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.
Manufacturing Business Solutions has spanned nearly four decades as
a provider of solutions for manufacturers, and has always strived to provide
its customers an evolutionary path through major technological changes, enabling
them to keep pace without major disruption of their business. In recent years,
Cincom has especially carved out expertise to satisfy the specific requirements
of the complex manufacturing industry. Its knowledge of complex manufacturing
has often ensured delivery of functional products bundled with rapid implementation
resulting in one of the fastest Return-on-Investment (ROI) and one of the best
customer service & support in the industry segment.
manufacturers produce products that are of high variation, have complex features
and options, and vary in end-user configuration. They consequently invest significant
dollars in product design and have lengthy sales and manufacturing business
processes, often requiring collaboration between the customer, sales representatives,
and critical back-office experts. To that end, Cincom's CRM for Complex Manufacturers
facilitates the real-time transfer of information and complex product knowledge
for collaboration across the extended enterprise, and should especially be suited
to organizations that seek to maintain complex selling relationships, such as
businesses whose sales functions rely on channel partnerships or a distributed
sales force. The solution is comprised of three components: Cincom's
Knowledge Builder, Cincom's Sales Configurator, and
Cincom's e-Channel. Purchased individually or as a total solution,
the new Cincom CRM components were devised to provide the initial step for complex
manufacturers who want to move their product life cycles closer to a mass customization
model, in the quest for the ultimate combination of "custom made" and "mass
Cincom's Knowledge Builder was devised to simplify the most complex selling, while accelerating the sales cycle, broadening sales channels, and lowering the cost to sell. To that end, a manual process that took anywhere from a day to several days can now reportedly be accomplished in about one minute with the appropriate use of Knowledge Builder. Cincom's Knowledge Management (KM) technology provides the "intelligence" required to support the mass customization of products and services at the point of sale (POS). By providing intuitive rule creation and maintenance in an enterprise environment, companies should quickly and cost-effectively capture critical sales, engineering, and manufacturing knowledge for deployment across sales channels.
products or services present customers with a complex set of choices, or where
product components and pricing elements are subject to rapid change, requiring
sales teams to have access to up-to-date configuration and pricing information,
the Cincom CRM Solution for Complex Manufacturers comes into the picture to
enable sales people and partners to establish smart sales processes worldwide.
The e-Channel product enables companies with complex products
and services to capture and distribute critical sale and product configuration
knowledge across all sales channels. It supports direct and indirect sales channels,
and it is a comprehensive interactive selling system for both networked and
mobile users. The e-Channel Desktop module
permits each sales agent to organize customer, product, pricing, and external
information so that it is immediately accessible by anyone involved in the sales
of the most recent endorsements of the offering came in October, when TAFA,
Inc., a Praxair Surface Technologies Company, announced
it has completed the development phase of a new systems estimator based on Cincom
Systems' Knowledge Builder application. The web-based program allows the user
to create test configurations of automated thermal spray processing systems,
and produce budgetary cost estimates to produce it, whereby the turnaround time
to produce estimates has been slashed dramatically. Other notable recent customers
of a similar profile have been Pellerin Milnor Corporation,
Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., American Power Conversion
(APC), Greenheck Fan Corporation and Thyssen
is Part One of a two-part analysis of recent Cincom news.
Two will detail the Challenges Cincom faces and make User Recommendations.
Despite current seemingly never-ending difficult economic times, the growth of complex contract-based manufacturing has still continued. This expansion has been fueled by a number of factors, among them the advent and a wide adoption of the Internet and consequent rise of e-commerce, as well as the trend in manufacturing toward mass customization, all resulting with pleasing the customer and significantly reducing all elements of the lead time, but without serious sacrifices of the manufacturer. Further, while the commercial complex manufacturing industry may also suffer nowadays owing to the painful recession, it is quite the opposite case in the defense and other government-related industries, partly in light of possible confrontation with rogue countries abroad. Many enterprise applications vendors have spotted the opportunity and have lately been scrambling to address the exacting requirements of the project-based complex industries.
