Many firms today are not leveraging the full capacity of their current computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) or enterprise asset management (EAM) systems. Analyst studies indicate that as little as 5 to 10 percent of current CMMS/EAM capabilities are used in many cases, with medium use factored in the 20 to 30 percent level. It is the exceptional firm that exceeds 40 percent of the capability and benefits available from a fully implemented CMMS/EAM to them. But why is this the case?

This article explores the current trends taking place within CMMS/EAM with a look at both the present and future trends emerging. Many firms, quite frankly, have not kept abreast of the many features and functions available to them or have operated in an isolated world.

World of change
We must first acknowledge that we are living and working in a dynamic world. Things are moving around us continuously, whether we realize it or not. It is perfectly natural to attempt to hold the world still as we write new code or add some element of functionality in the perfect operating world. Acknowledging change is the first step; having the necessary support and service systems in place to accommodate those variations is the second.

Changes often take place slowly, like the introductions of steam power over sail or the railroads over the horse and wagon. It took more than 20 years for the car and truck to become commercially viable 100 years ago. Many firms continue to hang on to their “tried-and-true” manual and paper-based record systems simply because it was the way “we always do things around here.” Case in point is today’s doctor’s office, governed by stringent HIPAA regulations, or real estate closings, still requiring a mountain of paper with numerous signatures. Between 22 and 25 percent of healthcare expenses are consumed by administrative paperwork. So, we agree that as the world turns, some systems have an improved adoption over other delivery mechanisms. An example of rapid uptake may be the newest iPod, sold to every available teenager by the millions at Christmastime, with capability to download thousands of songs and a variety of videos and games.

We live in an integrated world
As the planet gets smaller with direct connection, we can make ourselves available at any point in the world on very short notice. VOIP (voice over Internet protocol), Web conferencing and satellite technology can find us anywhere on the globe. Examples are Webinars broadcast globally and VOIP, where for nearly free, we can communicate in real-time and Webcast our intentions to a global audience.

Our world is now connected, more than just a few months ago. System integrators (ie: Accenture, Bearing Point, Cap Gemini, Delliotte, IBM, etc.) are earning billions of dollars connecting various software operating platforms and applications so that business leaders have better visibility into their operations. Moving information more effectively today is the new corporate challenge. Being able to move data and process it – making decisions – will be even more important in the years to come.

Twenty years ago, moving bits and bites at 300 dpi with acoustical couplers was considered average, and the high-speed modem was 1,200 baud. Today, most firms are abandoning dial-up, and one advertiser states that they “don’t do jack”, meaning the abandonment of the wire and connector. DSL and high-speed lines continue to move data traffic at astounding speeds (300 baud vs. 100M) compared to the movements of yesteryear.

Using this capability, firms need to leverage integration of their applications into a collective executive decision support system often referred to as analytics or business intelligence. The challenge is how to connect the numerous niche applications to be able to operate as a unified enterprise resource planning (ERP) company-wide decision service and maintenance support process.

The niche decision; was it the right one?
Many large firms have a large number of stand-alone niche service and maintenance applications running. Making the niche decision, selecting best-of-breed, appeared to be the right thing to do at the moment to address a specific service need or service application. Having a human resource (HR/HCM) package, a stand-alone warehouse or inventory system, transportation module or procurement package all seemed like the right decision at the time. But times have changed. These systems now need to communicate with one another. Inventory needs to communicate with transportation and with procurement. The supply chain needs to be completed by interconnection. The cost burden for this synergy of the multiple disparate niche solutions will be a significant portion of any IT organization’s costs.

Recent estimates indicate that up to 70 percent of IT budgets are devoted to maintaining and interconnecting existing applications. So, in reality, was the niche decision a good one, hundreds of times over, as the new challenge is how to connect them together? The other alternative may be to look for systems on a common platform or already pre-connected such as from full-suite ERP providers.

Fix it yourself!
Surveys indicate that approximately 30 percent of service visits can be avoided by proper care of a skilled or trained operator. Industry is moving toward more highly reliable devices that require less maintenance.

When was the last time you changed the spark plugs in your car? With onboard diagnostics becoming more prevalent in products and equipment today, users have the ability to fault locate and repair many of the devices in service. Examples include office copiers or printers that run diagnostics to locate paper jams or failures. We anticipate seeing more CRUs – customer replaceable units, meaning as a part fails or begins to fail, a diagnostic feature will identify the assembly and indicate to the user that the certain part needs replacement. In turn, the product sends a signal to a call center that can automatically run a diagnostic to confirm the error report, and once satisfied that the unit is in degraded mode, then mails a replacement part to the user for replacement.

Recent experiments on toner and developer or paper outages have proved successful with printers. When toner or any consumable begins to run low, even when an oil change is due on your car, a replacement package may arrive at your door one or three days prior to stock-outs – a perfect example of lean.

