The future of the CMMS/EAM industry: A look at the National Plant Engineering & Facilities Management Show
Last year yielded mixed results for the CMMS/EAM industry. Some vendors had a respectable year despite uncertain economic times, while others struggled. The same can be said for their customers. I wasn't surprised by the continuing downward trend in vendor participation and attendance at the National Plant Engineering & Facilities Maintenance Show (NPEFM) last March in Chicago.
Last year yielded mixed results for the CMMS/EAM industry. Some vendors had a respectable year despite uncertain economic times, while others struggled. The same can be said for their customers. I wasn't surprised by the continuing downward trend in vendor participation and attendance at the National Plant Engineering & Facilities Maintenance Show (NPEFM) last March in Chicago. Bad weather undoubtedly had a dampening effect on prospective attendees. And several notable CMMS/EAM vendors were absent — undoubtedly basing their decision not to exhibit on factors other than the problematic early March weather in Chicago.
Electing not to participate in the premier trade show in its industry is not conclusive proof that a company is in trouble. Vendors can choose not to exhibit for a variety of business reasons. Conversely, merely showing up at a show is not an indication of long-term viability. But a commitment of resources gives the appearance of economic health. When coupled with new product announcements, partnerships, and initiatives, it can also provide a good indication where a particular vendor and the industry are heading.
As part of National Manufacturing Week, NPEFM shares McCormick Place with the National Design Engineering, Industrial Automation, and Enterprise IT shows. In past years the Enterprise IT show, which features ERP, manufacturing, and supply chain software solution providers, was housed in a different building than NPEFM. But this year the two shows were side-by-side with CMMS/EAM vendors in close proximity to ERP booths. This provided an interesting comparison between where the two industries are heading.
"Extended" ERP was a common theme at the Enterprise IT Show. Vendors claimed that their solutions reached beyond core ERP functionality. These solutions touched a variety of areas ranging from supply chain management to customer relationship management (CRM). Maintenance was also included in this extended message with many ERP vendors offering plant maintenance modules. Unfortunately the vendors I visited had no one able to talk indepth about their maintenance offerings. In all fairness, plant maintenance is only a small component of their solution suites. But the lack of inbooth maintenance experience did not compare well to the best-of-breed EAM vendors in the adjacent aisles.
CMMS/EAM vendors also had an extended message featuring new add-on modules and repackaging of existing solution sets. Top-tier EAM vendors like MRO Software ( mrosoftware.com ), Datastream ( datastream.net ), Synergen ( synergen.com ), and Assetpoint ( assetpoint.com ) had messages that extended well beyond their core functionality. This picture typically included business intelligence, mobile computing, workflow, e-commerce, enterprise and plant floor integration, project management, and e-learning. These concepts are definitely not new. But they were presented in a manner that implied that these vendors were about much more than pure maintenance management.
Vendors also matured considerably since prior shows. Mobile computing was a good example. Many vendors fleshed out their product offerings by supporting wireless and batch communications, or by adding mobile inventory and asset management modules. MRO Software brought this point home by promoting a true mobile suite based on Syclo's ( syclo.com ) Smart Work Manager, Smart Inventory, and Smart Asset solutions. In addition, Invensys ( invensys.com ) demonstrated its Advantis EAM running on a Tablet PC in Microsoft's booth.
E-procurement and application service providers (ASP) did not play as prominent a role as in past shows. Neither MRO Software nor Datastream gave their e-commerce services top billing. Generally, vendors were prepared to talk about their ASP and hosting services, but did not see fit to mention them in their booth signage or literature. Slow adoption of these technologies may have played a part in their downgrading. But I also felt that vendors wanted to provide a more balanced message that didn't overemphasize any single offering at the expense of others.
The extended EAM message went well beyond repackaging and enhancing add-on modules for MRO Software. With the acquisition of MainControl, an IT asset management package, MRO Software has repositioned itself as a "Strategic Asset Management" (SAM) solution provider that it claims can address all enterprise asset management needs. According to MRO, SAM has four components: production, fleet, facilities, and IT. MRO intends to position Maximo as a single, integrated solution with specific functionality that addresses the unique management needs for each asset type.
Datastream also introduced a new strategic initiative called Asset Performance Management (APM), which seeks to move its flagship EAM product, Datastream 7i, beyond the boundaries of asset management. Building on key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics, Datastream plans to add analytic capabilities for forecasting and modeling. Business intelligence and online analytical processing is not a new concept in the EAM industry. But positioning it at the forefront of a vendor's product suite with the intent of driving business decisions is a novel approach.
Vendors continue their march toward 100% web-based architectures. Last year most top-tier vendors announced or introduced their pure web-based solutions at the show. This year they brought these solutions to the show. MRO Software, Datastream, and Synergen featured new pure web-based versions of their products. Mid-tier providers like Micromain ( micromain.com ) and Mapcon ( mapcon.com ) announced their intent to develop web-architected versions of their products.
Reducing total cost of ownership (TCO) from an IT infrastructure perspective is certainly an important force behind this trend. But solutions employing a web-based architecture provide advantages to multisite enterprises that go well beyond reducing hardware and system administration support costs. They allow an organization to support multiple remote sites running a central set of servers over the internet. They provide the ability to centralize data, configuration, and processes across the enterprise. Vendors offering pure web-based solutions are definitely targeting these multisite enterprises.
Datastream provided a demonstration of its 7i product that effectively highlighted its workflow and KPI capabilities. Each user has a customizable home page with a task inbox and KPI displays, as well as links to transactions and other menu pages. User-tailored workflow rules determine what tasks appear in the inbox. Double clicking on a particular inbox task takes the user to the related transaction, such as a work order or purchase requisition screen. KPI displays are similarly customized to the specific role and job function of the user.
Other areas of interest
Several other topics that had appeared at past shows were revisited with greater prominence this year. Plant floor integration was a favorite topic among several vendors. Invensys and Assetpoint addressed the ability of their EAM products to integrate with sister divisions' plant automation solutions. MRO Software brought its partner Rockwell Automation into its booth to talk about Maximo-RSMACC integration.
CFR-21 Part 11 also made its presence known. This FDA regulation requires pharmaceutical, cosmetic, medical equipment, and fine chemical manufacturers to meet specific electronic signature, auditing, and security requirements. Synergen gave CFR-21 major billing in its booth in an attempt to appeal to all the operations in this regulated space that have yet to move to meet these mandated requirements.
This year's show really wasn't that different from recent ones. It was more about maturing technologies than new concepts. But even maturing technologies require significant vendor investment. The willingness to make this investment is a sign of the general health of the industry. While some CMMS/EAM vendors will continue to drop by the wayside, the vast majority of vendors I saw at the show were aggressively pursuing the future. This is good news for operations waging the never-ending battle for a CMMS/EAM solution that meets their ever-changing asset management needs.
Tom Singer is an information technology consultant who specializes in designing, developing, and implementing systems solutions that meet client operational needs.