What is a CMMS?
Short for computerized maintenance management system, CMMS is software that helps manage assets, schedule maintenance and track work orders.
Read how to boost operational resilience Explore Maximo asset management
two men talking in a warehouse
What is a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS)?

A computerized maintenance management system or CMMS is software that centralizes maintenance information and facilitates the processes of maintenance operations. It helps optimize the utilization and availability of physical equipment like vehicles, machinery, communications, plant infrastructures and other assets. Also referred to as CMMIS or computerized maintenance management information system, CMMS systems are found in 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 a maintenance organization is charged with maintaining, as well as the equipment, materials and other resources to do so.

How does a CMMS work?

The information in a CMMS database supports various functions of the system, which enable the following 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

See the IBM Maximo Application Suite
The history of CMMS

Before CMMS, obtaining centralized, dynamic visibility and automated management was impractical because maintenance information was buried in paper files, and later, scattered across spreadsheets.

The earliest versions of CMMS appeared in the 1960s and were typically used by large enterprises. 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 90s as computers became smaller, more affordable, more distributed — and more connected. In the 1990s, CMMS began to share information across local area networks or LANs.

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 vs. CMMS: What’s the difference?

The term CMMS is often confused or used interchangeably with EAM or enterprise asset management. The two share very 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 APM.

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 — thanks 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 (ERP).

These capabilities give EAM solutions 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 solutions 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 (PDF, 798 KB)

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 assets and physical equipment are kept up and running, the greater the value they deliver. In her post, "The complete guide to the benefits of CMMS," 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.”

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% 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 call up when an asset was purchased, when maintenance was performed, frequency of breakdowns, parts used, efficiency ratings and more.

Workflow visibility: Dashboards and visualizations can be tuned to technician and other roles 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.

Automation: Automating manual tasks such as ordering parts, replenishing MRO inventory, scheduling shifts, compiling information for audits and other administrative duties helps save time, reduce errors, improve productivity and focus teams on maintenance — not administrative — tasks.

Streamlined processes: Work orders can be viewed and tracked by all parties involved. Details can be shared across mobile devices to coordinate work in the field with operational centers. Material and resource distribution and utilization 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 solutions 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, so an advanced asset maintenance strategy can be developed. Data derived from daily activities as well as 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: Documentation, repair manuals and media capturing maintenance procedures can be stored in CMMS and associated with corresponding assets. Capturing and maintaining this knowledge creates consistent procedures and workmanship. It also preserves that knowledge to be transferred to new technicians, rather than walking out the door with departing personnel.

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 may 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 (sensors, spatial data, visual data, etc.), 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/repair decisions.”

Infographic: IBM Maximo helps optimize assets and operations (1.3 MB)
The push to SaaS

CMMS and EAM solutions handle functional challenges in a number of ways, but 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 software as a service (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 only paying for the data resources they need, rather than committing large initial investments to ensure 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. As a result, capital expenses related to IT can be converted 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. Upgrades are made by service providers in the cloud, so the latest versions and functionality are always applied. Further, SaaS also integrates new technologies faster and with less risk. 
Case studies Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

To ensure expensive lab equipment continues to function properly, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory embraced Maximo as an automated, integrated approach to asset management, helping teams to coordinate resources and maintain assets.


Taking advantage of the shale revolution, Cheniere-Energy uses Maximo to transform the management of complex assets at their upgraded Sabine Pass facility with better insights and control of maintenance activity.

Sodexo is using technology to manage assets and infrastructure across a range of facility types. It brings 24,000 buildings and 1.2 million assets to the cloud with an EAM SaaS solution and reduces total cost of ownership by 20%.

IBM Solutions
Asset management

Manage and maintain high-level assets with IBM Maximo Application Suite, using AI and analytics to optimize performance, extend asset lifecycles and reduce operational downtime and costs.

Explore asset management capabilities
Mobile EAM

Empower the connected technician with intelligent mobile enterprise asset management (EAM) to manage any asset, anytime, any place.

Explore mobile EAM
Workplace safety

Turn data into actionable insights to improve workplace safety. Put compliance at the center of safety, making it easier to identify and eliminate hazards.

Explore workplace safety solutions
Resources Sustainability blog

See what's new in the sustainability field.

Customer reviews

See what clients are saying about solving CMMS and EAM challenges with IBM Maximo.

The complete guide to the benefits of CMMS

Seven questions to consider before choosing the right solution for you.

Engage an expert

Schedule a one-on-one consultation with an expert to explore how to apply the power of AI and IoT to asset management, real estate and facilities management and systems engineering.