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.

Indeed, the ability to generate reports on parameters ranging from the big picture to the smallest detail is one of the software's greatest benefits. A typical set of reports compares “demand maintenance” (DM—responding to a problem) to preventive maintenance (PM—maintaining equipment to prevent problems), showing the percentage of each for every individual facility or even each piece of equipment.

All this data is impossible to analyze manually. “There are so many controls and systems in a big building that we rely on it heavily,” says Venu Gupta, Milwaukee's superintendent of buildings and fleets. “It's just not cost effective to have people trying to gather all this data.”

Budgeting for the Investment

Professional building managers use the system to improve the ratio of planned to unplanned work, with the goal of moving unplanned work as near to zero as possible. But like any software, a CMMS requires a commitment. Therefore:

  • Get buy-in from employees as well as elected officials. Design and construction represent 15% of a building's lifetime cost. Thus, maintenance is an essential part of building operation, not a necessary evil, and employees need to see how much better life is in a planned rather than reactive environment.
  • Determine what you want the system to do. Will it be just for maintenance or will it also provide input to accounting and budgeting? Do you want it to control spare parts stores? Do you want it to feed into the purchasing system? Are there intelligent building systems to interface with? Will it be used for non-facility assets?
  • Ensure adequate resources for ongoing as well as initial data entry. While the base price of many systems hovers around $1000, that's just the initial investment. For every $1 spent on the software, expect to spend $2 to $3 for implementation, training, and data entry.

“We had extensive training to get the mechanics computer literate to where they could enter their hours,” says Gates. “It took them a while to get accustomed to it, but now they like it.”

“The best way to do it is to have everyone's hands in there,” says Joe Jacobsen, former director of operations and maintenance for Milwaukee. His employees scheduled maintenance based on manufacturer recommendations, then tweaked it based on their experience with the equipment. The city's system tracks 120 tasks and 1800 pieces of equipment.

One big benefit to cities, which all face an aging workforce, is the ability to retain organizational memory. When the most experienced managers and workers depart, they won't take everything they know with them because much of it resides in the software.

“The job of facility manager has changed,” Kohal says. “They need to speak to senior management in financial terms. They need to have accountability, to incorporate Six Sigma and Lean methods into their processes. There are a lot of different aspects to being a facility director today.”

—Palmer is a construction writer based in Lyons, Colo., and former editor of Public Works.

Web Extra:

To see how much time Milwaukee spends on preventive maintenance versus emergency repairs on its 50 buildings, click here

Read the sidebar, Meaningful Measurements.