One of the most frequently stated concerns organizations have when buying computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software is, “Is the system easy to use?” If you visit any vendor website or speak to any salesperson, the answer to that question is always a resounding, “Yes!”
But what is ease of use, really? Are terms like “intuitive” and “easy to use” just marketing buzzwords or is there more substance to it? We explore the concept of ease of use in this article.
What is Ease of Use?
The phrase “ease of use” is tricky to define, primarily due to its subjectivity. In other words, what a person considers “easy” is based on their own skill, knowledge, experience, and even mood or attitude.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard 9241, Part 11 offers the following definition of ease of use:“[The] extent to which a system, product, or service can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.”
This definition is a bit vague, if unhelpful, and doesn’t quite explain how to evaluate ease of use. For our purposes, we can interpret this to mean that ease of use refers to how easy it is for a user to perform a task in computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software. While this definition provides a little more clarity, it still doesn’t define what characteristics make using a CMMS “easy.” We’ll get into that shortly.
Why Ease of Use is Important
As mentioned earlier, ease of use is a frequently stated concern of CMMS software buyers. A Plant Services survey found that an intuitive user interface was ranked as the most important factor when comparing CMMS packages. What is the reason for this?
It should be obvious that for a CMMS to succeed, it must be adopted by those who will use it most often. A system that is difficult to learn and navigate won’t be used and therefore, will never produce positive results. When your employees understand how to use CMMS software and other technology to do their jobs, benefits from increased productivity and asset uptime will follow.
Further Reading: How CMMS Software Drives Maintenance Efficiency
Evaluating Ease of Use
As it turns out, ease of use isn’t just marketing messaging after all. In fact, there is some “science” behind ease of use in software like CMMS. Whitney Quesenbery, a usability design expert, defines ease of use through the 5 E’s: efficiency, effectiveness, engagement, error tolerance, and ease of learning. Each of these is examined more closely in the following sections.
Efficiency is the speed in which users can complete tasks accurately. Measurements of efficiency include how much “time on task” is required for the user to do their work in the CMMS. Questions related to efficiency include:
- Can routine tasks be accomplished with minimum effort?
- How long does it take users to complete a task (or set of tasks) in terms of time spent reading or thinking, number of clicks, or number of page views?
- What navigation elements (i.e., keyboard shortcuts, menus, links, and other buttons) are present to help users take action?
- Can users perform related functions from the same screen without jumping back and forth?
Effectiveness is a measure of how accurately tasks can be completed and how often it produces errors. A CMMS system’s effectiveness is determined by how accurately users complete their goals. A system that is considered to be effective presents choices in a clear and understandable way. When evaluating effectiveness, ask questions similar to:
- Can tasks be performed completely and accurately?
- Are choices presented in a way that is clear and understandable to end users?
- Can users reasonably predict the effects of performing various operations?
A system’s interface is engaging when the user is satisfied with their experience. Engagement often relies on the way a user feels about using the CMMS, which is difficult to objectively measure. However, a user’s satisfaction with the “look and feel” of the interface is often closely related to their perception of ease of use.
Be cautioned not to let a system’s look and feel drive your purchase decision. Even if the interface is well-designed, a CMMS that doesn’t meet your functional requirements will be unusable and fail. Use the following questions to assess a system’s engagement:
- Is information presented in a logical way?
- Is the interface well-designed, and does it make use of visual elements such as graphics, icons, and colors?
- Can data be visualized in reports and dashboards?
- Can the system be configured to show additional information or hide irrelevant information from users?
Error tolerance is a system’s ability to prevent users from making errors – or help them recover when errors do occur. Features such as required fields, configurable permissions and rights, and workflow customization help reinforce processes and reduce the number of errors. If errors do occur, the software should clearly describe the problem and lead users to the appropriate corrective action. Questions related to error tolerance include:
- Can users accomplish tasks without making mistakes, especially ones that could have been avoided?
- How does the software react when mistakes are made?
- Can users easily recover from or correct errors?
Ease of Learning
Your users must know how to operate the CMMS in order to use it effectively, efficiently, and with minimal errors. A system’s ease of learning relates to how well a user can figure out how to perform tasks within a reasonable amount of time. However, learning how to use a CMMS does not just occur at startup – it takes place over time. Users will be able to expand their use of the system as they become more familiar and comfortable. A CMMS solution’s ease of learning can be determined by asking the following:
- Are design elements and controls placed in familiar locations?
- Do icons or contrasting colors help users identify important data or controls?
- Do similar functions behave similarly across the software?
- Can the steps required to perform a task be easily remembered?
- Do similar functions perform similarly when using the CMMS on different devices?
- Do buttons provide intuitive images signaling the user to take the right steps?
Tips for Selecting an Easy-to-Use CMMS
Asking questions like the ones in the previous sections helps you better evaluate ease of use when comparing CMMS solutions. However, these questions don’t account for other variables that can affect your team’s perception of an “easy-to-use” CMMS. There are other precautions you can take during the selection process to improve your chances of success!
Do Your Due Diligence
When researching CMMS solutions, many organizations create a requirements document that provides details about how they desire the system to work. Doing so forces buyers to think about their team’s computer savvy and experience, and visualize how the CMMS will be used. Buyers can then identify what ease-of-use features are required, based on the needs of the team.
Related Reading: What is a Request for Proposal for CMMS Software?
Involve Daily Users
Ultimately, ease of use comes down to how a system feels. Think of a CMMS like a new car – it’s possible to get what you want by just looking at features, but there is substantially more risk involved. Therefore, it is beneficial to take the CMMS for a “test drive.” Inviting daily users to product demonstrations or having them experiment with a free trial will provide your team with valuable experience. Use their feedback to help guide your final purchase.
Recommended Reading: What to Expect from a CMMS Software Demonstration
Inquire About Implementation Support
In order to realize all the benefits a CMMS can bring to your organization, the software must be used. To ensure that users view the CMMS as easy-to-use, it’s important to have an implementation plan in place. Users are likely to abandon a system that they do not fully understand, is perceived as being too cumbersome, or is likely to produce errors. Many vendors offer implementation assistance including CMMS user training and ongoing technical support to help you succeed. Ask about what resources are available to you.
Further Reading: How to Increase CMMS User Adoption
FTMaintenance: Easy-to-Use CMMS Software
Today’s industrial organizations and facilities require computerized solutions for tracking maintenance activities. Maintenance managers know that a CMMS that is too cumbersome will never be used, thereby making it difficult to make smart, data-driven management decisions.
Easy-to-use FTMaintenance is specially designed for maintenance teams with varying levels of computer experience. New FTMaintenance customers receive complimentary implementation assistance, user training, and ongoing support. Request a demo to see how easy-to-use FTMaintenance can benefit your team.