Tag Archives: manufacturing software

Are There “Gentlemen’s Rules” in MES Sales?

Many software suppliers are more focused on the sale than the solution when working with customers.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Twenty-something years ago, software demos gave potential customers a good idea of the system they were buying.

Today, as software functionality continues to expand and teams of consultants scramble for profit (read our blog on Tesla for more on that), it’s difficult for manufacturers to know what they are purchasing.  The skill in selling software has grown faster than the market’s ability to discern fact and fiction.  The rules in the software market have gotten skewed, and without rules, how do we play (or purchase a system)?

Gentlemen’s Rules in Cycling

I was an avid cyclist.  After competing for 18 years on the cycling circuit in the US, I’m content now to watch the Tour de France in a comfortable armchair.

MES and the Human Element

Does your implementation team really know the software and your processes? Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

The Grand Tour is an amazing spectacle.  If you live in France, the month of July is dedicated to the sporting event.  It is called one of the most grueling sporting events in the world.  For 21 days straight, almost 200 cyclists (usually 22 teams of 9 riders) compete in road stages that make Death Valley seem leisurely.

In cycling, there’s always been an unwritten gentlemen’s code of conduct. If you are a rider, a competitive one, you know it.  And you live by it…

Cycling is, at its heart, a team sport.  Inevitably, the entire group (the peloton) doesn’t ride together – the group will split as the race speeds up or the hills get steep.  In these situations, the gentlemen’s code ensures:

  • you never attack the leader if he or she is down;
  • you work together and everyone takes a turn, and;
  • if you’re not able to work with the group, you may sit on the back (where there’s less wind and it takes less effort) but you won’t participate in the sprint or receive points on the day.

The code subtly manages the race.  You don’t win if you can’t do the work.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the software industry has a similar rule…

As a customer, you want to get the best product for your business.  The purpose of the demo(s), the Request for Proposals (RFPs), and the other stages of the software purchase process is to determine how well the system will serve your manufacturing needs.  The process should let you “try out the team,” who will be providing your new system, ensuring only a company that can do the work will earn the job.

But, that’s not how it works today.  Many suppliers use resellers so they never work with an end user. Other suppliers are so big, there are layers and layers of bureaucracy between you and the people who really know the software.  Most customers only meet the sales team, and are introduced to a few people on the installation project leads – a team focused on sales and collecting commission or service charges, and not meeting the goals of the implementation.

How are those implementations working out?  How many companies suffered with a poor software installation when the salesperson (who was well-liked liked) made promises the solution couldn’t keep?

Implementing a Code of Conduct for Software Sales

Confidence Button Shows Assurance Belief And Boldness

Are you confident your team is focused on shop floor improvement? Illustration by www,colourbox.com

Let’s go back to my gentlemen’s code theory.  If the sales team tells is focused on closing the sale, are they really worried about what your needs will be in the future?  When you have an issue, are they there to help you, or are they counting on your service charges each time a problem comes up?  Are the sales or implementation team best positioned to answer your questions?  You never even meet the real software experts (if there are some).  In fact, it’s not in the interest of some companies to review every option or potential problem before an implementation, because their sales model is based on the additional service charges they’ll be getting from you.

I’m not suggesting you find a better salesperson.  It certainly helps the process, but I think you need to look deeper.  With the increase in consultants, and the constant attrition in the marketplace as smaller companies are eaten by the monolithic software enterprises, the “team” concept in software sales has disappeared.  As software companies absorb functionality from other systems, finding someone, anyone, who understands the software enough to provide adequate, or useful, support, is almost impossible. This leads to higher cost, additional complexity, and a software product that never works the way it was sold.

A gentlemen’s code of conduct would help eliminate many of these problems.  Consider this:

  • The software supplier should walk a customer through the entire implementation process (eliminating those “surprise” service charges that creep into many projects).
  • No system should be installed without an upgrade path. Systems shouldn’t fade into obsolescence.  (Read more about it here.  It’s critical.)
  • The software supplier should offer a guarantee and benchmarks for the system and implementation. They should take some risk in the project, and not expect the customer to carry the burden.
  • No product should require a manufacturer to completely change their processes and work instructions. Too often the shop floor ends up serving the software, rather than the software supporting production.

