CMMS vs EAM: What is the difference?

Computerised maintenance management systems (CMMS) and enterprise asset management (EAM) applications can both be used in the industrial maintenance space. One might say that the relationship between the two is rather like that between a square and a rectangle – every EAM application can be used as a CMMS, but not every CMMS can be used as, or has the broad functionality of, an EAM application.

A CMMS is essentially about managing the maintenance work necessary to sustain an asset, whereas EAM has more to do with managing the asset over its lifecycle to minimise cost and risk while maximising return.

But how exactly do CMMS applications and EAM applications provide value? How do you know if your company ought to implement one versus the other?


A CMMS may be thought of as a tool that allows us to communicate about maintenance activities in the same way, using the same words, every time. It provides documentation of that communication through work orders so essential maintenance activities don’t get forgotten. CMMSs are in fact designed to do a lot of other things for us, such as collecting material and labour costs and serving as a repository for all of our maintenance information.

There are definite problems that a CMMS can solve. Without a work order process that is used for every job, we have no documentation of what our most problematic pieces of equipment are. But once a company implements a CMMS and takes on the attitude that ‘the work order is king, and nothing happens without a work order’, that problem is solved.

Complete visibility into what work is being performed on which pieces of equipment can help us achieve things like preventive maintenance (PM) and predictive maintenance (PdM), and can even help with repair-or-replace decisions as problems become more recurrent and expensive to solve. But technicians can be resistant to the idea of recording any and all work in the CMMS. Why? Often, it is because they think the CMMS is being used to monitor their activities and ensure they are doing their jobs.

A better way to think about the CMMS and work orders is that it is a way to prove maintenance value to the organisation. In effect, any time maintenance is doing work outside of the work order system, regardless of whether you are using CMMS or EAM, you are doing work for free. Every maintenance organisation feels they are understaffed, but few are able to accurately document what their true workload is. If they could, it would help them identify the appropriate staffing level.

Documenting and managing work is one way to look at CMMS. Documenting and managing equipment is another.

Figure 1: A CMMS tends to focus on the maintenance management. It can also extend into inventory management and other disciplines, but is most often implemented for and used by maintenance personnel.

Figure 1: A CMMS tends to focus on maintenance management. It can also extend into inventory management and other disciplines, but it is most often implemented for, and used by, maintenance personnel.

Consider the problem faced by a company with a three-shift operation, with every shift spending 20 minutes doing a quick repair on the same piece of equipment. If that quick 20-minute job is not being captured by a work order within the CMMS, what you have is an invisible problem, because communication from shift to shift isn’t taking place. What that means is that, in a manufacturing environment, the line can be down for 20 minutes every shift, every day, for years, which really amounts to 60 minutes per day, up to 365 days per year. That is a tremendous waste. A CMMS can help identify and ultimately eliminate that waste, provided it is documented.

Lost productivity is one problem a CMMS can solve. Another is undocumented use of maintenance inventory, including parts and consumables. Many small to medium-sized organisations don’t man their storerooms, so often someone will grab a part with the intention of documenting what they took later. But often they fail or forget to document what they used and where they used it. The inventory system thinks those items are still on the shelf, causing shortages (stock-outs) that can in turn lead to downtime when a necessary part is not available.

Through the reinforcement of processes, procedures and documentation, one can create a culture of discipline across a maintenance organisation. If there is a CMMS work order system in place, it enables standardised, repeatable and sometimes predictable processes that prevents work from being missed or forgotten, documents problems so they can be fixed and ensures that the usage of labour and parts or materials are recorded.

Many CMMSs are in fact capable of facilitating much more than work orders and maintenance inventory management. But even though a CMMS offers more advanced functionality, it often goes unused since it is considered a ‘maintenance program’.

The difference

Some may say that there is not a whole lot of difference between a CMMS and EAM. EAM certainly offers a broader spectrum of functionality. And the delineation between the two may be drawn at purchasing functionality. Most CMMS applications have purchasing functionality, but it is often not used. A company using a CMMS will often integrate it point-to-point with a purchasing system, or the two functions may be handled in entirely separate applications. On the other hand, EAM applications have extensive purchasing, planning and financial functionality that the application is, to a certain extent, built around.

