A developer conference is a meeting of the minds – an opportunity to connect, create, maybe commiserate, but ultimately, a chance to be inspired. It’s where developers can be part of a community.
Configura began holding its Developer Conference several years ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, where we’ve had an office and presence now for a decade. This year, we also held a workshop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we opened an office three years ago. As our platform grows to include more external developers – whom we refer to as our developer partners – we expect to hold more of these conferences and workshops.
Just as our annual CET Designer User Conference builds community among our users, our Developer Conference and workshops build a network among our developers. We’re working together toward a common goal, and we’re learning from each other. The community is rooted in Configura’s unique culture – quirky, spirited and collaborative.
At these gatherings, we train our developer partners to produce best possible Extensions – ones with good code quality, and with the “touch and feel” that stands up to our high expectations for PGC-based solutions.
Configura’s solutions are based on our unique programming language, CM, which we developed years ago because no other language existed that simultaneously could handle complexity while maintaining a “simplicity of interface” in both the developer and end-user environments – and do so with speed and accuracy.
But because CM is a unique language, learning it requires a good teacher – and regular, immersive usage and practice. Ours is a language that avoids “verbosity”; rather, it emphasizes clean, elegant code.
And it is this immersion that we offer – and this “brevity of code” that our teachers preach – at our developer conferences. To quote Göran Rydqvist, one of Configura’s co-founders, head of R&D and a frequent presenter at our developer conferences: “We must create a culture of low tolerance for complexity, bugs and disruptive pauses. We must provide strong encouragement for simplification, design, creativity and user empathy.”
At the conferences and workshops, we also drill down into some specifics. We cover everything from “What’s New in CET Developer” to programming strategies to holding evening hack sessions.
We also have discussions in which our developer partners help us to understand their needs, and how we should shape our development focus going forward. And of course, we emphasize the end-user experience, and how to make CET Designer and its Extensions the best possible solutions for the manufacturers and designers who have invested in and use them.
We usually have different developers leading and speaking. For example, one of Configura’s Grand Rapids-based developers, Magnus Carlgren, led our recent workshop in Kuala Lumpur; Emma Johansson, one of our Linköping, Sweden-based developers, led the recent Grand Rapids conference.
Each developer has a particular expertise to offer, and, because of this, each conference has a certain focus. At the March conference in Grand Rapids, four of the presenters were from Configura’s Sweden headquarters and the rest from our Grand Rapids office or among our partners. This conference featured a variety of programming topics, inspirational discussions and knowledge sharing.
At the Kuala Lumpur workshop held in February, Magnus focused on debugging techniques. Attendees from our KL office, as well as Steelcase programmers based in KL, also participated in a number of group discussions and sessions.
Different focuses and points of view create dynamic environments that lead to new and innovative solutions.
And maybe even more important, people are getting to know each other in person – and building community as a result. They see that they’re part of a bigger picture, working toward a common goal, and creating solutions with powerful implications.
“It’s good to send different people each year so everyone can have a chance to meet the external developers in person. It is also good for them to meet us. We are sending emails to each other, but it is always easier to create a good contact if we have actually met,” Emma said.
In the future, we’re looking to broaden the group that attends our developer conferences and workshops to also include IT managers, Catalogue creators, programmers and quality assurance people.
We’ll also make these gatherings more frequent. We plan to continue holding the spring Developer Conference in conjunction with our biannual Partner Meeting in Grand Rapids (a gathering of our manufacturer partners that have invested in CET Designer Extensions). At the spring meeting, developers and manufacturers meet for a portion of a day so each can hear from one another about needs and goals for the future.
The workshop in KL will continue to grow into a full-scale conference as we get more developers in Asia, and it will be more formalized, with more speakers flying in from other parts of the Configura network.
At the same time, we’re also increasing our virtual offering of webinars and sessions to benefit our growing developer community around the globe.