I’m sure every person who has ever worked with a software supplier could add to this list, but it’s a start, and we need to start somewhere.

Will Your Supplier Go the Distance?

We should all work for our customers like members of a cycling team.

This year’s Tour has been one for the books.  Last week’s stage to Mont Ventoux reminded me of a software installation gone awry.  With winds topping 60 to 100 kms/hr, race officials cancelled the last 6 kilometers of the race.  None of the teams complained, even though the decision hindered the advantage of the top climbers.  Unfortunately, many people had camped on the side of the road for those final 6 kilometers, and as word spread, those people waiting at the top started to make their way down the mountain.  The crowded roads caused the leader to crash badly.

If something like this happened during an MES implementation, many suppliers would sigh and extend the schedule, halt production on the shop floor while they fixed the problem, or call procurement with more service charges.  Installation is a tricky process and things go wrong.  Is your software vendor willing to change the requirements or project plan when problems happen?  How painful will the service charges be?  How will they work with you?

If you have a problem, will your team (if you even have one) do what the leader did on Mont Ventoux?  With a wrecked bike and watching other groups pass him as he waited for a team car, he began to run.  Running in the Tour de France?  In 25 years, I’d never seen it.  He did what it took to keep the winning jersey with Team Sky.  And he delivered.

That’s the difference between working with a team focused on your goals and with people who really care about your success and the product they offer, and working with just another software reseller.

How to Manage the Smart Manufacturing Revolution

For companies still reluctant to change in the face of the next industrial revolution, there are simple strategies you can take to position your company for success.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications at CIMx Software

There’s a famous quote by Albert Einstein that has particular relevance to modern manufacturing – “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The convergence of Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) is having a profound effect on manufacturing. The days when IT resources could get by without ever having stepped on a shop floor are gone. Operations can no longer refuse to put another “damn computer” on a work center.

In fact, more and more companies are actively pursuing IT/OT integration.

The motive for this convergence is simple – if the end goal for a manufacturing organization is improved production and profit, there are a wealth of solutions and benefits to be found in IT.

According to the Wall Street Journal, many manufacturers are beginning to see themselves software firms, hiring software and computer experts rather than mechanical engineers. “… the transformation of the nation’s factories by digital technology is not only remaking the sector’s hiring needs, but altering how it needs to operate.”

IT is shaping how the supply chain operates, how products are designed and produced, and influencing how manufacturers add value in the marketplace. According to ARC, an analyst firm, “…IT-OT integration is a necessary step, and one that will pay dividends. The results… will, ‘increase the value of existing infrastructure, provide both new opportunities and risks for manufacturing, and allow the reinvention of the relationship with the customer.’”

Process Improvement graph.

Managing change is the difference between success and failure. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Managing a Smart Manufacturing Strategy

Unfortunately, many manufacturers decide to manage change by doing the same thing, over and over again. Instead of addressing the root cause of production struggles with a Smart manufacturing solution, they contort existing processes to get by. Their strategy comes down to doing nothing.

The market is moving past paper-based manufacturing and ineffective Legacy MES. Software companies and industries that serve manufacturing no longer offer the inefficient tools these companies are clinging to. Over time, the divergence between companies that embrace change and those waiting will become so profound as to be unsustainable.

For companies still waiting, there are simple steps to managing the Smart Manufacturing revolution:

  • Foster collaboration between IT and OT. Adding an IT resource to your OT team will not only provide an important resource for the shop floor, but also train your IT team in how the shop floor operates. Over time, this collaboration will begin paying dividends as the company better synchronizes internal projects.
  • Remove paper and paper-based processes from production. Paper causes errors, is difficult to manage, and cannot support modern Smart manufacturing. With a phased implementation, you can begin eliminating paper with a flexible MES in as little as 3 months. Start by digitizing your travelers, a simple task for modern MES, and you’ll also increase production visibility.
  • Consolidate your production information. Many companies struggle with production data kept in multiple locations. Engineering will have a database. Operations will keep their data on paper travelers, while Quality stores their own records. With Smart manufacturing, you need to consolidate data in a secure, accessible location – most often a comprehensive production database. A single source of production truth eliminates much inefficiency companies often struggle to contain.

