Cloud Computing and Your CMMS
Getting the most value from web based cloud resources.
The recent economic turmoil felt by the business world hasn't dampened the continued advancements in the technological world. Today, over one half of all cell phone users in the US own a smart phone, and tablet users increased by 20% in the last year. And users are doing much more than making phone calls and checking email on these devices; the access to books, music, movies and TV programs have forever changed the way we purchase and view media, and experts in the media industry predict this trend will continue at a tremendous rate. And inevitably, when this type of media is researched or talked about, the term “cloud computing” is thrown into the conversation. But what exactly is “the cloud”, and what does it have to do with Computerized Maintenance Management Systems, or CMMS?
To better understand cloud computing, we need to review how a system is integrated within a business. From the rise of the personal computer in the 1980's, right up to the beginning of the millennium, most software — CMMS included — was purchased off-the-shelf and installed onto an onsite workstation.
The responsibilities of the user were many; first, the hardware had to meet certain standards in order to run the system. Depending upon the complexity of the system, an IT specialist or team was employed not only for installation and integration, but to make sure the software ran smoothly and to install any patches or updates. It was also the responsibility of the user to maintain any servers or other hardware necessary in operations, and to quickly resolve problems due to crashes and other failures. In addition, a local area network could be set up, if the user wished to run the system on more than one workstation.
As advances and access to the Internet came about in the 1990's, so did the expansion of the concept of software as a service (SaaS). Rather than offering a product to the consumer, who then installs the product and takes all responsibility and control for the software, SaaS promoted the idea of housing the product on a centralized system, maintaining the product within the confines of this centralized system, and providing access to the product through the Internet, and in many cases, charging a subscription rate. Along with PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IssS (Infrastructure as a Service), this type of technology is everywhere; some common examples of this are online banking services, social media and Internet based email. The information you access does not lie within your device and its hard drive; instead, you access this data through the web. And though this delivery of services through the Internet has been referred to in many terms, the popular term—and that most embraced by consumers—has been cloud computing, though CMMS users would probably be more familiar with the term “web-based systems”.
The advantages of cloud computing—especially in CMMS development—are many. Though the users would have to maintain a system with ready Internet access, the rigors of ensuring certain hardware and server requirements are greatly lessened, as is the need for a dedicated IT specialist or team. Any crashes or computer failures would be on the developers/vendors side, which (hopefully) has the resources to quickly manage and avoid such catastrophes. In effect, the responsibility of installation and maintenance of the system is in the hands of the vendor, leaving the user with implementation and data entry and input. This has been a real boon to those businesses without the resources for high tech support.
Some users—and industry experts—have pointed towards disadvantages. By not having the software in house, control is taken from the user and is completely in the hands of the developer, creating a dependence on the developer not seen in earlier days of CMMS. Also, accessing software through the Internet leaves a business open to hacking and viruses. This is a legitimate concern, and while most businesses have taken advantage of recent encryption advances, any end user must continue to be diligent in their use of network security. Another concern is Internet access—if a business cannot connect to the service, it can't be used. But as Internet services continue in their progression to link users to even the most remote areas, this objection is losing more ground.
Cloud computing, web-based systems, mobile technology—whatever you call it, it is changing the way computerized maintenance management is used, and in a very positive way. Because the system is accessed through the Internet, it can be accessed anywhere there is an Internet connection. And it can be accessed with any device that is Internet ready. What that means to the CMMS user is this; any data pertaining to a repair or maintenance to equipment is available at the site of that service, and no special equipment is needed. A smart phone, a laptop, a tablet—any device with an Internet connection can be used. To illustrate the magnitude of this, let's look at two different maintenance service providers, each using different types of CMMS.
Company A is using a desktop-based system—maybe a few years old, but it's a good product, and the company has had no complaints. A call comes out for a repair, and a technician is sent to the site, bringing along a manual and any information printed from the system's database pertaining to the equipment being repaired. Upon inspection, however, it's discovered that the repair also involves another machine. The technician returns to the home office to get information on this piece of equipment, returns and completes the repair to both pieces of machinery. But unbeknownst to the technician, one of the parts used was recently recalled by the manufacturer, who recommends another vendor. By using the wrong part, the repair will need to be repeated in another month.
Company B, on the other hand, is using a web-based system, and making full use of cloud computing. The technician is sent on a similar repair, but has been issued a standard laptop with Internet access. It doesn't matter how many machines are down upon arrival—with access to the database, any information necessary on all assets is available. This can include manuals, photos, diagrams, special instructions, and even animations and video. During the repair, the technician receives a real-time update on the recalled part, and makes the necessary replacement. Looking at these two scenarios, it's easy to see which method saved both time and money. And through the use of mobile technologies such as this, necessary information such as employee schedules, training, inventory and supply consumption, and tools for better quality inspections are literally in your hands.
Cloud computing may be a foreign term to some CMMS users, but for the maintenance provider who wants to stay ahead of the competition, it is just one more way CMMS can cut costs and increase profits.