Companies looking for CMMS software, or Computerized Maintenance Management Systems, can face some significant decisions. This type of enterprise resource can be tremendously valuable and save enormous amounts of time, effort and money. One of the most significant choices that goes into considering a CMMS system is whether to go with proprietary licensed products or CMMS open source software.
What is CMMS?
CMMS software is a type of scheduling and management software that makes it easy and efficient for organizations to track vital maintenance activities on their assets. You can schedule preventive maintenance to reduce repair needs and ensure your assets are running at peak condition. Utilizing this type of software can completely transform your company’s maintenance department for the better by streamlining workflows, establishing preventive maintenance best practices and ensuring assets are fully optimized.
What is Open-Source?
So what makes a CMMS open source? Open-source software (OSS) is different from proprietary software in a variety of ways. The name comes from the fact that the source code is open, or can be modified by users in ways that proprietary software can’t be. To be officially considered open-source, a program must meet these requirements, according to Techopedia:
- It must be freely distributed
- Source code must be included with the program
- Anyone must be able to modify this source code
- Modified versions of this source code may be redistributed
- The program can’t require exclusivity from the user or interfere with other software operations
Basically, open source CMMS software doesn’t require corporate licensing. As a result, companies skip the high costs of paying for some company’s research and design. It also means it is versatile and can be modified by any user to their unique specifications.
Instead of ordering software out of the box, or even through a vendor’s web portal, users of OSS can access a public software repository to get open-source products. Users can set up open source maintenance management software themselves, often with little or no support. However, any support that does exist usually comes in the form of an online community that helps develop and work with a particular open-source CMMS solution. Because the code is non-licensed, there isn’t a helpful staff of customer support waiting to help users through problems.
An easy example of closed-source vs open-source is Microsoft Word and OpenOffice — the products are very similar word processors, but one is a proprietary and very rigid product, and the other is both open-source and free.
So, This Makes It Free Open Source CMMS Software, Right?
Well, not exactly. Some open-source maintenance software is free, but not all of it is: free and open-source aren’t the same thing, despite being used interchangeably in some spaces. There are a range of different types of licenses even amongst open-source software that determines the price, usage and redistribution of programs.
So even software that is labeled as “free” isn’t necessarily free of cost — it may refer to free as in freedom of usage and adaptation. It’s confusing, we know. How to Geek explains this in more depth if you want to go deeper into the free software movement and license types.
Some Basics on Open-Source CMMS Decisions
First, it’s important to understand the CMMS landscape. Closed-source vendor options are popular, especially with larger firms. This is for a variety of reasons, including customer support, reliability, tradition and status. And don’t get me wrong, they could definitely be the right choice for your organization.
But they aren’t the only choice – open-source software also exists, and it exists in many forms. There are a lot of options to choose from, and not all of them provide the same results. Any manager in charge of purchasing a CMMS system needs to understand that buying an ill-fitting enterprise software can have a huge negative impact on a business and should put significant work into researching their options.
Someone who hasn’t had much experience with CMMS may be very surprised by the current state of the market. In a SelectHub survey of 168 companies in the market for CMMS software in 2018, 41 percent of respondents were purchasing their first CMMS. That means almost half of the businesses we surveyed were still using pen and paper or Excel spreadsheets for crucial maintenance management activities. Another 46 percent were updating to a more robust CMMS system, three percent were downsizing to a less sprawling system and 10 percent were consolidating multiple CMMS, FM or EAM systems into a single solution. For those downsizing or starting with their first system, open source CMMS is a great option to consider.
How Much Will it Cost Me?
Alright, so let’s talk about the issue of cost. It all depends on how large a company is, and what it’s doing (and whether the CMMS is part of open-source ERP systems). Many large, established corporations love the bells and whistles of advanced proprietary CMMS systems and are willing to pay for the training and support they get from a vendor.
On the other hand, smaller businesses often shy away from these expensive options for the simple reason that they don’t need such a robust system — and they couldn’t afford it anyway! In this situation, open-source products are some of the most affordable CMMS software solutions on the market.
A business with five employees generally won’t want to pay tens of thousand dollars in licensing fees and doesn’t need advanced functionality like multi-site asset tracking that an enterprise could consider crucial. Both size and scope are just as important as funding.
It also makes a difference what the pricing packages look like, and whether subscription-based pricing is available. To determine cost-effectiveness, buyers have to understand whether the company charges per user or provides a blanket license. In an open-source situation, you skip a lot of these costs, although some other costs may still apply.
Supporting Company Goals
It’s also important for a company to do its due diligence and research possible CMMS implementations with a view toward what the business wants to do. CMMS maintenance solutions are designed to support an organization’s assets and equipment maintenance. But companies don’t do this in a vacuum — they’re producing products and serving customers as well.