Doing nothing is not a viable strategy for managing change.  Even for manufacturers unsure or reluctant to take action, there are simple steps you can take that will position the company for success in the future.

Want to learn more, or see how an MES, the foundation for a Smart manufacturing, can help you? Contact CIMx for a free shop floor analysis and receive a personalized report that will become the core of your own improvement strategy.

What Tesla Teaches You about MES

The software sales process has never been customer-centric, but that may be changing.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Researching and buying software is a horrible job.

When you buy a commodity, many rely on the “seeing-is-believing” methodology.  Until you can hold a product in your hand, feel and use it, see it in action, the buyer will be reluctant to let go of their money.

Have you ever tried to hold software in your hand? Can you imagine “trying-out” an MES without training or an implementation?  Software is already one of the most challenging things to sell, and MES even more challenging.

You can demonstrate software, but rarely will an MES do exactly what the customer wants or needs.  Remember our last blog on manufacturers crafting requirement lists with 250 items or more?  No product will exactly match all 250 the way a customer wants (unless they pay for high-priced customization and additional complexity.)

We recognize an MES is not easy to buy, but there are actions suppliers can take to benefit the customer.

A Lesson from Tesla

Not all commodities rely on “seeing-is-believing.”  Tesla has turned the car industry on its head by not following conventional wisdom.

There’s a Tesla dealer near my house where I can look at a single turquoise blue S model sitting in a showroom.  I can sit in the car.  I can see it and touch it, but I can’t turn it on.  I imagine the road underneath my feet as the ever-so-smooth sales guy talks me through its performance, offering an impression, but still not the experience itself…

Despite Tesla’s reluctance to just give the customer what they think they want – the showroom’s always full.  People are buying these cars without driving them, paying $30, $40, even $70,000 dollars without demanding the “just-because-I’m-here,” discount.

Tesla broke the mold.  Where other electric car makers went after the young, hip, eco-conscious millennials and cost-conscious seniors, Musk went directly for the luxury car market.  He identified a better way of selling his product.

The Flaw in the MES Sales Process

So what’s that have to do with MES and software sales?

man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

IS the software sales process for MES working for you? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

It’s simple.  People expect software to be incredibly complex.  Companies think they’ll have to change their processes and labor through a long “learning” period.  They expect the project to be a major investment in time, money, resources and effort.

Software suppliers are counting on this. They offer products with significant “service” charges attached to them, and a whole team (you are paying for) to help you through the process so they can capitalize the expectations.

The software sales guy is not helping, either.  They only make a commission when you buy it.  There’s incentive for him or her to tell you what you want to hear.  The supplier eagerly agrees to every one of the requirements, seeing the project and price grow like a hungry, bloated monster.

Going back to the “seeing-is-believing” conundrum in software sales, you need to trust the sales person to answer every question and help you navigate the purchase process.  The sales person is only making money if you spend it, so they keep telling you what you want to hear.

Sound miserable?  It is.

A Better Way to Sell Paperless Manufacturing

Most companies are happy to sell manufacturing software this way, but there are better options.

For example, our business model is focused on software products, and not software services. Our goal is to make money when you use our product, and not when you ask us to fix the product because it’s not working the way you want it to.

We take a consultative approach to sales. We make sure there is a technical resource or application engineer to answer questions honestly, and not just a sales rep. We know our solution may not be right for everyone, and we’ll tell a prospect to look elsewhere if we can’t adequately help them.

We also offer a guarantee.  We’ve talked about our guarantees before, but I’m not just selling us here.  I’m selling anyone in this industry that’s willing to provide you a written guarantee as part of the project – they will meet your written requirements for the amount of money in the proposal.  If they’re able to do that, I’d trust them.

