5 Ways You Can Tell If Your Software is Wasting Money

Is your software getting old and dusty?  If so, it is likely costing you money, resources and productivity. We offer ways you can tell if it’s time for an upgrade or new system.

By David Oeters, Corporate Communications with CIMx Software

Is your software getting dusty, stale, moldy and old?  Is it costing you more to maintain it than it makes for your business?  Many companies are currently using old applications that hurt production and siphon away profits.

It’s true – code can get old and dusty, becoming Legacy code or a dusty deck.  It can collect (digital) mold and (binary) creaks and cracks, just like an old house or any other human construct.  Just like an old house, code and applications become increasingly costly and begin to degrade and deteriorate over time, unless you invest in adequate system upkeep.

Identifying a Dusty MES System

Want to know if your system is getting dusty?  Here are a few telltale signs it’s time to upgrade your application:

  • Bitrot in your code.

Bitrot is the silent, and normally barely noticeable corruption of data.  Over time, a random piece of data in the application may become corrupt.  A malfunctioning piece of hardware or a loose cable can result in even more data corruption.  Eventually, this degradation can cause software rot, resulting in diminishing responsiveness and deterioration of performance.  Even worse, bitrot can permanently corrupt your code and data, resulting in lost information.  Worst of all, regular back-ups won’t solve bitrot.  Your back-up system will happily store the corrupt code just as easily as the good data.

Look for systems that have become sluggish, error-prone or non-responsive, a clear sign of bitrot.

  • Architecture and platform constraints.

Many older applications are built on an outdated platform or architecture that constrains production and your business.  Client/Server was once a popular architecture model, but today many companies are turning to Web 2.0 applications or the cloud – though there are dangers lurking in the cloud, especially for companies that want to protect their intellectual property.  Today, some companies (not all) are constrained by this once popular platform, and an upgrade or update will be very expensive.  So, they chug along using older technology and hoping nothing breaks.

When considering a new system or upgrade, be aware of the constraints placed on your choices.  Evaluate the platforms you work on, and see if one is causing more trouble than benefit.

  • Exceedingly expensive to upgrade.

Many computer applications start out as an OTS (off-the-shelf) solution, but over time additions are made to the core system.  Eventually the OTS solution becomes custom software.  Even configurations can lead to customization.  Make enough of them, especially in the core code, and the developer or original vendor won’t be able to recognize the product.  You won’t be able to utilize a new integration or make any changes or updates to the system without adding to the custom code, which can be expensive, risky, and time-consuming.

  • You are adapting to the application, and the application can’t adapt to you.

This is more of a question for operations than IT, but, potentially, it can be the most costly symptom of a dusty application.  Many times, especially with template-based systems, the application will be designed for a certain workflow.  Over time, as customer or market needs change or new technology or techniques are added, the shop floor workflow will change.  With a dusty computer system, unable to adapt to changes, you’ll end up twisting and cramming your production into old templates or non-optimized workflows.  Many times, this results in a significant productivity loss.

Ask your shop floor how well the computer system works for them, and if there are specific capabilities or functions that just aren’t performing well.  This is another sign of dusty software.  In some cases the software is actually slowing the workflow and creating an inefficient production process.

  • You can no longer integrate new technology or systems.

This symptom could be caused by an older architecture or custom code, but not always, and it is another sign of dusty software.  There may be times when a new technology or new computer system is introduced to the shop floor – the release of a new version of Java, or a new browser.   If the software can’t support the new technology, and there are no plans to support it, you clearly have dusty software.  This symptom can take a number of forms – for example, if the application in question can’t integrate with newer systems or technology you are bringing online, or it is costing more money to maintain or holding back vital upgrades, then the system is likely old and dusty.

Problems such as this should be addressed quickly.  Many companies let a small problem become a massive crisis when Microsoft announced they were no longer supporting Windows XP.

Wiping Away the Dust

Once you’ve determined your software is dusty, there are a few steps you should take.

First off, look at what the software and application is costing you.  This is more than just maintenance costs of licenses, there is also the cost of lost productivity and revenue.  Ask your operations team how well the software is working, and what it could be doing better.  Look at your current workflow and identify areas the functionality is not meeting production needs.  You don’t need an exact figure, but with a little work you can quickly determine if the software is providing the reliable operational technology your team needs.

The next step is to ask the vendor if there is an upgrade.  If there is, look at the functionality and improvements provided by the upgrade.  Does the upgrade provide the functionality you need, and will it fix the degradation and problems hindering production?  Ask about the cost, both in resources, money and potential shop floor downtime.  Determine if the ROI for the upgrade is worth the cost.

Finally, if you’ve determined you have dusty software that is hindering production and affecting productivity, and an upgrade is too costly or won’t eliminate enough of the problems to make it worthwhile, you need to start looking at alternate solutions.

Start your investigation by looking at the latest technology and computer platforms; otherwise you may be swapping one problem for another.  Look at Web 2.0 solutions for their adaptability and innovative ways it can present, store, and deliver information.  It is extremely easy to maintain and upgrade, supports collaboration, and eliminates many of the problems earlier information systems had.

Integration may be of initial concern, but, to be honest, most modern paperless manufacturing and MES systems integrate fairly easily with other current systems.  Ask the vendor about the integration costs before you get too far in the selection process.

Selecting the Right Solution

I would still wait on implementing cloud-based solutions, especially for companies where intellectual property is a concern.  Manufacturing is the revenue generator for a business, and offering manufacturing intellectual property to the cloud can be a great risk, especially when there are an increasing number of threats out there.

If you still feel the cloud offers benefits hard to ignore for your business, look at building an internal cloud, closed to the public.  Building an internal cloud is easy to do, offers most, if not all, of the benefits, and eliminates the risk for little cost.

Finally, make sure you involve operations in any decision you make.  While the job of IT is to provide the foundation for operational technology and tools, it’s operations that will use them to generate the revenue and ROI to pay for the tools.   You need to make sure any system that’s implemented meets their needs and will work for their workflows.  They must be involved in the selection process.

Want to know more, or take a quick review of your current systems to see how dusty they are?  Give CIMx a call today or leave us a message.  We can do a review of your current shop floor and computer systems for no cost to determine how much you can save with a new system.  In some cases the cost of a modern replacement solution will be less than the annual cost of maintaining the existing creaky system.

We’re happy to help. 

Topics: What is the ROI for manufacturing software?, How can you evaluate shop floor software?, What can software product support do for you?

Written by David Oeters