What is the best experience you’ve had with software? How about with a software vendor? I pause when I ask that question because I know what’s coming – silence or anger. People that I speak to either haven’t had a good experience with a software vendor or it’s been so long that they can’t remember one.
Having spent the last 25 years in software, I am deeply saddened by this, in manufacturing especially, but I feel for the entire industry. People don’t make choices for software lightly, no matter the purpose. Software invades your life. You can’t even leave your house without something electronic making your coffee or protecting your house.
You want it to be easy. You want it to work right “out of the box” and for an expensive coffee maker or kitchen appliance that might be true. For the rest of you, there’s radio silence.
Even phones these days aren’t “plug and play.” It seems to take days to get a new device to do what your old one already does. Software vendors want to claim that their products are out of the box, because they think that it will win them customers. But it’s not that easy. You need the right process, the right product and loads of discipline to do it correctly. Few have it and it’s not easy to create from scratch.
Let’s create some ground rules first – the assumptions you will need to make in manufacturing.
- Production is the only thing. If the shop is down so are revenues and profits. It’s a one-to-one ratio and, for this reason, as a manufacturer you will only risk changes to the shop floor when absolutely required. So assume that you will rarely want to complete an upgrade. (I’ll challenge that in a later blog.)
- Things are constantly changing. If you build or buy something for the process you have today, it better work for the products and processes you are going to build tomorrow, or it’s not worth anything to you.
- Cost is everything – for today and tomorrow. As a manufacturer, you are constantly “leaning” processes because profitability on repeat orders, unlike in software and other industries, weakens in a commodity industry. Competitors vie for follow-on work once the toughest run, the first one, is completed. Anyone can take a proven Engineering plan and build to it.
The market is tight, slow-to-adopt new technology and quickly changing all at the same time. This is the daily challenge for manufacturing shop software.
So how do you buy software that addresses the unique complexities of manufacturing? We haven’t even considered the changing, aging workforce in manufacturing jobs today, the bevy of manufacturing software competitors or the increasing regulations and customer-required audit controls. These add an expensive burden to an already tight profit margin.
Over the next few months, we’ll talk through the unique issues that manufacturing companies have when installing software. We’ll also touch a little on selection because no matter what software company you select for your manufacturing shop floor, there are some basic assumptions you should make (and validate) with each vendor that you consider.
Start off on the right foot by asking vendors to explain the upgrade process. (I warned you that I’d question this.)
- How much does it cost?
- How often do you get to upgrade?
- What help do they offer through the process?
If you’re one of the rare manufacturers that like to stay current on the latest technology, this is helpful information for you. If you are like the 90% of manufacturers that wouldn’t upgrade ever if they didn’t have to (strong believers in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” model), you have a great insight into the vendor’s approach to project work as well as future customer support and that should be a key ingredient to your due-diligence process.
Next time, we’ll talk about what long-term commitment means in software.
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