Finally, with CIMx you have personalized demos. Our goal is to show (as close as possible) what the experience will be like on the shop floor. We put your material into the system and mirror your shop floor processes, offering you as close to a “see” as possible.

It’s a different way of selling software, it doesn’t follow conventional wisdom and it doesn’t appeal to everyone, but if you’d like to learn more then contact us today.

As for that Tesla, I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m willing to buy one yet, but I still admire the approach Tesla is taking to re-invent the car-buying process, even if I can’t feel the hum of the engine and purr of the road beneath my wheels.

The Importance of an MES to Optimizing Manufacturing Quality

Procedures and checks can only take your quality improvements so far. To maximize your quality, you need to design quality feedback loops.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Manufacturing companies are continually pursuing quality improvements, and with good reason. Improved quality not only increases productivity and profit as non-conformances and scrap are reduced, ensuring the shop floor is focused on product that ships, but also aids in sales. Consumers buying a product don’t care about productivity and efficiency; they care about value and quality – manufacturing quality.

MES and the Human Element

A sustainable solution to quality improvements requires feedback loops. Illustration from http://www.colourbox.com

Many manufacturers are wasting resources and effort on quality initiatives with limited benefit, relying on quality procedures and checks to catch quality escapes and eliminate them in the future – efforts that never achieve the expected results.

Trying to use paper processes or even a separate QMS (Quality Management System) or other system is the problem. The manufacturer may not be collecting the right information, can’t enforce quality initiatives on the shop floor, can’t identify where or why the quality escape occurs, and is finding the problem too late for corrective action. Without a system to address the total manufacturing value chain, there can be no cohesive solution to improving quality.

The Benefit of an MES to Quality

An MES or paperless manufacturing system creates an integrated system for managing the production process. It’s a single source for shop floor visibility and control, transmitting and managing information along the manufacturing value chain.

According to Jamie Finchbaugh, Lean Advisor and Speaker, quality initiatives require feedback loops between the consumer, the design team, and operations, with production information getting to the right people at the right time to positively impact Quality. From Finchbaugh’s article in IndustryWeek magazine, Is Quality a Result or a System, “Since quality is dynamic, we cannot just design it out of the system; we have to effectively react to it. Your feedback, and feed-forward, loops must be designed to be visible, relevant and timely.”

An effective MES allows you to design and re-design your quality feedback loops to optimize your quality. It acts as a single source of manufacturing information, providing real-time information anywhere and anytime, as well as the process enforcement and shop floor control necessary to close the feedback loop. Paper processes and disconnected software systems will never offer this level of control or sustainability.

Consider this – an MES can provide automatic tolerance checks for the data collected, so an operator immediately discovers a problem. If it falls within a certain range, a disposition plan is automatically sent to the operator to manage the non-conformance. Quality is informed, and can provide sign-off on the solution if necessary, but the feedback loop provides a solution to the people best positioned to manage the problem. In the future, process enforcement ensures the shop floor makes the necessary adjustments to improve quality.

No other tool can directly address the feedback loop like an MES. No other tool provides the capability of an MES to improve quality.

Companies still relying on paper are forced to create another procedure, quality check or dated report to somehow eke out a slight quality improvement.  Customers are demanding more of manufacturers, and dated methods will no longer deliver the expected results.

Want to learn more, or see what a quality program based on an MES can do for you? Contact CIMx today for a free shop floor analysis to learn more.

Why Do MES Implementations Fail, and What You Can Do

An MES Implementation can be a high-risk project, but there are steps you can take to minimize risk and improve success.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Companies may not talk about it, but there are MES and manufacturing software implementations that fail. There is risk with any major software implementation. ERP and PLM implementations will sometimes fail (even more than MES), and while there is no magic formula for implementation success, you’re not helpless against trouble.  There’s no magic 12-step process for every project, but there are warning signs savvy manufacturers can use to avoid trouble, and steps you can take to help protect your company.

