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CMMS: back to the future

CMMS: back to the future

Thursday 09 april 2020

Do you remember when road maps only existed on paper? Would you do without Waze or Maps today to come back to them? No, I wouldn't! The same goes for maintenance management software. The good news: CMMS is becoming more and more accessible, ever cheaper, ever easier to use, and now as mobile as you are.

The first steps

Back, not so long ago, in the 1970s with the first computerized invention to monitor the proper execution of maintenance actions. CMMS [Computerized Maintenance Management System] is not yet called CMMS [Computerized Maintenance Management System] since computer assistance is very limited. Technicians use cards that they punch out to confirm the correct execution of their maintenance tasks. They can then insert them into a computer via a specific reader. It should be noted, however, that the computer in question refers to IBM's first systems, the mainframes, which were extremely expensive, bulky and reserved exclusively for multinational firms.

And does the process seem laborious to you? You're right, it does. Yet this system highlights the most essential functionality when it comes to maintenance: the collection and centralization of information. A problem that has been occupying the players in maintenance, whether in the service or industrial sectors, ever since, and to which software publishers are trying to respond. The challenge is to optimise the information flow from the on-site technician to the manager and then to the customer, while at the same time keeping a record of the data collected so that it is immediately available to facilitate the next diagnosis.

But, let's not go too fast... at the turn of the 70s and 80s, mini-computers appeared, to put it mildly, because they continued to occupy the space of an entire room, and with them the possibility of entering basic information from a console, and that's about it. It was at this time that the acronym CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System) was coined. In fact, these systems only allow the recording of structured information, and still only offer a limited number of possible treatments. From data entry, to data entry, to data entry, to data entry.

Another technological limit: the need to store on the servers of the company with bugs, breakdowns which are commonplace. Let us also note the difficulties linked to the deployment of each update, which not only take a lot of time, but are also risky for the conservation of the data.

The micro-computing revolution

The first democratization of CMMS will appear at the same time as the surge of microcomputing and PCs in companies. At the end of the 80s, many software programs for monitoring interventions and managing maintenance were developed. They were mainly developed using dBase and then Access technologies. Although these solutions remain limited in terms of the number of simultaneous users, information sharing capacity and do not yet offer a mobility solution, they provide maintenance managers with the possibility of registering their equipment base, structuring the information and generating curative and preventive intervention orders. However, these must always be printed out and completed using a pen: paper, paper, paper, paper. An important step forward but not yet a revolution...

1995: Internet is here and will spread like lightning. However, it will take several years before CMMS solutions are available in the browser.

2007: the cloud and mobility revolution

And it is really the advent of Cloud Computing that will revolutionize CMMS solutions. The generalization of individual Internet access and the use of online hosts will allow publishers to benefit from greater execution power, at an ever lower cost. They will therefore be able to generalise lighter and more modular solutions for maintenance management.

We are in the 2010's, CMMS is now accessible to all company profiles, without restrictions of size or computer knowledge. This is really good news for maintenance service providers!

Over the last decade, CMMS has continued to progress and has been enriched with functionalities that promote both the execution of tasks by technicians, on site or on mobility, and decision-making for managers thanks to the creation and processing of statistics and KPIs.

Today, CMMS must be as mobile as the technicians it accompanies, in their pocket, throughout the day. Accessible from any smartphone, even without an internet connection, it allows them to access all the information they need to ensure the smooth running of the intervention, to enrich the database with new data, to share information and to communicate in real time with their managers and customers. It's something else than the paper intervention sheets, isn't it?

Mobile access also opens up the field to other functionalities: scanning QR codes and barcodes on the equipment to be maintained and on the spare parts consumed, viewing notices and other technical documents, voice recognition, geographical positioning, and since maintenance is much more about images than words, adding photos to document the reports to be sent to the customer, recording videos, etc.