As already indicated, complex manufacturers, such as, e.g., aerospace & defense (A&D), high-tech or electronic manufacturers, must handle complex production processes and large, complex supplier networks. Sophisticated customer interactions (e.g., order/contract definition and management applications) are required, while customer service needs are also oriented toward hands-on contract management and cost reporting. Frequent changes force contract supplier engineers and OEM engineers to be in a constant collaborative communication throughout the design and production cycle of the unit. One of the most manual functions in a supplier organization have traditionally been the sell-side Request for Quote (RFQ) management, which usually revolves around a few key expert individuals that have direct knowledge of the product or who can manually pull together the diverse information sources into a unified document, as contract proposals include quotations, pricing, detailed product information, data sheets, and CAD drawings.
On the other hand, in almost all industrial manufacturing segments, the pressure to reduce lead times has become a constant and ever-expanding concern. Depending on product complexity, some parts/sub-assemblies might be quoted immediately, while others have to be highly specified. Developing a contract proposal requires many levels of checking and re-checking customer process requirements and facilities capabilities, as well as preliminary design work and sourcing of specific components or materials. The process typically goes through much iteration every time the customer uncovers a new requirement or constraint. The labor-intensive nature of this process has often resulted in lengthy estimating cycles, which have in turn often translated to lost business opportunities. By harnessing an enabling technology to make everybody work smarter rather than harder, complex manufacturers could e.g., reduce the time it takes to create contract estimates so that the same number of people could generate more proposals faster and thereby handle more sales opportunities without expanding staff. The combination of outsourced manufacturing with increasingly common configure-to-order (CTO) or build-to-order (BTO) production environments is further making unit-level data management an increasingly high priority for contract manufacturers and the companies that retain them.
seems to have responded to many nitty-gritty's of the above industries, since
it has long developed sharp vertical engineer-to-order (ETO) complex manufacturing
functionality, long before most of its peers had grasped the concept of vertical
focus. By delivering cutting-edge functionality pertinent to complex discrete
manufacturing and maintenance, repair & overhaul (MRO) enterprises, Cincom has
made its name especially within the A&D segment. Additionally, with its iC
Solutions (formerly called Acquire) product suite
for sales force automation (SFA) and bid management functionality that is well-attuned
to the CRM needs of complex manufacturers (and some non-manufacturing industries
as well), Cincom struck a differentiating value proposition a long time ago.
Fundamentally, its current strategy seems to be sound in that it will continue to exploit complex discrete manufacturing functionality and service & support as its primary strengths and marketing means. While competitive costs (low and flexible software license pricing and implementation costs) and outstanding global service (proven fast implementations and customer loyalty) will remain important requirements for success, particularly in the lower end of the market, vertical focus will remain the key factor for survival. Winning enterprise applications will demonstrate deep industry functionality and tight integration with best-of-bread bolt-on' products in a particular vertical.
Software that combines industry-specific functionality with the flexibility to accommodate each company's unique processes goes a long way toward improving the functional fit and the speed of implementation, with accompanying quick ROI. This also means adding sector-specific, fine-grained front-office capabilities such as billing for utility companies or, as in Cincom's case, the provision of customer communication solutions and services, centered on the lifecycle of customer interaction, including pre-sales, ordering, fulfillment, servicing, and up-selling situations, outside of the conventional realm of an ERP system.
Responding to Market Pressure
the newly released CRM offering, Cincom has been responding to the recent entry
of former pure enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors to the CRM market
space. While the pure CRM suite vendors have lately been re-architecting their
offerings as to easily link to disparate back-office systems, several of the
major ERP players have lately increased their CRM market presence mainly through
the acquisition of former CRM application vendors, including Baan's
acquisition of Aurum, PeopleSoft's acquisition
of Vantive and J.D. Edwards' acquisition of
YOUCentric (see PeopleSoft
Buys CRM specialist Vantive for $433 Million and J.D.
