Choosing the right CMMS software can feel overwhelming. There are so many different things you have to consider, and the whole project has a lot of moving parts. But finding the right CMMS solution is like any other complex task: anything is possible once you break it into smaller steps. So, the first thing is making a list of the specific problems you need to solve. Step Two: find the CMMS features that are direct solutions.
To make that second step easier, let's go through some of the important features of CMMS software, see how they work, and find out how they can remove a lot of the current stress and worry from your job.
CMMS software features that keep the team up to date while on the go
Many of the challenges you face come down to struggling with weak communication channels. Because it's hard to get the right information out to the team, getting anything done requires a lot of extra work, wasting time and energy. Modern facility management software makes it easy to get the right data into the right hands.
Top CMMS software features: data-packed work orders and templates
With old-time maintenance management methods, it's often tough to get enough information into work orders. Paper-based work orders don't have enough space, and DIY spreadsheets are often hard to read. The results?
Technicians waste a lot of time, killing your overall time on wrench numbers. Instead of arriving onsite with the right parts and materials, techs get to the asset only to discover they don't have what they need to get the job done. That means running back to the office or supply room. And even once they have the right parts and materials, they might lack the specific know-how. This is especially true with junior technicians who are less familiar with your assets and equipment. When they hit a snag, they end up wasting not only their own time but also the time and attention of the more experienced technicians they need to track down and then call over for help.
And much worse than a tech who doesn't know how to complete a task is one who confidently does tasks consistently wrong. When members of the maintenance team are winging it, you can end up with unreliable work that needs to be redone or can even lead to budget-busting failures. And even when an on-the-fly solution works, you still have the problem of not being able to replicate it. For example, let's say the last time the forklift stopped working, one of the technicians was able to get it back up and running in ten minutes, and it never had a problem for the next six weeks. But now it's Week Seven, the forklift is down again, and this time no one can remember that magic fix. And the technician who managed to fix it weeks ago? Out on vacation, or moved on to another job, or retired.
Modern work order software solves these problems by making it easy to include everything technicians need to close out both efficiently and properly, including:
- Comprehensive asset maintenance and repairs histories
- Step-by-step instructions
- Customizable checklists
- Digital O&M manuals, schematics, and related images
- Associated parts and materials
- Interactive floor plans and site maps
Now when a technician arrives onsite, they have the right inventory and know-how. Work gets done the right way, every time.
Top CMMS software features: preventive maintenance scheduling
It's great having work orders with lots of information, but you don't want to be generating them as issues pop up. Instead, you need an asset management solution that puts you out ahead of the maintenance curve. Having some on-demand work orders is just a fact of life, but by focusing on preventive maintenance, you can get your assets and equipment to last longer for less time and money. Best of all, more of your work gets done when it makes the most sense for both yourself and other departments, across the organization. Instead of repairing a press late on a Friday afternoon when the line should be at peak production to meet that Monday's deadline, technicians can do inspections and routine maintenance between shifts on Wednesday morning, when the line is already scheduled to be running at 75% capacity.
It's always easy to talk about the benefits of preventive maintenance, but a lot more challenging to set up, schedule, and track a robust program. It's sometimes tricky to know which inspections and maintenance tasks to do, then reliably get them out to the right technicians, and finally track the program's overall progress. Modern preventive maintenance software solves these problems with data-packed PMs, automatic scheduling, and autogenerated reports packed with the right KPIs.
When first setting up a program, it often makes the most sense to follow the manufacturers' recommendations for preventive maintenance tasks. In some cases, you set up meter-based PMs while in others, you simply set them according to time. You can also choose between floating and fixed for when you have to push a scheduled task back a bit. Either way, the software remembers everything that needs to get done and automatically generates PMs as they come up on the schedule. With the calendar view, everyone on the team can see at a glance what's coming up. And just like with on-demand work orders, the software makes it easy to include all the information technicians need to work efficiently. In the end, a PM is just a work order you schedule in advance, so it includes all the same types of information. And remember, that means it has everything techs need to close out efficiently.
Periodically, you can go over your program to check how well the maintenance team is following it and how well it's working. Because all the information is already inside the CMMS, the software quickly generates reports full of maintenance metrics and KPIs. You know exactly what maintenance tasks were done and the percentage of PMs completed on time. On top of that, you can start to look at which assets are taking you the most to run in terms of time and money, and then working backward, fine-tune your PM schedule. For example, if that forklift is breaking down roughly every three months, you need to increase the PM frequency from every four months to every two and a half.
Top CMMS software features: mobile app push notifications
But even when you're running a world-class preventive maintenance program, there are times when you have to make on-the-fly adjustments to your schedule. It's just a fact of maintenance life. What makes it frustrating is how hard it can be to get that new, time-sensitive information out to the team. Maintenance crews aren't working at desks in rows in an office; they're spread out over the entire facility, often across multiple buildings.
