Left: For buildings such as its 79-year-old city hall, Los Angeles recently replaced its 10-year-old maintenance-management system (MRO Software's Maximo) with a Web-based program (Aleier's FM1j) that has lease- and project-management functionality. “We're working to implement that now,” says building maintenance superintendent Dan Eason.

While many cities use geographic information systems (GIS) combined with asset management software to manage infrastructure, buildings often get short shrift. Forward-thinking facility managers, however, are also using technology—in the form of computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS)—to bring their role out of the basement and into the modern world.

In its crudest form, these systems are a scheduling tool. But when deployed at their highest level, they empower managers to show even the least technical budget watchdog how $1 spent on preventive maintenance saves $2 or more through extended equipment life and reduced energy costs—or what to budget for labor and materials to keep buildings at their current level of operation.

Manipulate Data For Custom Analyses

The most important thing the software provides is a complete picture of a community's investment in its facilities. It inventories and tracks every piece of equipment and every part—from an air-handling unit to the bearing in a ceiling fan—in every public building.

The software identifies when each piece of equipment in a building was purchased, what maintenance it has received and when, and what's scheduled to be done. When the scheduled time arrives, the system automatically generates a work order and sends it to the appropriate employee.

Instead of digging through an old, often incomplete, paper file, the employee can then look up the equipment's history and get up-to-the-minute technical data. User manuals, drawings, lists of tools and parts needed, safety reminders, even maps of where the equipment is located, can be attached to the work order. Such complete documentation, even in languages other than English, is a key benefit when less-skilled or -experienced workers are maintaining complex equipment.

When parts are needed for scheduled maintenance, the system will have ordered them, or issued a requisition indicating when they'll be needed, well in advance. The system can even predict, based on experience, when equipment will break down.

“We have it connected so that any problem on equipment being monitored automatically sends an alarm to the system, which then creates a work order,” says Brian Gates, facility maintenance manager for the city of Milwaukee. His department uses Eagle Technology's ProTeus software because it's compatible with the Johnson Controls Inc. building automation systems installed in the city's 50 buildings. Both manufacturers are located in the Milwaukee area.

“On Monday, we print out all the preventive maintenance work orders that are scheduled to be done that week,” says Gates. “Work orders for both preventive and demand maintenance are assigned, the maintenance staff performs the work, and then they close out the work orders themselves. We require them to account for their entire 40 hours each week with all their time assigned to a specific project.”

Another valuable feature is the ability to capture how long it takes individual employees to complete a given task. “As workers do different tasks, you get a history of how long a task should take,” says Harry Kohal, Eagle Technology's sales and marketing director. “This gives managers data to look at from a performance review standpoint.”