We plan to start holding a fall Developer Conference as well – this one will be in conjunction with our annual CET Designer User Conference. This year’s user conference will be held Oct. 18-19 in Grand Rapids. Our fall Partner Meeting will occur on Oct. 17, as will an evening of enjoyable welcome events for all who are attending the various meetings and conferences.
Including our developers as part of this large gathering truly brings the entire Configura community together – from those who originally conceived of the solutions, to those who have invested in them, to those who are moving the solutions forward, and finally, to those who use the solutions on a daily basis.
We think that mixing our developer audience with our users will fuel a dynamism that will benefit everyone. Some incredible art – and new friendships – will be formed as a result.
For a century the world has experienced an unprecedented exponential and continual economic growth. This growth is driven through replacing manual work with machines. In order to maintain growth while facing demand for increasingly flexible products to lower prices, businesses need to apply more sophisticated software systems. Traditional rigid, black-box software is expensive and forces adaption to severe restrictions. Outsourcing yield little control over results with high risks of total failure and leaves business vulnerable. The only reasonable way ahead is to use best-in-class open architecture software and excel in-house at software adaption. The successful business of the 21st century can no longer specialize in production only, but need to excel at software and algorithms as well.
Creating great software is a serious challenge and unfortunately many ambitious software ventures fail because traditional factory or office management principles are transferred over to software production. Traditional management principles and tightly controlling employee time and task allocation does not translate well to software development.
Traditional management principles for software production
Imagine programmers as great painters of classic art. A true artist is inspired and challenged by what he can accomplish and he needs artistic freedom to be creative and engaged. Precisely as with classic art, programmers come at very different skill levels. There are programmers with basic skill and programmers with great skill. The difference is very large and there is no way 10 or even 100 basic programmers can replace a great one. 100 painters could not paint DaVinci's The Last Supper. The best programming is produced when focus, flow, inspiration and enthusiasm is present. A great programmer forced to work on tiny issues or forced to navigate and decipher a complex mess will not be enthusiastic or inspired. His great talent and ability is wasted.
If we accept the view of programmers as artists - creative, engaged, and driven by a strong internal desire to produce quality results - it becomes abundantly clear that traditional tightly controlling management principles do not fit. It is also clear that the programmer is a valuable asset you want to stay onboard long-term. It is difficult and expensive to replace good programmers. Just make sure that a programmer is not valued for the wrong reason - that he is the only one that understands some complicated module. Continuous cleanup and improvement counteracts such unhealthy relationships.
Complexity is the enemy
Computers and humans interact through a user interface (UI). The UI is much more than buttons, sliders and windows - the UI presents an intuitive model for manipulation and feedback. Great software with a poor UI is useless. UI needs design, careful consideration and effort. It is the management's job to make sure sufficient time and resources exist for this important task. In real life management typically lack involvement and understanding and UI design is low priority or even ignored.
Program code is analogous to UI. The code is the UI between programmers and the computer. Poorly designed code becomes a puzzle to suck in the unaware to waste time and money. The clever programmer simplifies the code until the bugs disappear. The simplification process may introduce a few new bugs, but these are trivial to find and eliminate through good Q&A. A great manager continuously encourages cleanup, simplification and improvement.
Initial understanding of a software development project is always incomplete. Requirements keep changing from (a) improved understanding and (b) external sources. When the shift created by (a) and (b) is sufficiently large, the early conceptual design must be reworked, redesigned or even rewritten. Failure to acknowledge change and failure to allow and allocate sufficient time for change paves the road to failure. Everything ends up as an expensive mess which barely fits its purpose. It gets exceedingly difficult to back out of. And at this point there will be no time available - it is all consumed by patching and bug fixing.
Complexity is the number one enemy in the face of millions of lines of code and potentially gigabytes of data for any sufficiently advanced solution. A software effort will fail from unmanaged complexity. Complexity is an enemy that creeps in from many sources even with the best of intentions. Programmers are super bright and often fail to understand that code is complex. It takes great effort to turn a solution around and lower its complexity and it is more fun to add new features. Constantly adding to a software project over months and years creates a monster of complexity. The end result is a workload where the majority of costly programmer time is spent on debugging to keep the system alive.
