IIOT World and the Death of Monolithic Software

At IIOT World's Digital Manufacturing Day, leaders from Fulcrum, MachineMetrics, and UpKeep introduced a new way to think about manufacturing software

How do you kill something that’s already dead?

IIOT World’s Digital Manufacturing Day opened with that very question as panelists Bill Bither and Graham Immerman from Machine Metrics, Ryan Chan from UpKeep, and Sunny Han from Fulcrum discussed not so much whether the traditional MES had outlived its usefulness, but rather when exactly it had died.

You can watch the whole session above, but here are the key takeaways from the conversation and Q&A that followed: 

  1. Almost No One Is Excited About Their Current ERP/MES System
  2. The Old Model of Software Buying Is Dead but Not Gone
  3. Software Companies Must Communicate These New Ideas Better

Almost No One Is Excited About Their Current ERP/MES System

Early in the session, Graham put out a poll to the attendees asking how satisfied they were with their current ERP/MES implementation. 

31% were actively dissatisfied with their current system and a majority, 52%, were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. That means some 83% of attendees have a system that is middling at best and actively harmful to their business at worst. 

It’s not hard to understand why so many people feel stuck with systems that don’t serve their needs. For decades, manufacturers haven’t had much of a choice in ERP systems. Large companies had bought up many of the smaller ERP companies — something that is still happening today — and the result was a pretty common set of features and weaknesses even across companies. 

Like a one-size-fits-all tshirt, the system actually fit pretty much no one, but the lack of other options made it easier for manufacturers to adapt to the system they’d been handed than to find one that actually made their business better and easier to run.

Add in the exhaustion and expense of implementing these older systems and it becomes clear why manufacturers have resigned themselves to software that does some things well but leaves huge gaps. 

The Old Model of Software Buying Is Dead but Not Gone

As MachineMetrics CEO Bill Bither put it "All-in-one systems say they fit your business, but the reality is that they're jack of all trades, master of none." The demands put on modern manufacturers are high and they’re only getting higher as consumers seek higher levels of quality and customization, but won’t tolerate price increases. Building a software product that can truly do everything at the level that it needs to be done is easy to promise and virtually impossible to actually deliver.

It’s no surprise then that the best companies in manufacturing software choose a problem to solve really well, solve it, then look for partners that have done the same and integrate with them to give manufacturers the complete solution they’re looking for.

This way of doing business makes the best use of modern tools and tech, but when a potential customer comes asking for a system and gets told “you don’t need a system, you need a set of solutions” there can be some friction at first.

The success of companies like the three represented on the panel is a sign that the message is breaking through, but as the poll from the first section showed, many more need this help than are getting it. This means... 

Software Companies Must Communicate The Future More Clearly

One of the things that became clear from the chat and the Q&A was that many attendees were working to square the new ideas about best-in-class software tools and how they all work together with their understanding of the all-in-one systems of the previous generation. 

Before, if you had one system and wanted to integrate it with another, you typically had to find a third-party specialist or value-added reseller (VAR) to write a custom integration for you. If either of the monolithic systems changed, they’d need to rewrite the integration to keep it working.

Most modern software companies don’t use VARs for either initial implementation or integrations and instead use APIs for easy integration. While this is much easier and drastically less expensive for manufacturers than the old method was, there’s still a need to show _why_ the new way is easier and better rather than assuming customers will instantly see the difference and choose the new way. 

It will take collaborative effort, not just from the companies but from forward-thinking manufacturers as well, to break that trend and ensure the best solutions for the future of manufacturing are the ones that come out on top.

One notable point of agreement from the panelists and attendees: The decision to build a best-in-class team instead of defaulting to an all-in-one monolith is the right one for the vast majority of companies, but there is powerful momentum for doing things the way they’ve always been done. 

The future of manufacturing is bright, but it won’t come from doing the same things the same way that worked before. Fortunately, as this panel made clear, the people building the next generation of great software are passionate, driven, and committed to giving manufacturers the help they need to grow and thrive. 

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