Choosing good Calibration and Maintenance Management Software (CMMS) is all about choosing the right software for the need and that matches with the resources available to implement the system. The following are some features that appear to be great, and may well be for the right customers, but may not be a great fit for others. How would these features work in your situation?
On Line “Paperless” Data Entry – This is the feature that allows the user to enter calibration or maintenance data into on-line forms and save them. This intends to save the users the trouble creating paperwork and keeping everything “paperless”. This is a laudable goal indeed. The practical issues that can occur during operation include the extensive setup required to prepare these forms for each instrument, managing the audit trails of any changes, and the time that it takes to enter all the data. Further, the forms add restrictions to the data that can be recorded which can force the operator to limit the information provided. Finally, there is the practical issue of what happens if there is some interruption during completion of the data. For example, if the tablet that is being used during the calibration loses power, what happens to the partially completed record? Does the user need to re-start the calibration, and how does that information that has been entered get preserved? During a complex procedure, this can present a challenge.
Provider Centered Databases – This is a feature wherein the calibration provider controls the system and can help you schedule services so you don’t miss anything. The software may be included as part of the cost of the normal services. This can work, but there are security considerations in multi-tenant databases, especially if the user administration and change control is not within the control of the customer. As a customer, you should have full control of who has access to your data and there should be controls over changes to the system, especially for a validated CMMS system. Another major issue with this is what happens to the data if you decide to go with a different service provider? Is that data portable? And how can you manage multiple service providers that may not use the same database. In a practical sense, it is difficult for provider centered databases to be managed for validated calibration or maintenance tracking systems.
Calibration Optimization Schemes – These are features that can adjust the intervals of calibration and/or maintenance work to reduce costs, based on the history of the work performed. For example, if a calibration at 3 month intervals has passed the last 3 times, the system can automatically lengthen the interval to 4 months based on “good behavior”. This can be extended to multiple similar instruments, and can thereby reduce the frequency of calibration and save money. This sounds great! And indeed, it can work. However, it does require a significant data entry burden, in most cases. Also, there is the question of how the changes are managed and approved, and how the user can justify that this is a reasonable manner in which to extend (and document) the intervals. Furthermore, there may be additional reasons not to extend a calibration interval even if it is a well performing instrument. As an example, some intervals are kept short so that in the event that the calibration does fail, the user will not have to track down as much data to determine if the failure had an impact on work done with that instrument. The money and time saved in extending the interval can easily be consumed by the additional data entry and risk incurred.
Each of the above features appear to offer compelling advantages and can be useful, but often, for small to mid-sized companies especially, there are advantages to keeping thing efficient and keeping the human users in control of the documentation, administration, and changes to the operation of the system. This allows the users the most flexibility and keeps workflows simple. There are enough challenges without fighting your own calibration and maintenance tracking software!