For example, a company may go on the market looking for a particular CMMS that helps them achieve Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification. That company may be primarily in the business of manufacturing, transporting foods or operating support systems for a set of restaurants. Its role in the process matters — and so does the CMMS choice that it makes. Whether or not company leaders made a list of equipment and assets, researched certifications, and found the most affordable options will often determine whether they get the return on investment they wanted.
The best way to ensure your goals align with the features and functionality of individual CMMS systems is to start by building a requirements checklist to guide your search. Then you can shortlist vendors that share your goals and needs and save yourself the headache of mismatches. But don’t worry — if cost is a main concern, affordability can always be one of your requirements!
Is Open-Source Worth It?
So now you know what makes CMMS software open-source, but we haven’t talked about whether open-source can be as good as — or better than — proprietary software. Part of that is because the answer is: it depends. Here are some of the pros and cons of choosing open-source CMMS:
Pro: Build Your Own CMMS
With some opensource CMMS products, you can essentially start with an open framework and build out from there. Some companies appreciate the flexibility to start with a rough framework before building in specific functionality that works for a particular inventory management method and/or a specific set of business processes.
For example, one open-source option is a CMMS package called openMAINT. OpenMAINT provides open-source software solutions for space and asset inventory, facility maintenance, logistics management, economic management, energy and environment, and GIS and BIM support (support for geolocational tools and building information modeling extensions). All of this supports a versatile, modular approach to using CMMS software.
A video on the site provides more detail about how to use this package, which has a somewhat Windows-like user experience that allows company leaders to build their own functionality in the generic environment. Is this something the company wants? Some of that may have to do with in-house talent pools. For example, companies with more tech-savvy employees may want to venture out into the build-your-own territory.
Con: Not-So-User-Friendly Software
Because open-source systems have to be customized directly in the code, it’s not something the average joe can effectively interact with. Organizations that want to utilize customized open-source CMMS need a sophisticated IT support team to ensure they can customize everything to their requirements.
Additionally, sometimes open-source software will have a less-streamlined UX than something that costs hundreds of dollars a month. This is to be expected — designers and coders cost money, after all. This isn’t always the case, and is definitely a generalization, but it’s something to keep in mind when participating in demos and trials of products.
Although not all open-source software is free, many of them are! Some free CMMS open source software solutions include UpKeep and ManWinWin. Others will come at a highly competitive and affordable price of less than $50/user/month, such as MaxPanda, Hippo CMMS, eMaint and Fiix.
Beyond the initial price, open-source software has a key price advantage over proprietary products: it can be distributed and reinstalled on multiple machines without impinging on a license agreement. This means that while users have to pay a per user per month fee for most proprietary systems, they can save some money even if there is an upfront fee or per-license fee for an open-source CMMS.
Con: Lack of Support
Although most big names in the CMMS opensource market will offer some level of customer support, there is less support for troubleshooting open-source software. Instead of a 24/7 team who can walk you through the issue, you’ll likely be heading to an online community forum or your IT team to get the problem sorted out. You may also need designated coders and experts to design and patch the software when it has problems, which not every business can afford or justify.
Open-source solutions are also notoriously less reliable than proprietary software, especially for enterprises. If something goes wrong, you’ll have to figure it out on your own. And no matter what kind of CMMS you have, something will go wrong eventually. So keep that in mind when making your choice.
Making Your Choice
Even if you narrow down your software choices to opensource CMMS, there are still a host of options to choose from. Making accurate and detailed comparisons is part of the work that shoppers have to do to find the right fit for their business.
Part of that involves looking at the user interface along with the available modules and functionality that the software package provides for preventive maintenance and other routine work. What kinds of ticketing and tracking are built into the interface? How easy will it be to train your maintenance workers — whether they’re field service technicians or individuals — with more planning-based roles? What types of software are targeted towards the specific types of work order documentation that the company needs to excel in its field, whether that’s transportation, chemical production, food manufacturing or anything else?
Once you’ve determined your requirements and have asked the important questions above, you can get closer to making a final decision on whether to utilize vendor-supported or open-source CMMS. Keep in mind that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s much more of a process of determining factors and goals and moving on from there in order to get the right software. When it’s done right, you’ll reap the rewards of a high return on investment and more efficiency in your maintenance processes.
Like any kind of CMMS, open-source computerized maintenance management systems offer a range of pros and cons. The main pros are price, versatility and customization. The cons are lack of support, a less-friendly UX and a need to be self-reliant for IT needs. Now that you’re educated on what makes a computerized maintenance management system open-source and have the resources to begin your search, you can move on with confidence.
Do you use open-source or vendor-supported CMMS? Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!