The pandemic has, undoubtedly, changed the way that many companies do business. One of the results has been an uptick in the integration of software and digital tools into company processes, as a way to aid remote work, or streamline work processes with onsite staff who must socially distance for safety.
While many in the glass industry, particularly manufacturers, had started digitizing processes well before the pandemic, clients still have some misconceptions about what software can and can’t do, say software developers.
Dave Miller, business development, glass fabrication, North America at FeneTech, says he sees customers who underestimate the work involved in implementing software in their business. “Many people underestimate the efforts involved in
implementing a new system, as well as the benefits that can be received. The overall goal of putting a new system in place is to be able to do more with less. However, to get there, we need to ramp up our efforts to make that change. In order to realize these benefits, we need to invest the time in learning how to use the new system to get the most out of it,” he says.
Josh Rudd, sales executive at A+W Software, says that there can be some resistance to changing successful, non-digital processes that have historically made the company profitable. “I think the number one [misconception] is a mentality of “’this is how we’ve done it, and we’ve been successful,’” he says.
Resistance is understandable, Rudd says, since the skills of those experienced in manufacturing cannot simply be replaced by a software process. “You might also get division managers ... [who say] ‘I’ve been doing it like this for 25 years, I’m faster than any computers.’ For some systems and some processes, they might be right; there’s a lot to that,” he says.
For installers, the question of digitizing software is more recent, and slightly more complicated. Jeff Sample, director of strategic accounts at eSub software, a construction software firm, says some resistance to digitizing software may be due to unsuccessful early iterations which tried to translate the processes of the factory to the jobsite. “We tried to take ERP outside into the field 10 years ago,” he says. “All that [installers have] seen from [developers] is more paperwork. It gave them more requirements to produce more data, which meant an extra hour of paperwork in the
morning, and then another hour or two of giving information at the end of the day.”
While industry leaders emphasize how today’s software offers a variety of options for maximizing efficiency, they also underline that a software investment requires companies to consider what is needed from digital tools. They recommend companies partner with their software vendor to realize the implementation in their business.
Additionally, they note that the new “software as a service” model, in which services are licensed on a subscription basis, means lower initial investment for companies, and allows for the ability to change providers if the business is not happy with the technology. “Cutting and running is something you can do,” says Sample. “One of the most critical things you can do is just make a decision to do it.”
Tips for Manufacturers
In selecting a software, suppliers say the first step for company leaders is not reviewing options from software companies, but reviewing their own businesses. Suppliers recommended analyzing and making visible what a company’s processes actually are in order to understand how software can streamline or replace those systems.
FeneTech refers to this process as the “investigation phase” of a partnership. “What people find during the investigation phase is that they need to understand their businesses a little bit better. That’s one of the positive side effects [of this process]—people do dissect their businesses a bit and determine what processes make sense and which ones can be improved,” says Miller.
A+W’s Rudd similarly recommends performing an analysis of the business so that company leaders can get perspective on how software could potentially be useful and how they can start to form goals around the uses for the new tools. “A lot of times, unfortunately, there [are] things they’re so used to seeing [that] they don’t understand that efficiency can be enhanced in this particular way. They need to understand what their productivity metrics are, what their measure of success is, and what they’re trying to achieve,” he says.
Rowan Hick, co-CEO of Soft Tech, describes this process as a “gap analysis,” and involves companies “[cataloguing] what systems and information/data you have at hand, what these can be used for, what is missing,” to better understand how digitization can bridge that gap. “Having your homework done before you talk to an industry partner will help immensely,” he says.
Investigation is a two-way street, says Miller, both for the glass company and the software supplier. “The company needs to investigate what is available to them from a software supplier and machine supplier. And the software supplier needs to learn and understand that particular company’s business,” he says.
After mapping out the business, the company has the information needed to bring to potential software suppliers, say industry sources.
Tyson Oldroyd, vice president of products at Kimzey Software Solutions Inc., makers of GlassTrax software, recommends scheduling online demonstrations with at least two to three software suppliers that seem like they may be a good fit. “Be up-front about your budget and goal for a timeframe of implementation. This way, the software company has a deadline to meet your expectations,” he says.
Rudd similarly recommends shopping around. “It’s easy to find me on the web, and set up a web demonstration, and one with one of our competitors, and another competitor, and an equipment manufacturer,” he says. These introductions and demonstrations should cost little to no money, he says.