Edwards Fires Siebel, Hires YOU). In addition, Oracle,
SAP and Intentia have painstakingly gradually
introduced their own CRM application suites, which have been increasingly attaining
the full-fledged CRM product statuses. The focus of these ERP vendors has, however,
so far primarily been on providing contact and opportunity management and after-sale
customer service/call center applications along with their traditional ERP offering.
for customer interaction to satisfy to order' requirements have also been increasingly
pursued lately, though, as very recently, mid-October, illustrated in J.D. Edwards'
release of Advanced Order Configurator (AOC),
the newest addition to the company's CRM product line, intended to accelerate
the made-to-order (MTO) product purchase process. AOC reportedly offers automated
catalog translation, compatibility with AutoCAD products, and a point-and-click
Rules Manager, to provide sales representatives and customers the ability to
visualize different variations of a product in real time. Additionally, AOC
should enable users to review and verify product configurations from remote
desktops and laptops, or via the Internet or direct enterprise network connections.
The product will supposedly operate either as an independent application, or,
more logically, integrated with its ERP siblings, J.D. Edwards ERP 8.0
or OneWorld Xe.
the above, one should be able to glean the high-level requirements for modern
product configurators, which have become the pivotal enabling technology for
simplifying complex ETO operations in the direction of mass customization, providing
the ability to more easily configure individualized products and services at
the point of sale with integration to back-office systems. Providing customers
with exactly what they want is not exactly a new concept, but the idea of giving
the customer ever expanding range of choices as early as possible has become
the center of many various industries' customer-oriented activities, given that
getting an accurate, customized product to the customer more quickly fosters
competitiveness. For a detailed discussion on the importance of product configurators
in CRM for complex manufacturers, see CRM
for Complex Manufacturers Revolves Around Configuration Software.
product lines, industrial experience and expertise with its own ERP products,
CONTROL and Priority, might position it well
against competitive CRM solutions within the segment. Most ERP systems with
a native product configuration functionality do not address the above-depicted
intricate needs of the front office, whereas pure CRM solutions do not yet grasp
integration issues to the back office. To that end, Cincom's CRM solution combines
advanced configuration and KM capabilities with a communication mechanism that
facilitates the real-time transfer of information. Most other CRM solutions
provide only limited tools for web-based product configuration, deployed at
the POS, or used by individuals to support product development. Contrary to
it, Cincom provides a solution that extends the configuration capability across
the enterprise and the sales channel, allowing for information transfer between
front- and back-office operations, or between distributed business units within
a single enterprise.
These bases have been covered by the above mentioned three modules of Cincom's CRM offering. The cerebral' and underlying module is Knowledge Builder, which offers product configuration functional underpinnings, customer needs analysis, pricing, document generation, diagnostics, and intelligent searching. On the other hand, as its name suggests, e-Channel includes SFA, interactive selling, and other customer relationship management (CRM) tools for the channel, which could also qualify it as partner relationship management (PRM) application. As hinted earlier at a great length, the Interactive Sales Configurator supports the customer acquisition (contact management and interactive selling), product catalog, quotation management, and order entry.
most product configurators, Cincom's graphical knowledge modeling environment
makes it easy for non-technical users to quickly develop solutions that assist
in the analysis of customer needs, product selection, product configuration,
pricing, quotations, and customer support. In a nutshell, the entire Cincom's
CRM system performs both sales lead tracking, opportunity management, marketing
campaigns, reports & analysis, product configuration, and workflow management
& administration tools. Moreover, it could be purchased on an outsource basis
from Cincom's CinAPPS hosting subsidiary, an application service
Cincom Strategic Advantage
Cincom's potential differentiation could be the ability to manage and transfer information in real time between back-office and front-office operations and across distributed company operations, through the combination of a product configurator and a knowledgebase. These capabilities are targeted at market segments where organizations manage a large quantity of products, services, and processes, and where knowledge tends to be "tribal" (i.e., where expertise tends to reside within a small number of individuals, or tends to be isolated to a small subset of the organization). However, to move to an agile manufacturing paradigm, knowledge must be available on-line and presented in customer-friendly terms.
