– A review of our five days at the Malaysian International Furniture Fair 2015
We recently wrapped up our debut at the Malaysian International Furniture Fair – also commonly referred to as MIFF. It is the No. 1 furniture fair in Southeast Asia with a twenty year long track record.
Consistently ranked amongst the top 10 furniture fairs in the world, with all the major manufacturers represented and a long list of seminars, it didn’t come as a surprise that the tickets to MIFF were sold out months in advance.
Spread over 80,000 square meters, the Malaysian International Furniture Fair had a lot to offer. The furniture industry was represented by over 500 furniture manufacturers and almost 20,000 visitors from 141 different countries. The constant and buzzing energy that filled the halls confirmed out belief that this was the place to be.
Spreading our wings into the Asian market
This was our first major event on the Asian market – the start of an exciting and different journey for us.
Everyone starts somewhere, whether it’s in their garage, or, as in our case, a small summer house in Sweden twenty five years ago. We’ve come a long way since then.
We’re growing and venturing into new territory. The Asian furniture market is new to us and our technology is new to them. But with our years of experience in Europe and North America, we know that anything is possible and that ideas are limitless. New problems meet new solutions and we’re ready to help the furniture market in Asia to simplify.
Our experience at MIFF was slightly different compared to other fairs we go to and have exhibited at for years, such as NeoCon in Chicago (www.configura.com/neocon/). It’s a different discussion when people know who you are compared to when you’re the newcomer.
The advantages of being the newcomer
Being the newcomer at MIFF – and the only technology company exhibiting - had its advantages. It created a buzz which resulted in a great amount of visitors to our booth during these five days. It seemed like everyone wanted to grasp at the chance for a demo and educate themselves about CET Designer and its potential.
It was especially rewarding to see their reactions as we did our demos. Pulling and stretching furniture, adding and removing storage in seconds, watching the price change immediately and in relation to what you were visually performing on the screen was a new concept to them. It’s something unique with getting that physical feeling of visually designing an office in 3D.
One senior sales staff even clapped her hands, pointed at the computer screen and said: “This is great stuff! This will help us close a lot of deals faster!” That’s when you know that they get what we’re doing. Nothing beats that.
This immediate response is why we love trade fairs. They’re fun and interactive – two things we also have in mind when creating our software – but, best of all, it’s not a sales meeting.
Instead, it’s a place to meet and peak interest without demands. Cold calls and knocking on doors are out. No one likes a sales person when they call, no matter how great the deal or product they offer is.
At MIFF we got to meet potential customers and they got to meet us, the real people behind the product. It’s real, it’s genuine and it’s a way for us to show that we can be trusted.
With many new partners, customers, friends and experiences, we’re ready to take on the Asian furniture market. Thanks MIFF, all the attendees, exhibitors and my great colleagues for a great show. We’ll be sure to see you again next year!
Configura will attend and exhibit at more trade fairs during the year.
- March 28 - April 1 - China International Furniture Fair, GuangZhou, China
- April 13-17 - Hannover Messe – Hannover, Germany
- May 13-15 - C-Star – Shanghai, China
- June 15-17 NeoCon – Chicago, USA – Book a private demo at our booth 8-3064 at NeoCon and learn more about our new cloud solution.
- September 9 - China International Office Furniture Expo – Shanghai, China
- October 6-8 – Labvolution - Hannover, Germany
It’s not every day we get to announce a new solution at Configura. We’ve always prided ourselves on delivering software that can take you through the entire sales process. As technology evolves, and new demands arise, we need to continue to improve so we’re not left behind.
For example, our users have been requesting 24-hour global support – and, a few weeks ago, we announced we’d be launching this service.
Many people we meet have also asked to run our software in a browser. We always want to deliver top quality and hadn’t found a robust solution – until now.
With our new cloud solution, users will be able to run our software in any browser, anywhere, at any time and on any device (although, we admit, running our software on a smartphone might get a little “fiddly!”).
How will the cloud solution revolutionize your work?
1. You’ll better serve your customers
“Companies must decide how they want to position themselves to deliver SERVICE. When companies have figured this out, they need to identify PROCESSES so they can deliver SERVICE in an efficient and appropriate way.” – Johan Lyreborn, CEO Configura
The cloud solution will make it incredibly easy to access our software so you can better serve your customers. It’s the next step in the evolution of the services that our software can provide. Take the evolution of our software’s visual capabilities as an example: We started with 2D drawings that eventually turned into 3D drawings – which then evolved into renderings, video fly-thru’s and 3D PDFs. These functionalities help the customer to visualize a space. The cloud solution is the next step in making the sharing of these services easier than ever.
2. You’ll be able to collaborate from multiple locations
Our new cloud solution will let people collaborate from multiple locations in real time. For example, a user and a customer – and even more than one user and customer – can all be in the software via browsers and work on the same drawing. One user might be at the office, another user at a hotel somewhere across the globe, and the customer at home – and, together, they can collaborate. It will be possible because the cloud solution will let users add others to the same drawing; the functionality lets users “mirror” their screen so people in different locations can see the same drawing and perform changes in real time. Fast changes and updates can be made on the spot.
