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Software as a Service Empowers Metalcasters to Do More with Less

Jan. 23, 2012
Acquiring new software is an opportunity to take a close look at how you function

Several years ago, our company faced a critical decision: Should we host Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software in-house; or, should we adopt a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, whereby our CRM vendor hosts the software for us and all we need is an internet connection.

Now, we operate in the technology sector; we have enough people to support servers, perform upgrades and get the information we need. However, we asked one question: “Are our customers better off with our IT people focusing on our internal information system requirements? Or, are our customers better off with our IT people focusing on their information requirements?” We decided our customers were better off with our IT people focusing on their information requirements, and therefore we chose the SaaS model.

Since then, we released Odyssey Software as a Service because our customers said the same thing we did, they want their IT people focusing on their customer requirements rather than focusing on maintaining servers, installing upgrades, etc. Managing servers no longer fits into the new world economy, in which all of us must focus on our customer’s requirements.

This model empowers smaller metalcasters to have the same tools that huge shops have. It allows huge shops to reduce the overhead of information technology. With the right SaaS application software and security, senior managers can create their own inquiries in a timely and cost-effective way at 3:00 a.m., from a hotel room, for a meeting the next morning.

For years, metalcasters been working to take cost out of the price of a casting. Most efforts to do this have been directed at the manufacturing process; mostly through labor reduction, playing the metal market, and other methods (e.g., lean) but still using mostly the same old tools in the office and on the shop floor. Why do we do the same things over and over again, and hope for a different result? SaaS is a way to get world-class technology for both the office and shop floor to change the cycle. The key to SaaS is “service.” The vendor provides the server(s), server maintenance, backups, and most importantly the application software. You access and use the software and your data via the Internet.

How does SaaS reduce costs? First, the large, upfront cost of technology is reduced. Looking beyond that, look at the shop floor and the office. In most established metalcasting companies, we find something called “islands of information” — little systems that have been put in place to solve problems. Many times these islands are independent, requiring data-entry. Soon the problem solvers become the problem because of the huge amount of work (data entry) required to feed the beast. SaaS metalcasting software eliminates those islands of information.

What would happen on your shop floor if there was instant access to information? Manufacturing personnel would be able to see videos of how a process is performed (think about a job shop that makes a casting every 10 years) and to see current corrective actions, scrap history, and any other authorized detail that’s hidden away in the computer system. How about a SaaS system that eliminates handwritten production reporting or bar-coded reporting, and also time and attendance reporting. The system should be able to make you paperless, reducing document control cost and efforts if you wish. What is the effect of reducing scrap 1% by getting information to the floor?

For the office, SaaS eliminates servers, server maintenance, and backups. Your IT personnel will no longer spend time maintaining software. Their efforts can be redirected to moneymaking projects. Or, you may find you don’t need as many expensive IT people.

Acquiring new software is an opportunity to take a close look at how you function, from simple things like emailing invoices instead of snail mail to the cost of data entry. World-class software should be so integrated that you enter information once, eliminating duplicate data entry. You should be able to get downloads to spreadsheet software with little or no effort. World-class metalcasting application software should have features you don’t even know you need. For example, an increasing number of customers are reducing their number of sources, so if you are an aluminum shop and a customer needs an iron casting, you may need to source it for them. Purchasing and tracking castings may not be important to you today, but the trend is clear.

The SaaS decision: How do you decide if the SaaS model is right for your firm? What do you look for? First and foremost, the application software should be the best fit for your metalcasting business. You don’t need to know the technical side of the equation, but you do need to know about whom you are doing business with and how they do business. How are you supported? How do you get training, and how is your current data moved to the SaaS environment? Can you get a price guarantee for a period of time? How are features added to the software? Check the references of metalcasters like you. If you are not comfortable with any of the answers or having your data in the SaaS environment, will the vendor offer alternate solutions to you?

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