If you’re anything like me, you love hunting for great technology, whether it’s for personal use or business. But with all of the options available on the market today, it’s also understandable if you dread the prospect of figuring out which vendor offers the best value and fit. After all, for most business-related decisions there are usually a host of variables to consider and poor decisions can lead to domino effects of sub-optimal outcomes across teams and departments. That’s why it’s so important to use some sort of objective methodology when evaluating digital manufacturing vendor options. This post explores some of the essential steps and questions that are key to finding a good match in a digital manufacturing technology vendor.
Evaluating vendor capabilities and beyond
In manufacturing, maximizing value from digital technology requires effectively aligning capabilities with critical business goals and needs. In my previous blog, I talk about several evaluation phases that are important prior to even thinking about potential vendors. These phases include the following:
- Capabilities assessment
- Use case identification
- Business case/justification
- Technology selection
Once you know what kind of technology and capabilities you’re looking for, the hard work is only beginning. The next challenge is to choose the best vendor for your operations. When there are only a few potential vendors to evaluate, the process may be relatively straightforward. More often than not, however, there are many vendors that can help you and it’s important to set aside emotion or biases when evaluating them.
Keep in mind that capabilities themselves aren’t the only important consideration when weighing vendor options. Even if a vendor can meet your key requirements, it’s also important to consider the following basic questions and qualifications as you vet options:
- How big is the company? How many employees, locations, customers? Are they stable? A startup? Are they here to stay?
- Can you see their financials? Are they growing and/or making money (profit)? How long have they been in business? How mature is their offering?
- Can they meet your support requirements? (for example, how big is the customer support team? When is support available? What languages are available?)
- How flexible is their financial model? Do they offer subscriptions or perpetual licensing or require maintenance fees? Will you need to make a capital investment or is a periodic payment schedule available? Are there any fees based on actual benefits realized?
To capture and sort through all of this information, I always recommend a two-step process. The first step is to submit a Request for Information (RFI) to your long list of potential vendors. Once you have responses in hand, they need to be analyzed and scored so you can whittle down your top two or three options for a deeper analysis using a Request for Proposal (RFP).
If you’re thinking neither of those things sounds quick or simple, you’re right. Best practices should be built around focused, objective teamwork. It starts with putting together a cross-functional team to capture the requirements. The team should include a key stakeholder from any department that will interact with the solution, or incur costs or receive benefits from it. Sometimes the process is driven by the procurement/purchasing department. Other times, the lead may come from engineering, maintenance, operations, or elsewhere. Regardless, the following steps are all key to getting the process right:
- Create the team. What functional areas do you need representation from? Operations, IT, financial, engineering, maintenance and other teams all have a “lens” through which they view every project and they will bring their version of critical success criteria to the evaluation. Ideally, each team will have a single voting member, regardless of the number of people on the team who attend meeting and help with the evaluation.
- Develop your requirements. Be specific, but recognize that the more specific you are, the less likely that one particular vendor will meet the requirement. Be open to alternatives and avoid requirements criteria that end in “showstoppers.”
- Develop an objective scoring system for both the RFP and RFI. There needs to be a quantitative approach to selecting a short list and winning vendor because opinions and emotions from strong personalities can have an outsize influence on good decision making when everything is said and done.
Seeing the big picture
Ensuring a successful outcome with manufacturing technology investments starts with identifying capabilities and use cases. But it ends with the selection of the right vendor. Keep in mind that at the end of the RFI/RFP process the team may not be overly enthused about any of the options. If that happens, it’s important to proceed with caution and determine where and why people hold their positions.
Ultimately, for any large project it’s important to find a vendor that’s ready to act as a partner. For example, if a vendor is not willing to present face-to-face or make reasonable accommodations to requests, slow down and ask why – this could be a red flag. Small projects with low-cost investments may not warrant an in-person meeting, but if this is a large, strategic initiative, you should meet the people that will be your partners. Following these guidelines will place your team on the right track.
As you move down the path of digital manufacturing, figuring out what technologies add value to your operations and determining the right time to implement, will be an ongoing challenge. If you’re looking for guidance about what makes sense for your operations, the manufacturing experts at TBM Consulting* can help provide a customized strategic approach for leveraging technologies that makes sense for your business. If you are interested in talking with one of our consultants, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will set up a meeting.
*Dploy Solutions is a suite of digital manufacturing and Industrial IoT solutions offered by TBM Consulting Group. TBM who brings 25+ years of experience with Operational Excellence and a proven track record building management systems that drive sustainable business performance. We offer implementation and consulting services to ensure a wide range of integration support, including management system design and implementation, data integration, setup and tracking hierarchy. Learn more about TBM Consulting Group at tbmcg.com.
About the Author
As Managing Director, Technology for Dploy Solutions, a TBM Consulting Group company, Brian Tilley combines client facing consulting and advisory with his many years of “boots on the ground” to lead product development and drive growth for TBM’s web-based software, Dploy® Solutions. Brian brings deep experience leading teams involved with Industry 4.0, the industrial internet of things, analytics and digitization implementations in manufacturing companies.