3. You won’t have to worry about hardware
With cloud access, having the right hardware is no longer an issue. Our cloud solution is not dependent on hardware but on Internet access. With a good Internet connection, our software can run on any device, even computers that don’t meet our minimum requirements – such as tablets and smartphones. We do, however, recommend using a mouse to truly be able to work effortlessly.
4. You’ll always have access to the software
Since our cloud solution will run in a browser, the software can be accessed anywhere. You won’t have to bring home the work laptop to fix those last-minute details because the software can be run on any device without having to download or install anything. This makes our cloud service a great alternative to, for example, A&D firms that don’t normally use our software as often since they are not required to download the software or meet hardware requirements.
5. You’ll be able to move across devices
With our cloud service, drawings will be saved in the cloud and can be accessed anywhere and on any device. You’ll be able to design on the computer, show it on a tablet and double-check the pricing on a smartphone. You’ll be able to move across different devices and always access the latest updates of the drawing from anywhere. In fact, why even bother with a high-end laptop? Use a stationary computer in the office, which is generally less expensive and has better performance than a laptop, and use the cloud solution on a tablet when working out on the field with clients.
How do I get started?
Our cloud solution is in development, but you can get a first glimpse of CET Designer Cloud in our booth at NeoCon 2015 in Chicago. Are you a manufacturer interested in a more in-depth demo of our cloud solution? We encourage you to book a private demo at NeoCon right away. Please contact info [at] configura [dot] com, and we will contact you to set up a meeting.
Can’t make it to NeoCon? We would be happy to book an appointment for a demo in your location. Please contact info [at] configura [dot] com.
A lot of companies today overlook or downplay the importance of support. They put a lot of resources into developing and selling a product but minimize the undeniably large cost of supporting that product. They might move support overseas to save costs, or automate a lot of support functions. Customers are often greeted by a machine or “elevator” music to keep them calm as they wait with their broken device or stalled software or the need to troubleshoot and hope that a real person can actually help them.
We see this in countless industries, but what these companies don’t seem to realize is the impression this “service” gives to their customers: “Once you have bought the product, you are no longer of value to us.”
We do things differently at Configura. Excellence in support goes hand-in-hand with our solution.
Investing in support gives more than just support
As someone who worked for a number of years at one of the “big three” office furniture manufacturers – and as a professional interior designer – I know how important good software support is. Good support enhances the quality and value of our products, showing our users that we are ready to invest in their experience and work together with them to improve our services. It is a way for us to show them that we care.
Today, more than 10,000 designers and salespeople and 70 manufacturers worldwide use Configura’s solution to simplify how they specify and order products. What we offer is a long-term solution – and what better way to keep long-term clients than having happy customers?
That’s why we continue to invest in support. We’ve grown our Support and Training team and just launched 24-hour live-chat global support for our expanding CET Designer customer base and to prepare for continued growth on multiple continents.
Our expanded support also reflects changing work patterns: People are no longer limiting their work hours to the traditional nine-to-five workday. With 24-hour support, we serve our users whenever and wherever they happen to be working.
To support our users’ needs, we now have a comprehensive, cross-trained Support and Training team on three continents who have multicultural/lingual backgrounds and speak the languages of contract furniture, interior design and space-planning. It’s not only about communicating in the right language but also that the support person has a real understanding of the user’s underlying problem.
To listen to someone read from a script should not be why you call support, especially when it comes to software. Providing real people who really know the office furniture industry, and can offer hands-on technical and design support, is a point of quality that we feel sets us apart from other software companies.
As the person who leads global customer experience for Configura, nothing makes me happier than to hear our users say, “Your support is the best I’ve ever experienced!”
We used to hear these words just in Swedish (where we got our start as a company). Now, our users are contacting us from all over the world, and in a number of languages.
Global 24-hour support is important for continued expansion
Our Support and Training team members are based at Configura’s three main locations: headquarters in Linköping, Sweden; in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA; and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
It’s important that we not only support our customers but also support each other. I’m based at our office in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, but recently, I traveled to our Malaysia and Sweden offices to meet with my Support team members in these locations. Although we’re on phone, email and Skype calls with each other all the time, there’s nothing like gathering in person. You really get to know each other and form bonds. You learn from one another. And you grow as a team. This is important for a continued successful support and for the continued expansion of Configura.
Which is the best solution for you?
Configura delivers two solutions. One solution is Parametric Graphical Configuration (PGC), which is implemented through a programmed product Extension to CET Designer. The other solution is Catalogues, a databasedriven implementation of ‘simpler’ or so-called solitary products.
These two solutions complement each other in a unique way. With the release of Catalogues, manufacturers can simply and cost-effectively store products online as drawing components. Simultaneously, CET Designer users get increased access to additional products and product lines. Together with our PGC solution, which makes sales and project handling of complex system products simpler and more time-efficient, we now have a complete offering that covers all space-planning needs – from the most simple to the most complex. The solution that is best for your company depends on the complexity of the configuration problems that you want to manage.