Many CMMS packages will also start to look kind of similar to an EAM application because they allow you to manage projects. Some CMMS applications even have a project module that integrates and uses work orders and builds parent-child work orders – all aimed at shutdowns and other maintenance events. It could be that this functionality is not strong enough or it is just not something those running the CMMS are aware of. Because it seems the natural tendency is to use Microsoft Project, or Primavera, we induce problems by doing things outside of the work order system. Again, CMMS is seen as having to do with work orders and maintenance, and a company choosing CMMS over EAM may not be looking for that additional functionality.

The choice between CMMS and EAM can also be influenced by the size of the maintenance organisation and where, within the company, the software decision is made. When a software project is driven by the maintenance department, they are typically selecting a CMMS, because they are not normally directly involved in selecting more enterprise-level systems or applications. Furthermore, a small to medium-sized maintenance organisation with 75 or fewer maintenance technicians will typically migrate to a CMMS. Once you have more than 75 maintenance technicians, they tend to migrate to an EAM application. As a company has more maintenance technicians, human resources and other roles to integrate with the maintenance workforce, EAM probably becomes more desirable. Moreover, a company whose entire operation centres to a large degree around maintaining, sustaining and operating assets will want technicians, and even contractors working with them, to be managed directly in, and from, their enterprise systems.

To most organisations, that level of sophistication in a system is exotic. And what happens, unfortunately, is that many organisations implementing CMMS or EAM may be advised to look at a full cradle-to-grave asset lifecycle management approach. But they balk, insisting, ‘We just want to concentrate on getting the assets in there and making sure our PMs are getting done.’ So they really pass up an opportunity to select an application capable of broader asset management duties or even, if a more powerful application is selected, lay the requisite groundwork during implementation to use the functionality. Most selection and implementation teams are under pressure to quickly get assets into the system and keep the PM program rolling. Once they accomplish that initial implementation goal, they never make time to go back and do more to, or with, the system. So whoever is helping them implement must drive them to try to embrace all of the capabilities of that system. Typically, CMMS applications may be used at only 50% or less of the total system capabilities. EAM is very much the same way. In relation to EAM, it is considered more cost driven because there is a lot more asset information, and a lot more work. As a result, people may say to themselves, ‘I don’t have the time, the money or the resources to do this fully. I will do it over time.’ But they never get back in there.


In contrast to a CMMS, EAM is an enterprise-wide application that can function just like an enterprise resource planning (ERP) application for an asset-intensive business – from the general ledger through to purchasing, projects, engineering and individual work orders. Or, as is the case with IFS applications, it can be implemented to include as much enterprise functionality as is required and integrated through application programming interfaces (APIs) with other enterprise systems.

Figure 2: EAM must address the entire asset lifecycle, extending from design through decommissioning. All of the asset data - as designed, as built and as maintained - must be held in EAM as a central repository.

Figure 2: EAM must address the entire asset lifecycle, extending from design through to decommissioning. All of the asset data – as designed, as built and as maintained – must be held in EAM as a central repository.

While a CMMS is designed, in its purest form, to manage the maintenance work so as to improve asset reliability, EAM is designed to allow the executive level to maximise the productive value of the asset, which of course means they need full visibility into maintenance costs. At the same time, they need visibility into the cost to initially construct the asset, the cost of replacement or lifecycle extensions, the cost of maintenance contractors and of course the human costs associated with salaries, benefits and more. They also need to evaluate risks presented by the asset, so asset integrity management and risk management is of critical importance – particularly for companies where asset failure can result not only in lost productivity but safety breaches or environmental impacts.

At a base level, EAM must deliver the core requirements not just of maintenance management, but asset management. Those requirements are spelled out in ISO 55000, ISO 55001 and ISO 55002. ISO 55000 includes an overview of asset management, ISO 55001 is a requirements specification for an integrated asset management system and ISO 5502 offers guidance for implementation.

While ISO 55000 does not specifically address software, it does require that all asset data, across the lifecycle of the asset and across organisational boundaries, be contained in the same database and, therefore, the same system. What does that mean? It means EAM must support the planning and engineering stage of the asset, including plant design. It must encompass the construction of the asset – so powerful project, document and contract management functionality is required. And it must support operation of the asset and even eventual decommissioning and replacement.

This is a demanding requirement that a CMMS alone cannot likely meet, and, frankly, neither can most EAM applications that may not address the entire asset lifecycle. And whether or not a company considers adopting the ISO standard, if they are committed to complete visibility and control over their assets, they still need that full lifecycle support.

By Dave Bertolini and Anders Lif

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