Made2Manage Affirms Its Technological Astuteness Part 2: Strategy

Made2Manage Strategy

In the lower-end discrete assembly-to-order (ATO) manufacturing realm, Made2Manage has found a market with good opportunities, and it has developed most of the part-and-parcels it needs to defend its turf. Thus, while the competition cannot be discounted for Made2Manage's revenue slump, the customers' no decision' stance still seems to be the vendor's biggest adversary. Its primary competition still comes from North American Tier 2/Tier 3 vendors focused on small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), all of which Made2Manage can in effect compete against, given its target market focus and/or sole Microsoft technology deployment.

From its early days in 1986, the company has put all of its efforts solely into serving discrete manufacturing SMEs in need of enterprise application solutions that are intuitive and, consequently, easy to use and implement. End users of smaller enterprises have indeed long been impressed with the product's intuitive user interface (UI) with Windows metaphor, which provided ease of system navigation (the "Navigator" feature) and of information retrieval (the "Locator" feature), and with underlying workflow & messaging system capabilities (the "Notifier" feature).

However, during last few years, Made2Manage has further evolved from a vendor of traditional MRP/ERP software to a provider of one-stop-shop' enterprise business applications. The company has, gradually, mostly by developing internally, and partly through acquisitions or partnerships, garnered a line of integrated collaborative e-business, customer relationship management (CRM), business intelligence (BI), and advanced planning and scheduling (APS) components within its core ERP solution.

In other words, the Made2Manage Enterprise Business System now offers a broadly integrated application solution for automating business processes from selling and product design, finance and human resources (HR), customer service and support, through scheduling and distribution, basically, it contains most of the functionality that any company would expect even from a top-tier enterprise applications provider alike. It includes traditional ERP capabilities (i.e., financials, distribution & logistics, procurement, production & shop-floor control, sales, estimating and quoting, quality management and customer service), along with extended enterprise applications such as supply chain management (SCM) (i.e., demand planning, APS and finite capacity scheduling), CRM, and BI. As mentioned earlier, Made2Manage recently added an enterprise portal and a new integration layer to its suite, utilizing XML (eXtensible Markup Language) web services based applications via M2M's VIP e-commerce portal running on the Microsoft.NET platform.

The last two years were particularly active for its product development department, since it released two new major product versions during 2001, with over 900 enhancements largely as a result of feedback from its user group, as well as a series of new extended-ERP products. 2002 has seen the release of M2M ERP 5.0 SQL, now with support for multi-site manufacturing (integrating production, finance, engineering, sales, HR and quality control measures across multiple operations) and some enhanced financial capabilities. Other key new features include progress billing for project-orientated industries and multi-dimensional inventory management (see Made2Manage Offers New Functionality And A VIP Treatment). 2001 product extensions would include M2M Synchronizer (that utilizes a combination of optimization and Theory of Constraints (TOC) scheduling module in alliance with ILOG); M2M BI in the form of Advanced Notifier; M2M CRM; HR/payroll; and Fixed Asset Register. As for the future, Made2Manage aspires to expand both geographically and functionally, albeit still while penetrating more its discrete manufacturing SME arena. The firm has aspirations to move more into multi-site, multi-language, multi-currency, multi-national manufacturers with its new functionality, but will not desert its heartland nor will it depart from its adherence to the Microsoft .NET strategy for its ongoing web-based developments. The above-mentioned partnership with Infoscan should further extend the M2M's opportunity beyond traditional manufacturing realm.

Incidentally, in addition to choosing the right focus and the appropriate accompanying functionality footprint, the company has concurrently been trailblazing the majority of its peers with regard to the technological aspect of its product. The object-oriented product architecture has been devised entirely from scratch in-house within the Microsoft context. With the release of Made2Manage for Windows in late 1995, Made2Manage became an early adopter of Windows NT and was reportedly the first manufacturing software application to receive the "Designed for Windows 95" endorsement.

This is Part Two of a three-part note.

Part One discussed recent developments.

Part Three will cover Challenges and make User Recommendations.

