Many years ago, before I was much involved in computer programming and was doing machine shop management, I saw the need for some management software that was more customizable and streamlined. After a lot of investigation in various options, I talked the two owners of the company that I managed into a purchase of such Commercial Off-The-Shelf software (COTS). It cost around $16,000, and it turned out to be near-useless. To date, it’s one of the few things I look back on and really cringe at, because 16k is certainly a lot of money, but on the other hand, this event ultimately led me down a path that I don’t regret in the least.
This software was beyond terrible, though I have to admit that their marketing team was superb (I was duped, even after weeks of research on options). They told me everything I wanted to hear and made promises of their product that it simply didn’t live up to in the least.
The whole idea behind this new software was to make things more efficient for us: take repetitive tasks and automate them, streamline information flow, create on the fly reports, so on and so forth. Here’s what it didn’t do:
The Tab button didn’t do anything. NOTHING. If you’ve spent any amount of time working at data entry or are otherwise computer-efficient, you’ll recognize that using the keyboard is hundreds of times faster than the mouse. Every time you have to use the mouse, you have to STOP, get the mouse, move it to position, and Click, then usually move it to the next position and click again to start typing again. It may not sound like much, but it makes an amazing, amazing difference in how fast people can get things done. Anyway, this software apparently didn’t believe in such things, because the tab button didn’t even do anything, let alone other common keyboard shortcuts. Too bad I’m not allowed show you their user forums and the amount of severe complaining about that one (years worth of it…)
Automated tasks weren’t automated:
- Example: our company shipped products throughout the week, and at the end of the week we printed all of the invoices and sent them out to customers. The original method was slow, but I knew it could be done, basically, with the click of a button. In one button click, the software was supposed to be able to gather all pending invoice, output them to PDF format and email them to the accounting contact emails per information stored in the database. One click. It didn’t do this – not without hiring their team at $120/hr to implement that “custom functionality” for you. Print every one by hand – it was even worse than our previous software. Oh, the little tidbits that marketing leaves out…
- Example: supposedly, one click can pull together and print a document assembly for a shop traveler: all of the routing information, setup sheets, programs, quality forms, etc. Again, a big fat NOPE. You can go through different screens for each and every item there and print them manually, but you’ll have to hire their custom development team to make that into a one-click operation.
How about a report showing product that’s scheduled to ship? Sounds pretty standard, right? Naaa… you’ll have to hire our report development team to make that for you. We let you create your own reports but have this little caveat where we restrict access to certain key fields that you need to do pretty much anything useful. Handy, isn’t it? Here’s our contact info, it’ll only cost a couple hundred dollars.
Excuse my French, but… well, I guess I’ll tone it down and say… screw that. After nearly one year of attempting to make this crap software work – because who wants to give up on 16k – we finally did give up on it. I told this company that I have a $16,000 coffee cup coaster in the form of their installation CD because that’s the most use I was able to get out of it, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay that kind of money for something and not get SOME sort of use from it. That was the last I heard from them. Good riddance.
When we gave up on that is when I set out to do it right – to do it on my own, using Microsoft Access to develop software that actually works smart. Software that gets things done. Software that worked for the way we did business, and not the way it wanted us to do business. For all the time it took me to learn how to do this, and eventually replace the mix of software that we trudged along with until then, not once did I ever look back and regret the decision. Why would I? Complete keyboard-driven data entry, one-click automation for anything that could be set up to do it. Options options options – this user prefers that something like that? Change it in your options. On the fly custom reports, the whole nine yards. Smooth, slick and EFFICIENT.
It’s amazing what kind of difference software can make. The trouble is, most people may not realize it until they’ve had some hands-on comparison like I had, and I certainly wouldn’t wish that scenario on anyone. In a setting where we had three or four people handling the front end overhead, using this commercial “solution” would have required us to have another full-time office person there just to grapple through it and make it work, where in comparison, what we wound up with gave us room for expansion and brought us to “the next page” in terms of capabilities, both technical and capacity-wise, for a small company.
That’s a lot of difference from one management software to the next – and don’t even get me started on seat costs… there’s obviously a difference in software being able to support 10 users versus 100 or 1000 users, but to charge a couple thousand for each additional user simply because you can?
The way I see it, if you buy software, that software ought to be yours to do as you see fit with (provided you’re not using it for illegal purposes or whatever). If you pay for software that ought to be able to, by design, support up to 50 users, you ought to be able to have 50 people using it. It makes NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER to have 5 users vs 10 users, so WHY would a company charge so much extra for each seat? Just because they can? Naaa…. nope. Not here. How about I just make you a program and tell you how many users it can support before it needs to be upsized, and then you go ahead and add as many users as you want. Why? Because when you DO need to upsize, you’ll probably come back to me simply because I’m not trying to bend you over by charging $1000 per extra user (and I know what a Tab key should do). Because if I can convince more companies that there’s a better way, I can make more money by offering VALUE to companies by giving them GOOD software and be able to sleep at night knowing I’m helping out instead of trying to screw people over.
In my manufacturing days, all of my relationships were built on honesty, straightforwardness and trust. Charging a boatload of moneys to customers simply because they don’t have any other choice is the furthest you can be from that concept. So yea, seat costs aggravate me… to no end. No reason for them at all.
Well… I wasn’t going to go on a rant about it, but I guess I just did. A little one, anyway.
I do have to make the point though, that this particular software was probably a rotten apple. I’m quite certain that there’s custom software developers that do no better, and I’ve worked with plenty of commercial software that does far better. Nevertheless, this particular series of events certainly did impress upon me what type of value to seek out, or perhaps more importantly, what type of quality standards to adhere to in my own development practice.
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