Modern facilities management software solves this problem by making it easier to reach out and grab the team's attention. With a mobile app, the software ties directly into devices' built-in features, and that means when you need a tech to go to another site, you can quickly send them a push notification. Depending on the settings, their mobile device rings or vibrates, with a message appearing over everything else on the screen. No more waiting for them to swing by the office for their next work order.
CMMS software features that keep you up to date
Good communication is a two-way street. It's not enough that you're able to push data out to the team; they need to be able to share with you what they're up to. It can be as simple as a notification that they've closed out a work order to something a bit more involved, like explaining the steps they're taking to troubleshoot [BLOG] an issue with a new or problem-prone asset. In all cases, the maintenance lead needs to be in the loop and on top of the team's progress. When you know where everyone is and what they're doing, it's much easier to schedule work, manage resources, and enforce accountability.
Top CMMS software features: task and work order comments
We already know that both on-demand and scheduled work orders go out packed with data, but there are times when technicians need to add more. For example, a technician is working on a routine maintenance inspection when they discover frayed wiring that poses a series health and safety risk. The inspection was scheduled to take only about 20 minutes, but the tech is now looking at hours' worth of work. On top of that, they're going to need an extra set of hands to do the job right. Because the tech can add comments to the tasks in the work order, the maintenance lead knows exactly what's going on, and can redirect resources or rearrange the rest of the schedule.
It doesn't need to be something as serious as a fire risk. Sometimes techs can upload questions to tasks, asking for clarification and tips on best practices. Or explaining that they need to grab lunch halfway through a longer PM. The important thing is they have a way to quickly and easily keep in touch with the rest of the department. One of the big benefits is how easy it is to see the connection between what they're saying and what they're working on. No need for context or explanation when their comment is directly connected to a specific task or work order.
Top CMMS software features: direct image uploads
And not only can they upload comments but they can also upload images. A picture is worth a thousand words, and there are a lot of times when sending the maintenance lead a picture of an issue is more efficient than trying to explain it. Here's another great example of how modern preventive maintenance apps can leverage a mobile device's existing hardware. The software ties directly into the built-in camera, making it easy to capture and upload images.
Opportunities to upload images exist at every point in the process. When a tech first arrives on the site, they can take a quick picture to record the condition of the asset before they start working. As they make their way through the associated tasks, they can upload pictures to log their progress, which is especially handy when working on assets where parts are positioned on top of one another. For example, the tech can upload pictures as they reassemble engine parts. When they're done, they can then upload one final image and request a remote visual inspection. If the maintenance lead likes what they see, they can close out the work order. If they don't, they can see exactly what they want changed.
Top CMMS software features: automated reports with metrics and KPIs
So far, we've covered features that push data out and pull it in. Now let's look at one that takes all that data and leverages it.
Older methods for maintenance management are frustrating because they do such a bad job of capturing accurate data and keeping it safe. In the end, you're left with completely unreliable data. But let's say for the sake of argument you could use a paper- or spreadsheet-based system and get reliable data (remember, you can't), the question now is, What can you do with it? And the answer is, Even though you've accomplished the impossible, it's still going to take a lot of extra work to wring any value out of those numbers. Quick example: you have accurate data on how much you spent on maintenance parts and materials over the last six months (which is incredibly valuable information that can help you manage resources and vendors more efficiently), but it's spread out over six months' worth of work orders and PMs.
It's there, but it's in a lot of little pieces. And the only way for you to get any insights from it is to spend a lot of time and energy collecting all the little pieces and carefully assembling them. And at every painful step, there's always the chance of making a small mistake, eroding the accuracy of your final numbers.
With each small mistake (copying the wrong number from the wrong cell or forgetting to carry the one), you're twisting your lens a little bit more out of focus. And when you finally step back and try to see the big picture, it's too blurry to be of any real use.
Modern facility management software solves this problem by capturing the right data, keeping it safe and secure, and then crunching it for you with autogenerated reports packed with easy-to-read graphs and insightful maintenance metrics and KPIs. With a few clicks, the software takes the raw data and builds it into actionable intelligence. Instead of just having all the costs associated with maintaining your assets, you now know which one is costing you most in time and resources. Instead of just having all the work orders for one particular asset, you now know if it's costing you more to keep it running than it would to replace it.
CMMS software features that work behind the scenes
Just as valuable as your assets and equipment is their associated data. In a manufacturing setting, you can have a pump or press that's central to the production line. You need it to keep the line up. The data associated with it, for the maintenance team, is also critical because they need it to keep that pump or press up and running.
"Because if I'm just using those systems to do work orders, I'm missing the boat. I need to make sure we're aggregating that information, collecting it, doing the analysis and continuing to drive improvement. Because as we know, the world does not stop, we have to continue to change and improve with it."
With that in mind, let's look at a feature that's harder to see on the surface but still central to your success.
Top CMMS software features: cloud computing
Let's take a closer look at these old-time maintenance management methods that reply on paperwork or spreadsheets, both of which are notorious for either losing important data or holding onto endless versions of out-of-date data.