Using Microsoft Technology

Today, Made2Manage uses Microsoft's technology virtually for all aspects of its product development, and its strategic relationship with Microsoft has proven to be of the utmost importance given its market segment's infatuation with the technology, whose performance, reliability and scalability has long been significantly improving. By leveraging the capabilities of the Microsoft platform only, Made2Manage should be in a better position to be responsive to delivering new functional features that its customers may demand. In contrast, a smaller vendor that covers multiple platforms often spends more than a half of its R&D budget on porting issues; thus making a cross-platform solution the prerogative of only bigger vendors.

Given the vendor embraced Microsoft platforms (e.g., Visual FoxPro, SQL Server, VBA) long before the advent of the .NET framework because they were far more affordable than midrange or mainframe alternatives, adopting .NET would be the next logical move. The .NET strategy has been Microsoft's view of harnessing Internet based on XML, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and it is a view of the next-generation Internet computing environment as consisting of Web Services accessed by devices that interact with other services and content applications.

The integration between disparate components should be made possible through XML Web services, which are small, reusable applications written in XML, de facto a universal coding language used for data exchange. XML Web services should enable communication between dissimilar sources and foster common interfaces for client-to-client, client-to-server, server-to-server and service-to-service data exchange. Although counterpart competing Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) platform might offer the equivalent features and it might have the advantage of an early start (at least 2 years) and a cross-platform deployment that is attractive to larger enterprises, many small manufacturing systems vendors may see strategic advantages in harnessing .NET technology (see Liberty Alliance vs. WS-I; J2EE vs. .NET; Overwhelmed .YET?).

Recently released Visual Studio.NET (VS.NET) has virtually provided Microsoft with a tool to compete on an equal footing with the formidable J2EE community of developers and abiding vendors. For instance, by comparing Java Server Pages (JSPs) with Microsoft's equivalent, Active Server Pages (ASPs) tools, one could even notice .NET taking off feature wise. Both ASPs and JSPs provided component architectures for generating HTML Web pages dynamically, but the new version of ASP for the .NET platform, ASP.NET, reportedly adds the ability to separate Web page visual controls from the business logic used to generate it. Further, made2Manage cites .NET to be a more productive development environment that should reduce the amount of coding. For instance, when rendering a Web page, the XML document is automatically converted into an object with its own properties and methods, eliminating the need to write additional source code.

Still, because the .NET framework is fairly new, vendors are at varying stages of adding or migrating their functionality to the new technology. To that end, Made2Manage has so far finished migration of its above-mentioned hosted portal modules, such as M2M VIP, which enables customers to view information such as order status through a simple Web page. As for its business suite, .NET applications available already include Order Status, Order Entry, Invoice Status, Product Catalogue, Inventory Availability, Request for Quote, Quote Status and some other features for sales staff and distributors.

Therefore, Made2Manage belongs to a selected group of vendors that have delivered their products leveraging .NET and other Microsoft technologies much sooner than Microsoft Business Solutions (MBS) division, Epicor, Frontstep, Syspro, and Best Software being the other examples. Having been an early adopter of SOAP, Web Services, Microsoft BizTalk, Office XP Web Components, VS.NET, and the Mobile Internet Toolkit (MIT), the company was especially pleased and honored to share the stage with Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer in February in Chicago at the launch of Microsoft's VS.Net as one of several showcased applications that had made the move to .NET early.

Spearheading Wireless and Mobile Technology

Further, as the time might have also come for more widespread adoption of wireless and mobile technology on the shop floor, Made2Manage seems to be spearheading the trend. These offerings have not gained much momentum during their first push of a few years ago though, and they have so far been confined to ostentatious functions such as mobile travel arrangements and sales force automation (SFA). Steadily, however, wireless solutions that leverage PDAs have gained traction in areas such as field service, order placing, inventory checking, alerting, plant scheduling and plant maintenance, which have a natural need for mobility.

Concurrently, a number of things have additionally morphed in the past few years that may make the timing right for a practical wireless/mobile solution to make an impact on the shop floor/warehouses. There has been a convergence of technologies and advancements both in the software and the hardware that has provided a foundation to make these solutions viable. For example, a significant improvement has been accomplished to bring these applications down to a size that will fit onto a thin client like a PDA or tablet, without holding out on functionality. In its first attempt, the technology could not support the idea, except in a very basic fashion, which was of little use to the people on the shop floor. Of particular help were also the recent proliferation of small devices, and the fact that the price point has come down dramatically. Wireless access points can now be set up for less than $200, and the wireless devices themselves cost only several hundreds dollars each, with both prices expected to go even more down in the future.

