Tag Archives: Product Support

How to Find the Best Partner for Manufacturing Software

Last week I read a press release announcing a merger between two manufacturing software companies. The goal of the new product – a combination of the offerings from both companies – was to deliver functionality neither company had previously been capable of offering.

Dangers of Software Mergers

Joint offerings like this rarely deliver the expected benefits. With no real focus on customer needs, these business mergers lead to expensive, inefficient and ineffective product offerings propped up by the promise of innovation.  Too often, the real goals are either opening another revenue stream or fixing existing flaws in each developer’s software. Purchasing a competitor’s technology and marketing it under a unified brand isn’t innovation. For companies looking at a patchwork software solution, here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • Lack of Product Support

Ask how support for the “collaborative product” will be managed. Who will be responsible for support? Many times, the merger will completely change the support dynamics leaving users in customer support limbo. There will be lengthy and frustrating growing pains as the merger develops. Over time, the companies move on to other initiatives, with customers left struggling with unsupported software.

  • Functionality and Complexity You Don’t Need

Software acquisitions add functionality without thought to workflow. Continually cramming functionality into a software product creates complexity and inefficiency. The shop floor will ignore these systems. Additionally, consider the cost increase as users pay for functionality they don’t need and won’t use.

  • Expensive and Flawed Product Integration

Many product collaborations result in a lowest-common denominator solution for users. Software products developed independently, with different architecture and design, can’t be easily combined. There will be significant costs passed on to the customers to tightly link and connect the products. Some features can’t be linked, resulting in product flaws your shop floor will have to overcome.

The Power of Partnerships

Manufacturing software is critical for modern manufacturing. For companies struggling to support production with paper-based word documents, spreadsheets or modules tacked onto their existing ERP, the answer is not in the latest software partnership.

You’re not going to find a long-term, sustainable manufacturing solution with the “flavor-of-the-month” products developed in these partnerships. Unnecessary complexity, higher costs, support issues and flawed design elements eliminate any user benefit from the partnership.

Look for a software supplier ready to partner with you and your production team for a solution, and willing to focus on your unique business needs. The focus of any partnership should be your production needs and the growth of your business; not just the business of the software partners. CIMx Software has never purchased another product to increase our functionality footprint. Quantum was developed completely in-house, with a focus on empowering manufacturers to eliminate problems and increase output. Companies using Quantum know the focus is their production needs and supporting their business goals.

In our next CIMx manufacturing blog, we’ll take a look at how market consolidation is hurting manufacturers, and what you can do to find the right manufacturing software partner for you. Let us know if you have any questions, or would like to learn more about what modern manufacturing software can do for you.

The Curious State of the MES Industry

Manufacturers shouldn’t expect MES projects to be late and over-budget, but many do. They should expect exceptional customer service and successful data migration, but that’s not what many suppliers offer.

By Kristin McLane, President of CIMx Software

Recently, I was in a Verizon store trying to transfer information from my old phone to a new device.  This is not rocket science.  We should know – our software has helped put the space shuttles, the Delta Rocket, commercial aircraft and satellites into the air.

This is a simple data transfer, moving my applications, names, numbers and other information from an old device to a newer, smoother, faster device.  After a few minutes in the store, I began to doubt Verizon could finish the job.  Could I still use the new phone without my data?  Of course – I could also start over and just copy what I needed, one application or contact at a time, but I didn’t want to.

Computer devices around 3d small person.

Working with an MES supplier shouldn’t be confusing or frustrating. Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

I know how easy the migration should be, because we’ve spent a lot of time, energy and brainpower working with data.  Last year, we introduced a new product offering that transfers data from any platform to any other platform.  We are using it to migrate, move and repair all kinds of data, including embedded data links and legacy databases that haven’t been updated for decades.

So why can’t Verizon move a few apps and files?  From what I can tell – they don’t want to.  They don’t feel it’s worth their time.  It’s an expensive use of their resources in an industry with consumers who have come to accept crappy customer service. For them, there is no value in offering the service.

And that’s when I started to think about the MES industry.

