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Cincom Asserts Expertise In CRM For Complex Manufacturers Part 2: Challenges and User Recommendations

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: November 27 2002

Challenges

Cincom Systems, Inc. (www.cincom.com), a privately-held, Cincinnati, OH based provider of software solutions and services primarily to complex manufacturers, continues with perfecting its knowledge systems for sales, and customer relationship management (CRM). In September, the company announced the availability of its new CRM Solution for Complex Manufacturers. With some of its customers reportedly already asserting proposal times cut from five days to 15 minutes, product time-to-market reductions of as much as 70%, and 15% increases in business win rates, Cincom believes the new offering is arriving just in time for this market segment.

While Cincom's solutions, services, experience and results should resonate well with in the complex manufacturing segment, it competes against a slew of companies with stronger brand names (not impeded by Cincom's conservative tacit nature) and/or financial resources. Many larger vendors with more resources and leading-edge technology have invaded Cincom's stronghold, and have also been closing the functional parity gap. The likes of SAP, Oracle, J.D. Edwards, Baan, Intentia, IFS and Western Data Systems (WDS), Epicor, Friedman Corporation, Made2Manage, Relevant Business Systems, MAPICS, Frontstep, and Lilly Software represent an army of competitors that have espoused strong counterpart offering to Cincom ERP and CRM products. There are also a number of niche competitors like Selectica, FirePond, Calico, Trilogy, Pivotal, and Access Commerce (see Access Commerce Spices Up North American CRM Fray) in the realm of SFA/order management with embedded powerful sales configuration capabilities.

Furthermore, configurators increasingly are required to provide a direct link with shop floor execution to, for example, add or change an operation, change the work center where the operation is performed, change the run rate on that operation, and change the set-up time, and they also need to produce special instructions or comments on the work order, sales order, or invoice. Particularly since each of those parameters affects cost, and available-to-promise (ATP)/capable-to-promise (CTP) date, some competitors like PowerCerv have long delivered it within its integrated offering on the same technology stack. Therefore, the third-party product interfacing approach, while necessary to expand Cincom's marketing opportunity, also lands itself with problems like redundant data elements that need to be repeatedly tediously synchronized between disparate databases and systems, and it also leads to very common problems such as different user interfaces (look and feel), different release schedules, programming languages, and in some cases, even different database technologies. Cincom needs to clearly emphasize whether this capability is present both when its CRM product is linked to its flagship ERP products and in case of selling it as add-on to third-party ERP backbones.

Moreover, the delivery of many products with diverse functional capabilities and technological foundations has somewhat stretched Cincom's resources during last few years. On the technology front, while Cincom embraced the trendy Microsoft technology that promises a building-block approach to application development, and XML-based interconnectivity, its vast majority of customers still run on a fat client two-tier client/server architecture and on its proprietary Supra database. Migrating these onto new, more advanced product releases and/or continued concurrent support of diverse product architectures will demand bigger R&D resources. The technological foundation disparity of the products has also taken its toll by increasing the development expenses and in delivering products integration tools. Time will only show whether the above competitors will use this predicament of Cincom to soon match its current indisputably strong value proposition for the complex discrete manufacturing segment.

This is Part Two of a two-part analysis of Cincom news.

Part detailed the news and discussed the Market Impact.

User Recommendations

Cincom's target market, multi-site and multi-national complex manufacturing companies and their divisions, with a support for the entire lifecycle of a product or project should consider the company's CRM value proposition, while also remaining knowledgeable of the competitive offerings' capabilities. Cincom's solutions target complex manufacturing, but they can also handle other manufacturing modes like repetitive, MTO, make-to-stock (MTS) and assembly-to-order (ATO). Organizations in A&D, instrumentation and control, machinery, medical, telecommunications, heavy equipment, transportation, power engineering, should benefit from evaluating Cincom's CRM for Complex Manufacturers. The system is particularly a good fit where the products' specifications vary enormously according to end user configuration, products are of a very high value, there is significant value-adding activity in design and manufacturing, where product lifecycles are long, and hybrid (mixed-mode) manufacturing techniques are involved.

On a more general note, while choosing the right enabling technology is crucial, a great deal of pain remains in solving many softer', people-related issues. Because a configurator touches many aspects of the business, all affected departments should be involved in the selection of the configurator and its capabilities. When a configurator is used on a high-volume Web site, a due diligence should be conducted to ensure the configurator engine and its environment are able to handle high transaction volumes (e.g., dozen thousands of customers online all configuring their items simultaneously). Product scalability issues should be assessed early on in evaluating a configurator solution, since subsequent problems may not be easily overcome at time of deployment.

Difficulties with configurator system maintenance appear to be the most troubling issue within dynamic environments with frequent products and parts change, frequent marketing campaigns and new products introductions (NPIs). To stay current a timely transfer of such data into the configurator is critical. But such high volume changes often make the manual input of the updated information into the system impossible. Often, configurator maintenance is too difficult for domain experts, such as marketing and engineering personnel, to grasp. Therefore, it should be a concerted effort of many different domains of expertise, since, if the expert cannot input the proper knowledge into the configurator, it becomes a futile piece of software.

Even worse, a configurator that cannot be kept in sync with a changing business environment can actually be a detriment to the business rather than a benefit. Exposing this information from back-office systems to the POS configurator must be done in a way that minimizes data redundancy and supports easy maintenance as product lines and options change over time. It is also important that the configurator tool have sufficient expression capabilities to represent the problem and solve it. Often, the use of simple and convenient graphical tools goes a long way to facilitate configurator maintenance. Even if the company manages to motivate its staff to share knowledge, the endeavor will fail if the technology behind it cumbersome and not user-friendly.

Users also need to keep in mind that not many configurator and interactive selling systems are useful in all areas of the manufacturing business, which impairs their overall effectiveness in a holistic customer facing initiative. The major challenge is the seamless conveying of information to-and-fro engineering and production environments, once one gets past the interactive guided sales experience and has successfully configured order as a result.

While Cincom CRM does not offer straightforward "out of the box" manufacturing execution capabilities (e.g. ATP/CTP), these capabilities can be enabled during the implementation and ensuing custom integration with ERP and other downstream enterprise systems. Cincom's domain expertise and the flexibility and depth of its business rules engine might accommodate many diverse and complex sales processes, rather than demanding business processes' changes to fit the software. An example would be a customer who can alter the routing process based upon quantity requirements and inventory availability using Cincom Knowledge Builder product. Still, users should be cognizant of the above-mentioned caveats and the intricacies of disparate products integration.

 
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