What is a CMMS?
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Illustration showing CMMS for managing maintenance tasks
What is a CMMS?

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is software that centralizes maintenance information and facilitates the processes of maintenance operations.

A CMMS helps optimize the use and availability of physical equipment such as vehicles, machinery, communications, plant infrastructures and other assets. Also referred to as CMMIS or computerized maintenance management information system, CMMS systems serve a crucial role in various industries. These industries include manufacturing, oil and gas production, power generation, construction, transportation and other industries, where physical infrastructure is critical.

The core of a CMMS is its database. It has a data model that organizes information about the assets that a maintenance organization must maintain, including the equipment, materials and other resources to do so.

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How does a CMMS work?

The information in a CMMS database supports various functions of the system, which enable several capabilities:

Resource and labor management

Track available employees and equipment certifications. Assign specific tasks and assemble crews. Organize shifts and manage pay rates.

Asset registry

Store, access and share asset information such as:

  • Manufacturer, model, serial number and equipment class and type
  • Associated costs and codes
  • Location and position
  • Performance and downtime statistics
  • Associated documentation, video and images such as repair manuals, safety procedures and warranties
  • Availability of meters, sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) instrumentation

Work order management

Typically viewed as the main function of CMMS, work order management includes information such as:

  • Work order number
  • Description and priority
  • Order type (repair, replace, scheduled)
  • Cause and remedy codes
  • Personnel assigned and materials used

Work order management also includes capabilities to:

  • Automate work order generation
  • Reserve materials and equipment
  • Schedule and assign employees, crews and shifts
  • Review status and track downtime
  • Record planned and actual costs
  • Attach associated documentation, repair and safety media

Preventive maintenance

Automate work order initiation based on time, usage or triggered events. Use preventive maintenance to organize and associate assets across multiple orders. Sequence and schedule preventive work orders.

Materials and inventory management

Inventory, distribute and reclaim maintenance and repair operation (MRO) equipment and materials across storage areas, distribution centers and facilities. Manage suppliers, track inventory costs and automate resupply.

Reporting, analysis and auditing

Generate reports across maintenance categories such as asset availability, materials usage, labor and material costs, supplier assessments and more. Analyze information to understand asset availability, performance trends, MRO inventory optimization and other information to support business decisions and gather and organize information for audits.¹

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The history of CMMS

Before CMMS, obtaining centralized, dynamic visibility and automated management was impractical because paper files hid maintenance information, and later, spreadsheets distributed it.

Large enterprises began using the earliest versions of CMMS in the 1960s. Technicians used punch cards and IBM® mainframes to inform computerized records and track maintenance tasks. In the 1970s, punch cards gave way to checklists fed into CMMS systems by technicians at the end of their shifts.

CMMS gained greater prevalence with smaller and mid-sized businesses in the 1980s and 1990s as computers became smaller, more affordable, more distributed and more connected. In the 1990s, CMMS began to share information across local area networks.

The 2000s saw the emergence of intranets and web-based connectivity that expanded CMMS capabilities to a range of mobile devices, field applications and operational sites.

The latest generation of CMMS is cloud-based and highly mobile. It offers greater functionality with faster implementation, easier maintenance and greater data security.²

EAM versus CMMS: What’s the difference?

The term CMMS is often confused or used interchangeably with enterprise asset management (EAM). The two share similar functions and objectives but are essentially different. To discern key differences between CMMS and EAM, it’s helpful to take a brief look at the history of CMMS and the relationship between CMMS, EAM and asset performance management.

As CMMS evolved, it established a foundation for EAM. Essentially, EAM contains the functionality of CMMS,³ and their functions can overlap. What EAM brings to CMMS—due in part to greater connectivity and information sharing—is the ability to span sites, foster collaboration across departments and provide deeper integration with other systems like enterprise resource planning.

These capabilities give EAM systems a broader business context that considers the overall asset lifecycle and its impact on financial analysis, procurement, process management, risk and compliance, asset disposal and more. CMMS systems tend to focus on fixed asset availability and uptime by automating work orders and workflows, scheduling labor, managing materials and providing reports and audits about those tasks.

Read: Understanding the impact and value of EAM 

Why is uptime so important?

CMMS and EAM are essential because they make it easier and more efficient for maintenance managers and departments to meet their primary objective: reliable uptime.

The longer businesses maintain and run assets and physical equipment, the greater the value they deliver. IBM blogger Sarah Dudley points out, “The longer we can keep a piece of equipment running without major repair, the more money we save in the long run.”2

Delivering uptime reliably means that businesses can accept and fulfill orders, meet customer demands, shape customer experiences and confidently make a range of asset-dependent decisions. IBM reports that a survey of asset managers found that 75% of managers cite system reliability as the main reason to invest in EAM.

What are the benefits of a CMMS?