Once a company chooses a provider, they should make a plan for implementation. Rudd says he recommends a phased approach, especially for companies that may not be able to completely digitize the factory floor all at once. “There are definitely companies that can buy everything front to back, but for a lot of businesses it makes sense to phase that down, and again that ties in with them understanding where their business is, and what they’re trying to achieve,” he says.
Tips for Installers
Just as with software for the factory floor, the first step of selecting a software for the jobsite is mapping out a company’s processes, says Jeff Sample, director of strategic accounts, eSub software. This helps to create priorities in what the company needs from the software.
“When you map it, there are must-haves—part of your process that are your special sauce,” he says. “Some [software company] will be able to accommodate that. Other things might be nice-haves.”
Sample recommends starting this process by forming a committee inside the company dedicated to evaluating the new technology. “You need a representation of everybody, including the people that hate it. Most of them hate it because they realize it doesn’t fit their process and what they’re [currently] doing,” he says.
Once a company has set its priorities, it can approach software companies, says Sample. He says starting small, with a pilot project focused on a more minor, but important, process is helpful for software integration, and for minimizing risk and disruption. “Always pilot [an implementation], because failure has to be an option,” he says.
Mark Benhard, director of corporate communications for Faro, says establishing a partnership with the software provider is also key. “They must collaborate with solution vendors and get consulting based on their targets,” he says.
Testing out different tools to see which fits best is also a good practice, says Benhard, and companies can take advantage of things like 30-day free trials, depending on the tool.
Tips for Manufacturers
Training is essential when implementing new software, whether piecemeal or all at once, say developers. “If you receive poor training, you’ll never be satisfied with the new software,” says Kimzey’s Oldroyd. “Training is absolutely critical.”
Oldroyd recommends making one person on staff the go-to resource for the new software. “In the office, assign an employee to be your head of implementation,” he says. “That person makes the new software their priority and learns it inside and out. That way if any employees have a question, they can go to the head of implementation there locally before reaching out to the software provider.”
Miller recommends small-group trainings either in person or over Zoom. Many of the developers interviewed offer their own trainings or training platforms.
Time for training needs to be taken into account before the software goes live and should ideally happen over a large enough time span that employees can digest the information. “When you take the whole project scope into consideration—that’s a lot of information to digest, so we try to break that down into phases and give people the opportunity to learn chunks of information along the way to build up to complete knowledge of the system before they go live with it,” says Miller.
Staggered training can also be an advantage of a phased implementation approach, says Rudd. “Get people functional learning [on] one particular piece [of software], whether that is in the office or on the shop floor, and then as you phase in different components of the ERP over time,” he says.
Oldroyd recommends making the training realistic to the employee’s actual work by using real-world customer data. “This means that during training on the new software, you’re seeing your own customers, their addresses, pricing, etc.
It allows you to double-check the data conversion, if the software provider offered data conversion. Things tend to stick better when people are using their own customers, products, pricing, etc. during training,” he says.
Tips for Installers
One main reason that many construction companies have resisted the use of software tools in the field is a mistaken belief that field workers won’t be able to use it, says Sample. However, most workers today are familiar and comfortable with newer technologies, he says.
“If you walk up to a 50-year-old foreman and ask to see photos of his kids or his fishing trip, he’ll take out his smartphone. There’s a misconception that this group is not smart enough. We’re talking about people who build buildings and risk their lives. They’re smart enough,” he says.
Although most workers have greater fluency with digital technologies, complete training on new jobsite software tools before implementation is essential. Many software companies offer trainings and online training platforms, including sessions for potential clients. “It can be quite worthwhile to invest in a training session before the actual tool is purchased. Such a training helps clients to see the tools in live action on a dedicated project and answers all the detailed workflow questions up-front,” says Benhard.
Trainings should be made mandatory. Benhard warns that some users may be resistant and will “just want to ramp up with the tool but don’t want to read the user manual.”
Return on Investment
Tips for Manufacturers
A major question that all companies have, especially during this economic climate, is when they can see a return on investment. For software, it’s not as simple a calculation as for other equipment, say developers.
“A machine is designed for a specific process, so it’s easier to narrow down what your costs are for one process, and to project what your costs will be when you put the machine on the factory floor,” says Miller. “There’s no single answer to how you calculate ROI for software.
This is dependent on all processes related to order fulfillment and the overall time and material savings related to better production and information flow.”