Programmers are clever people that keep exercising and improving their brains throughout their career. The high-level of intelligence comes at a price. Programmers are stimulated by complexity and do not even perceive it as hard. On top of this, pressure from management results in constant additions to a software system leading to a complex mess that no one, even with super high IQ, can understand. In the end, such a system becomes slow, cumbersome, bug-prone, costly to maintain, and results in a terrible user-experience.
Programmers are generally weak on (1) simplification, (2) communication and (3) exercise. A great working environment encourages good looking code, simplification, cleanup, refactoring, code improvement and rewrites, freeing up room for invention and progress. A great working environment encourages communication at all levels. A great working environment encourages exercise for a long-term healthy workforce.
In general the (a) programmers and managers collaborate to create a complex, incomprehensible mess, (b) written in a programming language that poorly supports the problem domain, and (c) through a process that slows down to a crawl as the project grows. The software coagulates and adapts badly to new features and requirements. Expensive programmer time is spent on understanding the mess, fixing bugs and waiting for slow build times.
Current development methods take advantage of bug tracking software to efficiently sort through the constant overload of tasks, feature requests and bug reports. Bug tracking software, however, tend to chop up tasks and requirements into tiny pieces. This encourages small local fixes instead of taking in the bigger picture. Large numbers of small fixes creates a messy patchwork of high complexity. Management typically encourage this simply through measuring the number of closed issues.
Managers push programmers to add more and close more issues with tough time constraints and zero slack for fixing and improving code. UI Design and reducing complexity is not perceived as a value adding and actively discouraged. The necessary refactoring and cleanup of code is regarded as a source of errors. Yes - simplification may introduce a few new bugs, but these are trivial to find and eliminate through good Q&A when the code is clear, while fixing a bug in complex code is costly and most likely will introduce new hard to understand bugs.
A manager must create a culture of low tolerance for complexity, bugs, disruptive pauses and strong encouragement for simplification, fundamental requirements and direct design and Q&A involvement should come directly from involved managers and senior programmers. Create a culture of low tolerance for complexity, bugs, disruptive pauses and strong encouragement for simplification, design, creativity, and flow.
Software development presents endless of opportunities, it is simply a matter of grabbing the ideas and developing them.
Over the span of 25 years, our original idea has turned into an entire platform – Configura Extension Technology (CET). As we developed the CET platform and our partner program, we’ve focused on simplifying the process for our partners to have their own developers. With multiple partners onboard, we can see many advantages to embrace this approach.
Below are five benefits of having your own developers when creating your CET Designer Extensions and Catalogues.
1. Contained product knowledge
Part of the learning curve for development is product knowledge. With your own programmers, you can have experienced staff that have worked with your products for years. Alternatively, you get to train new developers specifically about your products and they get the benefit of working on site. This means that they’re a part of your company culture and closer to the problem they’re trying to solve. It also means that you will never have to share sensitive information that you want to keep in-house.
2. Increased Accuracy and quick answers
Your Extension solves very complex problems for a unique problem domain. This means training times for the product and all functionality within the Extension is high. Having your programmers in-house allows them to get quick answers to questions, often making development easier and more accurate to how you want things to work.
3. Lower cost for sustained development
If you are planning to engage in a long term development project, the training costs for a new developer get offset fairly quickly. After they have gone through our training, they are able to do anything a Configura developer would be able to do. Configura also offers continued education and knowledge sharing through our annual Developer Conference, web portal and tight-knit developer network.
4. On demand development
Having your own developers means you’re in full control over development deadlines, features, etc. Important features come in all the time and your developers will be fully in your control from an allocation and prioritization view point.
5. Tighter integration with internal systems
There are many possibilities with CET Designer, one of which is to connect it to your other systems within the company. You likely already have developers working with your backend systems and having direct access to this knowledge makes developing a tighter integration between the systems more straightforward. From our experience, it is easier to facilitate these kinds of tasks with an on-site team.
