Simplicity is king!

Published:  17 May, 2008

There are still a lot of people out there that think an Access database or Excel spreadsheet is sufficient to keep some simple maintenance records - not realising there are some very cost effective and slick Computerised Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) solutions out there.

There has been a significant shift in everyone's use of technology over the last decade or so. When you go home you order shopping online, book your holidays online, people are generally more comfortable with IT. There is much more readily acceptable use of technology. But the challenge in industry today is to harness technology in a way that people will be happy and comfortable to use. Once this has been achieved the benefits of CMMS technology are numerous.

David Hipkin, group managing director of SoftSols Group explains: "A CMMS will allow a company to maintain records with a system that is readily accessible to anyone that needs it. Too often the little system in the corner is the domain of the guy who"s built it or running it, he knows how it works, and he can get the information out of it when he needs it. But it’s not doing anything to help the business generally. If that person walks the system generally walks with him.

“Whereas a decent CMMS system can give plant operatives on the night shift for example the ability to say ok it’s broken again, what did we do last time – they can find out how they solved it,  what other work is coming up and what technical  information have they got. The plant knowledge is not in one person’s head – it’s available to everyone. That’s the big thing we’re trying to push.”

A CMMS helps to retain the knowledge of its engineers by storing histories of problems and solutions – this then becomes a company asset rather that the sole possession of an individual.

Hipkin comments: “Focus on making sure that the system you’re looking for is something that’s going to be used; that end-users will find acceptable; and keep your requirements as simple as possible.”

He highlights there are all types of bells and whistles around the edge that you might need  but he emphasises there is a core set of feature you will typically need that gives all the big benefits, and “you need to find the product that is really focused on making that slick and efficient, a really nice work order system”.

Hipkin gives the example of the BP Texas refinery: “The disaster happened out there a few years back – the official findings found that a major contributing factor was the fact that BP was trying to run their maintenance system with an accounting suite - it was SAP. The only way they knew that something had been maintained was whether someone had booked some time to the work order or whether someone had booked some parts out of the stores, there wasn’t rigorous fault reporting and comments from the engineers and documented work instructions and the kind of stuff you would expect in a maintenance environment to give the rigor that the engineering team would need.”



When it comes to CMMS, integration is a key ingredient, which Hipkin highlights: “When you’re sat in the maintenance world wanting to find a solution you should be looking for things that say CMMS, EAM (Enterprise Asset Management) because their focus is on engineering first and would expect, depending on how big you are and the demands of the organisation, some level of integration – which is another big change in the sector – the ability to integrate systems.

“We’ve got sites where the end user has got to use the corporate ERP for his stock control and purchasing but they want a solution for managing their work and scheduling their engineers and keeping all their histories. For example what parts did I use and where did I get them from and how much did it cost? This would help to ascertain the full cost of the work order and how much was spent maintaining that asset.

“Today’s integration means that with the right supplier you can bolt things together. SoftSols Group has for example integrated with Microsoft Navision, which sends Agility (SoftSols Group’s CMMS software package) details of all the stock transactions and they get posted against a work order - therefore all the costs and transactions are available to the maintenance team. That’s part of the growth and scalability. You might start by thinking you only want a work order system but where does stock fit into the equation and how are you going to get the full picture?”


CMMS maze

The CMMS market is a maze for experienced users, never mind beginners, so how do you choose the right system for your business?

Hipkin explains: “If it’s because some auditor is breathing down their neck and they just need to get some compliance in then you can keep that quite simple and straight forward – but don’t just go out and buy something that is going to limit you – I’m not advocating to go and look through all the check lists, because there’s an awful lot of people that have bought an awful lot of things they didn’t actually need and that they’ve never used. All the suppliers are out there with features upon features trying to differentiate themselves. It’s like buying a car, how many times have you used additional features that have no practical use or real benefit?

“It’s still very much the case that many products on the market are overly complicated –people are surveying the market, going around looking at all suppliers, and they just come back to us and say: 'you know what I can see looks different, I can see why people are using it, I can understand where you’re coming from and can see the information and I can figure out how to use it.’ Whereas so many of the other products are still out there with massive list of features on the front screen – with customers asking questions of ‘where do I start?’ And ‘how many weeks of programming are going to be needed?’

“So don’t be fooled by fancy extras. But you do need to look beyond the immediate, and say where is this thing heading – I’ve got this problem now, but if I’m looking at my world of engineering where can I get benefits for the business in the future?”

Hipkin also emphasises a CMMS’ green credentials such the ability to record information readings of energy usage, and help to monitor a company’s carbon footprint, which is an obvious advantage and increasing priority for many businesses.


The right platform

As a CMMS developer, Hipkin explains his company, SoftSols Group, recognised a few years ago that technology was changing and changing fast and the company needed to be on the right platform to enable it to be build solutions for the future: “So we invested a huge amount of time, effort, and money into developing an environment that would allow us to build a maintenance system that would start delivering the benefits of simplicity, integration, and scalability as well as much more. Our approach was to develop something provided the core functionality and delivered the big benefits very cost effectively, i.e. the asset register, work order control, keeping your history, and scheduling preventive maintenance, and then stores and procurement in its simplest form.

“But in addition we built our system so we could develop it in such a way that when someone said ‘right I want to hook into my RFID store system we had the platform that could do that.’ When someone said ‘I want to integrate my facilities helpdesk system into your product’ we could just accept the job and pass it all through. – so we have that open environment for integration.

“But also we built the product in such a way that more simply when the customer said ‘my engineers are being really resistant to completing work orders - I want to make it as simple as possible’ – we can turn round and say what makes it simple? They might respond – ‘Well all they need to record for me is a completion comment, capture the time it took and the fault code and that’s it.’ So we’ve built our system so that every screen can be tailored if the customer wants it to be, and that tailoring in most cases is to take things away and to make it simple and as straight forward as possible for the end user. If we simplify their options and focus their view  it becomes just another tool in their toolbox that an engineer uses day-in and day-out.

“Delivering simplicity to the end user is at the core of our products.”

Hipkin concludes that a CMMS has some big benefits to help manufacturers be more efficient in these increasingly volatile economic times and industry can no longer ignore these benefits and need to invest in CMMS.


For more information please visit:


Sign up for the PWE newsletter

Latest issue

To view a digital copy of the latest issue of Plant & Works Engineering, click here.

View the past issue archive here.

To subscribe to the journal please click here.

To read the official BCAS Compressed Air & Vacuum Technology Guide 2018 click the image


"How is your manufacturing business preparing for a net Zero target?"


Events Diary