Any shop owner or manager who has been in the business for any length of time likely knows how difficult remaining competitive can be in a tough economy. When times are tough, it is important to keep a close eye on expenses and leverage the assets on hand to make the business more effective. One area that many job shops can improve on is how they use their shop management system.
Learning how to leverage their software solution can help a shop improve so many aspects of its business, from the initial quote all the way to when the cash is in hand. A quality, integrated manufacturing solution does not have to be a significant expense, and in many cases is the driving force behind taking their shop to the next level. Even though a shop will incur an expense in purchasing such a system, the likely return on investment (ROI) can often be measured in months or sometimes even weeks.
Optimizing shop management software usage will provide tangible benefits to the company and staff. Software systems can be amazing tools, but with the right approach, they can become even more effective. What follows are three tried and true ways to maximize the effectiveness of a job shop software system.
Invest in Training
Training the entire staff of the shop from the office to the shop floor in the use of the manufacturing software is one of the easiest ways to increase ROI. This is best accomplished by bringing in professional trainers or consultants well versed in the solution who are also industry experts. These trainers should also have a solid understanding of the business and the industries that the shop serves. This understanding will allow them to apply specific training techniques and configure the solution appropriately to the situations being faced by the company.
There are multiple training approaches available, some more suitable than others for each given shop or situation. It is up to the shop to decide which will be most effective to achieve its particular goals. The software vendor should have several different training options available to facilitate a deeper grasp of the software currently in use.
On-demand video training is appropriate to establish a baseline understanding of the manufacturing software. The passive, one-sided approach of video training has its limitations, but it is certainly a convenient and inexpensive option and can be used to establish a general understanding of the software and its applications. Every vendor should have video training tools available, whether in the form of hard copies (such as DVDs) or online downloads or streaming service.
Instructor-led web training can be a fairly generic training approach, but it can accomplish more than video instruction alone. Employees can interact with the trainer via a broadband connection, allowing for a slightly more personalized approach, with real-time question and answer sessions. Difficulties with the job shop software can be addressed more easily using this method. Ideally, these software classes should have a good instructor-to-attendees ratio (around 1 to 12) to ensure that questions can be addressed and answered. This is also a very good option to help maintain low travel expenses and time away from the office or shop.
For those who learn better in a group setting, rather than one-on-one, classroom training is ideal. It is also best for situations with a large number of employees who must learn the basics of the software. Classroom training provides a high level of communication and feedback with the instructor and provides real-world scenario exercises that mirror on-the-job tasks. Classroom training is also suited for new users who have not developed a basic understanding of the product or the software metaphors used in the shop management application.
Finally, consulting is another strategy that can help take a business to the next level. Consulting provides the most in-depth understanding of ERP software solutions. Having a consultant come on site allows him or her to understand the company’s specific business processes and train individuals in their actual work environment. This method will achieve better results than any other type of training, particularly if the vendor can provide a consultant who is intimately familiar with the industry and business.
A quality consultant can come to a business and develop the best practical approach for implementing specific functionality unique to that specific business. This will also allow those being trained to ask questions specific to their situations and the work they are trying to accomplish.
If necessary, consultants can remain at the business for an extended period of time. This ongoing, thorough approach allows employees ample time to ask any questions that may come up while using the software. Employees may not uncover a difficulty with the system immediately, and having access to a consultant can allow them to explore the system and its functionality in the presence of someone who can help them with an increased level of understanding. Consultants can also return when necessary to update employees on new features and benefits of the manufacturing software system.
High quality consulting is a powerful way to leverage shop management software. For staff new to the system, it can provide a much needed knowledge base from which to work and improve both the quality and efficiency. Ongoing and recurring consulting engagements can keep staff informed of functions that they may have forgotten, as well as teach them how to better utilize the system.
Keep Communication Open
As is true in building and maintaining most successful relationships, regular and free communication is important in allowing a business to get the most from its shop management software. A business is only as strong as the people who make it up. The internal stakeholders, otherwise known as employees, are valuable resources. Their experience on the floor, in the day-to-day operations of the business, puts them directly into contact with the manufacturing software system each and every day. This exposure may generate ideas for improvement and for better utilization, or just an understanding of what works and what does not. Some of these ideas may be simple subtleties, while others may be critical to the future of the company.
By creating an internal communications policy—a way of recognizing employee ideas and discussing them in relation to the business—a company can take advantage of the value that those employees bring. Companies should create a system where these ideas can be documented and screened for usefulness, preferably with the software business partner.
It is also important to regularly communicate with the employees about how the software system can help them, or “what’s in it for them.” It is common for some employees to experience a rocky transition to the use of a software system, especially if they are unaware of why it is being implemented in the first place. Take the time to communicate the benefits of this implementation, both for the employee and the company. Make certain to allow time for constructive “venting sessions” during this period as well. Change can be difficult and frustrating, and allowing this frustration to be expressed, and working on ways to better it, will improve the situation for everyone in the long run.
Good communication must extend outside the walls of the company as well. The software vendor is an expert in the use of the product, and it is quite possible that the vendor already knows of a solution, or several, that can help address any issues. Most software vendors have likely dealt with similar situations in other companies and may have a ready-made solution.
Even if a request is beyond a simple “how is this done?” and would be part of a product enhancement, the software supplier should be able to answer where the software development is in relation to the need. It may already be in the works, or planned for a time in the near future. The vendor can also answer whether the desired feature is even possible. Software solutions do have certain limitations, so it is important to keep expectations realistic.
Investigate Efficiency Options
It’s certainly possible that no single software solution provides 100 percent of the features and functionality that a certain company might require. Fortunately, software vendors often have ideas on how to integrate other “best of breed” solutions with the one that is already in place. Most manufacturing software solutions designed today are made to be easily integrated with other products through a standard toolset. Another software solution may be available to meet the rest of the needs, and it may integrate painlessly into what’s already in use. If so, a shop’s software business partner should know about it.
Ease of integration is important for the future of any business. As a company expands, and its needs do as well, the software vendor can help expand the software solutions used to meet those needs. With simple and straightforward integration, employees should not experience too many difficulties in adopting new systems that fit with the expansion of the business. Best of all, the use of common toolsets will typically result in a familiarity with whatever extra system is put into place.
Low Cost, Powerful Leverage
Implementing the tips above should provide a way to increase ROI with minimal cost. Shop control software can be a powerful tool, designed to vastly improve a shop’s efficiency and profitability. But software can sometimes appear complicated and, therefore, can be quite intimidating.
By implementing a comprehensive training program and keeping the channels of communication open, many of the difficulties surrounding the use of a powerful software program can be alleviated. User skill will also improve, which will help to make the business more efficient.