Made2Manage Systems 'One Year After': Reenergized and Growing Part Four: Quality Management Processes

Quality Management Processes

Made2Manage Systems Inc., a former public provider of broad enterprise business systems for small and mid-market discrete manufacturers, decided over a year ago to go private under wealthy Battery Ventures. The vendor has produced tangible benefits for existing customers (e.g., the vendor's stability and sensible delivery of product functionality with increased product quality). While the company's target market remains small and mid-size discrete manufacturers, that sweet spot has first been refined and then expanded in part by recent prudent acquisitions.

Although not necessarily unique to Made2Manage Systems, the strategy of taking a deep breath and reflecting upon how to proactively better serve existing customers, and building upon that with a combined organic growth and growth via acquisitions, seems to be a recipe for success these days. The enterprise applications market is indisputably a mature and fairly saturated field, and all players must accordingly adjust their investment strategies from those of the emerging and growing market in the 1990s.

Thus, Made2Manage Systems has lately concentrated on selling to its installed base, which, although not huge, is comfortably sizeable, given the vendor has no aspirations (if not even illusions) about any too aggressive growth or about becoming a global ERP force in a foreseeable future. Part of Made2Manage Systems acquisition strategy includes taking on a more global presence through acquisition of non-US companies that offer software, services, and support, particularly companies that sell direct into non-US countries, although not limited to that. Its growth strategy states that it plans to grow organically via new system sales, customer sales, and customer retention, and also growth via acquisition.

To that end, the vendor has conducted a thorough stocktaking of its strengths and weaknesses in addressing its existing customers' needs. Battery Ventures has selected Made2Manage Systems as a long-term investment, focusing on enhancing the value added to both current customers and prospects by first and foremost improving the profitability, stability, and operations of the company.

As to accommodate the quality management processes of its customers (whether as a part of lean initiative or not), Made2Manage Systems has teamed with Powerway, a leading provider of quality management software for the manufacturing industry that complies with the widely established QS-9000 Quality System Requirements, including Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) and its obligatory Products Part Approval Process (PPAP). Powerway Suite 2000 comprises sixteen software modules and the Powerway Desktop command center, while Made2Manage customers can benefit from several solution sets, such as the Document Control, Engineering Advantage, Factory Floor Performance, and Quality Solutions tools.

For example, users should be able to automate paper-intensive revision processes with the Document Management solution, whose tools should help employees gain real-time visibility into the key documents so that the right people can view the right documents as changes occur. On the other hand, for visibility into quality processes at the component level, users can use the Engineering Advantage module, which helps users to link and manage APQP-process related component-level documents. For example, one can access and maintain gage repeatability and reproducibility (R & R) studies to identify and reduce measurement variation, capability studies, set up instructions, or computer aided design (CAD)/computer aided manufacturing (CAM) files and forms, and, with timely information, one can thereby reduce data entry efforts and identify substandard quality much earlier and keep the customers happy.

Then, Quality Solutions tools include content-rich template packs developed by teams of Registrar Accreditation Board members, certified auditors, and leading environmental management consultants, and which should tremendously reduce the time it takes to interpret and comply with appropriate quality standards requirements. Last but not least, to help manufacturers reduce scrap, rework, variations, and defects, the Factory Floor Performance module provides real-time statistical process control (SPC). These quality management tools collect, manage, and analyze an organization's gauge and machine data to fairly quickly identify out-of-tolerance processes, whereby users can automate time-intensive data entry through real-time integration with their gauges and machines.

This is Part Four of a five-part note.

Part One presented the event summary.

Part Two discussed the future direction.

Part Three analyzed the market impact.

Part Five will detail challenges and make user recommendations.

Business Collaboration Tools

In addition, Made2Manage offers business collaboration tools, all of which are running on the web-based Microsoft .NET platform, including an enterprise portal (M2M VIP) and an integration layer (M2M Link) that enables automated data exchange between disparate systems via extensible markup language (XML) and web services technology. Wireless and mobile technology and web-based training and support have also become Made2Manage Systems' landmark capabilities (see Made2Manage Affirms Its Technological Astuteness). Finally, the ongoing Microsoft .NET transition has resulted with M2M Business Intelligence and M2M Mobile Manager tools (in addition to M2M VIP and M2M Link) all running on the .NET platform, while the M2M ERP backbone will slowly be converted via the aforementioned phased implementation of a SOA.

