Some companies throw money away for software that will never do what they need, not knowing a better solution is available without gutting your profits.


I love the show Silicon Valley on HBO. It’s raw, open and makes fun of the software industry. Even with the absurd situations and characters, I recognize a grain of truth. There are times I cringe – some humor is misplaced, the language can be foul, and there are inappropriate things happening all the time. Yet, even when the show seems to make no sense at all, (like, why you would be obsessed with sesame seeds on burgers from “The Bur-gur King”?) I recognize… something true. It’s this recognition of reality in absurdity that makes Silicon Valley so entertaining.

Take, for instance, the latest investor in Pied Piper. Russ Hanneman (some say he’s a take-off on Mark Cuban) is wealthy beyond measure for bringing “Radio to the Internet,” but is self-obsessed and has no concept of real life. There is a painting that hangs in his house - a modern, Jackson Pollock-style work dominated by three large commas. Russ considers himself a three comma – the three commas found in a billion ($1,000,000,000). The third comma is the differentiator, separating the elite such as Russ from everyone else. At one point, he loses money on an investment and ends up with only $960 or $970 million. He becomes a mere two comma and is distraught beyond belief, thinking the world has ended.  

The Two Comma MES

It seems absurd to focus so heavily on the difference between a two comma and a three comma, but  many perceive manufacturing software solutions the same way. Some believe the only “viable” MES solution MUST cost two commas, and anything less won’t work. They believe their company needs a complex, wildly over-priced and over-developed piece of manufacturing software. It must be crafted specifically for their shop floor in incredibly specific and costly configurations yielding the “best” solution. Any software meeting these criteria must cost (at least) two commas or it’s just not good enough. 
I know why they think that way. For many years, the industry built this vision of MES with complex integrations and layers and layers of modules, functions and intricate software widgets with multifarious forms and menus. It’s a vision partially based in reality. Fact is, not all MES vendors actually provide a MESA-style, comprehensive system. Vendors that do subscribe to this comprehensize and complex model provide systems that take years to install and configure (which they call an “off-the-shelf” solution), and cost more than two commas ($1,000,000+) when they’re done. 
Two commas?!? Think about the percentage of your overall revenue represented by those two commas. Can you throw away two commas without a clear vision of the return? If your total spend on infrastructure and software is going to be more than US$25M+ this year, then you may have the resources for a two comma MES. Otherwise, you may be spending too much. Consider what you actually need.  

The Paperless Manufacturing Solution

As the manufacturing software industry began embracing the two comma vision of MES, we introduced “paperless manufacturing.” Paperless manufacturing provides all the functionality and production control of MES without the unnecessary complexity and “service”-driven escalation of price. If you want a digital shop floor with paperless operations, and need the ability to know what’s going on real-time in your operations with total connectivity to your internal business systems and processes, then paperless operations will deliver without the pain some MES software demands.
Paperless manufacturing focuses on supporting manufacturing operations with software tools – eliminating errors as operators access the information they need at their workstation, using the instructions, photos, drawings, videos and attachments you provide. The software gives you tools to create better instructions and deliver them efficiently, without having to create them in a costly and inefficient desktop template. Paperless operations increase efficiency, as the correct work instructions are prioritized and delivered directly to the operator. When problems come up, you can quickly make corrections before production issues cause scrap. Paperless manufacturing gives you manufacturing control, without forcing you to adjust your processes or creating other problems.
Sure, a two comma MES MIGHT be able to do all this, but justifying the cost with unnecessary complexity, a massive project team and software developed decades ago doesn’t make any sense to me. The focus of the project should be improving production, solving problems, and ensuring an ROI. When you buy an operations efficiency engine like an MES, you are investing in your business and should know what the return is. A two comma MES doesn’t provide a suitable return because the cost for functionality is so high. Unnecessary complexity not focused on productivity is a sunk cost for manufacturing.  

A Manufacturing Solution that Makes Sense

We encourage customers to develop a strong ROI with an efficient path to their organizational goals. If the project doesn’t provide an adequate ROI, we suggest the prospect look for a different solution. Also, keep in mind the more complex the software, the heavier the burden on the organization to implement the system. The subsequent cost savings must make up for all the overhead carried by the additional complexity. 
What’s worthwhile about two comma MES? Why do people buy it? Many times, I think companies fall into a Russ Hanneman mindset, and believe ONLY a two comma solution could possibly meet their needs. They never bother to investigate anything else, or they assume two comma solutions are more robust or sustainable (this is blatantly untrue). Corporately, they’ve settled on the solution, even if it doesn’t work perfectly. They’ve made their decision and expect everyone else to make it work. 

Russ might claim that if you have two commas to spend, you shouldn’t have to ask the true cost (I’d argue Mark Cuban wouldn’t say the same). But in our experience, total cost of ownership is one of the predetermined deciding factors in MES selection, and traditional two comma MES vendors just can’t size projects accurately. To quote a customer, these systems are “painfully configurable,” and focused on increasing service costs. 

And finally, back to Mark Cuban…even he doesn’t believe in perfection, he said in a recent interview, “Some people work so hard to get it absolutely right that they don’t have the bandwidth to do all the other things that go into making a business successful.” Does this same concept apply to your selection of an MES vendor?  Have you gotten so focused on building the perfect requirement list that you lose sight of the usability of the final product, and the cost and time you need to make it work? 

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