5 Reasons MES Implementations Fail

Implementation projects fail for a number of reasons, including:

  • Culture: An MES implementation is as much a cultural project as a technological one. If the software wasn’t selected with the shop floor’s needs in mind, or the project goal isn’t clear from the beginning, failure is likely. Operators need to use the software for the project to be a success. A smart platform can be introduced in stages that operators readily accept, eliminating the resistance and culture shock common in “Big Bang” implementations that try to implement every piece of functionality at once.
  • man under money on white background. Isolated 3D image

    Don’t get buried by the cost of your overly complex MES. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Expense: As project complexity increases, costs skyrocket. Changing requirements also lead to massive cost overruns. Annoying and unforeseen delays and service charges from the software supplier can also derail a project. At some point, most companies will cancel the implementation rather than continuing to bleed expenses.

  • Out-of-Scope System Work: Many companies try to sell “master” systems fulfilling a number of functions. An ERP is not an MES or PLM. Inevitably an integrated, single source solution causes more problems than it solves since it results in a lowest common denominator solution, as the supplier tries to cram functionality into their system. Many times, it leads to a system that is difficult to use.
  • Customization: Many companies initially believe custom software is the only solution for their shop floor. The truth is few companies have the resources for the initial development, or the capability necessary to maintain the system as production needs change.  Building that perfect system will take a long time, and you need to accept high risk and frustration. It’s better to use a supplier that offers custom features on a smart platform that can be implemented at a low cost and ensure a sustainable system.
  • Supplier Promises: Some suppliers make exorbitant promises during the sales process promises that are extremely difficult to fulfill. As the list of broken promises and scope modifications grow, some companies decide to cancel the project out of frustration. There are ways to limit scope creep, limit cost add-ons and manage in-house modification flow.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it does touch on many of the core reasons a manufacturer will choose to cancel a project.  Canceling a project is a passive, but final, failure, and is many times the best decision for the long-term growth of the business.

A worse failure is an “active failure” where the project is implemented and does not achieve the improvements expected nor provides a positive ROI.  Companies with an active failure continue to lose money year after year, clinging to a software system that bleeds profit and productivity with minimal, if any, benefit.

Protecting Yourself from Implementation Failure

Never fear, there are steps you can take to position your company for success when implementing a new MES or digital manufacturing system. Consider this:

  • 3d render of time concept roadsign board isolated on white background

    Don’t let fear stop you from improving production. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

    Phased Implementation: Rather than trying to install and implement everything at once ( “Big Bang” style), a phased implementation gives the manufacturer more control over the project. Risk can be minimized by selecting and using the features and functionality the company wants, dictating the pace of change and complexity.

  • Aligning IT and OT: An MES is as much an OT (Operations Technology) project as IT (Information Technology). A project has a much greater chance of success if IT and OT are aligned from the beginning, selecting a project that meets the needs of both core users.
  • Trust: Many times an MES buyer will make a software decision based on grandiose promises from a supplier, rather than embracing their intuition and finding a partner company they trust.
  • Focus on Core Requirements: Many MES projects start with an initial need, and then additional requirements are added to the project. Each addition increases the schedule, cost and risk. Focus on solving the real problems in Phase 1, and the savings can pay for additional items in phase 2. A supplier that cannot provide a phased implementation has a solution without the necessary flexibility to be sustainable in your environment.

Managing Software Projects

For most failed software projects, it’s impossible to identify a single reason for the failure. It’s a combination that leads to the painful decision to accept failure rather than continuing to work with an active failure that will limit your profitability far into the future. Most times, this is the right decision to make. Trying to twist and contort the shop floor or the software just to make it work isn’t a good way to optimize production.

No one likes to admit or accept failure. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and can be devastating to a business. By following a few simple tips and staying on top of your project, you can avoid the problems that lead to failure.

Want to learn more, or see why and how CIMx guarantees major project milestones? Contact us today for a shop floor analysis or project estimate to see how we can best help you.