A completely database-driven solution
Catalogues is a completely database-driven solution that has been specifically created to improve accessibility of our customers’ products in CET Designer. One fundamental aspect of the development has been to let our customers create and maintain their own Catalogues by themselves, without any need for programming knowledge. The tool that enables this is called the Catalogue Creator, a complete collection tool that efficiently structures, processes and packages product data. It also includes tools to improve quality of 3D models and their textures. All data is packaged into a product Catalogue and is published on Configura’s online Marketplace. This way, the Catalogue can be made accessible to all CET Designer users or, if the manufacturer prefers, only to a limited group.
With this access, a CET Designer user can, with the help of an Extension called the Catalogue Browser, search for a specific product in a specific Catalogue. The user only needs to download the product needed for the moment. Downloaded objects are saved locally on the computer and available the next time they are used. With this streaming method, all data usage is kept down to a minimum.
For a product to be suitable for Catalogues, it should be standalone by its nature, which means that it should have only limited opportunities to interact with its surroundings. One example of such a product is an office chair. Office chairs are available in a large number of options and executions, which can all be handled with the data model created for office chairs. No matter the number of options for a given chair, the choices have no impact on the other components in the drawing.
The other end of the spectrum
At the other end of the spectrum is our solution based on PGC technology: Extensions. Here, in contrast to Catalogues, we have unlimited possibilities to describe how products interact in a larger system of products. An important success factor when creating a PGC solution is the degree to which the products are structured through logical modules and/or components. Obviously, the more well-structured the real product is, the easier it is to implement into programming code, and the easier it is to maintain the code.
Our Catalogues and PGC solutions are complementary and ideally used together. Companies that prefer to start on a small scale can begin with the Catalogues solution and then, as the need arises, upgrade and implement products into intelligent PGC-based objects. Conversely, some organizations that have already implemented the PGC solution for complex products may stand to benefit using Catalogues for their other, simpler product lines.
With Catalogues, we satisfy our customers’ need to easily and quickly implement and maintain solitary products in CET Designer. Typical examples of these products are chairs, tables, machines, etc. Many of our customers work with complex, parametric products. Usually, these companies also have relatively large product offerings that don’t require parametric graphical configuration; in this case, our Catalogues solution is a perfect complement. From our users’ perspective, we fulfill their need to complement their quotations and drawings with simple products from a large number of manufacturers.
With the introduction of apps and app development, we have seen an increase in integrated development environments, all serving their own purposes and needs. Android, iOS SDK, WinDev Mobile and many more such environments are now available to the public, enabling virtually anyone to make their ideas reality and contribute to technical advancements.
Configura’s business idea is similar. Through a sophisticated system, we enable anyone – from large manufacturers to independent developers – to become partners and create Extensions for our software, CET Designer.
An Extension can contain products, functionality, pricelists or any other kind of data you want to add to the core software. It’s an investment in which partners can earn royalties and increase their own brand awareness. Similar to apps, we work in many different areas and industries, with many different problems to solve. Adding to the equation that our customers and partners operate in different countries, languages, currencies, time zones, etc., the prospective problems (and solutions) grow exponentially.
Here is the spider web that we needed to structure, and these are just a few of the problems that we had to take into consideration, when creating CET Developer.
What is CET Developer?
CET Developer is the developer environment created by Configura that you need in order to create and manage your own CET Designer Extensions. It gives you access to the development environment and the programming language CM.
CM is a language created by Configura, influenced by C++ and Java, but specifically optimized to concisely express PGC design software, execute fast for a highly immersive, interactive experience and allow for immediate changes in a running program.
Through the cloud-based Developer Center, which is a part of the CET Developer package, developers and manufacturers can access developer documentation and handle all billing information, user permissions, release notes and Marketplace information for their Extension – from anywhere in the world. This sophisticated, cloud-based system gives our partners full control over who can access the entire Extension or, for example, just region-specific parts of the Extension. A manufacturer can also easily control who has access to different pricelists and/or specific products.
Complete control from the beginning of a project to the release and maintenance of a finalized Extension
Because we love programming at Configura, we think it should be easy to both access and execute not only for ourselves but also for our customers and partners. Together, CET Developer and the Developer Center create an integrated developer platform that enables our internal developers and our independent partners to develop, publish and maintain their own Extensions from start to finish.
We’ve recently seen an increase in the number of partners using their own developers as it gives them full control of their products, as well as keep the development costs down. CET Developer now takes this one step further since they now have full control through the entire process, not just the programming. They become less reliant on us whenever they need to publish a new release, release notes or change the price of their Extension.
And the sophisticated system controls more than just basic information and permissions of each Extension. A global company uses, for example, different pricelists in different countries. Our system allows them to develop one Extension for all and then easily change and distribute access to the different pricelists through the cloud-based Developer Center. In short, it’s a really powerful tool.
Making this link between company, consumer and partner easy and efficient is crucial for any successful business. It has always been a major priority for us at Configura, as our business model relies on partnerships. It’s an important reason why we decided to publish our own development environment.
Simpler to invest in CET Designer
Yet, what makes the CET Developer environment unique is the degree to which it enables manufacturers to have complete control over all of their content, from the beginning of the project to the release and maintenance of the finalized Extension. Customers and partners can now publish their Extension independently of Configura or still choose to work with Configura for developing and publishing the Extension.