Configura is happy to help you with the recruitment process for developers – from the initial interview to testing a developer’s programming abilities. To be a successful CET developer, we look for candidates that first and foremost love programming. They should also be used to working with Object-Oriented Programming and be driven by innovation and finding new solutions to problems.
VP of R&D, Göran Rydqvist, in one of his sessions at our annual Developer Conference.
Many of our partners choose to have their own developers as well as work with some of our Configura developers. This is a great way to mix software expertise with product expertise.
A few weeks ago, I stood up in front of about 30 people at our biannual Partner Meeting and thought, “Wow. Look at what we’ve built together!”
Representatives from Configura, Haworth, Steelcase, Teknion, KI, Inscape, Midmark, Tranquil, Maars, OFS Brands, Herman Miller and ProjectMatrix had gathered in a conference room at the Renaissance SeaWorld at Orlando the day before our 8th annual CET Designer User Conference. We were there to talk about the technology and how to make it even better.
The next day, we welcomed nearly 300 people to the user conference, a record number of attendees from the Americas and Europe – including contract furniture manufacturers, dealers, interior designers and IT professionals. It was pretty amazing to stand on that stage and look out over a room filled with people.
Twenty-five years ago, it was just three of us – Sune Rydqvist, Göran Rydqvist and me. Together, we created software that made it easier to sell configurable products, which we initially developed just for Sune’s office furniture company, S Line.
But our solution was rooted in a philosophy and technology – Parametric Graphical Configuration (PGC) – that we realized had power far beyond only our use. And so, our life’s work became extending PGC to others.
Over the years, additional companies became believers in this new way of specifying products and adopted Configura’s PGC-based solutions for their own space-planning needs.
It was slow going at first. But we remained committed to the journey – and so did our customers, whom we consider partners. Today, we count more than 50 global partners in industries as varied as contract furniture, material handling, industrial machinery and more. In fact, one of our partners makes dairy-milking equipment!
“We were looking for more than software. We were looking for a comprehensive solution – something that would solve the problem of selling complex, configurable products. We wanted a company that understood this problem, knew how to apply technology to solve it and that we could see ourselves working with long-term.” – Steve Eriksson, Principal Consultant, Channel Development, Steelcase
Like Steve Eriksson with Steelcase said, they were looking for more than software.
And that’s the unifying factor among all of our partners. The Why they chose, and continue to choose, to partner with us.
Yes, Configura makes great software products. But it’s what the software is rooted in – and the ongoing cultivation of this solution by us and our partners – which sets us apart. Together, we’ve formed a community that today extends not only to our manufacturing partners but also to independent software developers, companies and educational institutions.
Because our customers are our partners, they too can develop and deliver PGC solutions.
It’s possible because of the Configura Extension Technology (CET) platform that we’ve built. We want to our partners to be in control of the entire process. In fact, the CET platform is a consequence of our collaboration with our partners through the years. It is because of them that this platform exists.
The ultimate purpose of the CET platform is to support the implementation and use of world-class business solutions built around CET Designer. The platform lets our partners create, control, market and use CET Designer to their advantage. With this technology, our partners have the opportunity to grow their own businesses and earn income based on what they create.
At the Partner Meeting in Orlando, we introduced a new whitepaper on the CET platform. You can read the paper here: http://configura.com/whitepaper.
There are so many reasons to become a Configura partner, and we invite you to learn more at http://configura.com/partner. But I encourage you to do more than read about us. We’re a community of people! Contact us! Even better, consider joining us at our next Partner Meeting, which is March 15, 2016, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.
Having more partners means we get more energy, focus and feedback into developing our solution and making it better for everyone. We want to work with the best of the best. It doesn’t really matter where you are in the world. What matters is that you want to work with more than just a software company.
This is the moment!
During recent years, “mass customization” has emerged as the new business frontier for the manufacturing and service industries. At its core, mass customization is about providing products and services that are tailor-made to each customer’s demands and wishes, while keeping manufacturing, distribution costs and delivery times at levels comparable to mass production.