Suppliers say software will affect the bottom line for the better in a variety of ways. Rudd underscores the potential for lean manufacturing by implementing software. New digital tools might provide “something as simple as increasing throughput by x percentage and reducing office labor,” he says. “[By implementing software processes] you can quote just as many jobs, using four instead of six people.”
Software systems are also more accurate, says Rudd, which reduces costly errors. “The cost in our industry of a mistake is exponential, way more than the material that you broke,” he says. “You have all the material costs to do again, the labor costs to do again, plus the opportunity costs of office people working with that reissue.”
Beyond decreasing the bottom line, digitization also offers “soft benefits” that aren’t available at the beginning of implementation, says Miller, particularly in terms of streamlining processes. “A good example is tracking the status of an order. If you do not have a good production system in place, when a customer calls to find out the status of an order, a service rep will have to contact the supervisor, who then has to find out what the order status is, and that can take time,” he says. “If you have a production tracking system, the rep can look the order up directly, and have it at their fingertips—or you can give the customer their own login, and they can look it up themselves,” saving not only time, but also effort.
Tips for Installers
Measuring return on investment differs for every tool and is often a matter of comparing the increased accuracy that the tools provide with original processes, says Benhard.
“For example, with construction verification, when you identify that your concrete foundation is out of level but you already have created the building on it because it was detected too late, then the ROI for a solution to identify the issue earlier is given on the first project to use it instead of rework, which can cost millions.
The same applies for digital design. When a subcontractor can simulate the building in the PC up-front on construction, they can identify and correct errors with very low costs before it is executed and must be reworked.”
Sample says that determining ROI can be a “murky world,” since it depends on the tool itself, and what the company’s goal is. “A lot of [software] companies will come to you and tell you they can get you ROI in a short period of time,” he says. This may be possible if digitizing a “niche space,” like time cards, says Sample, but the return is likely going to be less immediate for larger, more complex projects. “If you’re talking about digitizing entire sections of what you’re doing, the ROI is longer,” he says.
He recommends that company leaders think about ROE, or return on effort, which measures not just the financial outcome of an investment, but the human effort involved in implementing a change. Sample cites Walker Lockhard, customer service manager for Dado, a construction software firm, for this concept. Lockhard describes ROE as a measure of how effective or efficient work is for employees, rather than its effect on the company’s bottom line.
“For personas ranging from the payroll specialist in the office to the foreman in the field, the metric of focus should be ROE or Return on Effort,” wrote Lockhard in a blog post. “When change doesn’t contribute to increasing output in a way that is user-friendly, we condition users to associate pain with technology.”
To avoid that pain, which he calls “tech friction,” Lockhard recommends making clear what problems companies want tech to solve before implementing a solution, as applying a solution prematurely can cause more issues, and more work, for those using the tech.
Tips for Manufacturers
While phasing in software and processes gradually can work for a company, it’s important to have long-term plans from the outset, with the understanding that the technology will constantly evolve. “Don’t plan for today, plan for the next five to 10 years,” said AJ Piscitelli, business development for FENml at FeneTech, during the July NGA Glass Conference. “[The software] will soon become outdated.”
Oldroyd recommends having a year-long implementation plan. “Within six months, you should feel comfortable in every aspect of the software that you’ve implemented. Within the first year, you’ll want to implement other portions of the software. Within one year, you should be using 100 percent of what the software provides that you are interested in using,” he says.
Looking ahead, Soft Tech’s Hick suggests including data tracking as part of an implementation plan, as it is a major trend in software’s capabilities.
“Collecting and tracking big data is where the industry is heading, so setting infrastructure goals and creating internal processes to allow for this will create a central platform for secure access and easy collaboration,” he says. “Collecting data from the factory floor, tracking actual processing times and materials management, for example, will result in better inventory and stock control measures. We’re starting to see this with the advancement in technology heading toward Industry 5.0.”
Tips for Installers
Sample says creating longer-term goals is also key to implementing a software plan. “I think they need to have a plan and goal, six months, a year, three years—take an agile mindset to it. If you don’t set goals, you don’t know why you’re pushing forward,” he says. “But know that those goals need to change. You have to be ready that those goals will change over time, based on what’s the biggest problem at the moment.”
Sample recommends creating a “cadence” of implementation, a steady plan to introduce software gradually. He warns against focusing too much on any one part of the process, but rather staggering upgrades for different departments. Because software implementation itself may change company processes, companies should know that longer-term implementations may make initial changes outmoded, says Sample. “There’s a progression, but [companies are] going to eventually have to be ready to pick the next thing, which might include a software process from before.”