Identifying Customer-centric MES Customization

Your company may need a viable custom MES solution, but not all software companies will offer it to you.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Not long ago I read a Business Insight by Shep Hyken, author of The Amazement Revolution. Hyken and CIMx share a core passion: creating a Customer Service culture.  Generally, I agree with Shep’s philosophy, and love him as a speaker.  Putting the customer first is the basis for a true win-win in business.

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If you’re not careful, a simple configuration can eliminate your ROI over the life of an installation. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In the Business Insight article, Shep talked about Flexibility as a key to great service (his example focuses on dining at a restaurant).  He said (and I agree), “The best companies are flexible ones.  They understand their customers’ different needs and adapt to them.  Not everyone is the same.”  He goes on to discuss how some customers need a lot of customization in the sales process and product offerings while others don’t.

It’s true.  Some prospects allow us to guide them through our standard discovery-based, consultative sales process.  In Shep’s article, these are the restaurant patron that allows the server to offer them choices (what side, how it’s cooked, etc).  Other prospects want to forge their own path.  At the same table, these are diners that have very specific requirements for how their meal is delivered, with something extra or on the side.  Just as both diners think the meals was customized for them and are happy, our prospects also need to be completely satisfied, whether they use our process or their own.  They need a project delivered on-time, on-budget and to their specification (we feel this is so important, we guarantee it.)

In both cases, the customer is the focus.  They’ve received exactly what they wanted.  In his final paragraph, Shep states, “You may have to pay for customization.  But, if you get what you want, it is worth it.”

Dangers of MES Customization

Here’s where Shep and I part ways.

In the software industry, customization is a dirty word with good reason.  Customized software can be expensive, and it’s often not sustainable.  Customers want customized solutions, and most companies are more than happy to deliver at a premium cost. The difference between software providers is some will deliver a viable custom solution that minimizes the cost over time, while others will set you up with an expensive solution to increase the service costs over the life of the installation. It all depends on how their business model is set up.

Some software companies use marketing to hide the expense of customization (even as they secretly forecast ludicrous expense charges every time their customer needs something done).  Whether they call it Business Rules, Configuration or Modularization, the process is the same – the customer gets the specific additions and changes they need.  In adding customization, however, some providers are setting you up for future failure.

In our industry, companies know you will be a repeat purchaser.  Once you invest in the original purchase, you will invest again – whether in annual support or in upgrading.  So how a company builds the software, how they support the tool and how they provide the customization will impact the customer over and over again.  Not all companies will implement customization with the customer’s needs in mind.

They will build a “personalized” system with all the customization you want, building in complexity that requires you to engage with the supplier repeatedly in order to maintain your business processes.  Other suppliers deliver the same level of personalization and allow you to maintain your own processes over time; as internal departments have changes, the system supports them inherently.  It’s critical to understand how this works prior to purchasing a system, because eventually you will need to update, upgrade or make changes to the system.

Can You Support the Custom Solution?

Question Art WEB 081513

Do you know what configuration will mean for your business? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

If the software provider designs solutions that require product changes to support your installation, your TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) will be much higher. It will be much more difficult to find an ROI. In fact, you may never find the expected return on the investment, and in the future, you may elect to hold off on updates and upgrades with the solution slowly devolving into obsolescence. All this is the result of the tools that the supplier used to deliver your specific needs.  Core product aside, you will have specific requirements during installation and you need to know how these will be delivered to know your true TCO.

Before purchasing, it pays to understand how the customization will be implemented, and utilize a supplier that doesn’t rely on high service charges. Here are some questions that you can ask to get to the heart of the issue:

  • How will the changes that I’ve asked for be implemented?
  • When I implement the next release of your software, what happens to these changes? Please be specific.
  • What costs are there for me at upgrade?
  • If I asked you to demonstrate how to make a change to the software on my own, what could you show me?

It goes back to our core Customer Service Culture. We know that overtly complex customization and expensive service charges are great for short-term business gains, but are never the basis for a long-term business relationship. If you treat a customer fairly and with respect, delivering viable solutions, they will turn to you again and again. This is the foundation of our business.

We’ve got a list of helpful questions for you to ask during the software process, built around understanding the lifecycle cost of the products that we (and others) are offering.  Ask us about it.  We’ve made it part of our standard sales process, helping you identify the right product (and company) for your manufacturing needs.

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