This strategy of combining customized solutions with economies of scale is attractive in theory but difficult to achieve in practice. This is especially true within those industries that Configura serves. In this blog, we introduce the concept of Parametric Manufacturing, which we see as the last link to true mass customization.
In a previous blog post, we wrote about “The future of space planning.” We discussed how Parametric Graphical Configuration (PGC) software streamlines the sales and order process for companies manufacturing and selling parametric and configurable system products.
We’ve seen many examples in which product complexity gives rise to operational complexity – which in turn creates an overall business complexity leading to poor profitability and limited competitive opportunities.
The front-end of the problem is the inability to efficiently handle the large amount of configurations in the sales and order process – unless one is using a PGC-based solution.
Let’s go a step further in the value chain of a company by including the manufacturing process and its supporting information technologies. We see PGC as a fundamental prerequisite for an optimized customer-driven production process.
PGC is the foundation for mass customization and Parametric Manufacturing.
But to take full advantage of PGC in manufacturing, companies have to move away from using part numbers to describe products and their structures. In doing so, you take manufacturing capabilities to the next logical level. We call this Parametric Manufacturing.
Moving away from part numbers
While manufacturing has evolved significantly during recent decades through robotics, lean principles and ERP systems that control and optimize production, the information necessary to specify each order is still stuck in the traditional, rigid and limiting use of part numbers. They were created for human specification and order entry. Before the advent of lean production, CNC machining and robotic manufacturing, part numbers made sense because manufacturing supported only a limited number of variants.
However, with lean production, there is no need for preproduction and storage other than predictive – what is anticipated by the manufacturer. And with CNC and robotics, kitchen cabinets and desks and the like can be customized to any dimension (within the limits of the machine producing it, the maximum size of the material used and other engineering limitations).
Yet the complete planning and specification of most such products today still has to “pass through” the bottleneck of part numbers, severely reducing the customer experience and product options that can be given to buyers.
Every customer order is unique and has its own challenges. Predefined limits based on part numbers make even the smallest change in an order a cumbersome and costly exception to the otherwise streamlined production chain. Yet, customization is in high demand today.
The ideal solution
Salespersons and designers must master a staggering number of choices and associated product rules in order to avoid specification errors – in reality, it’s an impossible task. So, they resort to selling only what they know.
Even the most competent salesperson or designer will sell only a subset of what is possible and still make costly errors. A more flexible product allows for improved customer service that will help to win orders.
Clearly, companies need a computer-based drawing and ordering system – a rules-based PGC solution that “understands” products and assists designers and salespeople by handling the technical details while letting them control softer aspects such as aesthetics and ergonomics. The ideal solution presents products as a small number of symbolic product concepts – flexible building blocks that “know” how they can be combined and adapt logically to their surroundings according to programmed product rules.
Imagine using your computer to specify complete and aesthetically pleasing product solutions by picking and placing a few simple building blocks into a layout and letting the software “snap” them together. Think about it:
There are only so many sane ways of putting a chair with a desk. Or, when two desks are connected, legs and brackets are automatically placed and generated according to rules and the surrounding layout. With PGC and Parametric Manufacturing, each product placed – or automatically added by a rule – has precise knowledge of its parameters, materials, options, prices and order data.
The result is a solution in which salespersons and designers can focus purely on design and fulfilling customer requirements. Ordering becomes automatic, instant and error-free at the press of a button. Order transfer bypasses complex part number coding/decoding entirely and sends complete parametric product models directly to the ERP system.
Parametric Manufacturing is the natural evolution
That’s why Parametric Manufacturing is the natural evolution to an implemented PGC solution. By introducing dynamic product structures – ones that are not based on static part numbers – a company can take full advantage of configurable products. There are no longer any real reasons for companies that manufacture products – such as kitchens, office furniture, laboratory furniture, shelving, architectural walls and partitions – to work with static product offerings and set dimensions.
