Sustainable Products, Consultants and Paperless Manufacturing

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Manufacturers have options when selecting a software solution, but often they lose sight of the most important requirement during the selection process.

On a recent flight, I sat next to a fuel transportation consultant with a background in software implementation.  As he talked about himself (incessantly), he explained he was a legend and master in his chosen industry. I instantly identified his sales pitch.

That’s really what it was – a sales pitch. Consultants are interesting that way.  The consulting industry – both corporate and independent – doesn’t make money unless you hire them. They don’t usually have a product to show or sell, only themselves, so they have this shiny, made-to-be-hired aura that promotes their skill and expertise.

Consultants need you to keep paying for their services; the end of one project may mean a lapse before another paying project comes.    Hiring them to install software, a job with a definitive end, seems counterproductive to their business model.  What is the impetus to complete a software installation in a timely manner?  Why should they make it sustainable or teach you how to adapt the software?

There may be very honest and skilled consultants out there, but the entire sales model seems designed to undercut the customer and minimize sustainability.

The Hard Facts of Building an MES

man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

Custom built software solutions will quickly bury manufacturers in unforeseen costs. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Many companies hire a consultant to select, modify or build a software system.  Short of trying to build a custom system internally, using a consultant is the most expensive option.  Here are some sobering data points to consider:

  • If you choose to build an MES, you’ll need at least 3 to 4 full-time staff and 18 months or more to get an initial beta offering launched. The cost, at minimum, will be $500,000 to $750,000.
  • The team will spend the first 6 months getting the requirements and design nailed down. It will be another 12 months of coding and development work.
  • The beta is not a full system. There will be missing features and no depth. Plus, the beta won’t fully support production. The next 2 to 3 years will be spent finishing work on the software.
  • This complete system will (hopefully) meet your specifications. But, if someone on the team leaves, the project will be delayed as a new employee gets up-to-speed or the rest of the team fills in and this may impact the software in the future.

Most companies that have built their own system eventually turn to a vendor offering in the future.  Custom software is too expensive, and isn’t adaptable. These systems simply aren’t sustainable.

Struggling Against Software Obsolescence

If you hire a consultant to build a manufacturing system or serve as an implementer (in that case, the consultant can double-dip on charges for selecting, reselling and installing the software), plan on roughly the same schedule as an internally-built custom system.  With a professionally outsourced consultant, the first beta offering may be far more robust than one built by an internal team, especially if they are modifying an existing system.  Unfortunately, to manage any modifications or changes to the system in the future you may need to keep the consultant on staff – resulting in extremely high overhead costs.

Here’s another inside fact – consultants do not like to work on each other’s code base.  Each has their own individual style.  Whether their code is the majority of the work or just a connector, making any change, even minor ones, is difficult.  In our experience, the number-one reason a company will replace a software system is obsolescence – that system installed by a consultant can’t be updated.

Sustainable Paperless Manufacturing Solutions

This is why CIMx offers a thin services model.  We build our products sustainably – so system connections, modifications and configurations (both at the time of install and in the future) are manageable by us and your internal teams.  Once we complete an installation, customers are free to make it their own (although many continue to ask us to do the work for them).  Knowing that we built it and can execute these changes quickly and effectively is comforting and cost-efficient.

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Increase the value of a solution by ensuring sustainability. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

In the world of MES, CIMx is unique – we offer a product completely built in-house.  We don’t suffer from the web of integrated, separately-purchased toolsets of many competitors.  Software suppliers who purchase other businesses to acquire a new tool for their MES platform (we call it growth by acquisition) and then market it as a synthesized package, end up working like a consultant, struggling to keep the system up and running.  Back end programs don’t talk or work together, so the supplier struggles to maintain the system and the customer continues paying service charges for a product that shouldn’t have been sold as an integrated product in the first place.

I’m sure there are very good consultants out there willing to work with a client to deliver the best solution possible – one that is designed to be adaptable and sustainable.

But there are others like the gentleman I shared a three-hour flight with. After our quick conversation about himself, he proceeded to play Panda Pop for the next 2 ½ hours.  Perhaps someone with enough attention to using a cartoon panda to pop balloons can deliver a project with forethought and sustainability. Perhaps his ability to sermonize about his skills won’t preclude his ability to actually listen to his clients and thoughtfully deliver the solution they need.

He was focused and persistent.  Maybe he’ll have the same degree of focus when he’s building or implementing your system, but is it a risk you really want to take with your shop floor production?

Or you could minimize the risk and find a solution provider focused on sustainability – with an update plan for the software. Give us a call if you want to learn more, or discover how CIMx builds sustainability in our product. We’re happy to help.

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