Of course, modern CMMS make it possible to plan and monitor interventions, quickly generate detailed reports, but above all to manage preventive maintenance actions. Execution of the maintenance plan, access to the equipment history, construction of the digital maintenance log, etc., are the epicentre of efficient maintenance management. Then, other functionalities come gravitate according to the real needs of each entity: estimates, invoices, stocks, purchase management etc., it is a real call for editors to provide a software that is both complete and modular, customizable for each of its users.

And this is where CMMS that have successfully taken advantage of technological developments come into their own: they are capable of adapting to the needs of each company, regardless of the number of assets, equipment, users, intervention sites and maintenance requirements. More importantly, CMMS is a guarantee of company growth, and will support it by adapting to the new needs of companies as they grow, whether by adding features or additional users. In short, if your CMMS reminds you of a movie from the 90s, or an improved Excel, you will soon find yourself stuck, facing competitors and customers living in an ultra-connected world.

Knowing and predicting: Predictive Maintenance

Technological innovations lead us to predictive maintenance: a slight abuse of language here since maintenance managers are not yet able to predict the future, (let's leave it to astrologers and other tarologists ...) but rather rely on predictions to optimize their maintenance operations. A constant goal: to reduce the probability of breakdowns and optimize the life cycle of assets, without ever reaching the breaking point. Predictive maintenance seeks to find the right balance between corrective maintenance, which is rather an a posteriori treatment, the failure being the event that triggers the maintenance, and preventive maintenance based on anticipation: changing a part regularly, even if it is not yet faulty, worn, to avoid a production stop.

Indeed, predictive maintenance is becoming widespread thanks to the implementation of several mechanisms: it can be the implementation of sensors echoing the IOT and even the IIOT, the creation of a failure scheme based on the mass of information held within the CMMS, principles already widely used in the industry to establish maintenance plans as well as "intelligent" algorithms. But how far can we go in this process? What if tomorrow, predictive maintenance was dictated by artificial intelligence (AI)?

Say Siri, when will the next breakdown be?

There was a time when artificial intelligence was reserved for science fiction movies. To say that the future of CMMS will incorporate AI is already a given: the Statista organization estimates that it will be used for predictive maintenance to the tune of 5 billion euros (cumulative turnover between 2016 and 2025). So why don't we have (yet), in the CMMS field, AI like Siri or Alexa?

AI as we know it today can be qualified as Narrow Artificial Intelligence, understanding a rather weak, narrow AI, able to perform a single task: playing chess, predicting the weather, ranking web pages or answering our questions. In other words, robots programmed to act within the framework we have given them. However, and this is particularly true in the world of maintenance, sometimes you have to go outside the framework, cross knowledge and experience, sometimes even venture a little off the beaten track to find the solution to the problem.

And this process is particularly difficult for a machine. As humans, we accumulate a lot of knowledge and experience in a very informal way and, above all, we never stop learning. If the learning process for AI (machine learning) consists only of associating rules with constants, we are still far from having a robot capable of replacing a human. Thus, to set up an active learning machine, we must also accept to voluntarily let the failure happen, so that the AI can learn from its error.

Remember the punch cards ... data collection alone is not enough to solve a problem and it is not the statistical processing that makes the decisions. Maintenance remains an area where human observation, interpretation and analysis, still unmatched by machines, must remain at the forefront.

This is why, we are convinced that the future of CMMS lies in supporting the players and men and women in the field who have to manage increasingly complex maintenance operations and workflows. CMMS must take advantage of technological progress to generalize the prescriptive power of software, capable of processing and analyzing large quantities of data more quickly, leaving it up to humans, who, far from being infallible either, will at least be able to justify their choices.

So, are you ready to move on to a CMMS that puts humans first ?

By the way, our ambition is to offer an unparalleled user experience. Check it out right away: try CMMS for free. Within 2 minutes, the time it takes to create your account, you'll discover what's newest in this category of software.

You can also benefit from a demonstration led by one of our consultants: book a videoconference

Good discovery and see you soon.


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