The last time I went to Costco and stocked up on toner, I found that by the time I used the last cartridge (as I needed to buy a supply of 50), the toner had solidified or petrified and the cartridge expiration date was four years earlier. So, the operation here is seamless to the user and perfect from a lean (zero stock) inventory perspective.

Greater emphasis is being placed today on the unit operator to be sensitive to maintenance requirements. On the other hand, management is demanding what seems to be 100 percent availability. In many cases, operators detect malfunction prior to catastrophic failures, such as motors seizing due to lack of lubricant, of strange noises, vibrations, early alerts or some indicator of possible failure. It is in the best interest of the equipment that the unit be investigated immediately; however, logic dictates that if the equipment is engaged in a critical production operation, when taking the unit out of service would result in the loss of perhaps millions of dollars in production volume, then the unit is expected to continue performing despite the possible negative consequences of continued operation (such as in a low oil or overheat condition).

Pay me now or pay me later
One of the best investments that firms can make is the expenditures on periodic service and preventive maintenance repairs on their operating equipment. Mechanical products that involve any type of movement, even fans on electrical equipment, require periodic servicing, cleaning and update to maintain the original integrity and continued reliable performance. When I travel to numerous locations in the world and take taxi cabs to various cities, I often inquire as to number of miles on the vehicle and the frequency of oil and filter changes. One cab in Houston had more than a half-million miles as the driver reported that the oil was changed religiously every 3,500 miles. Materials used today in the production of equipment are much more durable than the materials of yesterday. If properly serviced, firms can enjoy many years of productive operation from their assets if they were just properly maintained to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Oil and filter changes along with tire rotations and the periodic 30,000-mile major services are the best investments car owners can make in retaining the original condition and higher residual value of their vehicles. Being stranded on the highway is never a pleasant experience. Failed fan belts, tires, windshield

wiper blades or hoses are just a few examples of lower-cost items that can and should be inspected for wear and needed replacement prior to failure.

Maintenance is a business, not just a service
Many think of maintenance as a necessary evil, a cost center, overhead or non-productive. This is far from the truth. Maintenance operations perform a highly valuable service to maintain assets and related production equipment on the condition of its original condition and to provide reliable and economic operation. Maintenance is serious business as it works to comply with safety, health and quality regulations. Units from fire extinguishers to elevators and escalators need to have documented evidence of inspection and service to perform properly.

Picture yourself picking up a fire extinguisher in the time of an emergency to put out an office fire, only to realize the unit is non-operational with an expired tag from four years earlier – like my example of the expired printer toner. Fortunately, we have inspection laws that require commercial and industrial work environments to be properly protected with the availability of inspected, tested and operating fire extinguishers. The existence of an inspection tag is not the absolute certainty of a functioning device, as certain very low-cost providers of fire extinguisher services are known to have delivered and installed non-working units as a scam. Of course, firms should be alerted to these scam artists at prices too good to be true because it probably is.

The use of consistent-performing service firms is the best assurance for reliable performance. Shaving a few dollars in service procurement by moving to a lower-quality lubricating oil or filter is probably not the best avenue for cost reduction. Many firms take this path on a temporary basis that eventually becomes a long-term trend. The performance eventually catches up with the expenditures. Lower-quality consumables, from copier toner and developer to lubricating oils and filters for engines to pump seals, although attractive in saving money in the short run, eventually lead to asset replacement in a shorter time period.

Why does this matter?
It matters because critical production may depend on it. From elevators to automatic doors for office entry, to pumps, pipes, tanks and motors in a refinery, proper service and maintenance are crucial ingredients.

Having all the information available to make the best possible decision in maintenance planning is important in achieving the proper service and production goals for the operation. It would be unrealistic to attempt to run a major service organization manually, on paper, with numerous clerks, as it was done in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. With the advent of the computer and modern databases, firms now enjoy the luxury of enterprise asset management (EAM) to better control maintenance operations.

Advanced programs have been developed to guide firms in optimizing the maintenance approach so that performance can be maintained at a highly reliable state, approaching Six Sigma uptime (99.999 percent). Think of the complexity of jet engines mounted on a large airframe that is capable of flight. Jet engine performance at the 99.9 percent level would yield several crashes per day at failed takeoff – totally unacceptable. As a result, airlines have adopted sophisticated and highly regulated maintenance procedures, coupled with inspections and certifications, to assure proper performance at or above the Six Sigma threshold (3.4 incidents per billion). For this reason, the American airline industry is experiencing one of the best records regarding airline safety and reliability. This safety and reliability model is the envy of industry. If only other operating systems were able to perform at the same level of service, such as our local cable TV provider whose service only seems to fail during playoff games in overtime.

