How to Avoid Becoming Another CMMS Implementation Failure Statistic

  • Written By:
  • Published:


Most of you are probably growing a little weary of reading articles about the high incidents of computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) implementation failures. It's scary when you think that anywhere from 40 to 80 percent (depending on who you believe) of these implementations wind up not meeting expectations.

So what's the problem? You may be surprised to learn that the problem often starts long before the implementation. For many organizations, the culprit is a flawed CMMS evaluation and selection process combined with a poorly structured implementation organization.

The intent of this article is to provide a high-level perspective on a few of the key issues that should be a focus as you evaluate, select and prepare to implement a CMMS package.

The Evaluation and Selection Process—The Importance of Business Process Flows

With hundreds of CMMS packages available, how can you ensure that you're selecting the best one for your organization? The typical evaluation process involves inviting five or six CMMS vendors to demonstrate their products to a cross-section of people in your organization. Often times, the room is full of people who can't figure out why they have been invited to the demo, and at the first cell phone ring or pager call, they are more than happy to depart. During demonstrations, the CMMS sales representatives highlight their software's unique features and functional differentiators. Often, the demonstrations are "canned" and bear little resemblance to your own business practices and procedures. After all the demos are completed (a process which could take a few months), everyone is asked to vote on the package of their choice. Invariably the final selection often comes down to a "gut feel" process rather than a structured approach which systematically analyzes and compares the CMMS products and vendors within the context of the organization's requirements.

This "do-it-yourself" approach for CMMS evaluation and selection is used by many organizations. When you consider that a CMMS package has the potential (depending on the size of the organization) of saving an organization millions of dollars each year— this is definitely the wrong approach.

I've been involved in numerous CMMS implementations in organizations of various sizes and industries. I've seen dismal failures and tremendous successes. The failures all too often used some form of a do-it-yourself evaluation and selection process and little effort was spent matching the CMMS capabilities to the organization's functional needs. On the other hand, the successes were often characterized by a detailed needs analysis based on well-documented business process flows (BPF) developed by independent and objective third party resources combined with a couple of other key ingredients I will mention later.

Any CMMS selection process and implementation project needs to involve a review of your organization's BPFs. If the BPFs are not currently documented, then you now have a great reason to document them. It's essential that all members of the implementation team and any other key personnel be involved when discussing and documenting the BPFs.

The best way to initially document the BPFs is to transcribe the verbal description of the flows onto a paper medium such as a flipchart. This gives you the opportunity to make any changes to the flows without much work as you go. It's usually an iterative approach, and is very effective in highlighting problem areas and critical interdependencies between business processes. Furthermore, it brings to the forefront valuable return on investment (ROI) opportunities in the workflow creation or optimization arena.

Keep in mind that all the flows must eventually end up linked to another. If you end up with a flow that you cannot link to another process, then there is something wrong. All the individual flows when combined make up the "Big Picture" of all the key business processes—which is really one large BPF with many branches. I try to relate it to a map of a city's road ways. You will never see a road that is not in someway attached or linked to another. The same theory applies to flows, you should never have one hanging on its own.

Once you're satisfied with the flows—they should then be transferred from the flipcharts to a flowcharting software product such as Visio, which provides a means to easily manage and distribute the BPFs. Once the Visio form has been distributed to all of the relevant individuals, these individuals can then take these flows to their respective job locations and compare to see if what they mapped is what actually transpires in their work place. Then any changes to the Visio drawings should be made and redistributed for final approval by the team members. Once this has been completed, the flows should be documented and sent to management for review and sign off. Once management has signed off, the BPF should be redistributed to all of the key employees. With the BPFs identified and documented, your organization now has an effective means by which to measure CMMS solutions and their "fit" for your organization. Using the BPF, a needs analysis can be easily documented—thereby taking a structured approach to the selection process and eliminating the gut feel and guessing. The BPF also provides your organization with a point of reference to easily respond with if challenged as to why certain decisions were made. To use the old vernacular, "You need to know what you want to get what you want" is most appropriate. For a generic sample BPF, please visit PopWare's web site

When you consider an organization with three or four sites and a few thousand employees, the overall cost of a CMMS implementation could exceed one million dollars—so spending $20,000 to even $40,000 up front to document BPF in order to ensure that the CMMS is up to the job makes sense. Cut corners where it makes sense, not where it doesn't.

In addition, you must keep in mind that your requirements will change over time. So if you're expecting to use the package for a few years, you need to carefully evaluate the CMMS vendor to ensure that it will be around and eager to support you as well as enhance or customize the CMMS package. Since this is going to be a significant investment, you'll want to be sure it returns dividends in the long term. In order to feel confident about the CMMS vendor, you'll need to get answers to the following questions:

  • How long have they been in business?

  • What is their financial situation? Do they have money in the bank, or are they running in the red?

  • How many customers do they have? What do the customers think of the product and support?

  • What is their annual research and development investment?

  • How many new customers have they gained quarter over quarter in the last two years?

  • What is their support structure and response time? Do they actually answer questions?

  • Are they a global company or a regional provider?

  • Do they have their own services division or are they totally dependent on third parties?

  • How many third parties work with this software? Are they reasonably priced and local alternatives to the primary vendor?

  • What is the product roadmap going forward—one year and five years? Does the company have vision or are they simply promoting the same old same old.

If you're spending significant time and money implementing a CMMS package you'll want to be sure that the vendor will still be around five years from now and that they will be able to quickly respond to your changing requirements, technological advancements, as well as specific changes in industry and regulatory requirements.

