How to Know What You’re Looking at in Fenestration Configuration Software
As we race into 2021, I’m continuing my series of articles on what to look for in fenestration software. Just like when you’re buying a car, lifting the hood to see the powerhouse underneath is a pretty good idea.
In fact, it’s an excellent idea, because when you choose fenestration software, there’s every likelihood it will be with you far longer than the family car. Not only do you need a solid engine for your business, you also need a well-established team of seasoned veterans in the pit with the tools and talents to ensure you can get the top value for your investment.
In this installment, I’ll share some pointers on what to look for in terms of the company and services offered by your choice of software provider.
1. Beyond the Brand
In the United States, it’s a given that car enthusiasts are loyal to a particular brand; they insist that their automobile brand is the best and the others are worthless or cheap: “What’s the difference between a golf ball and a Chevy? You can drive a golf ball more than 200 yards.” “What does Ford stand for? First On Recall Day.” “Why are sidewalks a good idea? So Dodge owners have somewhere safe to walk home.”
Humor aside, brand doesn’t tell you much about a vehicle besides who likes it and who doesn’t. If you buy merely based on the brand, you may be pleasantly surprised with your purchase, or remorsefully parted from your money – but you won’t know that for sure until your money is gone, and you’re left with solid muscle at the track or a jalopy that blows out before reaching the quarter-mile.
When it comes down to it, a vehicle purchase is a lot less risky than an investment in software that can make or break your business. Flashy marketing material and skilled salespeople can create an excellent brand image, but what you really need to know is the company behind the brand.
Experience in your niche industry
The first factor you need to unravel is how well the software company you’re considering knows your niche of the industry and the products you make. This may seem obvious, but the software market is full of fresh contenders, and they do not all have the depth and breadth of experience necessary for providing software and services capable of handling the full and growing range of your business’s challenges.
Time in the industry
Time in the driver’s seat, in other words, is important. While the manufacture of windows and doors has a long, long history, estimation and manufacturing software has only been around in some form since the 1980s. As fenestration has evolved with the times, industry-specific software development companies have grown organically out of recognizing what the industry needed (and needs), solving problems with each new challenge. By virtue of thriving in the market for decades, companies with the most time in the market are more likely to have knowledgeable staff and feature-rich software that newer contenders cannot match.
Along with time and experience, look for a company’s track record; how many customers does your candidate software vendor have? Is there a long-standing track record of success with those customers? Do the customers stay with the vendor over extended periods of time? Why or why not? Also, dig deeper: what types of businesses are succeeding in partnership with the company and its software? Is the success with the same product and market types as your core business? Has the software company taken on challenges ahead of the curve, and provided solid solutions ready for when the market demanded it? All these factors are good indicators of your potential for success.
2. Who’s in Your Garage: Why Services Matter as Much as the Software Itself
There are variables involved in every deployment associated with estimation and manufacturing software implementations, and each deployment presents its own unique challenges. You need skillful and specialized mechanics in your garage – not just when first building your machine, but also to optimize your investment for the best performance possible over the lifetime of your software solution.
An implementation of new software requires a transition from an old way of doing things, to a new, more efficient approach. The software itself, no matter how good, is only part of the equation. It is crucial that you evaluate the services your candidate vendors can offer in support of not just the initial software setup, but also in support of your business’s transformation.
So, what services should you be looking for?
From the outset, you want to find a vendor with a proven implementation team. What is their track record? How many successful implementations have they achieved, and can you verify these successes independently? Look also for the company’s capability in software integration; you may be adding a fenestration configurator for the first time, or replacing an outdated system, but this does not occur in a vacuum. Like any business, yours no doubt uses several to many software packages that would need to be incorporated. You may have plans for upgrades or changes in the future as well. Getting these applications working together as a unified solution for your entire organization offers potential for greatly magnified capabilities and returns on investment.
What about customization?
As we’ve already noted, every implementation has its own unique challenges. While “stock” software can improve your current processes, in many cases even a small level of customization can take a solid off-the-shelf offering and make it a perfect fit for your operations. Be sure the provider offers customization capabilities either in-house or through their partner network. This way you can flex the additional professional resources as-needed, without the risks and expense of hiring new contract or full-time developers who have to start from ground zero and spend an unpredictable amount of time learning how to customize your solution.
SAAS – Software as a Service.
When considering the best solution for your business, it is helpful to have a variety of hosting options available. Perhaps it makes the most sense have the vendor host your software implementation in the cloud as a service, virtualized in a private data center, or on premises on your own hardware. In fact, the very presence of these options speaks to the maturity of your vendor’s solutions – you should be able to expect, and get, the architecture best suited to your requirements.
3. Building Your Own Pit Crew
The final aspect of services you should consider is one that is often overlooked or underrated: training. Training is absolutely essential for a successful software implementation. What does the software vendor provide? A few rudimentary pages to follow until you remember which buttons to click, or a well-developed curriculum? Self-study online, or instructor-led courses? Certificates of attendance or testing and accreditation of the trainees? Can the vendor provide a path for your own people to become subject matter experts in your implementation?
Effective training is essential because resisting change is human nature. You will need to get your people far past “but we’ve ALWAYS done it THIS way” to a place where they see benefits instead of obstacles. An effective and engaging training program is the link between your software, your people, and success. Race Car drivers don’t tackle the track without ongoing support – you wouldn’t want to get the perfect implementation from a technical point of view, only to watch the value crumble and ebb away with personnel who lapse into old ways of doing things. The more you can engage and develop your people’s skill with the new implementation, the more successful you will be.
As you can see, the services a software provider can offer are key factors in guiding you to success. In the next installment, we’ll cover Product Offerings, focusing specifically on software capabilities, and how the full machine is just as important as skilled drivers and crew!
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