January 26, 2023
CMMS vs. Spreadsheets
Last weekend, my friend Bob invited me over for dinner that he'd cook up on his new grill. While we waited for the steaks to finish marinating, he suggested a few games of pool in his basement game room. During the first game, he seemed preoccupied, not focusing on the shots. I easily won.
While he racked the balls for the second game, I asked, "Something on your mind, Bob? You usually clear the table if I miss."
He nodded. "You're right, Steve. I've been stewing about something at work for a couple of days."
"You're at that processing plant south of town."
"Right. In the maintenance department."
"What's up?" I asked. "Something you can talk about?"
He positioned the grouped balls and carefully removed the rack. I lined up and fired the cue ball at the pack. After the chaos settled, I saw nothing had dropped.
Bob walked to the side of the table to line up his shot. "My supervisor and I have been considering investing in a computerized maintenance management system. Currently, we've been using spreadsheets."
"How is that working?"
He shrugged. "Pretty well up until lately. The company has grown, and we've been seeing a lot of disorganization creeping in. Too many pieces of equipment breaking down, inventory issues, workload increases, but the crew doesn't seem to be gaining any ground."
I waited until he sank the two-ball. "That's understandable. Why the hesitation in the new system?"
"We've been debating the merits of each." He drove the cue ball into the six. As the green ball dropped into a side pocket, the cue ball ricocheted into position for his next shot.
"Tell me about them," I said.
"Well, the spreadsheet merits are easy," he said. "It's worked for us for years because of the simplicity. We're using a free version. It doesn't take a lot of training. It's pretty basic. Each page can be a list of equipment and inventory.
I watched him sink the four-ball. "That's an awful lot of data. I've seen the size of your buildings out there. Must be a lot of equipment."
"Sure, but it's easy to move rows or columns." He lined up and popped the three-ball into a corner pocket.
"Anything else?" I asked.
"We use it for some simple cost summaries. It's great for keeping a running tab. Plus, it gives us a nice overview of the data. Easily editable to update when the last preventive maintenance was done, to know what parts are used, and how many we have left in stock." He easily tapped in the five-ball. I figured he was on a good roll, and my only chance had been at the outset.
"I agree." I watched him judge the angle for the shot at the one. "But there are limits to each of those."
"That's what my supervisor and I have noticed," he said.
He concentrated on a tricky shot. The cue ball barely banked off the side and nudged the one-ball into the corner pocket. He had the five and the seven left before his final shot.
"I'm not going to disparage the freebie and minimal training," I said. "However, aren't you scrolling through a lot of rows for each piece of equipment?"
"Plus, are you going out to infinite columns for PM data?"
"We did for a while," he said. "Now, we just change the date every time." He knocked in the seven by a show-off jump over the thirteen.
"So, you have no record of previous PMs."
"Let's shift over to inventory," I said. "You're having to manually change quantities with each work order."
"Right." He squeaked chalk onto the end of his cue stick and studied the table. The seven was tucked next to the ten against a cushion with no straight shot. "Last week, though, we ran out of a vital part and had to do a fast reorder. One machine was down for a couple of days."
"Someone forgot to update the total?" I suggested.
He frowned and nodded. "The floor manager was not happy." He whizzed the cue ball at an angle with a counterclockwise spin. It knocked the seven-ball away from the cushion. I watched the seven slowly roll toward the side pocket, seem to hesitate for a second at the edge, then drop in. Bob's frown turned to a smile. With his next shot, he won the game.
I collected the balls and the rack for the third game. While arranging them, I asked, "So what have you discovered about a CMMS?"
"We were just getting into that at the end of shift Friday."
I removed the wooden triangle, set it aside, and waited for his opening salvo. Bob exploded the pack but while balls caromed off each other and the cushions, none dropped.
"Let me tell you a couple 'liabilities.'" I gave the last word mock importance. "First, it'll be an expenditure. The cost will be determined by what modules you need, how many assets, and users you'll have along with other variables."
"Bob, if you have a quality system, you'll see the investment pay off through increased productivity, reduced unplanned downtime, and better inventory control.
"Hold on," I interrupted, then paused to sink the fifteen. "Let me give one other issue you'll have to be aware of. Training. You'll be spending a bit more time learning the system than you did the spreadsheets."
"We thought of that," he said.
"Look at it this way, though. You took time to learn spreadsheets and even more time learning the duties and responsibilities of the job, right?"
I dropped the ten. The ricochet hit the thirteen ball, which fell into a corner pocket. "And with time, the CMMS will become familiar, especially if you find a system that is easy to navigate."
"How does it stack up against the spreadsheet?" he asked.
I chalked my cue stick. "Everything we talked about; the CMMS can do better."
"No more stockouts." I eyed the angle for the eleven. "You set a minimum threshold and the system can generate a purchase order. You'll also be able to reserve tools and parts for special jobs, so they'll be available."
"That would be good."
"Every so often, do a physical count, but the system will help you generate the count sheets and reconcile the totals. It also keeps a history of nearly everything you do, from changes to updates."
"Yeah, we do regular counts."
"Do it with a mobile app." I tapped in the eleven. "Schedule PMs. Track equipment depreciation. Set up crews. Track labor hours."
"That's a lot," Bob said. "As I said, we've grown and thinking of adding on to our storage building."
I held up a finger. "One sec." I banked the fourteen off two rails into a corner pocket. "Yep, a quality CMMS can help track costs and materials for those extra projects."
"Anything else?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I've only scratched the surface, Bob. Your department makes purchases, correct?"
"Sure, we deliver all the invoices to Accounting. They have their own system."
I caromed off the twelve (which went into a side pocket) and set myself up perfectly for the last striped ball. "How'd you like your CMMS to transfer the invoices to Accounting?"
"It can do that?"
"Your CMMS vendor will set you up to integrate with it."
"That would save time."
"The system will handle purchase orders and track on-time compliance for your suppliers and workers."
"That would help productivity."
I nudged the nine into a hole and set up for my last shot. "The best thing, Bob, is if you get the right system, you'll be able to generate a slew of reports. Filter them down to the exact numbers you want."
With a solid hit, the eight ball thunked into a side pocket.
"Don't get rid of the spreadsheet, though. You might opt to send those reports to be displayed as a spreadsheet as well as to get a nice overview of equipment and inventory lists."
He exhaled in frustration. "That's all too much to take in, Steve. A lot to consider."
"Don't sweat it, Bob. The best thing to do is to get with your supervisor and determine exactly what you want from a CMMS. Make some lists and do a little planning. That way, when you call a CMMS company, you'll have a better picture of what to look for."
He pursed his lips and gathered up the pool balls. "I suppose you have a suggestion on whom to call."
I was already ahead of him. I tossed a business card onto the green felt. "Mapcon Technologies, Bob. They'll have what you need. Schedule a free demo and ask as many questions as you want. If you invest in the system and later want something customized, they'll do it for you."
He studied the card. "Mapcon. Sales number is 800-922-4336." He looked at me. "I suppose if we go with them, the support team is thousands of miles away overseas."
I shook my head. "Nope. Support is 800-227-4791, and you'll reach Des Moines, Iowa."
He nodded. "Thanks, Steve. I'll talk to the boss first thing Monday."
"You won't regret it." I slotted the cue stick into the wall-mounted holder. "How about we check on those steaks? I'm hungry."
*Thanks goes to Hubspot for various points in the above discussion.