Once you select a vendor and begin putting together the justification for purchase, be sure the ROI case is reasonable. Since CMMS implementations can be very lengthy, it's important to show ROI as soon as possible so senior management continues to show interest. Implementations typically have three phases of progression: Crawling, Walking, and Running. Practically all companies reach the Crawling phase. Most companies reach the Walking phase and only a very few reach the Running phase. The unfortunate part is that most organizations justify their purchase of a CMMS solution based on the ROI they will achieve in the Running phase. My opinion is that you should predicate your justification on the ROI that will be achieved during the Walking phase. Consider the ROI you will achieve using the primary functions in the CMMS solution and nothing more. Any further achievements are really a plus that will make the overall implementation simply move from being a success to a great success.

The Importance of Proper Organizational Structure and Buy-in

While understanding your BPF and business needs is critical in the overall process, some organizations fail to properly structure themselves in preparation for the implementation. The implementation shouldn't just be a departmental initiative spearheaded by the maintenance group. The reality is that the CMMS will impact a number of areas in your organization (the BPF should highlight this fact) so it can't be viewed in isolation.

From an organizational perspective, a number of key elements need to be in-place before an implementation project is initiated:

Senior Management Buy In

Senior management must be 100 percent behind the project and committed to its success. They must ensure that proper funding is in place, adequate resources are available and play a role in monitoring the overall project. They may be asked to resolve conflicts, challenge rumors or address negative comments that could adversely affect the project.

A Properly Structured Internal Implementation Team

All departments need to be represented on the team, so everyone will feel that the team will try to address the broadest number of concerns as possible. This is particularly important in unionized environments, where CMMS implementations are often looked upon with suspicion. In such cases, a union representative should be included on the implementation team.

All too often the team is stacked with IT personnel. While having some IT representation is important, the team should primarily consist of representatives of the user community and encompass as many diverse roles as possible. Users bring to the table a better understanding of the process, needs, wants, and current complaints from other users that need to be addressed in order to gain end user acceptance. It should be reinforced that IT is a facilitator of the solution (a service provider) and not the driver of the implementation.

A project champion should also be identified and this person should come from the maintenance group. This individual is tasked with ensuring that the team is working together for a common goal. This person must be an arbitrator to avoid conflicts and promote a positive cohesive working team environment. If conflicts are not addressed promptly and to everyone's satisfaction, they could have a major negative impact on the overall project. This person may be the project manager but, regardless, the project manager must be truly empowered to make binding decisions and be able to enforce these decisions. Appeal of these decisions to management needs to be an option but not one that is all too easy to exercise.

Making the Best Use of External Resources

Many organizations hire an outside consulting company to help them implement the CMMS package. Some consultants specialize in specific packages and can definitely help manage the overall process. The importance of experienced external resources should not be underestimated—they can help guide you through the implementation by facilitating the decision-making process and helping you to avoid common pitfalls that tend to de-rail some implementations. They typically bring years of experience and have insights that can be of significant value to the project and the company as a whole.

If you decide to use external resources, make sure that you plan for an ongoing transfer of knowledge during the implementation. Many organizations rely too heavily on these external resources, and once the implementation is completed, find themselves with inadequate knowledge to operate the system on an on-going basis. This can severely jeopardize the implementation. From my experience, one-off activities such as data migrations should clearly be left to external resources. Activities requiring continual monitoring and tuning, such as configuration, should be owned by the internal implementation team with support from the external resources.

Try to avoid using consultants based on a daily rate with an open-ended implementation schedule. I've seen too many scenarios where implementation timeframes with consultants were not properly managed and costs skyrocketed out of control—resulting in abandoned implementations and hard questions from senior management. Where possible, look for consultants that are prepared to do fixed fee implementations. Many consultants tend to shy away from these types of engagements, but if they have a proven track record and structured methodology for implementing CMMS systems—they should know what needs to be done, how long it should take, the extent of risk involved and what is required to manage it. This approach requires a lot of upfront work defining the project plan and resource requirements that are subsequently signed off by both parties. Be aware that a fixed fee implementation places the onus on both parties to live up to expectations. Penalties may apply if there are any changes to the plan, or if you can't get the proper resources to a meeting, or haven't had the time to get material together.

The Acceptance of Change

The truth should never be hidden from users. Telling users that the new CMMS system will not have a major impact on their day-to-day activities is just asking for trouble. Users need to understand that there will be a transition process, the way they currently do things will change and sometimes it will be painful (at least in the short-term). In unionized environments the acceptance of change is crucial and sometimes difficult to embrace. CMMS projects that promise efficiency improvements are often looked upon suspiciously by union personnel as excuses for additional downsizing.

All too often there is not a focus on instilling an acceptance of change and the project fails not because of the system, but rather as a result of a refusal by the "man on the floor" to use it. Ultimately, success will be determined by the amount of system usage. As usage increases, business processes flow improves resulting in improved quantity and accuracy of data—which ultimately results in superior decision-making capabilities and greater ROI from the CMMS system.


A proper foundation must be put in place before an organization embarks on a CMMS implementation. Organizations must do their homework upfront to properly evaluate and select a CMMS application. This means thoroughly analyzing their functional requirements and the capabilities of the CMMS and the CMMS vendor. There must be complete 100 percent buy-in from senior level management for the CMMS project. Once a CMMS is selected, the implementation team must be properly assembled to support the necessary change processes that will occur. Everyone needs to be on the same page. Avoid becoming another CMMS implementation statistic—failure is not an option.

About the Author

Aleks Vujicic is a seasoned implementation consultant at PopWare Inc. He brings a unique perspective to the CMMS market through a blend of hands-on industry experience combined with many years of implementing CMMS applications across North America. This experience has helped Vujicic identify pitfalls common to CMMS implementations and issues that needed to be addressed to achieve success.

comments powered by Disqus