Overall, this means that our new developer platform simplifies the process of investing in CET Designer and enables our partners to do more than ever before. This ultimately keeps costs down and decreases the risk of information getting lost in communication.
We know that good development and continued maintenance is connected. If you develop correctly, it will also be easy to maintain. That’s how you build a sustainable system, and that’s the system that CET Developer supports. We are continuously improving our environment and for continued education we also host a Developer Conference for all our external developers every year. This year we will be in Grand Rapids on March 10, 2015.
We’re really excited about this release and look forward to seeing the innovative solutions that our current and future partners will create. Are you interested in joining our incredible team? Become a partner today! configura.com/developer
In a previous blog post, we talked about “Why your company needs a configurator.” In this post, we’ll dig deeper into the subject and talk about some terminology and the logic behind our specific solution.
In a number of industries – office/contract furniture, kitchen and bath, material handling, industrial machinery, healthcare, laboratory, demountable walls, shelving and so on – products are manufactured as components that can be pieced together.
For example, a chair can be configured with different arms, headrests, frame finishes, lumbars, cushions, base options and so on, adding up to thousands of potential combinations. The example below is a single chair that, given its various components, can produce 2,304 potential combinations.
Now picture a desk. A desk can be configured with different lengths, heights, legs, finishes, etc. But a desk can also be configured in relation to other products; attaching the desk to another desk may require supports and additional components or removal of legs to adjoin the two products. This adds several additional configuration possibilities, often adding up to hundreds of thousands of combinations (read more about this way of thinking here: http://configura.com/blog/future-space-planning)
With all these different combinations, imagine specifying an entire office space with hundreds of desks and chairs and workstations. The number of variations quickly adds up to something in the millions.
Now, think about the products that you make and sell. How do they change depending on different configurations? And how many parts and pieces are required to make various scenarios work?
… It’s an overwhelming number to even think about.
Specifying varying combinations of products used to require many people who would spend days manually making calculations. Often, specifiers would fall back on product combinations that they were used to selling – because trying new products and combinations meant venturing into confusing, time-consuming and error-prone territory.
But modern technologies simplify this complex process – and make it easy to efficiently and accurately specify endless combinations of products. Just as CNC machines and robotic devices have streamlined production and manufacturing, software technology has streamlined sales and order processes.
Configure Price Quote (CPQ)
Configure Price Quote (CPQ) is a commonly known term in the configuration-industry to simplify configuration processes. CPQ is an interface for guided selling and generation of quotes, proposals and documents. It usually feature dropdown menus in which the user is prompted to fill in various numbers and information, with the software then calculating the results.
CPQ software simplifies the complex job of configuring, designing and selling customized products because a constraint-based configurator removes the need for detailed product knowledge. It also helps sales teams to calculate the correct pricing, discounting and product rules for these products to create fast and accurate quotes and propose the best possible solutions. Tacton is an example of a company that makes CPQ software. You can learn more about CPQ on Tacton’s website.
So, how is Configura’s solution different?
Parametric Graphical Configuration (PGC)
At Configura, we do things a little differently. Instead of using drop-down lists and numbers to generate configurations, which is a common practice that works really well for product configurations, we focus on the industries that need to visualize their configurations and calculations in a given space.
To do this, we create a visual space planning configurator, which means that our users get similar benefits as with other CPQ software (such as customer focus, faster quotations, accurate pricing, increased revenue etc.) but they get these results by working in both 2D and 3D to create a visual image of their space.
This is a new type of design software that does not fit any traditional classification such as CAD, specification tool, drawing package etc. This is Parametric Graphical Configuration – PGC.
How it works: PGC looks at the relationship between products.
So how can this possibly work? How can you create configurations using images? How do they know how to behave?
With PGC, all product rules are built into the software so the designer doesn’t have to know the relationship rules between the products. The software does all the calculations and changes automatically.
The strength with this kind of software is that a single symbol can represent a large number of parametric variations and options, as we could see in the image of the chair above. The design software is further refined as the products know how to behave, which other products they can interact with and all required parts are automatically added to the drawing.
As the users are placing the products, everything is immediately configured graphically to represent what the final solution will actually look like. On top of this, the products in your visual environment are added to the calculation dialog as you go along, giving you immediate pricing and documentation, saving you many hours on specification and calculations.
Such design software allows the designer to focus on design and customer solutions instead of technical product rules. And as with other CPQ software, PGC software can integrate directly with other systems such as ERP systems, hence eliminating many steps in the sales process.
The result: PGC is about people, the way you work and better results
So far, we’ve established the technical aspect: PGC does all your calculations in a visual environment. The inevitable result is that PGC is also about people: the way they work to accomplish tasks and the improved results this leads to.
With PGC, the interface of the program is driven by images. Instead of using drop-down menus and article numbers, PGC uses graphic representations of the products. This eliminates the need of knowing product numbers by heart and opens up the possibility to work together with clients on the spot. This leads to shorter project times since decisions can be made immediately and in collaboration.
PGC uses drag and drop to create a natural workflow. The user gets immersed in the design process instead of getting pulled out of the experience by technical specifications and terms. This tends to lead to more innovative solutions and more beautiful design, which makes for happier customers.