We’re convinced that all manufacturers of parametric and configurable products eventually will use PGC software if they want to be competitive in the future. Part numbers will cease to exist because they no longer serve any function. By removing them, automatic special dimensions will flow unrestricted to production where the receiving manufacturing machines are not restricted by dimensional changes. This evolution in the design and specification of complex products is a natural consequence of the robotic and computer revolution that is taking place right now.
“Complexity is easy to create – you just keep adding and it will turn into a monster. You have to take a step back, take something away, refine, refactor, rework and then reflect if this is the best possible way that we can make this or not. That’s how you simplify.” – Göran Rydqvist , VP of R&D at Configura
At Configura, we live by the word simplify. This has been our motto for many years, and a principle we have worked by from the start. Software should be simple and a user should be able to easily understand how to work it.
We can see many benefits with using simpler methods and more visual software. One of the strengths we see our customers benefiting from today is the concept of Live Design.
Simplify your sales process with Live Design
The sales process used to involve many people – the customers talked to sales, who forwarded the information to the designer who took these ideas to create a proposal that the sales person brought back to the customer who in turn gave feedback that the sales person brought back to the designer who had to make the changes to fit the new requirements.
Just that sentence alone makes you tired, doesn’t it? Imagine living it…
The sales process presented above is a tedious process and a reality for many. It usually requires many turns before finalizing the actual design – and then you still have the specification left to do before you can send the order.
But with simpler and more visual software, new possibilities emerge.
A new concept our users and partners swear by today is the idea of Live Design. This is where the designer sits down and works in real time together with the customer to create the layout. No middle-man!
As the changes can be made in real time and on the spot, this method of working saves many turns - which can be translated into time and money - in the sales process. The role of the sales person and designer merges, and more steps are completed automatically or eliminated with the help of software.
It needs to be done right
Of course, this way of working requires a certain kind of software that can speak to the customer.
A designer might be able to envision a new office or kitchen in their head, but the CEO of a telemarketing company most likely won’t.
3D images speak to people. Experiencing their new space before it is even built – even if it’s just virtual - gives the customer a sense of ownership of the design.
But just having an image of the space isn’t what we call Live Design. Live Design need software that allows you to work in real time in front of the customer.
For that, you need to be able to instantly change furniture, cabinets, materials, etc with immediate response to what you see.
That’s when you can start working in front of customers and give them the power to make their changes on the fly to create their ideal space.
That power can be a deal breaker in the sales process.
That power will make the customer comfortable and secure in their decision – resulting in a successful project.
But it’s not just software… it’s also about people
We’ve met resistance in the past when we’ve presented this concept because it means a big change to an ingrained process.
Our software presents many possibilities but to truly take advantage of it, it’s not just about buying the software. It’s also about getting people to truly adopt it and use it for its strengths.
That means change.
And change is scary.
Change could mean changing people and their roles at the company.
With Live Design, designers take on a bigger roles as they work closer with the customer. Ultimately this is a win-win situation as it opens up more time for the sales person to find more business.
Our software enables the designers to take on this increased workload as everything is tracked and specified in the background as you’re working. So when the design is done, so is also the specification. Talk about saving time!
The ultimate results of introducing Live Design is a more efficient sales process with less steps, shorter sales processes and better customer experience.
Call us crazy, but it works.
Read more about Live Design
We see more and more of our users adopting this process of working. You can read more about how our partner Steelcase uses this concept to make the sales process more efficient or hear the story directly from our users through the many success stories they have submitted.
Software matters and the kind of software you use is important because both the user and viewer experience can make a huge difference.
Live design is here to stay. Are you ready for it? Are you ready to simplify?
This blog post originally appeared in June 2015 edition of Metropolis.
The founders of Configura have one piece of advice for designers in the digital age: Trim the fat.
“If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house,” the American comedian George Carlin once said in a now-famous sketch. “That’s all your house is … a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” Had we been in the audience, we would have given standing Os. Stuff in life—at home, in the workplace, or in an algorithm—bogs one down. It drowns. It destroys the creative spirit.
