Volume 9, Issue 8 - September 2008

Selecting Optimal Software
by Ellen Rogers

When Microsoft DOS was first released in August 1981, did anyone truly anticipate that the computer software industry would ever become what it is today? Back then computer software programs relied on users to design them for specific application purposes; today, program users rely on the software packages for anything and everything, from running a household to running a business—even a fenestration business.

While it’s very common for door and window manufacturers to use some sort of software package for at least one aspect of business, it’s not really practical to simply call up the local business supply store and order the newest software release. Instead, companies put a lot of time and consideration into selecting not just the right software, but the best vendor to work with for their specific needs.

Software Selection When Geoff Roise, co-owner of Lindsay Windows in Mankato, Minn., was in the market for software he searched for a product that would be configurative—not just for the company’s current processes, but also for improvements and future processes.

“Choosing the right software and configuring it [to your specific operations] is almost as important as what type of window you’re manufacturing because it’s so integral to have that software to provide information to the different departments, production lines, etc.,” says Roise. His company currently works with several different software vendors for different products.

“For glass cutting we use a glass optimization software that is specific to the cutting machine we use. We also use FeneVision software for everything from front-end to backend work, except accounting,” says Roise, who explains the company also uses a separate accounting software package that integrates with the FeneVision system. “We’re also looking to start using a customer relations management (CRM) software.” He adds that the CRM software is not specific to the fenestration industry.

Kolbe & Kolbe in Wausau, Wis., uses two TDCI software products— BuyDesign, a sales configuration tool it’s used since 2001, and Mac- Pac, for enterprise resource planning, which the company has used since around 1994. Hank Hosler, director of information and technology, says implementing a software program can sometimes be a challenge because suppliers add new features and capabilities to their products continually.

“As a manufacturer [our struggle is often] whether to add [the upgrades] or not,” says Hosler. “Technology is constantly evolving, so you have to pick and choose.” He explains that over the years his company has done several software upgrades, including eight major platform changes within BuyDesign.

“A lot can lead to an upgrade … businesses change fast so normally there are business divers that create a need to upgrade,” says Hosler. “For us, our existing system [prior to BuyDesign] would not support all of the features so we needed something more robust.”

Lean manufacturing/continuous improvements are examples of why a business may need to upgrade its software. According to Hosler, this is true of Kolbe & Kolbe.

“Everyday some kind of change is being made to our processes so that means we have to adapt our systems to that of our ever-changing business,” he says.

Supplier Matters
As software has becomes an integral business aspect for many fenestration companies, it’s also become extremely important to work with the suppliers that can help them best meet their unique needs. The manufacturer’s relationship with suppliers is critical, according to Roise.

“You’re not just buying the software; you’re also buying the relationship with your vendor. You may be buying the software to meet your current operational needs, but you have to take into account where you want your business to go in the future, which will require upgrades,” says Roise. “Buying software is not a static purchase.”

Roise says when he was first considering his software purchase he tried to gather as much information as possible about the different suppliers and then broke them up into categories. “We’d then look at their user base and, for us as a small company, we wanted to see that they had a good user base. We also looked at the features and functionality of the product as we wanted to see that the software could perform certain functions.”

Roise says his company took about four months just to select the vendors.

“We started with seven or eight and then narrowed that to five or six and then finally down to two or three,” he says, adding that the most important quality he needed to see was a product that was easy to use and flexible.

Essential Evaluation
Hosler also says vendor selection is just as important as the type of software.

“It [the vendor you choose] is one of the key decisions because you can’t switch horses midstream. It’s challenging to implement software and once you’re down that path diverting off it can be disastrous,” Hosler says. “So the company you work with needs to be willing to do whatever it takes to help your business be successful, and there’s no way that a vendor can really know what you need until he gets into [understanding] your business.”

That’s why the evaluation is also essential when it comes to the selection process, “We go through system evaluations that help us qualify the software. It has to be a flexible product as business changes a lot— sometimes drastically,” says Hosler. “So you need to be able to change the software system to change with your business.” He adds that they look for products that offer flexibility, continuous improvement, speed, ease of implementation and are user-friendly.

“We’d also like it to withstand ten years of business development,” says Hosler.

And as far as qualifying the supplier?
“You want a company that’s dedicated to providing a solution and not just delivering a product. The vendor needs to help you implement it and help make it work for your business—the supplier should be committed to the solution, not the system,” adds Hosler.
 

Selecting Software
A Quick Look at Some of the Steps
1. Assign a Leader. It is important to assign someone (or a team of people) to take on this task of searching for a supplier.
Make sure it is someone who has the time to devote to this important process.
2. Research the Various Suppliers. Assemble your initial list of companies and learn as much as you can about these companies.
Come up with a list of criteria to use to evaluate each company.
3. Research the Products. This means looking closely at all the various functions the software can perform and that the
product can stand the test of time.
4. Narrow your List. Once you’ve assembled a list and studied the various companies and products narrow your list to two
or three. Once you’ve done this ask for very specific proposals, and also talk to customers who use products from these
suppliers.
5. Testing. See if it’s possible to test the products you are considering.


DWM

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