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In the Cloud: Aim high with software-as-a-service for maintenance and asset management

Thursday November 17, 2011 Written by  Jeromy Risner, CMRP
While many companies are still feeling the pinch of the economy, manufacturing costs and spending on new equipment, employees and technology can be daunting. These companies are still required to stay competitive in the market and do more with less, and companies worry about the cost of software, hardware and IT support needed to own and operate CMMS and EAM applications. The solution? Cloud computing for maintenance. Cloud computing, or SaaS (software-as-a-service), isn’t a new concept. Software companies have been providing cloud computing to customers for more than 15 years. In a nutshell, cloud computing means accessing programs over the Internet rather than a company’s own on-site network of hardware, applications and storage. Cloud computing takes the risk out of implementing new software by eliminating large up-front investments and the need for major IT resources. Instead of buying software licenses and the hardware to run it on, customers simply pay a monthly fee that covers use of the software from a secure online environment with technical support, upgrades and data storage. The vendor performs maintenance automatically, and if the software doesn’t fit a company’s needs, they can simply discontinue its use and end the monthly contract. SaaS is especially valuable for small-to-medium-sized organizations that have to calculate their moves and take fewer risks in capital investments. A monthly fee is easier to justify than a $100,000 system, and they’re up and running in days instead of weeks or months. (SaaS can also be budgeted as a monthly operating expense versus a capital expense.) World-class maintenance organizations understand the importance of using CMMS/EAM to properly maintain their equipment, which results in less downtime, a safer work environment and better cost tracking. When researching cloud computing for maintenance, here are a few things to keep in mind: • CMMS/EAM providers should offer a similar product whether you choose the cloud-computing route or move in house and host the system on your servers. Some vendors sacrifice options or limit functionality and number of allowable users to make the cost seem lower. However, a best-in-class vendor will offer the same functionality and allow a company to adjust the number of users and move them from one plant to another as your company grows and changes. Just as with traditional solutions, cloud computing should enable you to export your data in many formats, including Microsoft Excel. • The pricing structure should be clear and easy to understand, explaining what services you’ll have access to. Some vendors won’t be up front about what’s included, so be sure to have a detailed understanding so you aren’t shocked by lack of functionality down the road. • A vendor will have experience and investment in their offering. A best-in-class vendor should offer a redundant, highly secure data centre, and will have passed and maintained their SAS70 Type II audits. The vendor should guarantee 24/7/365 availability for your users with at least 99-percent uptime. n A cloud computing solution should be easy to use and easy to own. A best-in-class vendor will offer you the flexibility to pay for the modules and functionality you need, with the ability to add functionality when you need it. Many programs still require service-intensive implementations. A vendor can provide either on-site or remote training over the web, e-learning classes, and can even offer a pre-configured CMMS/EAM solution to help transfer knowledge and product ownership to the customer and allow a customer to start using the solution within days. • Don’t get fooled into paying for extra “bells and whistles.” Stick with a solution your company needs and which provides the proper tools to maximize the performance of your assets but also provides an expansion to additional functionality when and if you need it. Some add-ons sound great in a demo but aren’t included in the standard pricing model and/or won’t be used once implemented because they are difficult to use or slow down the maintenance process. Cloud-computing solutions are secure and trustworthy, just as companies are moving their accounting and email systems to cloud-computing platforms. The top solutions will have a history of providing at least 99-percent uptime with only occasional scheduled maintenance and upgrades during non-peak hours. By eliminating the overhead of large up-front software purchases, as well as providing installation and upgrades that nearly eliminate the burden on the IT staff, cloud computing can help maintenance organizations move toward world-class operational effectiveness and maximize assets performance without breaking the budget. Jeromy Risner, CMRP is a reliability consultant with AssetPoint. For more information, visit www.assetpoint.com.

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