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May  2004

Learn how Implementing this Method can 
Aid in the Selection of a Software Supplier
Best of Breed Approach
by Sherif Eldibani

Have you ever heard of the best of breed approach as it relates to software acquisition? Simply put, this involves acquiring the best software for each specific functional department within a manufacturing or dealer organization. After all, if you need an optometrist, would you visit an orthodontist? 

After 15 years of supplying and implementing software solutions for the industry, I have learned a few things: 
1. There are no two manufacturers that are exactly the same;
2. There is no painless way to make an organization fit the mold of an off-the-shelf software;
3. There is never one solution that has everything you need; and 
4. It is often cheaper to mix and match than to try to reinvent the wheel.

Whatever functionality you are looking for in software is probably already available; it is just not advertised as a window and door industry solution.

Making Software Choices
There are mainly six ways to invest in software:
1. Buy off-the-shelf industry-specific software and compromise, compromise, compromise;
2. Buy off-the-shelf industry-specific software, invest in customization and spend, spend, spend;
3. Buy non-industry-specific software and explain to the company that a screen is what goes on the window, not what they look at their software through;
4. Build your own software from scratch and incur enormous development costs;
5. Build your own software for areas that are specific to your company, and use industry-specific software to fill in the blanks; a much better alternative but still expensive; and 
6. Mix industry- and non-industry-specific software, and put the project management in the hands of window and door savvy people.

I’m obviously going to focus on the last item on the list. Integrating business functions are a bit complicated, but it is a worthwhile pursuit. The functionality you acquire far exceeds those found in canned solutions. These include true enterprise resource planning solutions encompassing customer relations management, remote dealer systems, visual window and door configurator, rules-based bill of material configurator, material requirement planning, capacity requirement planning, production tracking (bar coding included), purchasing, accounts receivable, accounts payable, shipping, service order management and scheduling, integration to accounting software and much more. 

The trick is to choose the right approach, do your homework by knowing what is important to you and, more importantly, choose the right people for the job. For the sake of space I will not get into all the pros and cons, but I will summarize a few rules I use when selecting software partners to work with for my clients:

Considerations when 
Choosing Software Partners 

Customer relation management is part of your customer service and marketing efforts. You will get the “best bang for the buck” by acquiring off-the-shelf solutions from vendors that specialize in this functionality. The amount of knowledge they bring to the table alone is worth the effort.

• Order entry, including product configuration, pricing and discount rules, rules based bills of materials and routing, are best purchased from industry-specific vendors and developers. They understand your requirements and they have built in the functionality necessary to make the implementation of the software as painless as possible. Beware, though, that not all software is created equal. There are many horror stories out there. Look for ease of use, avoid modularity and look for a complete set of features at one up-front price. Also look for turn-key operations in terms of price books and bills of materials, avoid scripting languages used for configuration as they make you dependent on (and sometimes at the mercy of) the vendors and/or key personnel in your organization.

• Scheduling, batching and production release are areas where non-industry specific software often shines. Let’s face it, industry-specific software only has a limited vertical to work within. The learning and exposure to new philosophies is limited. Non-industry specific software had much more time to develop and mature in this area by being exposed to a broader set of requirements. As a result, the functionality of most packages far exceeds those of the industry-specific solutions. The best bang for your buck is a marriage of an industry-specific configurator with non-industry-specific software.

• When it comes to inventory, supply-chain management, accounts payable and vendor performance, industry-specific software again falls far behind. 

• As it relates to shipping and receiving, industry-specific software is usually modeled on customer experiences. Software used in the distribution industry or general manufacturing industry offers a myriad of functionality not found in most industry-specific software.

• Best-of-breed solutions can be put together at investments far less than industry- specific vendors and developers and is at least ten times that of industry-specific software. Also, the competition is much fiercer. As a result you can find superior functionality at reasonable rates. 

Remember that if you are looking to buy software, do not overlook the best-of-breed approach. To further reduce your risks, look for experienced vendors and developers that have worked together in the past to integrate solutions, or look for developers and integrators that are committed to the industry. Furthermore, ask for a fixed, up-front price and progress payments. Remember to always do your homework and know what you want.


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