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  • Ruth Wallsgrove

What do CMMS and flares have in common?

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

They are coming back into fashion….

Co-creator of Asset Management Dr Penny Burns talks about waves in our development: first there was maintenance and reliability engineering, then ‘Asset Inventory’, before we saw the emergence of Strategic Asset Management and the optimisation of asset system decisions (

Some are a little stuck in the Asset Inventory stage. Collecting basic asset data about what assets we have.

CMMSs – computerised maintenance management systems, AKA work management or even ‘EAMS’ – come from maintenance thinking, but they became a must-have for Asset Inventory from the 1990s on. The technology is straightforward (a CMMS is a transactional database), but it is striking how many implementations haven’t been that great. And they are not great because they weren’t solidly designed around who was going to use them, or what the data they stored was going to be used for, beyond work orders.

One key function they provide is for collecting failure history, for building up our understanding how often and why we get asset functional failures. But they can only store this data usefully if we understand how to record it. That is, if we define what counts as a failure, and a sensible way to capture a failure with its failure mode. This is normally, and usefully, done by a series of appropriate failure codes.

But – and you know there is a but – people only do this well if they understand how they are going to use this failure history. If they kinda skipped that maintenance and reliability engineering phase, they may well not even realise that failure history is key. They don’t know about deterioration or degradation modelling, about modelling the likelihood of failure, and how vital that is for predicting any non-random asset risk.

It turns out that focusing on implementing big dumb IT systems to store data doesn’t really work if you don’t know how you want to use the data. If you don’t think ahead to how that data is going to support important decisions, you don’t know why it’s important to get it right. You may not look at the right things, or be able to explain to anyone why it’s vital to collect accurate and complete data. It just becomes another painful task at the end of a full day’s maintaining, and it’s hard to get motivated when someone doesn’t really believe it will ever be used.

Who knew?

It turns out to that we have to see Asset Inventory in context. What data is important, from reliability thinking, and how it will be used to optimise decisions. In maintenance and Strategic Asset Management.

And that is why… the term Computerised Maintenance Management System is coming back in, to remind everyone of where this really comes from.

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