Volume 6 Issue 8 September 2005
First Annual DWM Software Survey:
Find out which software Suppliers Top the List in Terms of Customer Satisfaction
and what Manufacturer are Looking for When Choosing Software
DWM completed its First Annual Software Survey (the survey appeared on page 42 of the July issue and was also e-mailed to all DWM e-newsletter subscribers). The response from readers was tremendous. We found that door and window manufacturers are eagerly awaiting the results as many have been looking for information, such as that shown in the charts on the following pages.
There are a few items to note about this survey. We plan to expand the list of software companies to include companies such as WindowMaker, Albat and Wirsam, VSM and Preference North America in the next survey. Readers were able to write in the company they use in this survey and that chart is found on page 59. If you know of a software company that should be included please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we will include it next time.
Once the results were compiled, DWM conducted random phone interviews with fenestration manufacturers to gain more information about the software they use (we didn’t know whose products they used when we made the phone calls) and also interviewed a few software suppliers to gain some supplier feedback on the results.
The Supplier View
Byron C. Clayton, president, NxWare, the software division of GED Integrated Solutions, says the rankings regarding the types of software programs used seemed to mirror industry preference, particularly in regard to glass optimization.
“Window manufacturers spend a tremendous amount of money on glass and unfortunately, they waste a large portion of the glass they purchase,” he says. “To make matters worse, glass is getting more expensive as we move toward more specialty glass and the glass suppliers are already booked to capacity. As a result, window manufacturers value glass optimization very highly.”
Jim Naas, strategic product director for Friedman Corp., says he is in 100-percent agreement with glass optimization as the top concern of manufacturers and says that all of the results are in line with what he would have anticipated.
For example, respondents also said that scheduling, flexibility and optimization are key.
Clayton says NxWare’s software puts a great emphasis on these—in fact, he says the division was formed in January 2003 to focus software development efforts on scrap reduction (optimization), lean manufacturing (flexibility via dynamic scheduling and process optimization) and downtime reduction (allows scheduling stability).
“We formed the company based on input from our customers, which interestingly enough, mirror your findings,” says Clayton.
He noted that the competitiveness of the door and window market plays a role in software
“Window manufacturers MUST improve efficiencies across all of their processes in order to compete effectively and in some cases, survive,” he says. “This is especially true in the vinyl window market where profitability is razor thin.”
Another item that respondents stressed was the importance of integration, a point with which both Clayton and Naas concur.
“We get that message over and over again from the industry,” says Clayton. “They [customers] are tired of working with dozens of software programs and interfaces. They want to work with one flexible platform that provides turnkey solutions when needed or toolkits for projects they would prefer their IT people to handle internally.”
“As all manufacturers move toward lean manufacturing integration is critical,” adds Naas.
He says this extends beyond the factory floor to the dealers and to e-business applications and dealer quoting.
“To us, integration is the name of the game,” he says.
The manufacturers with whom we spoke agree that integration is key. David Cicozi, systems manager for Polaris Technologies, uses the FeneVision system by FeneTech.
He says a huge benefit of the software is its ability to interface with existing Polaris programs including its manufacturing software.
“They [FeneTech] can write custom interfaces with existing systems,” he says. “That was major to us. We couldn’t get away from use of our IBM systems and this software interfaced well with IBM.”
Survey respondents also said that flexibility is important, and this is something with which Ron Mascarella, vice president of operations for Vista Window Co., agrees. Vista also uses FeneVision—a system Mascarella describes as “constantly evolving.”
“As your business changes, you can customize it,” he says.
Cicozi actually worked very closely with FeneTech approximately ten years ago by offering input when the software provider was developing its products. Cicozi says he helped FeneTech understand how a manufacturing plant operated.
“Because I’ve been in the business for so long, I knew how other companies did things and what needed to change,” he says.
Before FeneVision, Cicozi used two programs that were specific to the window manufacturing industry.
“They were so outdated that we really needed a new program,” he says.
Cicozi says he stressed that FeneTech had to leave the system open-ended—a feature that incidentally, is the one Vista Windows is most pleased with.
Mascarella reminds manufacturers who may be looking for software that it is important to find a system with an “open architecture” that uses a common database such as Oracle, etc. With FeneVision, all reports are available via the Web.
“If a customer wants to know how many windows he has ordered in the past several years, that have low-E glass for example, all he has to do is log in to the system,” says Mascarella.
“Most people know how to use Internet Explorer. As long as a program is designed like that anyone can use it to access reports, etc.,” he adds. “It’s all live and it’s all right there.”
Whatever program is used, Mascarella’s opinion is that a system should be able to be configured in house.
“You shouldn’t have to pay X amount of dollars every time you want to make a change,” he says.
“In the five years that we’ve used the system, I’ve never had to write a check.”
Cicozi agrees with Mascarella regarding FeneTech’s ability to add features based on requests from customers.
“I haven’t thrown anything at them that they can’t do,” he says.
Mascarella cautions against use of a custom software program where you are at the mercy of the programmer.
“What if that employee leaves?” he asks. “You need a system that everyone knows how to operate.”
Another piece of advice Mascarella offers is in regard to the options available from various software providers. He says that often times, at trade shows, for example, sales reps emphasize features such as taking orders on a Palm Pilot—front-end type features.
“What we look for is what happens on the back end,” he says. Many companies don’t look at this—how the system flows through their shop, etc.”
Some questions to ask when choosing a software provider may include: How much can you change internally? What level of training do employees need to use the software? How many options are available via the software?
Mascarella says that FeneTech brings its customers together once a year for a user’s meeting where they are encouraged to offer ideas and feedback.
“In one year, the amount of updates added was unbelievable,” he says. “I think they added 47-48 options in one year alone—that’s almost one update per week.”
“They know how to write software,” he says. “They know that manufacturers are the ones to listen to.”
Mascarella adds that using software in a production environment doesn’t mean the user has to be technologically savvy.
“You just need a logical thinker with basic computer skills,” he says.
Cicozi, however, does admit that, “With flexibility comes complexity.”
“Yes, there is great amount of work and training involved but once that was all worked out the software worked wonderfully,” he says.
“I committed to everyone in the plant that this will be the same or better than what we used previously. I made everyone happy. Employees on the shop floor love it—they love every bit of it,” says Cicozi.
But then he laughs and says maybe that was due to the fact that the previous software was so poor.
Doing the Research
The persons interviewed in this article offer great advice for door and window manufacturers including those who may be researching a software product to use in a manufacturing operation.
We talked to one company that is looking to change its software program and is doing significant research. The representative, who did not want himself or the companies he is researching to be identified, says he was shocked to find that most manufacturers don’t do this type of research before choosing a software company—a fact he discovered while checking references given to him by various software suppliers.
“Everyone I spoke to looked at one—maybe two—programs,” he says. “I was quite shocked by this.”
After all, the manufacturers we spoke to admitted that investment in a software program is quite expensive.
As this is the case, Naas gives some final advice.
“It is very important when manufacturers look at different software solutions that they look at how it solved their functionality requirements—whether they are looking at a single- or multiple vendor,” he says. It’s not just technology that is important—it is the vendor’s commitment to their industry.”
Tara Taffera is the publisher and editor of DWM magazine.
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