Streamlining CMMS Implementation

Take implementation one step at a time. Skipping steps will increase costs and lengthen the process.

If someone claims he can implement a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) in six months or less, there is a good chance something key to the implementation is missing. Most well-planned CMMS implementations require 18 months or more of hard work and can cost the organization more than two to three times the purchase price of the application.

This article will not explain how to implement a CMMS in six months or how to do it on a shoestring budget. Rather, it will identify steps required to successfully integrate a system into an organization''s unique technical and business environment. It will identify an expeditious process that eliminates unnecessary steps and leads to more complete system use. It also will identify common problems that can derail implementation and explain how to avoid them.

Data preparation
Preparing the data to include in a CMMS is the first and most important part of implementation. Data can originate from one of two sources: an existing manual system or an existing application. In either case, data preparation is a huge effort that relates directly to the amount of time required for implementation and its success.

The time required for preparing data from a manual system depends partly on the number of assets (or equipment) to be managed. In addition, organizations without a CMMS may not have a numbering system for assets, parts, and materials. That means information about every equipment/asset, part, and material must be gathered and organized. The equipment/assets should be classified in terms of criticality and then aligned into a hierarchical structure for reporting and ease of use. At the same time, information should be collected about job plans, personnel, and other areas the system will log or track. Waiting to start this organization until the beginning of the implementation phase will automatically extend the time frame.

If starting with an existing system, the data organization effort will focus on ensuring complete and accurate data. If massive amounts of information must be standardized, the data preparation phase can easily surpass the time required to start from a manual system. In addition, systems more than 15 years old may not contain major pieces of data required in the new system, or the data may not be in a form that is conducive to conversion. These factors can extend the implementation time frame. Comprehensive and accurate data gathering is the foundation of a successful CMMS implementation and cannot be cut short. So, what can be done to shorten the time frame while maintaining, or even improving, the integrity of the data?

Pre-design. One way to shorten and streamline implementation is to start data collection early. In fact, once the request for proposal (RFP) and demonstration steps of selection are complete, the format and content to be used will be known. To get a tremendous jump on implementation, collect data into an electronic form that identifies the specific data and layouts needed. The data layouts also should be used during contract negotiations to provide the selected vendor with an idea of the volume of data and its initial format. This will help the vendor map data to the new system for electronic data transfer. An experienced CMMS implementation consultant can help start the data collection effort even before vendor selection by providing general guidelines for data formatting as well as his insight and guidance.

In many cases, problems that users blame on the system are actually problems with data. Data requires verification and validation to avoid many of these problems. Verification is the act of checking the data. Does the data represent every asset? Is it accurate? Is the data worth the time and money to prepare it for the new system? If not, a substantial data collection and preparation process may be necessary. Validation is the process of cross checking referential data when it enters the system. There are tools that assist in advanced validation. Remember that data must follow the integrity requirements of the new system to qualify for vendor support.

Another potential pitfall is the coding structure used to identify equipment/assets, parts, and hierarchical relationships. Avoid coding structures that use ranges. Eventually, range-based systems become saturated╛usually when the organization can least afford it. Workarounds, such as adding a new range of numbers, will eventually require another workaround and the problem will snowball. The best coding structures provide the flexibility to add large amounts of data in the future.

Before starting data collection, be sure that data standards are in place and that they will be adhered to. Data standards should consider and include:

  • System identification coding structures
  • Abbreviations
  • Descriptive fields
  • Units of measure
  • Equipment criticality
  • Prioritization

The forethought put into standards development and enforcement will impact system usability. If users cannot easily find accurate information in the system, they will stop using it. Ultimately, poorly constructed standards or lack of standards can derail the implementation.

System and process integration
Software itself is not a solution. Organizations that try this approach almost never achieve the maintenance benefits they set out to obtain. Because their business processes never change, this approach simply automates existing problems so that they occur faster than before. In these cases, the implementation will lose momentum or stall completely. When implementations fail, people remember for a long time. Implementing any new system in the future will be even more difficult.

The implementation success rate is improved substantially when the maintenance organization integrates processes, personnel, and the CMMS. This approach enables organizations to plan and schedule more than 60 percent of all maintenance activities instead of constantly reacting to problems. This approach enables more work to be accomplished with less effort, making complex systems more manageable and reliable.