How to Start an MES Project without a Budget

Companies without a specific budget for paperless manufacturing end up living with shop floor inefficiencies for no reason. There are steps you can take even without a budget for a project.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

There are shop floors still resisting digital manufacturing. They struggle with massive, inefficient bundles of confusing paper work instructions that no one ever reads and may not even be correct.  They labor under shop floor blindness – never knowing when or if a project will be completed.  Quality escapes are commonplace, and without strong analytics or real time quality checks, coming up with a solution is like throwing darts blindfolded.

In every case, some know things have to change. As the pace of manufacturing increases and customers demand more, the problems will only be magnified. At some point the profit eating problems must be solved or the company may disappear.

Problem is – these shop floors don’t have a budget, and so they wait and hope things get better.

Waiting Until Next Year Isn’t a Solution

Just because you don’t have a budget (yet), doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start work on a project. There are steps you can take that don’t require a budget, and some important tasks you can (and should) start before looking at budget. It may be a project can succeed even without a formal budget; just the dedication of a few individuals.

Process Improvement graph.

A successful MES project doesn’t start with a budget. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

For example:

  • Start building your team.

No one person can manage an MES or paperless manufacturing project alone. If there are problems with production hurting the bottom line, there will be others interested in finding a solution. Begin building a team. Bringing others into the project will not only help in finding a better solution, it will also help build consensus and support for the project. You and everyone else may be busy so how do you find the time to squeeze in a “skunkworks” project? Talk about it during breaks or during lunch. Develop a group of passionate believers in improving your company; it may save their jobs someday.

  • Evaluate your internal processes.

Before you buy a solution, any solution, you need to have a strong idea what shape the project will take. That starts with a thorough evaluation of your internal processes. What IT infrastructure do you have? How does an order go from sales to the shop floor? How are you currently tracking orders? What is the change order process? Are you proactively or reactively managing quality on the shop floor? How fast is the company growing? How fast can it grow? What production processes, if improved, will add to growth?  Consider this setting the baseline for your solution search, and it should uncover opportunities for a digital solution to add to your bottom line.

  • Identify your key requirements.

It’s time to turn those opportunities into requirements.  What are the key problems holding back the shop floor? Is it paper work instructions, a lack of quality, or no shop floor visibility? What annoyances does the shop floor dread facing?  What are the expensive phases in your current processes?  Determine the critical items a successful software solution must address to reduce expenses or time.

  • Forecast the ROI.
Confidence Button Shows Assurance Belief And Boldness

The steps you take before you have a budget will position your team for success. Illustration by www,colourbox.com

Now that you have a good idea of the key factors to be solved, begin considering the ROI. What are paper-based work instructions and travelers costing you? How much scrap is generated by your quality escapes? What would it be worth to management to have a real-time view of production at any time? Before you go to management for a budget, or seek our possible solutions, you should have a good idea of what a solution might be worth. Keep in mind, the ROI you calculate here doesn’t need to be precise. Even a rough sketch of potential savings will help as you evaluate potential solutions and begin building your business case.  In some cases the expense reductions can pay for the solution in the same year to realize a successful project without needing a budget above investing the time to implement.

  • Conduct a shop floor analysis.

Finally, it’s time to see how a solution might work on your shop floor and with your processes. Contact potential solution providers to discuss your requirements and shop floor processes. They should be able to match your requirements with their software, and give you an idea of how software will work on your shop floor.  We call this a shop floor analysis. It is a critical initial step in moving a project from the theoretical to reality. Ask what can be done with a limited, or lack of a, budget.

Putting It All Together with Paperless Manufacturing

Any digital manufacturing project should start with these steps. None of them require a budget, other than time and effort.  Even if you’ve never considered paperless or digital manufacturing before, it doesn’t hurt to take a look at what options are out there. Identifying potential ROI is critical for proving project need and the business case.

Waiting another year or ignoring problems isn’t a solution, but taking a few simple steps to kick-off a project and take control of production is.

Want to learn more, or speak to a CIMx representative for a shop floor analysis, then contact us today. We’re always happy to help.

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.