What is a CMMS?

A computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is software that stores data about maintenance performed on equipment, machinery, and other assets.


The first CMMS appeared around 1965 and was used by large manufacturers that owned IBM mainframe computers (the beastly kinds that are not used anymore). Technicians would log data on punchcards that were fed to the computer. Years later, they would log data on paper that was given to data entry specialists. Only in the 1980s when computers became more usable did technicians log data themselves directly into the system.

Usability is now less of an issue in the 21st century with personal computers. And a CMMS is not reserved for large manufacturers that have high maintenance budgets. Today, a CMMS is used by companies that have Internet in their facility and even the smallest maintenance budgets. This is because CMMS solutions are web-based and relatively affordable. For instance, UpKeep’s solutions start at $29/technician/month. There is even a free version.

Accessibility and affordability aside, today, a CMMS is judged mainly on its features and ease of use. Usability is still an important factor because, as more features are added, CMMS solutions can become increasingly complex which decreases any chance for successful implementation.

How a CMMS Works

At a high level, the CMMS is a data management system and the work order feeds data to that system. When a work order is closed, the data is processed by the system. Work orders contain data including parts and costs, wrench time, asset repaired, and time to complete. This data is then processed into reports used by maintenance managers and other departmental heads.

  1. The work order is created. A work order is assigned to a technician and asset.
  2. The work order is completed. The technician updates the work order with new data (parts used, costs, time spent, meter readings, checklist items, etc).
  3. The data is processed by the CMMS. The CMMS processes the data and updates the record for the asset.
  4. The data is surfaced. Management runs reports that reveal labor-intensive assets, technician productivity, and maintenance costs.

Popular CMMS features

Work orders

The work order is at the core of any CMMS, whether it is a work order for preventive maintenance, an inspection, or breakdown repair. With the CMMS, the maintenance manager can quickly assign work orders to technicians or teams. The technicians have accounts on the CMMS and get notified when a work order is assigned to them. You can also add locations, assets, parts, wrench time, costs, and other data to work orders. Completed work orders feed data to the CMMS for future reporting and analysis.

Work requests

The work request gives operators, technicians, janitors, staff, and anyone else the ability to notify maintenance management about an issue. Anyone can access an online work request portal and CMMS users can create work requests from their mobile device. It’s as easy as taking a picture of the issue, creating a description, identifying a location or asset, and clicking submit. Management is then notified by email and push notification about the request.

Asset management

A CMMS tracks the entire lifecycle of an asset—from the original purchase date until it gets decommissioned. It also holds a preventative maintenance schedule and shows a history of work orders performed on a particular asset. Some CMMS products let you track downtime and depreciation. This data allows maintenance teams to align with accounting and operations on whether an asset should be saved or sold.

Mobile app

Only recently did a mobile CMMS app become a popular feature among CMMS providers. Before this was offered, technicians performed double data entry. That is, they wrote information related to work orders on paper and, after completing the work order, entered it into the CMMS on a desktop. The inability to log data onsite crippled productivity with an extra step. Before mobile apps, there were web versions of CMMS solutions that technicians could access on their phone but they left much to be desired.

Note: These are just a handful of CMMS features. To see other features that are in demand, visit UpKeep’s feature page.

On-premise vs cloud CMMS

An on-premise CMMS is an in-house software system that manages maintenance data. You often pay upfront for the installation of the system and are responsible for setting up firewalls and IT infrastructure. These systems were used before high-speed Internet and software-as-a-service (SaaS) products existed. Today, cloud CMMS products are used.

With a cloud CMMS—or a CMMS that is hosted on infrastructure managed by the CMMS provider—updates happen automatically. You get new features without having to install a new version of the software. With an on-premise CMMS, you must make updates to the system yourself as they become available.

Another benefit of a cloud CMMS is the ability to enter maintenance data from anywhere. A cloud CMMS lets technicians use a mobile application to view and update work orders from the repair site or anywhere else there is an Internet connection. The mobile application syncs with the main server where all maintenance data is hosted. This way, technicians don’t have to re-enter data from a desktop computer.


Computerized maintenance management systems help teams organize maintenance tasks and track maintenance activity. There are also CMMS products available that are free to use; however, many maintenance teams are still using pen and paper, spreadsheets, or no system at all according to an UpKeep survey.

With CMMS products easier than ever to use and widely available to teams with different budgets, it’s at least worth testing a CMMS.