CAFM or CMMS systems? What's the difference & does it matter?

Nov 18, 2020 3 min read By Tom Wilcock
CAFM or CMMS systems? What's the difference & does it matter?

The world of FM software is awash with acronyms. But do you know what they mean? What’s the difference between a CAFM and a CMMS system? And, more importantly, which one do you need?

Vendors of all kinds of Facilities Management software promise to bring efficiencies and order to fragmented FM processes.

Various software offerings might promise to help you manage spaces more effectively, control maintenance requests, extend the life of your assets and improve your grip on compliance. And there’s no doubt that signing up for a CAFM ‘silver bullet’ can be a tempting prospect after juggling all those emails and Excel sheets while you struggled for oversight.

But software offered under a range of different acronyms with overlapping functionality can be hard to distinguish between. It’s all too easy to end up with a platform that sounds powerful, but takes forever to configure, is over-complicated to use, and ultimately, doesn’t do what you need.

In fact, there’s a good chance that an investment in FM software might languish unused if you’re not clear about your objectives and priorities from the start. Research from the manufacturing industry suggests that the number of successful CMMS implementations hovers at around 25-40%.

So, what’s in a CAFM?

Good question.

CAFM stands for Computer Assisted Facilities Management, which doesn’t do much to explain the tasks the computer might be able to assist with. Maybe that’s why it’s become an umbrella term for different kinds of facility management software.

The classic CAFM system now comes packaged with a range of core functionality including:

  • Workflow management for reactive, planned and compliance maintenance
  • Tools for managing work orders through the entire life cycle from creation to supplier allocation and invoicing
  • Real-time data, visibility and control over reactive and preventative maintenance
  • Performance measurements for your supply chain
  • Oversight of compliance risks and tools for compliance control
  • Oversight, analysis and control over maintenance budgets

The best solutions are built with usability in mind - with features and functionality that reflect where and when the software is going to be used - and by whom. This should be reflected in a mobile-first approach to development:

  • Contractor portals for third party suppliers
  • Mobile interfaces allowing users to deal with issues on the go
  • Geolocation time and attendance tracking tools to improve oversight

Some very large, corporate enterprise based vendors, also focus around space management, specifically:

  • Move planning and Implementation
  • Monitoring move churn
  • Accessing space, move and building stack reports
  • Supporting efficient flexible working through space booking portals
  • Monitoring space utilisation and occupancy
  • Managing meeting room bookings

These space management tools can be extremely powerful and for those who need to manage occupancy and other related functions - they are often a ‘must-have’. At the same time, these solutions have been augmented and improved by the addition of CMMS functionality for maintenance and asset management.

CMMS (Computerised Maintenance Management Systems)

Stand alone, or available as part of the kind of CAFM described above, these systems are used to track and schedule maintenance activities, integrating them with space management tools and sophisticated reporting. In addition, these packages will have a focus on:

  • Engineer resource planning
  • Stock Management
  • Equipment monitoring and downtime reporting

What’s in a name?

Increasingly, all these kind of software solutions are commonly known and sold as CAFM systems

But in the end, it doesn’t matter how the solution is labelled by the vendor, it’s whether they are the right fit for you that should govern your decision making.

However it’s packaged - for many FM managers the advanced room booking, space utilisation, occupancy management and sensor functionality of a classic CAFM system may be unnecessary additions. They may even prove a distraction as managers seek to find a rapid and flexible implementation that will urgently address maintenance needs, compliance and budgetary oversight.

What matters for many Facilities Managers is how the solution can right-size to address urgent and priority needs, then how it can scale with their business in an agile way.

So forget the acronyms and concentrate on what you need from the software.

What to consider when you’re choosing FM software?

Objectives: FMs looking to adopt facilities management software should carefully consider their needs. It may help to draw up a list of MOSCOWs (a list of things the software must, could, should and would solve for in an ideal world). This will help prioritise what you want to achieve from a purchase. These requirements will vary from organisation to organisation. List them all, identify the gaps in your performance and size them up against what’s on offer.

Configurability: How long will it take to set up the software to be used by your organisation? Are you talking about days, weeks or months? How much help will the vendor be in setting up the portal with and training in its use? How much training is required before it can be used effectively?

Usability: The solution you choose is going is likely to be used by a range of different individuals in a range of different situations. Is the interface intuitive? Is it crowded with tonnes of functionality that will clutter and distract intended users? What are the mobile capabilities of the solution - what do you need them to be?

Reporting: What’s the reporting like? Are there ‘at a glance’ dashboards and in-depth analytics available? Can data and charts be easily downloaded and shared for meetings or board reports?

Resource and time-hungry set-up and training requirements may prevent you from realising the benefits of your chosen software solution quickly enough. You don’t want to get saddled with something that’s going to take months to master, while demanding endless training and configuration sessions from the vendor. Equally, you don’t want a DIY solution that leaves you on your own with an annual license fee, a set of passwords and a lingering sense of regret.

Make sure you choose your software and your vendor carefully. For many FM managers, the challenge will be to find a solution as agile, flexible and responsive as they need to be in a world of rapidly changing priorities.

How to choose a CAFM system

Tom Wilcock

Written by Tom Wilcock

Tom Wilcock is the COO and Co-Founder of Expansive Solutions. He is a digital expert with a background in delivering large-scale business digital transformation. He specialises in project management, product user experience, business ecosystems and data intelligence.

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