this task using the same technology, an electric motor. But as soon as you take that Tesla out onto a golf course, you feel the differences right away. 

So even though both software solutions share some features and technologies, they’re different. Boiled down to one line, the difference is that a CAFM focuses more on maximizing space usage while a CMMS focuses more on maximizing asset uptime.

So, they’re not the same. And the difference is focus. At this point, it’s worth working out some basic definitions of other related platforms to avoid confusion. In fact, we can look at four different-but-related platforms. 

What is IWMS? 

Integrated workplace management system 

With features for everything from real estate portfolio management to floor plan creation, this is your Swiss Army knife for facility management. 

What is CAFM? 

Computer aided facilities management 

Helps you focus on the physical workplace with features for creating floor plans and maximizing space utilization. 

What is EAM? 

Enterprise asset management 

Think cradle-to-grave asset management, including everything from the planning process to maintenance and then final disposal and replacement. EAM pulls in data from across the organization to show you true total cost of ownership, which is important for business intelligence and making tough repair-or-replace decisions. 

What is CMMS? 

Computerized maintenance management system. 


Saved the best one for last. CMMS is more narrowly focused on organizing the maintenance department with work order management and preventive maintenance scheduling and tracking. 

How do they compare?

And now that we have the definitions, it can be helpful to compare some of them to better understand how they’re somewhat similar but different. Basically, you need to make sure you’re getting the one that’s best suited to meeting your specific needs. 

It’s the same as shopping for a car. Let’s say you need a vehicle to get around town. Not everything is going to work for you, though. A two-seater is perfect if there’s only two of you, but you’re better off with a van if you need to haul around your family of five. 


Within every EAM is a CMMS, so if you had to draw the relationship, you’d have EAM as a giant circle and CMMS as a smaller inner circle. It likely doesn’t even make sense to use versus here; it’s not really an either-or relationship. Instead, you can think of them as “more” and “a little less.” 


CMMS is more focused on maintenance, and you can think of it as something the maintenance department uses to streamline and strengthen their work order workflows. IWMS is likely better as a solution that lives one step higher (but not better) in the process. So, a facility manager can use it to organize requests from across the organization, some of which they then pass along to the maintenance department.   


Depends who you ask, but a common distinction is simply scale. After you grow beyond a certain size and need additional oversight, an IWMS makes more sense 

OK, they’re not exactly the same, but there is a lot of overlap, so if I get a CAFM or a CMMS, do I basically get what I need? 

Unfortunately, no. Instead, you end up getting both not enough of what you need and too much of what you don’t. 

Not enough of what you need: If what you need is a feature set that streamlines and strengthens your preventive maintenance program, a CAFM leaves you short. And if you need to manage complex real estate lease agreements across multiple facilities, a CMMS struggles to deliver. 

Too much of what you don’t: Remember, modern providers for both CAFM and CMMS use the software as a service (SaaS) model, which means instead of purchasing the software you sign up for a subscription. There are many advantages to this system for you, including the fact that the provider is invested in your ongoing success as much as you are. They need you to be happy with their software so you renew your subscription. But SaaS also means that if you choose a CFAM when you need a CMMS, there are ongoing costs for features you’re not using.   

What are CAFM use cases and features? 

Good question. And because the term has become a bit of an umbrella for a number of different types of facilities management software, we can almost just as easily ask, What’s not a feature of a CAFM? Let’s narrow the list to two really important ones. 

CAFM and space planning 

It starts with detailed floor plans of the office space, including desks, assets, and equipment. Facility managers can ensure space is being used efficiently and workers are being properly accommodated. For example, if there’s a new hire in the engineering department, the facility manager can make sure there’s room for a new desk. They can also use the software to facilitate moving a desk out of storage into the office. For existing workers, space planning covers the management and tracking of flexible spaces, like meeting and breakout rooms. The software collects valuable data on who’s using what, what’s being effectively leveraged, and what’s going to waste. 

CAFM and physical distancing 

Facility managers now face challenges related to fighting the spread of COVID-19, and one way is through ensuring social distancing between employees in the workplace. Because the software already has data on office layouts and where people are sitting, facility managers can use it to ensure safe distances by instantly reassigning desks. Managers can also control access with visitor management and stagger employee arrival times. They can also create and manage wellness checks and collect data for contact tracing.  

What are CMMS use cases and features? 

Back to broad strokes. Maintenance leads use CMMS to take control of their maintenance programs, including: 

  • Boosting uptime 
  • Cutting maintenance costs 
  • Controlling inventory
  • Increasing visibility and accountability 
  • Extending asset and equipment life cycles 

Let’s look at how they do that with the specific modules in a CMMS solution. 

CMMS and work order management 

At the core of any good CMMS is comprehensive work order management. It starts with the open online portal, where people can submit their maintenance requests without having to track down maintenance department phone numbers or email addresses. The advantage for the maintenance department is that they no longer have to deal with random messages that lack the details they need to properly generate and prioritize maintenance tasks. 

In the case of an on-demand task, the maintenance team can quickly generate a work order packed with all the information techs need to work efficiently and close out quickly, including: 

  • Comprehensive asset and equipment data and histories 
  • Step-by-step instructions 
  • Customizable checklists 
  • Associated parts and materials 
  • Digital images, O&M manuals, and associated warranties 
  • Interactive site maps and floor plans 

Communication runs both ways, with technicians able to upload comments to both work orders and tasks. They can also upload images, allowing them to request remote visual inspections before closing out. 

CMMS and preventive maintenance 

Maintenance departments use a variety of maintenance strategies on their assets, and preventive maintenance is one of the most popular. Instead of waiting for assets and equipment to run to failure, technicians use a combination of inspections and preventive maintenance tasks to find and fix small issues before they develop into larger problems. 

CMMS software makes it easy to set up, schedule, and track a preventive maintenance program. Once tasks are loaded into the software, calendar- and meter-based PMs are automatically generated and assigned. Associated maintenance metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are also automatically tracked, and the software can generate data-packed reports for better visibility and accountability. For example, the maintenance lead can see exactly how many PMs were missed over a given period of time. 

Looking at asset work order and PM data helps the department fine-tune the program. For example, you have a forklift that’s breaking down about once every two months. Instead of keeping the current schedule of preventive maintenance inspections and tasks every three months, you can increase the frequency to every six weeks. 

Which one is right for me, CAFM or CMMS? 

The answer to just about every interesting question in life is the same: It depends. Because each system addresses a different set of challenges, you need to choose the one that best meets your specific needs.

Start by looking at the problems you need to fix. It’s the same as when you go to the doctor, and the first question they ask is “What seems to be the problem?” If you don’t know what’s wrong, picking the right medicine is nearly impossible.

Once you have a list of problems you need to solve, you can decide which is right for you, 

Next steps 

The best way to decide is to talk with something from the industry. All you need to do is find the right provider. 

Hippo has many ways to help. We can answer your questions, help you book a live software demo, or even set you up with a free trial

CEO’s summary 

Choosing the right platform to track, manage, and report on your facility operations comes down to finding the one that best meets your current challenges. For CMMS and CAFM, there’s some overlap, but the two are different enough that you need to make sure you’re getting the right one. So, which one should you choose? CMMS systems are best for work order management and setting up, scheduling, and tracking preventive maintenance programs. CAFM systems are often better for space management, including space planning and ensuing physical distancing. So, a CMMS helps you make sure the AC is working in the office, while a CAFM helps you make sure the desks are far enough apart. 

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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