MES Suppliers versus Manufacturers

In 20 years in this business, I’ve never met a manufacturer that doesn’t have existing data they need to move to a new system.  Whether they have 20 years of data, or just 30 months, they need access in order to continue work. As a computer system ages, slowly drifting into obsolescence, access becomes difficult and the system starts holding back production.

Once they see the problem; most companies do nothing right away.  They take time (lots of it) to get everyone together to discuss what they need in their new system.  Prospects end up with requirements that read like a wish list for Santa.  Last year, we had a prospect tell us they had created a “very modest” list of requirements.  They wanted a quick ROI and were tightly controlling the project asks.  The sheet they sent had close to 250 line items (which make me wonder what the “not-modest” requirement list looked like).

Efficient Manufacturing

Are you letting MES expectations hold your project back? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

This has become an industry standard because, much like the ill-fated and poorly equipped smart phone service providers, people have come to expect expensive, overly complex and mostly late projects from the software suppliers in our industry.  They believe an incredibly long and maddeningly-detailed requirement list is a necessity to play the game.  Suppliers are happy to play along, especially since most providers can’t deliver a project on-time or on-budget.

It’s true.  We constantly hear horror stories of projects gone wrong – delivered, but phenomenally over-budget, with functionality missing and a system that leaves the users disappointed.

When working with MES providers, companies create a huge list of asks to help protect themselves and their project.  If they’re going to jump in and spend the time and the money, they figure they need to get the bang for the buck.  Plus, if the project is going to under-deliver, the customer assumes it is better to fill up the requirements.

A Better Way to Manage MES Projects

Bigger projects don’t mean better results.  More service charges won’t deliver more effective software.  Adding another report or another piece of esoteric functionality isn’t going to protect you from failure (in fact, it will add to the complexity, which is never a good idea).  A brand-name (large provider) also does not guarantee success; the delivery may eventually come, but long after your needs have changed.

3d small people with a checklist

Work collaboratively with your MES supplier, and expect them to work collaboratively with you. Image by http://www.colourbox.com

Back to Verizon, who broadcast on commercials non-stop how they’re the largest this, the best that.  Offering the largest data network in the world doesn’t do anything if you force the customer to move information from one phone to another.  All that network power does me no good if I can’t access my contacts.  They are making their product less accessible.

Eventually, I did solve the problem on my own.  Shortly after leaving the store, thoroughly disgusted with the time wasted, the service (lacking) and the attitude (the 20-something Verizon rep cited her years in the industry as proof she could get the job done – before she totally failed at it), I was able to move my applications over.  Today, my phone and I are operating smoothly, despite any help from the supplier.

It’s true… the promise of a better network doesn’t mean better customer service. Similarly, the promise of a more expensive and complex MES does not mean a better system or improved production.

Take the time to work with the MES supplier to understand your needs and develop a project plan and requirement list. Together, you can design a project that benefits production, rather than setting everyone up for failure. Develop trust with the supplier and work collaboratively. Want to see what working collaboratively can do for you?  Ask for a shop floor analysis – it’s the first step toward seeing how an MES can benefit you.

Honestly, not every MES supplier can work like this. The focus on massive, overly complex projects using software developed decades ago is so embedded in our industry; some companies see project overruns and missed deadlines as the cost of doing business.  The supplier relies on those expectations and the customer cringes and comes to expect it… which is too bad, because it shouldn’t be that way.

So as not to leave you thoroughly discouraged, there are vendors who do what they say, and companies who believe the status quo isn’t good enough.  We offer written guarantees on price, project and timeline, and we don’t overpromise just to get a sale.  I don’t know another provider that’s out there that does what we do, but surely we can’t be the only one in the industry who provides projects on-time and on-budget?

In the meantime, I’m still looking for an honest telecommunications company who can manage a simple migration between phones.  Let me know if you find anyone.

It’s Not Just About Sales – It’s About Building Lasting Relationships

Even in the manufacturing software industry, every company has a different tactic for building profits. Understanding the sales process can tell you a lot about the company.