PGC looks at the individual company to customize and automate the solution for their needs. Through a thorough analysis, PGC can work on an individual level to automate many of the common tasks in the sales and order process for each company. This eliminates unnecessary steps and the number of clicks it takes to get from point A to point B. This results in a more efficient sales process which in turn means more time for new business.
PGC in action
Though we see more product configurators emerge on the market, we at Configura have so far found that we’re still unique. We see many other great solutions for product configuration and a large number of space planning software out there. However, it is still very rare to come across a software that can proficiently handle both - the relationships between configurable products in a space.
Who needs CPQ and who needs PGC?
Companies with complex products and sales processes need CPQ. Companies with complex products and sales processes and space planning/visualization requirements need PGC. If you manufacture system products, then a PGC-based solution may be right for you.
Interested in learning more about PGC? Read our whitepaper: How Parametric Graphical Configuration Solves the Problem of Complex Selling. http://configura.com/whitepaper.
Peter Brandinger, Johan Lyreborn and Tracy Lanning together with keynote speaker Primo Orpilla.
“Why not go out on a limb? That's where the fruit is.” ― Mark Twain
When you’re changing the industry, you go out on a limb. Not everyone believes in you. It can be hard to explain what you’re doing when it’s never been done before.
But at the CET Designer User Conference a month ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, we had 300 people who got it. Who believe. And who are going out on that limb with us. Because they know the yield will be great.
And it’s these 300 people – and the CET Designer User Conference – that I want to talk to you about in this post.
Every year since 2008, Configura has hosted a user conference. We started out small – I think we had 50 or 60 people attend the first year. Each year, we’ve grown, and we’re now up to about 300.
Three hundred people may not seem like a lot, but when you consider that no one else in the space-planning software industry regularly hosts a user conference, 300 is pretty great.
Who are these people that attend? They’re the “power users” of our software and even some users just starting out – commercial interior designers, specifiers salespeople and dealer principals. And they’re also manufacturers who have invested in the solution – manufacturers who sell complex, configurable products and chose Configura to simplify the selling process.
All told, we have more than 10,000 people worldwide using Configura’s software, and more than 40 manufacturers that have signed on to our solution.
So about 3 percent of our users and manufacturer customers attend our conference. Statistically, that’s awesome.
Why do we host a user conference – and why does it matter to those who are considering Configura?
We host a user conference for several reasons:
- To share the most current information about using our solution
- To encourage the sharing of best practices among our users
- To foster networking and build a community of support
- And most important for us as a company – to listen
A handful of “Configurians” have been at every conference since we started holding them seven years ago. I’m one of them. If you’ve seen the photos (and maybe some of the videos), then you’ve probably seen me “out there” and “on stage” and kind of “rah rah-ing” the crowd. That’s part of my job as CEO.
But the real reason I go to every user conference is to listen. We send probably a quarter of the Configura team to the conference, and they’re there to listen too. This year, every Configura office was represented at the conference. We had staff attending from headquarters in Linköping (Sweden), Gothenburg (Sweden), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and, of course, Grand Rapids.
We listen to our users’ questions and concerns. We listen for what they’re looking for next in the software. And we listen because we want to form lasting collaborations and friendships with them.
The same goes for our manufacturers. While the conference consists primarily of the software users, we have a number of manufacturer representatives attend. They’re there to learn and to listen and to make their investment in the solution even better for their dealers. At the two-day conference, Configura provides time and space for the manufacturers to meet exclusively with their dealers.
And the day before the conference officially kicks off, we host a special partner meeting that brings together our manufacturers and other collaborators where, around a huge table, we talk about the future of the software. Picture some of the world’s largest office furniture manufacturers sending representatives to meet in the same room with their competitors – all in the name of working together to change the way configurable products are sold. That’s what happens at our roundtable.
Why does a user conference matter to those who are considering Configura’s solution?
You’ve arrived at our website, our blog, for a reason. Maybe you’re dealing with the very challenges that our manufacturer customers faced before they changed to Configura. They knew – and you know – there’s a better way to sell configurable products than with CAD-based programs. Because those programs don’t solve the problem.
But change can be difficult when you’re doing it alone.
With the community that Configura has built, you don’t have to “go it alone.” And this community is never more alive and engaged than at our annual user conference.
We have other manufacturer/partner meetings throughout the year. And we also offer all kinds of user training, every month. But the pinnacle is when everyone comes together at the user conference to learn, share, listen – and to have fun. For a lot of people, it’s become like a reunion. As CEO of Configura, this gives me great joy. A company is more than a sum of its products. A company is the people.
And together, this group of people is changing the industry.
We invite you to change the industry with us – but perhaps as a first step, you might want to attend our user conference to get to know us? Here’s a look the at most recent conference where you’ll find video of many of the presentations, downloadable materials, photos and much more.
There’s a lot of good fruit here, so to speak. And more to be had. You just have to reach for it.
This is a continuation on our article about The future of space planning – about the traditional way of selling parametric, configurable products and how new software is now challenges these methods. In this article we will continue to look at how also the sales and order process is changed by new technology and software.
