Programmed for Performance

Selecting the right computerize maintenance-management system starts with a determination of needs and budget.

Decades of budget cuts, insufficient building upkeep and neglect have led to the deterioration of America's education infrastructure. But if proper preventive-maintenance (PM) programs were in place during this time, would the nation's maintenance backlog be any different?

Studies have shown that an effective PM program, which typically costs approximately $3 per square foot each year, can easily avoid twice that amount in emergency repairs and other unscheduled corrective measures. Reason would dictate that, if anything, many of our schools would be in much better physical shape today as a result of an effective PM program.

Making maintenance count Accurate and timely recordkeeping form the cornerstone of an effective PM program. Previously, many schools made due with paper-based work-order systems that tracked PM schedules and equipment histories. This method is not the most efficient in today's high-tech world.

By integrating a computerized maintenance-management system (CMMS) into schools, the maintenance department's efficiency can be increased. In addition, since data will be available quicker, a district should see lower maintenance costs.

Currently, there are so many CMMS programs on the market that it is impossible to review product literature on every program to find the one that will be of the most benefit to your particular operation. Therefore, it is important to ask the right questions and plan in advance.

The first and most important step in the search for a program is to define the maintenance department's needs and budget. Most maintenance managers require a CMMS to do four basic tasks: -Automatically generate PM work orders through a variety of flexible scheduling options. -Allow for quick, easy entry and printing of corrective-maintenance work orders. -Track inventory and spare parts. -Provide a variety of informative reports for tracking and evaluating maintenance operations.

This list may be longer in some larger maintenance operations. However, do not choose a CMMS based on a salesperson's lengthy recitation of the program's features and capabilities. Programs with extremely long lists of capabilities can be expensive and very complex, and no program is beneficial if the staff is too intimidated to use it. If a program with extensive capabilities is needed, then purchase one with extensive capabilities. But, if a basic program will do the job, purchase a basic program.

Narrow the list of possible programs to those that appear to best meet the defined list of needs and budget, and request literature and references for review.

Time for evaluation Next, narrow the list of potential programs by evaluating the vendors. Determine what services and qualifications will be needed from the vendor to make the software implementation process a smooth one and the continuing use of the program cost-effective and trouble-free.

It is common for first-time CMMS buyers to underestimate the time necessary to get the program up and running. Depending on the size of the maintenance operation and the CMMS program, schools may spend days or weeks on initial entry of data into the CMMS just to make the program operational.

The goal in every case is to get the CMMS up and running as quickly as possible, with minimal disruption to the maintenance operation. Most vendors offer software training and implementation services as optional add-on services, and vendors under consideration should have a strong reputation for customer support after the sale.

Training may occur at the school, at the vendor's office or at a central location, and should be comprehensive and hands-on. One way to evaluate the quality of a vendor's training program is to call some references and ask opinions of the training.

Implementing the program The need for implementation assistance varies. Implementation services are designed to make sure the CMMS is set up and operating correctly. The services may range from data entry and software setup, to software customizations, to extensive research into each of the client's equipment items and maintenance procedures, or all of the above. Ideally, the vendor's implementation team will act as an extension of the school's maintenance department to ensure that all services are compatible with current procedures and practices.

The vendor's implementation team should be knowledgeable of all technical aspects of building components and the required maintenance associated with the components, so they are able to offer suggestions for streamlining the ongoing maintenance process.

A qualified implementation service package will offer a maintenance team to visit the district to gather the data necessary for correct implementation. Require the vendor to meet with maintenance staff to discuss current corrective- and preventive-maintenance procedures and inventory control. Confirm in advance that the supplier has access to specific equipment manufacturers' maintenance procedures, including the supplier's library of maintenance procedures or direct contact with equipment manufacturers.

After narrowing the list of possible vendors, contact some of the references. Questions that should be posed to references include: -Are you using the software? -Does the software do everything the vendor said it would do? -Did you encounter any unexpected problems with the CMMS software? If so, how were they handled by the vendor? -Has the vendor remained in contact with you since your purchase to make sure everything is still going smoothly? -How frequently are software upgrades made available? Are the upgrades valuable and part of the annual license or maintenance fee? -Does the vendor seek feedback from you regarding future software upgrades? If so, how (questionnaires, user groups, phone calls, etc.)? -Does the vendor listen to and respond to your suggestions? -What level of technical support (service after the sale) is available, and what does it cost?

Once the list of qualified vendors has been reduced to three to five, evaluate the actual software programs. Software evaluations may be done through meetings with sales representatives, by obtaining a fully-operational demonstration copy of the CMMS program, or both. It is safest to do both, but minimally, a demonstration copy of the program should be obtained and implemented. This test drive allows for an extended look at exactly what is to be purchased. Important points to look for include: -Software that is easy to implement and use. -Documentation or online help that is complete, and easy to follow and understand. -Good technical support. -Quick data input and output. -A library of reports that provide the data necessary for more efficient maintenance tracking and management.

Also, determine if training or implementation services will be needed for a smooth transition to the CMMS.

If one CMMS completes the evaluation period as a clear leader, and it meets all of the criteria discussed, your decision is made. If two or more programs produce favorable test-drive results, contact each vendor again for another round or two of questioning and negotiating.

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