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8:03 pm
June 16, 2014
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CMMS Makers Drive and Serve Demand for Mobile, Flexible Future

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The big systems won’t go away, but demand for simpler, low-cost, Web-based alternatives has changed the market. 

By Rick Carter, Executive Editor

The long-common complaint among maintenance pros that their CMMS systems were too complicated may be fading. This perception—which has led to under-use and even mistrust of these systems—is being supplanted by the success and simplicity of Web-based and mobile CMMS options that fit the bill for maintenance operations of many sizes, but especially smaller to mid-sized.

“There is a lot of CMMS business out there if you have today’s technologies and price points,” says Joel Tesdall, president of Mapcon Technologies, Inc., an Iowa-based CMMS software maker with a strong offering of low-cost mobile options. “People are used to working with their mobile phones and downloading things for free or for 1.99,” he says, adding that while the trend started with private-use applications it quickly spread to business. This ushered in an era of low-cost, easy-access programs in many areas, including CMMS. “In our business, people buying $150,000 software systems will just be larger companies,” Tesdall predicts. “Now, you better have something to offer the guy who is running the machine shop down the road.”

Tesdall’s perspective is backed by a recent study from Software Advice, an online software-review firm. Its 2014 Computerized Maintenance Management Software BuyerView Study, for example, reveals that nearly half (48%) of respondents’ current maintenance-management efforts are entirely manual. Only about 22% of this group—a mix of manufacturers and managers of facilities and fleets—run a CMMS. Had the sample been composed largely of manufacturers, responses to this question would have no doubt indicated greater CMMS usage. However, the survey validates Tesdall’s belief that the field for new CMMS business is wide open: 80% of survey respondents say they expect to purchase a CMMS within three months or less.

While Tesdall’s company still offers the “full gamut” of CMMS options, he emphasizes that his new, lower-cost products open the CMMS door to a wide potential market. “You can get into Mapcon for $30 a month,” he says. “So if you have one guy who just wants to do work orders and PMs and doesn’t have much to track, we have the solution. If you want to add your tablet or phone onto that for another couple dollars a month, or buy the license and put it on your server for another 100 bucks, we’ve got it. If you’re a multinational corporation and you want 50 mobile devices and large-scale server and SQL [structured query language] database integration, we’ve got that, too.”

The flexibility Tesdall describes “is paramount in this market,” he says, and a new perspective for CMMS. “The older systems where you force your customers to run their way is not going to work in our market. You need to be flexible to the customer’s needs.”

For most CMMS makers, the need for flexibility has meant prepping for a new way of doing business. “In our mind the market has fundamentally changed,” says Brian Gay, CEO of Florida-based Champs Software. “The people who are leaving their existing systems are often going backwards in terms of their functional requirements, and it probably is because things were too complicated. I don’t know if the industry overbuilt software trying to outdo one another, but a lot of the big heavy maintenance organizations that in the past would have been wanting everything you have and more have left for the smaller systems. Now, if they don’t need everything, they don’t have to buy what I call the ‘big pig’ with all of the features.”

Champs offers its customers a fully integrated suite that can include maintenance, inventory, purchasing, safety and other elements specific to any industry. “And we can combine them any way they want, “ says Gay, who adds that instead of taking a separate product approach, Champs “puts a simple front-end on it with their own modules, but on the backend is our heavyweight functionality. We’re doing this in a Web form for a desktop and we’re building a handheld interface. And a lot of people—even larger organizations—want to go straight to the handheld options,” he says, “so we’re trying to make a solution that will play at all ends of the spectrum and do it on all the devices.”

Multi-level appeal

As Gay notes, this level of service from a CMMS provider isn’t lost on larger players, something that can occur as they manage transitions between systems or implement upgrades like SAP PM. “People will buy our system because it can take so long to get to the PM portion of a large system like SAP,” says Rona Palmer, Marketing Director at eMaint, a New Jersey-based maker of Web-based SaaS (software as a service) CMMS products. “Then they often end up using it because the larger legacy systems are not how many lean, modern companies can work and be efficient. The big guys have a great product,” she adds, “but implementation can be lengthy. With our subscription-based services, you can be up and running in weeks instead of months or years.”