By Lisa Kessler, Customer Relations with CIMx Software

In her blog (a blog I often take time to read), The Irreverent Sales Girl states, “I think the biggest mistake salespeople make today, is that they try to pretend they’re not salespeople.”

What can the sales process for a new MES tell you about the long-term success of the implementation?  Illustration by www.colourbox.com

What can the sales process for a new MES tell you about the long-term success of the implementation? Illustration by http://www.colourbox.com

Companies need to make money, but when they haven’t taken the time to ensure their product adds value to the customer and profit to their business, they struggle to build trust with customers (a common problem for some MES suppliers) and resort to smoke and mirrors to hide the true cost of their product. Every business needs a mechanism or system for generating profit. Without it, you have no way to pay salaries or grow the company.

For some MES suppliers, that may be through service charges. These companies will offer a smaller base product and have a whole “implementation” team to build out your system with modules or add-ons. Other suppliers might focus on building a custom system. Or they may sell the software at an extremely high initial price, then pass it to the customer to use and implement as they see fit. Future sales may focus on upgrades. Many companies that offer extensive analytics, but only rudimentary MES functionality, often generate profit this way. These strategies can be very profitable for the supplier, but do not support the long term success of the implementation.

Whether you’re selling a 20oz. porterhouse, classic cars, or software that can run a manufacturing shop floor, the ultimate goal is the same…make the sale and grow profit. But, for CIMx a sale is worth nothing if it comes with a dissatisfied customer because of how we have designed our sales process to generate profit. Customer relations are vitally important, if not more important than the sale itself.  Our goal is to build trust from the start.   Building trust brings loyalty in the future.

CIMx builds a relationship with our customers – fine tuning our sales process around the customer’s needs. We want our customers to rely on our software for many years, and to come to us with their manufacturing challenges. It wouldn’t do any good to rush through a sale, dump a less than stellar product, and then disappear. Our goal is to offer an outstanding product that adds critical value to our customers. As their business grows, CIMx grows with them. We must help the people we’re selling to.

When working with CIMx, here is what you should expect:

 

  • We research our customers – We’ll take a look at our customer’s website prior to talking to them. We try to understand what they make, how they function, and what their priorities are so we know what questions to ask. We take the time to ensure the first call is of value.    
  • Have more than one call – Selling MES software is not a race to the finish (unless you are only concerned about dollar signs). Manufacturing is a complex business, and taking the time to fully understand our customers adds value and benefit. 
  • Move at our customer’s pace – We’ll ask about timelines – a customer in investigative stages will have different priorities than one already at requirements. Pushing a customer forward before they are ready doesn’t make anyone feel comfortable. 
  • Learn our customer’s processes – Our goal isn’t to sell software with custom code, but we do want to design a solution for our customers. We do this by mapping the customer’s processes to our software. It is important to show how our software can specifically help the company.  Our goal in the sales process is to help manufacturing companies be the leanest, most efficient they can be, and we do that by using their material and processes. 
  • Focus on ROI – We aren’t selling shoes here – an MES is a much bigger investment. We know our customers need to see an ROI to prove the software is a worthwhile investment, so we base our sales process on the ROI. Our goal is to solve the prospects manufacturing challenges and ensure there is a return. 
  • Follow-Up – For CIMx, the sale is only the first step in the process. We make sure our customers are not just satisfied, but happy. We’re available to our customers, and care about how the system is helping them succeed. Installation is just a first step.

 

We’ve seen this process work. Many of our sales have come from referrals from our current customers.  

Every MES company and every salesperson has their own process and way of generating income. It is important to keep your eye on the prize…which for us isn’t just the sale. For us, the goal is knowing our product is helping manufacturing companies thrive. Knowing our customers are happy, knowing they feel comfortable with us and our product, and knowing they’ll stick with us for years to come.  If we succeed in the sales process, then we know when our customer’s face another manufacturing challenge, we’ll be the first supplier they call to seek a solution.

 

If you are interested in learning more about MES and how it can benefit your shop floor give us a call.  No matter what stage you’re in, we will move at your pace, discuss your needs, and make sure you are comfortable at each step along the way.  We are happy to help and look forward to speaking with you.

