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Knowledge - Tools & Systems - Asset & Maintenance Management Systems (EAM vs. CMMS)

Know the Difference

Understanding the difference between an enterprise asset management (EAM) system and a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and knowing how to tell them apart under all the marketing hype are key to sorting through the herd and finding the asset information system that is right for your business.

The market for asset and maintenance management software is primarily dominated by two types of products: enterprise asset management systems and computerized maintenance management systems. The two terms are thrown around a lot, but it is not always clear what the difference is, especially when you’re trying to decide which software system to purchase for your business. The confusion is not helped by the fact that many true CMMS products have started advertising themselves as EAM systems, or as EAM/CMMS hybrids.

On the surface, these products all make similar claims and seem to do similar things. They are all geared toward maintenance; they all offer cloud-based subscriptions; and most of them provide additional features like inventory management and asset tracking. Some CMMS software packages even offer features that have traditionally been the domain of EAM systems, such as purchasing modules or multisite management tools. This raises two important questions. In today’s market, where web architecture and mobile apps are par for the course and multisite support is becoming more and more common, is there any noticeable difference between an EAM system and a CMMS? Have we reached a point where the lines are so blurred that they are basically the same thing?

The answers are yes, there is a difference, and no, they are not the same thing. Let’s be clear: not every product that claims to be an EAM system has real EAM functionality. While it is true the line between EAM and CMMS is not as clearly defined as it was 20 years ago, these two types of software still have big differences in approach and functionality.


What is an Enterprise Asset Management System?

As the name suggests, enterprise asset management systems were designed to be unified platforms for managing an organization’s physical assets across the enterprise. They came on the scene after computerized maintenance management systems, once network technology gave companies the ability to link computer systems across multiple sites. EAM systems include maintenance management capabilities, but they consider the total cost of ownership (TCO) for a company’s physical assets and provide a wider range of features to track, manage and analyze asset performance and costs through the whole asset lifecycle, from acquisition to decommission and everything in-between.

Because they are designed for the enterprise, EAM systems serve every facet of an organization that pertains to asset management. This includes functions like maintenance and inventory, but also spans procurement, engineering and project management, accounting, operations, reliability management, safety and compliance, and even business intelligence (BI) to support strategic planning at the enterprise level.

The result of this comprehensive design is a single system that contains all the information about an organization’s physical assets. Repair histories, energy usage, lifecycle costs, warranty records, parts catalogs, purchase orders, audit trails and more are all stored in the same system and accessible to any department. Maintenance can use the EAM system to manage work orders and equipment records. Materials management can use it to manage storerooms and inventory. Procurement can use it to manage requests for proposals (RFPs), contracts and purchase orders. Accounting can use it to manage budgets and invoices. Because it is a single system, everyone is accessing the same data, data that is aggregated from a multitude of sources across the organization and updated in real time.

Since they debuted in the 1990s, EAM systems have been the solution of choice for asset intensive organizations that need to manage a large portfolio of physical assets across multiple locations. However, in the last decade, these systems have seen increasing use by small and medium-sized businesses that want the added performance optimization and cost management features that EAM systems offer. With the rise of software as a service (SaaS) deployment models, the cost of owning an EAM system has become competitive with a CMMS and because of its additional features, an EAM system is often the most cost-effective choice, even for small operations.


What is a Computerized Maintenance Management System?

A CMMS is designed to be exactly what the name says: a computerized maintenance management system. These systems came into being in the 1960s as technology for managing work orders with punch cards instead of paper and filing cabinets. They emerged as a computer software in the 1980s. As these systems evolved, more features were added to support a wider range of business needs. These days, most computerized maintenance management systems have some form of preventive maintenance, asset and inventory management, and mobile functionality. Many boast additional features, such as project management, multisite support, or the ability to purchase maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) parts from an online catalog without leaving the CMMS.

Despite their growing range of capabilities, maintenance management remains the heart of a CMMS software package. Smaller CMMS products focus exclusively on work orders and equipment records. Even the largest aren’t designed to provide much functionality outside of maintenance and MRO materials management. This limited focus makes sense given their history and, in some situations, it can even be seen as an advantage. Computerized maintenance management systems are dedicated, streamlined tools for managing maintenance operations. They aren’t supposed to service the asset management needs of the whole organization. This leaves gaps, but businesses can fill them by integrating their CMMS with other software systems that provide services, such as scheduling, purchasing and accounting.

A CMMS is an attractive solution for small maintenance operations that need a simple way to manage work orders, equipment records and spare parts. These systems can’t do everything, but they often have a smaller price tag than their larger and more powerful cousins - the EAM systems.

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