In the future, more customers will be able to configure items on-line by using an intelligent catalog and dictionary of attributes, which should be accessible to everyone within a value chain. To that end, the Knowledge Builder supports the sales force in product configuration, thus helping to deliver individual customer solutions directly at the point of sale (POS). The module also captures knowledge (algorithms, logic, etc.) and transforms it into a powerful sales tool, since a salesperson, partner, or customer can apply expert knowledge at the POS to quickly and accurately translate requirements into a product offering which matches their particular needs.
The Knowledge Builder development environment enables the "domain experts" within the company to quickly and easily capture knowledge about the enterprise's products and services, their attributes and features, and alternative configurations. It accommodates diverse product offerings from simple Configure-to-Order (CTO) to complex Engineer-to-Order (ETO) applications and it helps alleviate the "chasing the expert" syndrome, without rendering the expert redundant (and possibly insecure or even subversive) as he should now have more time to focus on product innovations rather than on annoying calls from sales reps. On the other hand, the company can relax from the hit-by-the-truck' paranoia of its expert's unwanted departure.
To meet customer requirements, and fully reap return-on-investment (ROI), front-office applications must be integrated to back-end enterprise processes. This integration, plus the availability of Web-based CRM suites, has allowed many to-order' manufacturers to obtain immediate response on quotations, proposals, configurations, pricing, and in some cases, even on delivery dates. The market has long realized that CRM systems not only require integration with ERP systems to reconcile data such as customer master data, but also the bigger issue of integrated inter- and intra-enterprise business processes. For make-to-order (MTO) and ETO products, the overall process starts with capturing customer requirements at the front end that can be dynamically converted into work orders, routings, and other procedures via product configuration engines.
at least keep abreast of the competition, Cincom embarked a few years ago on
technologically rejuvenating its product (i.e., the products have been rebuilt
for the Web, with all applications incorporating an Internet Explorer (IE) user
interface, and Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) compliance),
while not stranding its customer base on older technology. More recently, the
focus has also evolved to target collaborative e-Business capability and enhancements
to the product centered on embedding workflow and messaging alerts (event management)
to notify personnel based on defined business process parameters.
with 2001, Cincom has also built-in support for BizTalk, Microsoft's
eXtensible Markup Language (XML) based integration software and business process
management (BPM) product, rendering the system from being a transaction-based
environment to an event-enabled environment. These are necessary features, as
complex manufacturers are conducting a great deal of collaboration during the
phases of design, configuration management, program management, and engineering
change management (ECM). Therefore, they are in need of a system, which allows
them to publish events internally and externally to other systems and other
users, to support this broader, workgroup-based range of collaborative commerce
this need is Cincom's Environ event-enabled control software,
a publish-and-subscribe system that can send notices triggered by activities
and events. Environ's notices can be transformed into standard formats, including
electronic data interchange (EDI), and transaction formats from the Open Applications
Group (OAG). Expertise in addressing the business requirements of organizations
through an understanding of their business processes, grounded in Cincom's years
of experience as a provider of solutions to manage back-office operations and
legacy information, as well as forthcoming business process template orchestrations
for critical processes such as engineering change request/approval, receiving/inspection,
and request for quote/order, all leveraging the BizTalk Orchestration
tool, should help Cincom address the needs of its ETO heartland.
By apparently gaining significant traction, Cincom has grasped the opportunity. Nonetheless, Cincom will have to address inevitable challenges in order to continue to thrive in this ruthless competitive environment with a limited opportunity and functionality that cannot easily be leveraged in many other diverse sectors.
concludes Part One of a two-part analysis of Cincom news.
Two will discuss Cincom's Challenges and make User Recommendations.