Achieving this proactive state requires a concerted effort to integrate the functional capabilities of the selected system with the way the maintenance organization works. It also means that a reactive organization must reassess and redesign its processes and procedures. Whether the organization is reactive or proactive, this is the time to take a hard look at existing processes and procedures to redesign them for maximum effectiveness.

The best approach is to redesign practices, processes, and procedures prior to, or during, system selection. This means prospective systems can be evaluated in context of the redesigned processes. On the other hand, knowing the system that has been selected will allow the organization to design its business processes to maximize the new systems capabilities. If implementation has already begun, spend the extra time to integrate the system and maintenance processes before going live.

Change management
Many system implementations fail because of human factors such as changed responsibilities and the natural resistance to change. This makes managing expectations an essential part of implementation.

Organizations go through three distinct periods of transition from the way business has been conducted to a new manner of organization:

  • The Frozen period describes the existing business processes, "the same old grind."
  • The Fluid period is the time when the organization is in transition from old processes to new, streamlined, standardized processes. This period officially starts by outlining processes and changes and describing how the new software and systems will be integrated. During this period, people hear that their jobs may be changed or eliminated or that new people may be joining the organization.

Staff reactions vary. Generally, 20 percent accept change, 60 percent wait and see, and 20 percent strongly resist. During this period, managers and supervisors will hear from the vocal minority who resist change. Reactions usually start during the selection process and become louder as the implementation progresses. These people will be unhappy with the changes and will need coaching and assistance from their managers.

The success of the implementation is directly impacted by how well change is managed throughout the period, so managers must be prepared and know how to manage through the change. It is essential to continue change management activities and user support throughout the implementation to maintain continuity and momentum. During this stage, staff and managers realize the full impact of change as they experience new tasks and duties. It may result in losing people who will not accept the new way of doing business.

  • The Re-Frozen period starts after the new software and business processes have been used for a period of time and have been adopted as the new way of doing business.

System installation and acceptance testing
Most implementation efforts focus on installation and testing. For the most part, these steps are well planned and managed using proven methodologies. However, there are some areas that require special attention to ensure success.

Integrated testing. The software and any new hardware should be installed and tested for all aspects of the organizations technical environment. Testing must include networking, remote-site communication, Intranet and/or Internet connections, and any other technical component the system will impact or require. Most of these tests should be conducted by the vendor or by internal technical staff with vendor oversight and assistance.

Interface testing and data conversion. Once the technical hardware and software are working properly, technical testing should address the interfaces between the CMMS and other business systems. This will ensure that data being transferred back and forth is properly processed and validated. Typically, a vendor will develop interface processing that affects its system because it knows the system and its needs. Data conversion from an existing system and/or data collected electronically needs to be tested to ensure the integrity of data relationships. Errors must be corrected and re-testing must occur.

Vendor assistance during data conversion and loading will ensure that validation and integrity are in place from the system point of view. Internal technical and user staff (members of the core team and selected assistants) share responsibilities for data conversion and loading. They are responsible for verifying data relationships and integrity from the organization's point of view.

Functional testing. Thorough and complete functional system testing should be finished satisfactorily before the system is accepted as final. Each department and functional position that will be affected by the system needs to perform its own specific testing. The best approach (though often missed) is to test system functions and business processes as integrated units. For example, the system's material management functions need to be tested using each material management business process for each functional position. If the business processes were redesigned, the new process must be tested.

Pilot testing. Pilot project testing is a good method of quality assurance for organizations with large, complex, multifaceted, or multi-plant situations. A single department, plant, or facility that represents the organization or an entity with unique requirements should participate. The selected entity should use the system in full production for a period of time. This approach isolates problems to the pilot entity so they can be identified, corrected, and retested without affecting the larger organization or causing a poor first impression. Once the testing is complete, the system can be rolled out to the remainder of the organization.