It is significant to note that many firms are satisfied with the way things have been done in the past. Uptake on advanced maintenance has been adopted by those on the cutting edges of competition, innovation and performance in a survival market. Large firms employing thousands in a continuous production model, such as an assembly line, cannot afford to remove assets from service when millions of dollars in production value are at stake. For this reason, firms have adopted the enterprise maintenance model linking together their operating, production and utilities in a fully integrated view for consistent servicing.

Maintenance strategies usually fall into one of several categories depending on both the value and importance of the asset. The diagram above depicts the service and maintenance strategy for firms producing products, from razor blades to locomotives. The most inexpensive products are typically never maintained and disposed of after use, called “throw-aways”. Cell phones, small TVs and VCRs now fall into this category. Some devices such as copy machines or printers are serviced by their users or operators. More advanced, skilled technicians with the proper parts repair units (e.g., washing machines and dryers) typically conduct this service. Moving up the maturity curve, complex or sophisticated devices employing numerous parts and/or of higher value may receive some type of preventive maintenance to achieve proper operation such as the example of regular oil changes for vehicles.

With the real-time access of low-cost Internet or cell technology, firms can now remotely monitor the performance of their assets to assure proper operations. Unit sensors can transmit temperature or pressure settings along with critical vibration or noise parameters – such as the impending failure of a bearing. Some firms go one step further to even have cameras focused on assets in the event a foreign object such as a tree limb or other foreign or falling object would interfere with operations. Also, low-cost motion detectors alert security in the event a trespasser or animal violated the perimeter zone such as in secure utility or airport operations. Bringing all of this intrusion, operating and malfunction information together into one place becomes the cornerstone for the modern maintenance EAM operations.

Design operations need to develop predictive models for their products. We know when razor blades fail after a few uses and we know when it is time to retire a motor once the seals have failed and replacement parts are no longer available. With assets from pumps to motors, vehicles to airplanes, manufacturers need to make available to users a typical use-model of predictive behaviors. These predictions guide operations through normal or abnormal life cycles of assets to better predict performance. Returning to the example of the taxi with 500,000 miles, if properly maintained, car engines can have a long life. Several examples of cars going more than 1 million miles have been validated. Predictive models help companies plan their future capital and maintenance horizons better. Capital expenditures can be better forecasted while units can operate with improved predictability with the availability of such valuable information.

The highest degree of integration is the EAM state where all of the assets are interrelated and monitored from a single system of maintenance and operations. Using an EAM in conjunction with operating systems for production allows firms to enjoy the great benefits available from reliable production. Examples include transportations firms that need to take assets out of service when on the ground – as it is not possible to remove planes from service in the air, or similarly, locomotives, buses, taxis or monorails during operation.

Single source of truth
Having all of the information available in real time in one place is utopia. By having this, information becomes “actionable”, meaning if a parameter should fall out of range (min/max), an alert can trigger immediate investigation and create a service order if needed.

Technicians can review the operating condition via remote monitor and compare it with the manufacturer’s predictive model. Technicians would know that by operating the asset under the new parameter, such as in elevated temperature, the asset would fall into degraded mode and either shorten the life span or operate uneconomically until the needed repair was made. Operating options would be available instead of just hard-failure.

EAM provides the framework for firms to adopt their best practices into operations settings to achieve better performance. However, achieving these goals is easier written than accomplished. To accomplish this end, firms need to adopt IT practices to capture data into a unified database or warehouse for processing with analytics and real-time dashboards for management visibility. Line managers need the drill-down tools to access answers to conditions without leaving their office or the control room. When all of this information comes together, assets can work in harmony with each other and maintenance management can move toward the proactive role instead of the traditional role of reactive fire fighting.

To operate in today’s competitive world, firms need an integrated EAM system. By working in harmony, maintenance and production assets can yield greater production provided the information is made available to service management. To achieve this end, maintenance management needs to extract the critical asset information to be in a position to detect failures prior to occurrence. Manufacturers need to share with their customers the predictive behaviors of assets so that user firms can be ahead of the failure curve and take needed proactive steps to eliminate unanticipated failures.

Computer and communications technologies exist today to help firms achieve this goal; acronyms such as BPEL (Business Process Extension Language) and SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) will become household words in the service and maintenance communities. With prices shrinking for data storage, communications and networks, cost should no longer be a barrier for firms to use available technology to accomplish their desired operating objectives. Tomorrow, with foreign competition growing at expanding rates, it will be the firm that fully leverages its EAM systems in the context of its enterprise information architecture that will achieve competitive advantage.

About the authors
Dave Loesch is the senior director of enterprise asset manager and Stephen Slade is the senior director for applications and industries marketing at Oracle, the world’s largest business software company. For more information, visit