We have spent our share of time at the Cloud manufacturing podium. We love to talk about how streamlined implementation and lower cost of ownership help small manufacturers realize gains in efficiency without lots of servers living at their sites, demanding expensive upgrades and upkeep. From sales and marketing to estimating and shop floor management, small manufacturers who are moving to the Cloud have discovered this for themselves.
For those who have become receptive to the potential benefits of Cloud-based manufacturing software and are beginning to evaluate their options, we offer four key questions you should ask as you conduct research and enter into discussions with possible providers.
1. Are you running software or is it running you?
Getting the most out of your new solution always requires some learning and adaptation from both management and the production team. But be careful if you’re being peddled a solution built on assumptions of how technology people think your company should operate. Software should help you do what you’re good at, and help you become even better, but not require a wholesale reengineering of your processes.
2. Have you discussed requirements with your team first, before seeking a solution?
Nothing is more dangerous than sitting down in front of a blank whiteboard with a consultant to scope requirements cold. Sit down beforehand with your team and carefully outline what you need your solution to do, otherwise you’re going to end up with an expensive, ad hoc wish list that may or may not solve your most important strategic problems. Your software vendor can make this process very simple for you by guiding you through a needs assessment and solutions plan, but it needs to be your plan, not your vendor’s.
3. Just how configurable is it, anyway?
Be very inquisitive when your vendor tells you how configurable the solution is. If adapting the solution only meets 50-70 percent of your requirements, that’s a red flag. Sometimes “configurable” means you can shuffle around report fields but not adapt the software to your workflow or unique job requirements. Other times, “configurability” means a massive commitment to ongoing training and endless implementation cycles. You have to strike the right balance because this is the most important part of your solution. That is, it is configurable to meet your unique process needs.
4. Is this made for manufacturers?
This relates closely to question No. 1. An ERP system made for the most generic business requirements can leave a lot of small yet critical gaps in functionality that turn into large, ongoing investments in customization and training. It’s usually much better to start with a more complete and industry-specific solution.
There’s a lot to be gained in the Cloud for small manufacturers, but coming armed with a few of the right questions will get you to those high-flying benefits faster, save you money and keep your team from pulling their hair out trying to actually get value out of it.
Lori Payne is Vice President of Manufacturing Development at KeyedIn Solutions, Inc.