To be effective, pilot tests must be planned carefully. There are two approaches: complete software environment testing or restricted software environment testing. Both approaches impact other business systems and the test data. A complete environment test verifies the functionality of interfaces with other systems. This approach is limited by the coordination required to integrate data affected during the pilot with the remaining organizational entities after testing is complete. Before testing begins, consider the following issues: Will test data be discarded after testing (requiring system data to be reloaded from scratch when the system goes live)? Will the pilot entity keep using the system and test data and have other entities join in? How will data sent to other systems be handled? How will other systems that interface with the new CMMS continue to process data for other organizational entities during the pilot?

The restricted environment approach isolates the test environment and data to the system and the test entity. In this approach only the CMMS is tested for the pilot area. While easier, this approach will not test the functionality of the interface with other systems.

Reporting needs. The final step of system installation and acceptance testing is to address reporting requirements. Most CMMS vendors provide a core set of reports. Because vendors are not in the business of report writing, their offerings are usually quite basic because every organization wants variations to the standard reports. It is best to use a good ad hoc report writing/ query tool. New reports can then easily be developed to match specific needs. Only reports absolutely required at startup should be identified. This is a good time to eliminate reports that are never read. Always determine whether required reports will be provided by the vendor or by internal staff. A subset of reporting is performance measures and key performance indicators. These should be identified early in the project and provided at startup to document and show progress.

Organizational roles and training
There are essentially four groups of individuals in an organization who need training: server system administrators, client system administrators, organization managers, and system end users. Resource requirements and roles need to be considered early in the project for budgeting and implementation planning.

Server system administrators. Server system administrators maintain technical system functionality related to networks and network performance, system servers and other hardware, system software, e-mail and other office automation software, PC hardware and software, database, security, report writing, data storage, and disaster recovery. These administrators provide internal technical support before involving the vendor.

Their training should cover all technical aspects of the selected CMMS. They should learn where their responsibilities start and end, what they can and cannot do related to system customization, and how to escalate problems through the vendor's technical support center.

Server system administrators will be used nearly full time approximately six months prior to startup and one to two months after implementation. Their time can generally be reduced to quarter time after startup. Exceptions will be for report writing, system support, and new software version testing and rollout.

If the system must be tailored or customized (refer to prior articles if you are tempted), or additional interfaces between the CMMS and other business systems are required, the number of resources and required skills will expand accordingly. Customization requires expert software development skills with the specific CMMS application through advanced training and/or certifications. This is not the best use of these limited resources that usually support other important systems.

Client system administrators. The client system administrators provide the first line of support to system users as well as user training and problem resolution, standards enforcement, and security administration. If there are multiple sites, there should be a client system administrator at each facility. The administrator should learn to operate every aspect of the system to its full potential. These administrators also provide staffing backup for emergencies and other absences. Administrators should have in-depth knowledge of:

  • The CMMS selected
  • Data use processes
  • System security policy
  • Software administration processes
  • Organizational standards and procedures

Client system administrators should be trained close to system start up. Provide adequate time for them to be involved in system acceptance testing and to prepare internal user training. They will be required approximately full time for the first two years of system use and half time or less after that.

Organization managers. Throughout the organization, managers influence users attitudes toward a new system. To help these managers buy in to the new system, explain why the organization needs the new system and processes, why this particular system meets the organizational objectives, and what business and personal benefits they can expect. Keep in mind that personal benefits may be different from business benefits. It is equally important to train managers on ways to manage change including gaining staff buy in and overcoming objections.

System end users. System users are the final, largest group to be trained. They also have the greatest impact on system use and its ultimate success. Training should be based on functional modules that address the business processes and system functionality needed to perform specific tasks for a functional position. Functional position training should address general system operations, navigation methods, and the basic requirements for the functional position. This provides end users the ability to learn system capabilities related to their work. Unnecessary information will result in information overload and less-than-effective system use. Training should occur immediately before users go on line to keep information fresh in their minds. It is also the foundation for advanced training and followup remedial training after startup.

Support and startup
There are three areas of system support to consider for implementation and ongoing production.

Application software support includes the activities surrounding the installation of software (whether for initial installation or future releases). The CMMS vendor should be used as a resource for general application software support, providing backup for issues or problems that the organization's system administrators cannot handle. Most vendors try to issue at least one major product update each year with new features and technological advances. Using the vendor for system support (under the software support agreement) will free up internal technical resources to concentrate on other areas.