With paper-based methods, you only have one copy of the work order, and the amount of information you can include is relatively small. Just how much can someone scribble onto a few pieces of paper? And the little bit of data you do have is easily lost. It's on a thin piece of paper, which can literally fall through the cracks. With spreadsheets, you often end up never losing any data, but what you're stuck with is worse than useless.
Let's look at the steps in a spreadsheet-dependant workflow. You start out by creating a spreadsheet-based work order on your computer. Now you have one version, and because you just wrote it, it's up to date. But then when you email it out to a tech, you end up with two copies. There's the one on your computer and there's the one in the email. And here's the start of the problem: nothing is holding those two copies together. When you make changes to the copy on your computer, the tech still only has a copy of the old one. And when the tech makes changes to their copy, nothing changes on your computer. You've gone from two exact copies to two different versions. Every change anyone makes to their file puts everyone else further behind. The worst part? There's nothing on the spreadsheet that tells you it's just one of many versions. Everyone thinks they have the right information.
Every had a conversation with someone where you can't agree on the most basic facts? Old-time maintenance management methods are just like that, except everyone in the department gets pulled in. It's like suffering through the worst Thanksgiving family dinner, every working day of your life.
Cloud computing solves this problem by creating one version of truth. Once new data is entered into the software, it's sent to a central database where all your data is kept safe, secure, and up to date in real time. Whenever anyone on the maintenance team uses the software, they're looking at the same data as everyone else. No one is working off a scrap of paper they picked up from the maintenance office six hours ago. No one is working from a spreadsheet they got as an email attachment days ago. And the best part? That accurate, reliable data is available from anywhere, at any time, through any Internet-connected computer or mobile device.
Top CMMS software features: comprehensive onboarding and multi-channel ongoing support
Let's look at a few other features we can think of as "behind the scenes."
In the old days of work order management and preventive maintenance software, you bought them the same way you used to buy a VCR. Once you got it home, it was on you to set it up and keep it running. The relationship between you and the VCR company was basically "one-time," even taking into account the limited warranty. So, when the company wanted to make another sale, they'd come out with a new model and try to convince you to buy it.
Modern maintenance management software providers use a completely different business model, called software as a service (SaaS). And staying with our VCR example, we can say they're basically the same as Netflix. Instead of selling you a product (a piece of software you have to install and run yourself), providers are offering a service (subscription access to their maintenance software and data protection and storage). The relationship between you and your CMMS provider is now fundamentally different. And it's to your advantage.
There's no push to sell you next year's model. Instead, providers want you to keep using their CMMS solution, so they're constantly upgrading it, adding new features, and helping make sure you get all you can out of your investment.
Which brings us to these additional behind-the-scenes features: onboarding and ongoing support. So far, we've been looking at features as solutions to specific problems, and these are no different. But they're not solutions to problems you have now; instead, they help you overcome the challenges specifically related to implementing and running a CMMS. So, what are those challenges?
One is getting buy-in. A good provider has more than just great software; they also have programs in place to ensure your organization, across departments, sees the facility maintenance management solution's value and can quickly learn how to use the software. A big part is having tailored training for everyone from the CEO to the maintenance lead to the technicians.
The other is getting help with the work order management software when you need it. A good provider solves this problem with a support team that's knowledgeable and available across different channels. They should have a resource center with relevant articles, e-books, and videos as well as live support through phone, e-mail, and conversation windows on their website.
That one critical CMMS software feature everyone forgets
Or actually, not something people forget, but something they forget is a feature. And it's not just any feature; it's the one that makes all the other features accessible. Intuitive, easy-to-learn and easy-to-use UX design. Think of it as the key to a fancy sports car. Because no matter how fast the engine is or how slick the tires are, that car isn't going anywhere if you don't have the key to start it.
Top CMMS software feature: intuitive, user-friendly UX
It's one thing to say good UX is important, but it's another to clearly define it. On some level, it does make sense to leave it at "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it." But it's worth getting a bit more specific. And we can narrow it down to placement and visual clutter.
Back to our car example. Where would you look if you wanted to know how fast you were going? That should be right in front of you. Or how much gas you had in the tank? A bit to the right of your speed. What about if you wanted to change the radio station? A bit more to the right and then down. When things are where they should be, you can find them quickly. That's good placement.
Sticking with the radio example, we can also understand visual clutter. When you look at the radio, all you can see is the one station you're listening to now. It doesn't show you every possible radio station. If it did, the important information would be lost in a sea of visual clutter.
Why does it matter? Remember, when you're implementing a CMMS, you need to think about winning buy-in up and down the department and across the organization. The easier the software is to learn and use, the faster you're going to see an ongoing return on your investment.
Once you have your list of nagging problems and a good idea of the features that can solve them directly, it's time to reach out to CMMS solution providers. The good ones usually start by trying to find out as much as possible about your current challenges. Then they can start to talk with you about solving them, going over the specific features that work best for you. In some cases, they cover ones you already know about. But often they can show you features and workflows you never considered. Remember, a good provider lives and breathes CMMS software, making them your best resource for information, insights, and advice. They know what works and how to make it work for you.