A Candid Lesson on How to Compare Software from Different Vendors
by guest blogger Chris Olsen
Would you ask a sales rep for pointers on selecting maintenance or asset management software? You might assume you'd get a biased response. Consider, though, that salespeople have a unique perspective, informed by listening to hundreds (even thousands) of shoppers looking for the same product you’re looking for. Their perspectives can provide valuable additional data points in your software search.
I had a customer ask me some smart questions recently about evaluating vendors. I think product, price, and company are good categories to organize your thinking about software purchases. Today I’ll share some of my thoughts on evaluating product attributes. In articles to follow, I’ll address price and company considerations.
The Product: Key Considerations
To achieve the best results with maintenance/asset management software, your staff should be able to use the software easily, and the software needs to have a comprehensive set of features and functions.
Ease of Use
You can be the best judge of this aspect because you know your staff. Ask yourself these five questions to guide your considerations about ease of use.
- How computer savvy is my staff? If some of your staff are unlikely to use any computer, make sure the software you’re considering accommodates users who will only be comfortable with paper processes. For instance, you should be able to print out work orders and easily incorporate their use with online usage.
- How important is mobile usage to my team now and in the future? A growing number of users are at the other end of the spectrum from “paper-only” users. They only want to enter and view data on handheld devices or tablets. Mobile technology is fast becoming the most important interface for maintenance professionals who do most of their work away from the office computer. Make sure your vendor has a mobile app that’s purpose-built for the devices your team will be using.
- Will I be able to easily configure the software to my custom needs? Be sure to ask your vendor how easy it is to configure the system to match your workflow, terminology, security, and language needs. You should be able to customize these settings yourself, without relying on your IT staff or the vendor, or incurring service fees.
- Is the software I’m evaluating purpose-built for maintenance and asset management? Employees are generally happier with software that’s written specifically for the jobs they’re doing. Be wary of general-purpose software that has been retrofitted for asset management or maintenance tracking usage.
- Is the software easy to access from any computer? Today’s leading solutions offer access through a standard web browser, like Internet Explorer or Firefox. It’s the easiest way to access software and doesn’t require special software installed on your desktop or laptop machine. It's best to find a vendor that offers both the option to install the software locally on your company servers, or to have it professionally managed on a hosted server.
Comprehensive Feature Set
When your CMMS implementation is successful, the last thing you’ll want to learn later is that you don’t have room to grow. Ask yourself these three important questions when you’re evaluating the depth and breadth of an application’s features and functions.
- Does the software include advanced features—or the option to add them? Advanced features like condition-based maintenance, cost center budgeting, and advanced inventory tracking can become important as your organization matures. You may not use these functions initially—and shouldn’t have to pay for them right out of the gate—but make sure there's a reasonable upgrade path. You might need to add them later.
- Will I be able to easily integrate it with other systems? If software becomes an “island,” its usefulness is limited and staff may be forced to learn and use other systems. Look for software based on industry-standard technologies so it can easily integrate with other standard software applications, like accounting, HR, and building automation. Ideally, you should be able to set up integrations and data exchanges yourself, without calling on your IT staff, the vendor, or expensive consultants.
- Will the software share data across multiple sites? If your organization has multiple sites, each with their own maintenance manager, you’ll need software that allows each site to operate independently, but still allows easy information sharing across sites. Be sure you can consolidate reporting at the regional or corporate level, if needed.
Check back for more of my tips on how to select the right CMMS software, when you’ll learn the right questions to ask about the capability and viability of the company you’re considering.