Reinventing the sales and order process
The sales and order process is probably the most important process for a company. It adds revenue, initiates purchase of raw materials and transfers marketing demands to new products. Virtually all company activities stem from the sales and order process. Therefore, it must be the top priority of any organization to optimize this process. Unfortunately, not enough people realize how much room there is for improvement.
The old way of organizing a sales and order process
With the old way of selling, a number of people are involved in a lengthy process. Most companies selling configurable system products have organized the sales process in a sequence of steps and functions, each managed by a specialist: Salespeople communicate with the customer; interior designers or engineers (depending on the industry) create the designs/layouts/renderings; additional people handle the specification and quotation work, and so it continues.
Meanwhile, in the midst of this multi-step process, the customer usually has changes and more requests. Consequently, the whole process must be repeated. Finally, when the quote is converted into an order, all parts must be defined down to the smallest detail.
The saying “a chain is no stronger than its weakest link” applies to this type of organization. Information needs to travel through each link in the chain, which leads to internal delays and an increased risk that information is lost or misinterpreted. This sales and order process is not only extremely time-consuming but also increases the risk of dissatisfied customers and lost business.
Customer requests are “perishable”
Quote requests from customers can be compared to perishable products – they can’t be ignored, left to go stale – they must be handled before requests sour into frustrated customers who then turn to the competition for help.
Organizations that deliver higher-quality information, faster than customers expect, gain a critical competitive advantage. Shorter lead times, excellent quality of drawings and quotations, and more service in the sales process result in faster, easier decision-making by the customer. When customer loyalty increases, repeat purchases and referrals rise, leading to more customers and higher profits – a positive upward spiral.
Modularization is a prerequisite to take full advantage of a PGC solution
Products can be modularized by being “built” by a relatively small amount of standard components. With just a few unique components, one can offer an infinite number of tailored and complete solutions to customers. Fewer components make production more cost-effective and the need to stock multitudes of components is minimized. Changing from an increasing amount of part numbers, your products can be represented by a limited and constant number of basic components, which simplifies handling of product data.
Time to market – a critical success factor
The competition to get customers drives an ever-growing product range and diversification. Simultaneously, product lifecycles seem to continually shrink, and it becomes increasingly important to quickly release new products to market. The time it takes for a newly developed product to launch is vital to success. If the release is delayed, giving the competition a chance to gain a foothold, then profitability is at risk.
Often, the biggest obstacle with a product release is educating the people who will sell the product. New system products often meet initial resistance if they are perceived as complicated. There may not be the time or desire to learn how the new product works, is used or how it can be calculated.
The result can be that it takes a long time before sales of the new product pick up. The introduction is obviously simpler for a product that, from the beginning, uses a PGC solution, because the salesperson or designer doesn’t have to learn product details – these details are built into the software. A new product line can therefore be simultaneously released and directly utilized in all markets.
Specify correctly and win the deal
It is complicated and time-consuming to sell system products and, specifically, to calculate and specify components. Many companies do not have the time or resources to establish detailed specification in the quotation process, particularly if only a fraction of the quotes produce orders. This results in many companies using standard templates to handle quotations and holding on the calculations until they’ve received the orders.
But the problem with standard templates is the very real possibility of over- or under-estimating true costs. Neither case is desirable.
Cut lead times through integration with ERP
When a quotation becomes an order, all information needs to be entered into the Enterprise Resource Planning software. This is often the stage at which companies start to specify what has actually been sold. However, with a PGC-based solution, specifications are ready to be transferred electronically to the ERP, which minimizes lead times, often from between one to four weeks.
Saving time during specification shortens time to delivery. This extra time can be used to improve production planning, resulting in better resource allocation, increased capacity utilization and lower costs.
Another important advantage is that the internal control of incoming orders can be eliminated, because orders from a PGC-based solution are error free. The salesperson or designer can use the solution’s built-in validation functionality as necessary.
One individual can handle the entire process
One individual, without significant product knowledge, can specify, calculate and quote a detailed and comprehensive system product in a fraction of the time it takes to accomplish the same work without a PGC-based solution. We call this re-inventing the sales and order process. We call this simplifying.
What is your company doing to simplify the sales and order process? Join our discussion on LinkedIn.
Previously we have talked about how Things had to be simpler and Why companies need a configurator. In this blog post we will continue by looking into the problems many companies face today and the technology we have developed to solve these problems. This is part 1 out of 2.
When we think of space planning, we think of furnishing an office, a kitchen or an industrial system in ways that meet functional and aesthetic needs. It’s a description we can all agree on. But it doesn’t give the full picture of the many steps that occur in the sales process.
This article is about rethinking old methods and inventing a new, streamlined sales and order process – one that covers all steps – from customer inquiry to order entry. We will talk about this process from different perspectives, all necessary in order to give the full picture of what our technology can do if implemented right.
The old way and the new way
When we meet with new customers, we usually begin by discussing what one usually associates with space planning (the old way) and what Configura offers to the customer (the new way). The gap between the two descriptions could be spelled by three letters – PGC – Parametric Graphical Configuration. It’s a good place to start the conversation, as the mindset of many is that space planning means CAD – computer-aided design.