This may mean that a clipboard carrying outdated information, and the practice of running back and forth from the production and warehouse areas to the office to get current manufacturing information, including job orders and inventory data, will now become a matter of an archaic past. M2M Mobile Manager indeed replaces the clipboard and post-it notes approach, but because it is a wireless read/write client to the live back-office system, the wealth of information such as shop-floor schedules, inventory levels, customer information, job, work center, part number, shipping info, and sales/quote orders info remain current (i.e., there is no need for PDA cradle synch-up). Filtering capabilities should allow for quicker location of critical-only data, within no more than 3-4 taps. The solution is also roles-based, with the initial available roles focusing on specific tasks in manufacturing, sales, purchasing, and shipping. Roles' range expansion is expected in the future, as the development of the mobile solution has been simplified by use of the Microsoft MIT tool with which, Made2Manage develops a M2M Mobile Manager role once, and the toolkit takes care of the technical intricacies of formatting that role for different PDA platforms, which should curb development.

Program Flexibility

More on the technology front, in addition to being entirely Microsoft-centric, the M2M software is available in a multiplicity of ways from traditional license purchase, to rental and leasing options, with both client/server and web-based delivery. The company's proactive grasp of the hosting/application service providers (ASP) opportunity is commendable, particularly in light of its peers' tardiness and/or non-compelling value proposition in that regard. While manufacturers usually prefer to keep their critical information in-house, many may still opt to use Made2Manage hosted applications for collaborative commerce with the best of both worlds' hybrid hosting principle, which is available through M2M VIP portal. With this solution, Made2Manage hosts the collaboration servers, but not the sensitive data, which is kept behind the customer's firewall via a little piece of software called a managed gateway'. This way, the vendor not only can host its own offerings, but it also hosts e-business applications such as web sites and e-mail and collaborative tools.

Possibly thought leading is the company's readiness to provide mid-sized discrete manufacturers with a number of portals that offer a broad range of collaborative, interactive and personalized applications including, vendor managed inventory (VMI), virtual design' - collaborative engineering design tools (e.g., AutoCAD and ProEngineer), on-line trading exchanges, with streamlined inter-business processes and workflow, and access to information resources via M2M VIP that offers trade partner-facing portal functions and thereby solidifies relationships with distributors, suppliers, employees, and customers (in other words, improves communications within the entire channel, both up- and downstream).

Made2Manage also offers a Web-based training and support program for its customers called M2M University. This subscription-based education program along with additional service and support functionality is available through a customer-facing portal called M2M Expert, giving users on-line access to a knowledge base of logged queries and faults and their solutions. Another example of Made2Manage's alertness in service and support cost reduction by harnessing the latest technology, like live Web-based training, to deliver inexpensive users' training. As a summary, by leveraging the above advanced technologies, the company has been agile enough to spar with a constantly morphing business environment, and to meet the latest customers expectations of 24/7/365 access availability to place and track orders, or to obtain any urgent system support.

Made2Manage has long offered pricing models on a value-based foundation, which should be amenable to its cost-conscious mid-market customers. While it still offers applications on a per-seat basis, many applications also are offered on a subscription basis that reduces the upfront cost and spreads the expense over the useful life of the application. Again, M2M VIP portal, as well as its educational services, are offered on a subscription basis. For example, a user company can have 5 people go through training, or have one person go through training 5 times, which should gives enterprise the flexibility it needs. Given that M2M VIP does not necessarily require the hardware, software, and maintenance investments that other solutions typically require, it may bode well for the new revenue stream despite the current difficult economic climate.

Also, the company has been savvy in developing an indirect channel to supplement its direct sales force and to address the low international presence and recognition. Customers and VARs should benefit from the recently instituted "Team One" reseller program because it allows both internal and external sales groups to share consulting services, education and product configuration/customization services. Almost all of its VARs are located in North America, where the vendor sells both directly and through VARs (with an equal revenue contribution), while in the new markets like the UK, sales are through sole VAR agreements.

This concludes Part Two of a three-part note.

Part One discussed recent developments.

Part Three will cover Challenges and make User Recommendations.

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