Volume 39,  Issue 12,  December 2004


The "S" Word
    What to Know About Implementing Software

by Bill Rochon

Getting started with any plan seems to be the most difficult step in the process. Fear, uncertainty, lack of specific experience and good, old procrastination are usually the obstacles that we set up in front of our goals. Over the past six months we’ve discussed the key ingredients to running a successful business: having a solid plan, identifying any current problems that interfere with the desired goal, hiring and developing good people and outlining the steps to perform these objectives. I will put my faith in everybody and venture to guess that all of these items have been carried out and put into writing. So let’s move on to the implementation.

An Important Machine
There are many areas to cover, so let’s get started this month with the “S” word—you guessed it, software. From a capital equipment purchasing standpoint, software is the most important “machine” that a fabricator can buy. We spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars on tempering systems, cutting systems, IG lines, people, etc. Yet many companies still do not take software seriously. This always amazes me. The cost-to-benefit ratio is so much higher than most any other machine and has a direct effect on the productivity and efficiency of every expensive piece of equipment. And, let’s not forget the quality factor. I continually see companies—good companies, even great companies— struggling to meet lead times and manage work in process. If the owner thinks it is because he does not have enough trucks, boom! He buys a truck. If it is because he can’t cut enough glass, bam! He invests in a larger, faster cutting system. I agree with that. So why do so many companies neglect software? One reason may be the horror stories surrounding software. Why so many? Simply put, software is merely a tool. Like with any tool, it must be used properly. Failure to fully understand this point is where the disasters lie. 

"A few weeks of labor are well worth the expense in order to protect and maximize your investment."

We can’t watch TV without being bombarded by commercials on how software can make our worlds perfect. So we buy it, try it, hate it and then blame the software creator for selling us junk that we did not need. Why did we buy it? We needed it. Where are we now? Same place. What do we do now? Tell everyone not to buy that stuff.

The Right Way
I can’t tell you how many companies decide to just design their own software because it will be cheaper (wrong) and will work better than the glass industry specific software that was designed by countless numbers of industry professionals with hundreds of years of cumulative experience. Unless you manage one of the larger companies that can afford to hire software and glass industry professionals to develop your own software, the latter is simply not true.

The problem almost always lies with the implementation. Software companies are here to develop and sell us software. They can show you how to use their product, but can rarely show you how to run your business to use their product most effectively. And that is why we bought the stuff in the first place. As owners, many purchase software with the expectation that it will transform their business overnight. Since software is a tool, the person using this software is actually the one to make this transformation. Since that person rarely has the specific experience to implement this change, the software becomes limited to this person’s degree of knowledge ... enter the horror stories.

More than the Price
Price is another very important issue when considering software. We already know that the returns can be extremely beneficial, so we must understand the price of software. If you buy based on price solely, you may be in trouble. The industry leaders in software realize that support and development are the keys to a successful implementation. This costs money. We already know that the software works when implemented properly. Why? Because it has been proven time and time again. You are buying others’ experiences. It is worth it! But only if you can make it work. Our industry is full of people, such as myself, who have made careers out of these types of set ups. Use these resources. A few weeks of labor are well worth the expense in order to protect and maximize your investment. Actually, that would be the least expensive option and will pay the highest returns. It is not just a software purchase. The whole process must change as well in order to reap the full benefits of the software. Order entry, quoting, production scheduling, production, loading and delivery schedules, invoicing, purchasing, accounting, etc. are all affected by the capabilities of the software. Many software companies now offer services such as logistic planning, implementation and thorough follow up procedures along with their products. Money well spent. Just do not buy the software, turn it on and see what happens. You may experience months or years of agony. You must run the software, not the other way around. If you have ever had to go it alone, you know how difficult it can be to learn something new, retrain every employee and, more importantly, convert your entire system over to new software and still make all of your production deadlines without skipping a beat. Experience is the key. If you do not possess it at the moment, then seek it. Bottom line is this: if your system and/or software cannot process every single order with one entry from the customer service representatives all the way through production and deliver on time (five days or fewer from the order date), then spend the money on the software and the experience and enjoy the rewards. Make sure that what you buy is what you need. Insist on seeing a live demonstration and know beforehand of any limitations that may arise. Software is modular and the more functions, the higher the price will be. You should know everything about your new software before you buy it, not afterwards. 

the author
Bill Rochon serves as president of BRG Strategies, a consulting and implementation firm exclusively for the flat glass industry.


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