Any earth-shattering new enhancements should not be expected any time soon, whereas the next major product release, that is likely to be delivered in early 2006 will feature customer-driven and designed enhancements along the lines of manufacturing execution systems (MES)enhancements, such as scheduling whiteboard, paperless dispatching, and expanded data collection options, a more comprehensive CRM solution, and a web-based upgrade of the product configurator module, all with incremental pragmatic customer benefits in mind.

Another difference in philosophies between the two top managements has come from the challenge that the product's vertical-specific functionality across the board, although broad and well balanced, has thus far not been recognized as a differentiator in the market. Even though the product did support several manufacturing environments, such as to-order, to-stock, etc., it was still in a horizontal manner, without, for example, a set of criteria for electronics or plastics. Specifically, the former Made2Manage Systems had chosen to maintain a flexible, but single version (i.e., code base) of the Made2Manage Enterprise Business System in order to cater to the needs and challenges of manufacturers across certain industries. As a result, it would deliver an extensible, flexible solution that could be modified to support a specific operation, as well as meet the needs of an organization as it grows. The product is completely Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)-enabled and the vendor's developers used to write VBA scripts to extend the functionality of the package to work in markets adjacent to its sweet spot, while there was a separate development group that used to do the core system's customizations if the requirements were extensive and very complex.

Catering to Vertical Markets

Conversely, the Made2Manage Systems of today has plans to further develop its solutions to cater to specific vertical markets, and the future direction for Made2Manage Systems will be to focus on functionality in terms of finding out within which verticals the vendor has thus far had success and why. While the .NET initiative has not been derailed (as shown by the delivery of the collaborative, mobile/wireless, and BI modules on the modern technology), the vendor has decided to adopt a more selective, piecemeal approach to .NET adoption instead of the big bang', resource intensive "complete rewrite" one of the former leadership, and particularly if it would be without any apparent benefit for the customer. In other words, through the use of web services and .NET applications like Microsoft Visual Studio.NET 2005, the vendor has been implementing a phased SOA-based solution.

Namely, the vendor has become aware that the customers in its market are not asking for it in the near term. Therefore, the vendor pledges not to build technology for the sake of technology, which is justifiable if the VBA-based functionality is doing the job properly. Instead, Made2Manage Systems plans to focus in on the true needs of its customers and those of the prospective buyers in the target market, while applying forward-looking technology enhancements that protect its customers' investment in business solutions.

To that end, the new management has been vigorously analyzing markets in their quest to further pinpoint the sweet spot, and to focus and sell only into this albeit narrower area in the future. Namely, although former Made2Manage Systems had not offered specific versions of the suite developed for specific verticals per se, more than 50 percent of its customer base falls within the following three Standard Industry Classification (SIC) groups: 3500s (Industrial and Commercial Machinery), 3400s (Fabricated Metals), and 3600s (Electronics). One should also note that the rubber and plastics manufacturers and processors now comprise, after the acquisition of DTR Software, nearly 15 percent of the total customer base, which means that the vendor now truly serves four industries quite well. The new owners' focus on mainly targeting these industries hinges on reducing the need for customization.

The first steps have been taken toward leveraging the rich functional features inventory into vertically orienting the offering for these three industries, including new justified enhancements such as the above-mentioned BOM reference designators (bubble numbers) or long-standing drag-and-drop M2M Product Configurator for the electronics industry. Similar examples of a developed feature list from the business process perspective can be found for the other two verticals too, such as the "supporting non-standard parts" business process enablement through a customizable BOM builder feature for the industrial and commercial machinery vertical.

On its hand, the fabricated metals industry's process of "meeting precision requirements" would be handled by the above-depicted quality management features, while the "managing multi-dimensional inventory and lot control" process would be handled through multi-dimensional inventory (MDI) capabilities, whereby users can specify requirements in multiple dimensions, types, sizes, and alloys of component materials that need to be measured and capture inventory transactions in alternate UOM (one can even track unconsumed sheet metal, as well as remnant, drop, and salvage materials with different dimensions and UOM throughout the production cycle, and even "loan out" these materials from inventory to manufacturing and accept reclassified items back into inventory for improved visibility and accuracy; the materials may then be back-flushed against corresponding jobs). The above approach prudently coincides with our advice of a balanced emphasis on both features and business processes when selecting an enterprise solution (for more information, see Evaluating Enterprise Software—Business Process or Feature/Function-Based Approach? All the above, Perhaps?).

This concludes Part Four of a five-part note.

Part One presented the event summary.

Part Two discussed the future direction.

Part Three analyzed the market impact.

Part Five will detail challenges and make user recommendations.

comments powered by Disqus