While CAD, which took off in the 1980s, has done incredible things for space planning, it’s limited in scope. The power of Configura’s PGC technology is the ability to quickly and accurately design, specify, render and order configurable products. PGC turns the old sales and order process on its head, simplifies it and creates a whole new way of working.
Ever since we started in 1990, Configura’s business idea has been to develop solutions for companies that sell configurable system products. What signifies a system product is that the end product is comprised of a number of configurable standard components, which, in correlation to one another, have different functions and properties. We call these relationships product rules. Product rules describe how certain components fit together with other components and what happens to them when connected.
To handle a system product in a logical way, one needs to define how it should work – one needs a product model that supports various system configurations and scenarios to offer to the customer.
What is a parametric, configurable system product?
An example of a parametric and configurable system product is the kitchen interior but the same problems can be found in a wide range of industries. As we all know, a kitchen has a number of components – cabinets, countertops, toe-kicks, crown moulding and appliances. The majority of these components are parametric, which means they can be ordered and produced in different widths, depths and heights.
If we simplify the problem, and limit ourselves to just studying a single cabinet, we quickly realize that the number of possible combinations of this cabinet is huge. Even just a few parameters can quickly create a very large number of possible options for a single cabinet.
A cabinet has additional functions to fulfill – for example, different interiors and shelving, and whether it should include a sink or an integrated oven. More options include the material to use for the framework, the thickness of the wood and if there should be a front-edge trim. Aesthetics also need to be considered, including cabinet fronts and handles.
Given the parametric properties of a cabinet, there are a large number of product configuration rules that define how its different components fit together. The product configuration rules can have their starting points in functional, aesthetic or technical production limitations. Even if something is technically possible, some combinations may not be allowed because of aesthetics or functional needs and vice versa.
The example above only talked about one cabinet. It’s easy to conclude that the complexity and number of options increase exponentially for an entire kitchen.
How traditional software solve this problem
PGC solves this complicated problem. But let’s first take a quick look at how traditional CAD-based drawing programs handle the problem of millions of possible product combinations.
The answer is simple – they don’t. Instead, salespeople and designers are forced by CAD-based systems to learn "all" product numbers – one product number usually represents a complete, finished cabinet – and this is clearly beyond human ability. The result? Salespeople only sell what they are used to selling.
PGC makes the difficult easy
With PGC, we turn this process on its head. Instead of forcing the user to memorize product numbers, we let the software generate product numbers based on an algorithm that mirrors the options the user has made in the planning process.
This means that the salesperson or designer works with concrete concepts such as the width, height, material and function of a drawing component. Valid and invalid configuration combinations within a component are described in the component’s product model, as is the product’s relation to other components. This is achieved with Configura’s unique programming language CM.
From a user-perspective, there are a number of critical benefits. The components that represent real products become intelligent, which means they know how, where and when they can be used. A salesperson or designer doesn’t need to know the product details because the software handles them. Instead, the salesperson can trust that Configura’s software tracks all system product numbers, even those that are automatically given in a certain combination.
Industries that benefit from a PGC solution
This fundamental benefit of a PGC-based solution means one can radically simplify the sales and order process for companies in a variety of industries, including contract furniture, kitchen and bath, laboratory furniture, shopfittings, material handling, storage, industrial processing systems, etc.
Commonalities of these industries:
● They manufacture or sell configurable and often parametric products
● They have a need for space planning
● They produce a large number of customer proposals each year
In the next blog post we will continue this article and talk about how PGC not only simplifies drawing components but how it also helps companies to improve their sales process and save both time and money. Stay tuned.
The world is changing and it has been for a while now. New technology is making its way into our offices, factories and homes and it’s making us more efficient, work faster and automates (and eliminates) many of our everyday tasks. Among these inventions are the configurators – a software application that allows users to design their own products to their specific needs.
When we founded Configura over 20 years ago, no one was talking about configurators. Today, they seem to be popping up all over the place. A simple google search can lead you to “configurator-overload” – so where to start? In this article we will go through the basic understanding of what a configurator is and how it can simplify the work for many companies.
What is a configurator?
The general consensus is that configurators are responsible to guide a user through the configuration process. As this definition is a little fuzzy, there is a large amount of solutions gathered under the name configurators - from very simple to highly complex - that are solving many different problems.
Most commonly known configurators are simple, web-based solutions used in e-commerce where a user can add their own text or design to products such as t-shirts, hats, mugs etc. The product is visualized, defined and priced based on the different configurations the user performs. These systems are often used to replace the need for human customer service or live intervention during the check-out process.
Configurators are also popular in B2B and are today used in a wide array of industries. These tend to be more complex, solving problems that involve complicated calculations and high volumes of orders. Configurators can be integrated with other systems, such as ERP systems, and can often automate many tasks such as creating bills of materials, specifications and order documents.
At Configura, our configurators focus on system configuration combined with space planning. System configuration is when you look beyond the individual product to focus on the relationships between the products within a space. For example, complex products that require a configurator are wall systems. Wall systems can be configured individually in height, length and width but, when you put two walls together, the walls will make additional changes in relation to each other. A configurator takes care of this complexity and does all calculations for the user. We can see the same trend with desks, shelving systems and many other products used to define a space.
