Most organizations can’t run without physical assets. Machinery, equipment, facilities and vehicles provide economic value or benefit operations. In most cases, they are fundamental to the performance of the organization, regardless of whether they are small-scale laptop portfolios or vast transportation networks. Energy companies rely on uninterrupted power supplies, airlines aim to ensure passenger safety, hospitals must provide quality patient care, haulage companies need up-to-date data on spare parts to maintain service levels.

Organizations can’t work effectively if they don’t invest to keep their assets running cost-effectively throughout their lifecycle. To do that, technicians, facility managers, maintenance teams, reliability engineers and project managers need accurate, real-time information at their fingertips.

  • The growing complexity and scale of operations across industries and the need to track, monitor and manage assets, have been driving the evolution of advanced asset management software. Organizations are modernizing their enterprise apps, deploying more modular, intelligent systems and AI-enhanced workflows as part of broader digital transformation.

Asset management is no exception—according to IDC, 30% of organizations are strategically addressing digital transformation in enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions with a view to longer-term change management.

Two commonly used asset management and maintenance solutions are computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS) and enterprise asset management (EAM):

Depending on variables like asset type, business size and the scale of operations, each solution provides different functionalities and benefits to match an organization’s maintenance requirements. Let’s explore these in more depth.

What is CMMS and what does it do?

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is a type of maintenance management software that centralizes maintenance information and facilitates and documents maintenance operations. A CMMS automates critical asset management workflows and makes them accessible and auditable.

Core to CMMS is a central database that organizes and communicates information about assets and maintenance tasks to maintenance departments and teams to help them do their jobs more effectively. They typically include modules for tracking employees and equipment certifications (resource and labor management), data storage on individual assets like serial numbers and warranties (asset registry), and task-related activities like work order numbers and preventive maintenance schedules (work order management). Other features like vendor and inventory management, reporting, analysis (e.g., KPI dashboards or MRO inventory optimization) and audit trails are also included in CMMS software solutions.

CMMS evolved in the 1960s when the growing complexity of operations in large companies started to expose the limitations and inadequacies of manual and paper-based management. Data was siloed, hidden away in a multitude of spreadsheets and filing cabinets, and carrying out tasks manually was time-consuming.

During the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, as technology became more affordable and connected, CMMS functionality expanded to include work order management, where companies assign, monitor and complete work orders and inspection checklists in one place. Other features, such as project management and spare parts purchasing, were also added as solutions advanced. Many industries depend on CMMS to improve asset and workflow visibility, streamline operations and maintenance, manage mobile field workforces, and ensure compliance in, for example, auditing and health, safety and environment reporting.

What is EAM and what does it do?

Enterprise asset management (EAM) software provides a holistic and comprehensive overview of a company’s physical assets and is used to maintain and control operational assets and equipment throughout their entire lifecycle, regardless of location.

Typically, EAM solutions cover work orders, contract and labor management, asset maintenance, planning and scheduling, condition monitoring, reliability analysis, asset performance optimization, supply chain management, and environmental, health and safety (EHS) applications. They store large amounts of data that can be analyzed and tracked, with organizations customizing their KPIs and metrics according to their specific needs. EAM solutions can also link into other enterprise management systems and workflows like enterprise resource planning (ERP), providing a single source of asset intelligence.

EAM emerged from CMMS early in the 1990s, bringing together maintenance planning and execution with skills, materials and other information spanning asset design through to decommissioning. This broadening of scope has especially benefitted industries heavily reliant on physical assets or with complex asset infrastructures where asset management effectiveness and ROI are major contributors to the bottom line.

In the oil and gas or mining industries, for example, there is a strong need to bring safety, reliability and compliance information into workflows. In defense, there are strict regulations around tracking potentially dangerous assets, and the safety of military operations depends on the operational readiness of multiple assets in disparate locations.

Organizations use EAM to save money from being wasted on preventable problems and unnecessary downtime and to enhance the efficiency, performance and lifespan of assets. Through a combination of maintenance strategies, automation and technologies like the Internet of Things (IOT) and artificial intelligence (AI), EAM can use preventive and predictive maintenance to monitor and resolve issues before they happen, maximize the use of assets, consolidate operational applications and provide in-depth cost analyses. The result is that asset management professionals make better decisions, work more efficiently and maximize investments in physical assets.

Learn what intelligent asset management can do for your business

CMMS vs EAM: What’s the difference?

CMMS and EAM software have a similar purpose—to prolong and improve asset performance, boost operational efficiency and reliability, and reduce costs through more productive uptime, less downtime and longer asset lifespans. Despite some overlap, they are not the same and have key differences in functionality, approach and business context, offering different management tools and resources. In general, while most EAM systems have CMMS capabilities, only the more advanced CMMS solutions have some EAM functionality. Some of the main differences are outlined below but the extent of these varies by provider.

CMMS is dedicated to MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) for physical assets and equipment, tracking a company’s asset maintenance activities, scheduling and costs once an asset has been installed. EAM, on the other hand, provides a greater understanding of lifecycle cost and value of assets by managing the entire asset lifecycle from beginning to end. Being able to track assets, assess and monitor them, manage and optimize their quality and reliability, and gauge where inefficiencies are occurring means a business can get the most out of its assets and avoid unnecessary disruptions that could impact the smooth running of its operations.

EAM also provides data on lifetime costs—such as purchasing, maintenance, repair and servicing—which help businesses understand the total cost of ownership of individual assets. Although CMMS solutions are becoming more sophisticated, they don’t typically include additional features like high-level financial accounting or costs associated with procurement or decommissioning.

EAM also differs from CMMS in that EAM provides multi-site support across multiple worksites and geographies. Most CMMS solutions only provide single-site or limited multi-site support. That can be a substantial advantage for industries like power or mass transportation that manage vastly distributed asset portfolios.

EAM covers a wider variety of business functions than CMMS; features like contract management, fleet management, schematics, warranty tracking, energy monitoring and industry-specific apps are not typically covered in CMMS systems. EAM can also work with a broader range of other enterprise software, such as financial analysis, supply chain management and procurement, risk and compliance and sustainability. CMMS only tends to integrate with other systems to automate repetitive tasks, though a few do include purchasing capabilities.

That said, EAM can cost more to implement than CMMS in the first instance, largely because of its greater complexity and the additional setup costs stemming from integration with other business functions. SaaS models are changing this, bringing CMMS and EAM costs closer together, which, coupled with the additional benefits of EAM, is making it an increasingly cost-effective option.

Although modern CMMS systems can offer more than just maintenance and the line between CMMS and EAM is blurring, they remain distinct solutions. CMMS can be viewed as a subset of EAM and potentially an avenue to large-scale and more robust enterprise asset management. The two are often used together or CMMS may suffice for companies with small asset portfolios and maintenance teams. When companies are looking to scale and consolidate systems across multiple departments, however, the limitations of CMMS can impact its overall value.

Ultimately, the choice of software depends on many factors, but in general, if you are looking to understand and manage high numbers of assets in multiple locations across their entire lifecycle and incorporate other business functions like HR and finance, EAM is likely to be the way to go.

IBM Maximo Application Suite

Look no further. IBM Maximo® Application Suite combines the world’s leading enterprise asset management system with all the benefits of CMMS.

Get the most value from your enterprise assets with Maximo Application Suite. It’s a market-leading single, integrated cloud-based platform that uses AI, IoT and analytics to optimize performance, extend asset lifecycles and reduce operational downtime and costs. It gives you configurable CMMS and EAM applications that can help you manage your company assets, processes and people.

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