3 Keys to Effective Software Customer Service

Don’t be fooled by marketing smoke and mirrors, effective customer service can be defined by a few key elements.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Are you getting the support you need from your manufacturing software provider, or are you getting the run around? Image by www.colourbox.com

Are you getting the support you need from your manufacturing software provider, or are you getting the run around? Image by http://www.colourbox.com

A few weeks ago, I took my car to a dealership for some work. “Don’t worry,” the service rep said as he took my keys. “I’m going to have my team get right to work.”

I should have run away the minute he said, “team.”

It took the team more than 3 days to get the work done – work that another mechanic said should take a few hours. I called to ask for an update every day, and every day the front desk transferred me to the Service Rep.  The Rep sent my call to the Lead Mechanic, who consulted with and transferred me to my Project Lead. The Project Lead then spoke with my Mechanic Coordinator who finally told me the work was almost done. Not to worry, he explained, they offer rental cars. The Coordinator sent me back to the front desk, who transferred me to the rental department where I gave them my order before they sent me to the rental garage so I could give them the same order again.

I ended up paying an extra $80 for a rental because my “project team” couldn’t finish the job. There were at least 5 people of various specialties working on my car, and the only benefit to the massive team is no one person ever accepted blame for delays or mistakes.

Manufacturing Product Support You Can Trust

Let’s be honest, you don’t NEED a team to manage your project.  You want ONE person you can count on to ensure all your project goals are met efficiently and cost effectively. You want that person to answer your questions, act as your advocate, respond to your needs and be responsible for solutions when something unexpected happens.

While sitting in the lobby of the car dealership while my “project team” came up with excuses, I came up with 3 keys to effective customer service for manufacturing software:

  • Accountability and Honesty.

You want someone who is going to be accountable not only for project success, but for the problems as well. Accountability means doing what it takes to meet the project goals, and having information necessary to give an honest answer. Don’t give me a repeat of the sales pitch – give me an honest assessment I can use. Project and budget overruns are not acceptable. Give me solutions, not change orders.

  • Management and Prioritization.

Many times, a “team” throws resources at a problem. Fancy titles don’t deliver solutions (I’m looking at you, Architecture Developer/ GUI Designer/ Team Lead/ Project Manager/ Programmer/ Engineer/ etc.) only higher service charges. Management means getting the appropriate resources engaged with the project at the right time, focusing on the highest priority items.

  • Partnership

Finally, we all want someone working on a project we can trust. We want to know we aren’t being cheated, our time isn’t being wasted, and we are getting the best service possible. Partners take a proactive role in achieving superior results – offering suggestions and taking initiative.

Shop Floor Software That Works As Promised

As an industry, manufacturing software suppliers often struggle with customer service. We offer highly technical software that companies need and rely on, which is good. Even so, some companies design the system to require expensive service charges just to keep it running (which is why these companies promise “implementation service teams” to their customers). Other companies hide behind service desks and help lines, knowing their systems are so complex and confusing they will be inundated with calls and questions. That service desk in a foreign country is a good investment!

Yeah, we know all the tricks used in this industry – which is why we do things a little differently at CIMx.

We offer all our customers a dedicated Application Engineer to handle their account. Customers with a problem or question can call on the Application Engineer, who manages all aspects of their account. They install and implement the system, train users, install updates, manage special projects, and answer user questions. If any project needs additional support, the Application Engineer will lead the Development team working on the project.

It works out very well for our customers. They have a single point of contact for everything they need. The Application Engineer becomes an expert in the implementation for their customers, and is best positioned to answer questions and solve problems. In every case, the Application Engineer becomes a partner with their customers, helping to optimize the system while working with users because they understand not just the software, but the shop floor processes.

Of course, it helps to offer software built on a solid, well-tested foundation. When the software works as promised, the Application Engineer can focus on improvements, not just problems.

Make sense? Let us know if you have questions or want to learn more about how an Application Engineer from CIMx Software can help you.