How Should You Pick a Production Scheduling Vendor? (Part 2)

In the immediately preceding post, we discussed how the fit between your operations and production environment and advanced planning and scheduling / production scheduling software is paramount. However, partnering with a vendor that can help you fully unlock the potential of the software is also important.

In the previous post, we started on a list of questions to help you determine how well vendors might meet your needs. The list of questions is continued below:

  • Has the vendor helped you develop an installation / implementation plan? If so, does it make sense?

Your implementation plan should be based on what you want to accomplish with the software, and what resources you have to bring to bear. It should not be “boilerplate” or one size fits all. Your vendor should be set up to provide you as little or as much consulting assistance as you need. The amount of assistance needed will, of course, be based on how you plan to apply the software.

The amount of assistance should also be based on the expertise and availability of in house staff, and your implementation time table. If you have much in the way of available in house staff, and time is not of the essence, the implementation plan should allow you to assume more responsibility, keeping your costs low. If you need resources and you have an aggressive implementation time table, you will need a plan that calls upon your vendor to step in and assume more of the implementation load.

Be particularly wary of implementations done by vendor partners or resellers. While the developers are always compensated from software revenue, often the bulk of partner or reseller revenue comes from services. Therefore, there may be a strong incentive for them to sell you services that you may not need.

  • Who within your vendor’s organization is responsible for software bug fixes and enhancements, and what is your vendor’s release schedule?

There is no standardize agreement on the functions and features that advanced planning and scheduling software and production scheduling software should contain. Also, manufacturing environments vary widely, as do the ways in which users want to apply the software. Given these market characteristics, it is common for you to identify enhancements that will help you get increased value from your planning and scheduling software.

Some of enhancements you might identify prior to the sale, but others won’t become obvious until after you work with the software for a while. Therefore, your vendor’s policies relative to new versions and upgrades might be very important to you. You should understand the following:

  • Who in your vendor’s organization is responsible for development, where are they located, and how responsive are they to requests from your implementation staff? Many vendors are resellers for other companies. Sometimes communication and responsiveness between divisions of the same company can be lacking, let alone between different companies. Also, your needs may be overlooked in the face of differing goals on the part of resellers and developers. Finally, some software development teams are located overseas. Coordination can lag given time zone and cultural differences. You best bet is to look for a vendor with a development group tightly integrated with implementation staff.
  • What is the vendor’s release schedule? If your vendor just made a yearly release last week, and today you identified an enhancement that is extremely important to you, you could be at best severely inconvenienced. You should look for vendors with short duration or flexible release schedules so that you have a better chance of having your enhancement and bug fix needs met in a timely manner.
  • How likely is it that you will be charged for enhancements? It is within the right of every vendor to charge for enhancements requested by customers that will require major amounts of costly work with limited general market appeal. Enhancements like these aside, vendors can take different strategies toward enhancements. Some view development as a profit center, and view client enhancement requests as an opportunity to raise revenue. Other vendors view development as a cost center. They try their best to offer enhancements under the terms of existing software maintenance agreements, and view enhancement requests as a way to improve the customer experience while adding to the long term attractiveness of the product.
  • What are your vendors references like?

Checking your vendor’s references is so important that we’ve devoted an entire additional blog post to the topic. In summary you should:

  • Delay checking references until the end of the evaluation process. At this point, you will have a better idea of the questions you’d like to ask references. Ideally, these are the type questions that are impractical for the vendor to address as part of the regular sales process.
  • Share your questions with your vendor sales staff. He or she can then try to match you up with references to answer specific questions.
  • Be open-minded relative to the references that you speak with. Of course it would be ideal to speak with a reference “just like you”. This might not be practical given the different ways companies even in the same industry apply scheduling software. Rather judge references based more on how well they answer your questions than surface level similarities.

While choosing the right advanced planning and scheduling / production scheduling software is important, so is picking the right vendor. Given the potential complexity of scheduling software, deciding on the right vendor to partner with can have a big impact on your success. Choose wisely!