The benefits of CMMS include:

Asset visibility

Centralized information in the CMMS database enables maintenance managers and teams to almost instantly access asset data. This data includes details such as asset purchase dates, maintenance records, frequency of breakdowns, parts used, efficiency ratings and more.

Workflow visibility

Technician and other roles can customize dashboards and visualizations to assess status and progress virtually in real-time. Maintenance teams can rapidly discover where an asset is, what it needs, who should work on it and when.


Automating tasks such as ordering parts, replenishing MRO inventory, scheduling shifts, compiling information for audits and other administrative duties helps save time, reduce errors and improve productivity. This approach allows teams to focus on maintenance tasks rather than administrative tasks. 

Streamlined processes

All parties involved can view and track work orders. Teams can share details across mobile devices to coordinate work in the field with operational centers. Material and resource distribution and use can be prioritized and optimized.

Managing field workforces

Managing internal and external field workforces can be complex and costly. CMMS and EAM capabilities can unify and cost-effectively deploy internal teams and external partnerships. The latest EAM systems offer advances in connectivity, mobility, augmented reality and blockchain to transform operations in the field.

Preventive maintenance

CMMS data enables maintenance operations to move from a reactive to a proactive approach, enabling the development of an advanced asset maintenance strategy. Data derived from daily activities, sensors, meters and other IoT instrumentation can deliver insights into processes and assets, inform preventive measures and trigger alerts before assets fail or underperform.

Consistency and knowledge transfer

CMMS can store documentation, repair manuals and media that capture maintenance procedures and link them to the relevant assets. This storage and management of information leads to consistent procedures and workmanship. It also ensures the preservation and transfer of this knowledge to new technicians, instead of losing it when employees leave.

Compliance management

Compliance audits can be disruptive to maintenance operations and asset-intensive businesses as a whole. CMMS data makes an audit exponentially easier by generating responses and reports tailored to an audit’s demands.

Health, safety and environment

In line with compliance management, CMMS and EAM offer central reporting for safety, health and environmental concerns. The objectives are to reduce risk and maintain a safe operating environment. CMMS and EAM can provide investigations to analyze recurring incidents or defects, incident and corrective action traceability, and process change management.

See how mobile EAM helps field service management
Considerations when selecting CMMS software

Selecting and implementing an effective CMMS requires consideration of functional and technological factors. Providers and adopters might use the terms CMMS and EAM interchangeably in this context, which is acceptable because of the overlap in their capabilities.

One of the central functional considerations, according to IT analyst IDC, is handling increasing amounts of data: “As the number of data sources available to the asset manager continues to grow (such as sensors, spatial data and visual data), managing, merging and analyzing these pools of data at speed will be a tremendous challenge for EAM professionals over the next five years.”

IDC also points out that aligning staffing and development resources with asset management can be critical: “The function is often under-resourced in terms of staffing, training and development. This under-resourcing erodes motivation and creates a counterproductive culture among the staff.”

Finally, IDC states that modernizing CMMS and EAM functions is important and that “some organizations have yet to move past legacy systems and spreadsheets for critical EAM functions like repair order management, work scheduling and replace or repair decisions.”

Infographic: IBM Maximo helps optimize assets and operations
The push to SaaS

CMMS and EAM platforms handle functional challenges in several ways. One of the key technological approaches is to deploy CMMS and EAM solutions hosted on the cloud as software as a service (SaaS).

According to IBM, “When choosing asset management software, organizations are increasingly gravitating toward SaaS, a cloud-based delivery model in which software is hosted centrally by a vendor and available on demand.”

SaaS, as a technology approach, addresses some prime functional factors:

  • Hosted in the cloud, SaaS CMMS offers the flexibility to expand and contract with data demands. Users benefit by paying just for the data resources that they need, rather than committing large initial investments. This approach ensures that there is capacity to handle the growing influx of data from IoT instrumentation, virtually eliminating hardware costs.
  • SaaS can help with staffing and resource challenges because it requires far less intervention and support from IT than on-premises deployments. CMMS engineers, CMMS administrators and technical teams in the field can manage the system largely on their own. This approach allows the conversion of capital expenses related to IT into operational expenses and resources.
  • Legacy systems, modernization and using the latest technologies to keep pace with maintenance and operational pressures are also areas where SaaS can help. Service providers make upgrades in the cloud and consistently apply the latest versions and functionality. Further, SaaS also integrates new technologies faster and with less risk.
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1 "The Role of CMMS" (link resides outside ibm.com), Mike Crain

2 "What is CMMS? The quick guide to everything you need to know," Sarah Dudley, 26 January 2020

3 "CMMS vs EAM: What’s the Difference?" (link resides outside ibm.com), comparesoft.com, August 2021

4 ARC Solution Guide: MRO Inventory Rationalization and Optimization" (link resides outside ibm.com), Ralph Rio, December 2010