Palmer says the appeal of her company’s Web-based products has grown from predominantly manufacturing uses to many others, including field-service applications, food and chemical processing, oil and gas operations, packaging, distribution, retail, commercial laundries and facilities maintenance. “It’s because people aren’t tied to computers,” she says. “They need rapid deployment, and they want to have enough standardization of SOPs, because when you’re lean, you don’t necessarily have a reliability engineer at each location. The whole beauty of the Web is that it puts everybody on one system. We are also noticing more enterprise-level systems and more requests for multiple languages because they’re rolling out a common system across the enterprise. At the enterprise level, the Web is becoming more accepted as enterprises continue to standardize on a range of cloud-based systems.”

In an interesting twist on the old complaint about CMMS complexity, the ease-of-use and flexibility of the new CMMS products is actually advancing maintenance strategies, says Palmer. “When clients search for a CMMS, they are usually practicing some form of reactive maintenance and looking to get a preventive maintenance program in place. That has been the traditional driver. Now we see clients moving from preventive maintenance to incorporating predictive techniques like vibration, thermal and lubrication into their programs. There is also an uptick in the number of clients who take advantage of our mobile solution, our purchasing and inventory tools, and our multi-site capabilities. We definitely see our clients using a greater percentage of the system’s capabilities. They want to include other things beyond work tracking and completing PMs.”

What’s next?

“Web-based and mobile-based is going to keep going,” says Tesdall. “At this point, it’s almost all of the market, as far as I’m concerned. I think more of the companies that are using the traditional client-server based CMMS packages are going to be looking to upgrade. The other one is, and it’s not just for CMMS, but all software, which is the hosted market, the SaaS. That’s going to increase. I think here you’ll see increased numbers of larger companies looking at SaaS because there is a dramatic cost savings. Dealing with hardware and the people to manage it is expensive. If they can hire a company like ours that centralizes their databases for one type of software, it’s more efficient for us and they have a cost savings. I also see the CMMS market expanding for the medium and lower-tier companies. There are more opportunities out there than less. More types of businesses are finding out they can use CMMS to manage all sorts of things.”

But despite their desire for CMMS simplicity, today’s customers still want plenty of support, says Gay. “A lot of them are looking for a hand,” he says. “They want to start using a system, but they want you to take care of everything. Because of this, I’ve built groups to support them. For example, the dot.net users, all the Web-architected solutions and all the handheld options mean that we need more employees and resources to deliver the solutions the way customers want them.” To ensure he can maintain needed customer-service levels, Gay plans to use the engineers he currently has working on “the long-term stuff” for their  ability to support what they created. “I’m right now in an office next to a nuclear power plant that is building two new units on the same site,” he says. “I have eight full-time engineers working on that project, all of whom are going to be future dot.net implementation and support people.”

At eMaint, a clear trend for their products is globalization. “Our clients are global and we need to be where they are,” says Palmer. “The Web is so ubiquitous, we currently have users in 45 countries and continue to receive requests from an increasing number of countries on every continent. We’re being asked to do things that might not have been part of a traditional CMMS, but because the software can do it, the lines are blurring. People are looking for solutions and partners. Agile, mobile, rapid—who knows what the technology will be in five years? But it doesn’t really matter how we access the Web. What device it runs on matters less and less.”

With a high level of interest from widespread and various factions, Palmer says one of the company’s challenges is to ensure it keeps pace with everything a CMMS can do as its products’ uses grow in unexpected ways. “We see clients pushing the envelope as far as what you can track with a CMMS,” she says. “Beyond the traditional items like buildings, equipment and work requests, we have clients who use the tool to track safety compliance meetings and manage things like key requests, equipment moves and vendor contracts. With a little imagination,” she adds, “there’s almost no limit to how you can apply it.”  MT

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