Technical support helps ensure effective, reliable interfaces between the CMMS and other systems after implementation. Other technical support includes system operations (backup, etc.), database administration (performance analysis and fine tuning), system security at the system and database levels, and server software administration. Server system administrators deliver technical support.

User support and training provides general end user application support and helps system users conduct specific activities efficiently and within the organization's standards and practices. This support should consist of a person or persons with in depth knowledge of the CMMS, usage standards and practices/processes that are in place, system security, software administration, and data management. Their activities include training, individual support, and problem resolution for users. Client system administrators deliver application and desktop support and training.

Inevitably, problems arise when the system and processes go live. Often, hardware vendors blame the software and software vendors point to the hardware or the data. Meanwhile, the organization loses valuable uptime and momentum. It is also easy to lose track of problems during the heat of implementation activities or to anticipate that someone else is handling a problem. Keeping a log of problems throughout implementation is the foundation for clear communication to move all parties toward resolution instead of wasting time assigning blame. The log captures information about the circumstances and helps assign responsibility for the correction. Again, it is important to ensure that user data is not the culprit. The log should identify:

  • Problems encountered (what was attempted, what occurred, when, where, under what conditions, how many times, who has had the problem)
  • Resolution (how each problem will be corrected)
  • Seriousness (showstoppers need immediate identification and resolution)
  • Responsibility for resolving and correcting each problem
  • Ongoing status

The log and outstanding problems need to be reviewed regularly and frequently.

Post implementation review
This is the last part of implementation and the final step in the transitioning from the Fluid period to the Re-Frozen period. The review should be conducted after three to six months of full operation. The exact timing should be determined by how smoothly the new system operates. If there are many problems, an earlier review may be necessary. The purpose of the review is to identify and correct problems with both system and business processes.

System problems should be directed to the software vendor. These should be documented thoroughly in the problem log. Serious problems are problems that stop the system from functioning and/or negatively impact other systems. These need the vendor's immediate attention and resolution. Be sure to verify that the problem is not caused by erroneous data. If the vendor recommends a workaround, be sure to obtain the schedule for a final correction. The vendor may have to make system changes to correct the problem. Acceptance testing may be necessary depending on the nature of the changes made. Typically, these types of problems are more likely to occur after the installation of a new release or update.

Business process problems are generally caused by conflicts between the way the system functions in a specific area and the way business is conducted, or the need for remedial training.

Process/system conflicts must be resolved by changing the way the organization functions or altering the way the system operates. The latter can be achieved by changing system master data (not likely) or changing the configuration of the system. It is best to work with the vendor to reach a resolution. There may be cases where tailoring or customizing the system is necessary. However, this should be a last resort. If customization is required, have the vendor incorporate the changes into the system. You may need to pay for the changes. But having the vendor change the system should ensure that the changes do not invalidate the support agreement╛making you responsible for system maintenance and hastening obsolescence.

CMMS consultants may be helpful during implementation. They should provide guidance, direction, and professional input to the organization through the entire effort including problem logging and resolution. Consultants also should be responsible for facilitating the post implementation review due to their expertise and independent perspective.

Be sure to choose a consultant who is versed in maintenance and material management in addition to software selection and implementation. Many consultants are excellent technicians but lack experience in business process and change management or vice versa. They should anticipate pitfalls and barriers to success and guide the organization around obstacles.

This implementation plan, along with a formal selection process, will help ensure:

  • The avoidance of common implementation pitfalls
  • The earliest possible startup
  • The complete usage of the new system
  • Properly loaded, verified, and validated system data
  • Data conformance to standards
  • Achievement of expected benefits and ROI for the organization

The organization is now ready, set, and prepared for successful CMMS implementation. MT


Previous articles in this series include "Successful CMMS Implementation: Getting Your House In Order" (MT, 9/01, pg 14) and "Avoiding Pitfalls in CMMS Implementation" (MT, 7/01, pg 15).

Derold Davis and Joe Mikes are senior consultants at Westin Engineering; (916) 852-2111. They both have more than 15 years of experience in providing system selection and implementation methodologies, proven maintenance practices, productivity improvement practices, and methods and strategies for increasing operational reliability and reducing maintenance overhead.

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