Why do businesses need configurators?
There’s a reason why large manufacturers turn to configurators, and there’s a related reason to why these companies are so successful. In the past, companies did not offer customization as it was just too expensive for the manufacturer and the customer, but today companies need to differentiate themselves from the competition. This has resulted in more custom and configurable products which in turn has added complexity to the sales process. Configurators simplify this process and can solve immediate problems such as decrease the time it takes to create quotations, improve order accuracy or eliminate configuration errors.
These are just a few benefits you can see by introducing a configurator. To learn more about the world of configurators and how they differ from each other read: CPQ and PGC - what's the difference?.
Configura started because of my dad, and because of a problem.
My dad owned an office furniture company here in Sweden in the 1980s and 90s. I remember him drafting on paper to specify products.
As a small business owner, the weekdays were constantly busy, so Dad would bring the specs home and work on them late at night or on the weekend. Changes to specs were frequent, and it would get frustrating to redo all of the required, very meticulous work to get the quotes right for customers.
At the time, I was a computer sciences graduate student at Linköping Institute of Technology in Sweden. Dad asked for my help.
After tinkering around with CAD and reaching a dead end, I went down my own path with the help of my best friend, Johan Lyreborn, also studying programming at Linköping.
My dad’s problem became our mission, and that’s what I want to talk about in this first blog post.
Remember MacPaint? Drag. Drop. Draw. That’s what I recall about this early Apple software product. Simple. Easy. Intuitive. It was made for regular people, not just for so-called “computer experts” like most software back then seemed to be. And that’s what we felt designing and specifying should be – a really easy and enjoyable experience for the end user.
All of those parts and pieces and prices and associated numbers? We believed that data should be written into the software and put behind the scenes – not in front where it creates a visual nightmare of complexity for the user. (Ultimately, parts numbers should be completely done away with, in my opinion. But that’s the subject of another blog post.)
Picture Legos – the building-blocks toy. We felt that’s how products should be presented and experienced in the user interface. Lego building blocks encourage creativity so even small children can build interesting constructs. In our case, we wanted to create a smart “Lego-like” product.
In other words, products would be represented by a small number of flexible “blocks” that would “know” how they could be combined and would adapt logically to their surroundings. That’s because product rules would be built into these blocks.
Our “cement,” so to speak, holding everything together, would be programming logic – not data.
Our goal was to create a system that would be instantly usable by interior designers, specifiers and salespersons, not just CAD experts. So, in our early struggle to create true ease of use and specification efficiency, we developed basic principles by which we would program our software. These principles included:
A super-condensed user interface (UI) through symbols representing “real” products
Product-specific snapping that automates rotation, placement and adaption
Snapping that remembers connections, usable by rules or logic, and automatically adds intermediate components (for example, a post)
Rules that automatically handle change, adaption, mirroring, addition and removal of products
Automatically generated 2D, 3D, calculation and order data
These logical principles yielded profound results: a visual interface which, through simple, gesture-based control, actively invited and encouraged exploration and design – resulting in an immersive, virtual-reality-like design experience. In other words, products simply behaved as expected.
When we tested our freshly built software on new users, we were greatly encouraged. With little effort, salespersons with no previous computer experience started to use the tool, quickly became immersed in design and even began to learn more about the products they were selling.
We collectively called these principles and benefits – which became our core business philosophy – Parametric Graphical Configuration (PGC). We will talk more about PGC in a later blog post.
My dad, Johan and I built Configura in 1990 on this foundation of PGC. Twenty-five years later, it remains our foundation.
Growing a sustainable business
At first, we developed our PGC-based solution in C, and then in C++.
We pushed these programming languages to their limits in an effort to adapt them to our problem domain. Along the way, we learned that continuing to program in these languages wasn’t sustainable. We were creating custom software for each new customer instead of inventing an industry-wide solution. As projects grew very large, development speed slowed to a crawl. We needed something scalable, capable of handling multiple companies and easy to distribute to huge numbers of end-users.
Our solution? Write our own programming language. The result was CM. It took us five years to develop this language to the point where we could deliver our first application to end-users
Creating our own success
CM executes fast for a highly immersive, interactive experience and allows for instant changes directly to the running program – no more slow compiles, slow links, startup and clicking around to restore test context. CM gives instant changes to the running application in whatever programming situation one encounters. Programmers no longer have to succumb to the slow, costly and debilitating waiting times that can dominate programming and kill creativity.
Our second-generation software, CET Designer, is based on CM. CET stands for Configura Extension Technology. The CET foundation allows manufacturer-specific Extensions (with their product rules) to be added onto the CET Designer core. Extensions are to CET Designer what apps are like to a smartphone.
With CET Designer, we have created ONE PLATFORM that can calculate and visualize products from multiple companies and industries.
Sixteen years later, the CM programming language is the backbone of Configura software. We wouldn’t be able to deliver our solutions so incredibly cost-effectively if it weren’t for this language. To our knowledge, there is no other available commercial or open-source alternative.
What can we do to help your company experience our solution?