We’re Swedish—a culture known in modern times for a spare design aesthetic. But we’re also guilty of owning more clothes, cars, and collectibles than we really need. In our personal lives, we each began quests several years ago to pare down—selling the second car, for example. Saying no to stuff means making space for things that matter.
Simplicity also reigns in our work lives, because we produce software that streamlines how office furniture is specified and ordered. But software, too, has its own entropy, so you have to be equally ruthless about it.
We started out because Sune Rydqvist, Göran’s father, owned an office-furniture company called S Line. Like a lot of people in this business, he struggled to keep up with increasingly complex orders. Anyone who’s ever manufactured or sold office furniture knows the insanity of the products and their many configurable components. The number of potential combinations and related part numbers in “mass customization” is mind-boggling. It’s because too much data, or digital stuff, is attached to the products. So what happens? We specify only what we already know or we venture into uncharted territory and risk making costly, time-consuming errors.
Sune knew there had to be a better way. He turned to us—then computer-science students at Linköping University in Sweden—to design a solution. We shunned CAD-based platforms and instead created something totally new for the office-furniture world. We believed that data should be written into the software and put behind the scenes, not left out front where it creates a visual nightmare of complexity. We called our new system Parametric Graphical Configuration (PGC) and founded our company, Configura.
Creating code is akin to writing poetry. Like a good poem, the best code is only as long as it needs to be.
At its core, PGC communicates information in the manufacturing and selling process by using product symbols (instead of part numbers) to represent real products. The dealer, designer, or salesperson drags and drops these symbols into 2D and 3D drawings, creating layouts. The programming is based on algorithms instead of data. As the user drops symbols into place, the software automatically calculates all the technical details and prevents them from making mistakes. The built-in rules won’t let users put parts together that don’t belong.
PGC yielded profound results, more customers began to sign on, and we grew as a company. But after a few years, the simplicity of our solution, too, began to get bogged down. Why?
Too much code.
Those who program know what we’re talking about. Creating code is akin to writing poetry. Like a good poem, the best code is only as long as it needs to be, using the right commands, and in the right order. Code must look clean and beautiful. If it looks cluttered and ugly, it’s going to be impossible to maintain—like a hoarder’s house.
We had started out developing PGC in the programming language C, and then in C++. We pushed these languages to their limits until continuing to program in them became unsustainable. We found ourselves creating custom software for each new customer instead of designing an industry-wide solution. We needed something scalable and easy to distribute, so we decided to write our own programming language—kind of how Tolkien created Elvish. Our language is made solely for the purpose of visualization and configuration, to show how products work together.
Getting rid of stuff is a ruthless process. But what emerges is good design—pure, foundational, sustainable.
But even with this new language, we had to make our philosophy of simplicity absolutely clear to our programmers: remove the unnecessary code. In fact, don’t put it in there in the first place. Our demands ensure that programmers are focused mainly on creating code, instead of debugging data (which is really about maintaining stuff). All of us should be working this way, focusing on what’s meaningful.
But anyone who works in the digital realm—or is engaged in any kind of creative activity— knows that sometimes you are so “in the zone” that you can’t see what may be staring you in the face. That’s when you have to step away. Literally. Go outside. Throw a Frisbee. Do anything to avoid entropy, that gradual decline into disorder where your brain falls to complexity and becomes a slave to its own creation.
Letting your brain go to blank is a good thing. It makes space for new ideas, or for seeing the obvious. The path to (or back to) simplicity can be painful. Saying no is hard. Getting rid of stuff (or the old way of doing things) is, as we found out, a ruthless process. But with perseverance, what emerges is good design—pure, foundational, sustainable.
We recently wrote about the difference between an Extension and a Catalogue. Both are great options – and can be combined – to enter products into CET Designer.
Catalogues was released in November last year and we pondered over what to call it. We needed something that would make it stand out from the rest of the catalogs out there. So would it be pretentious to use the English spelling of catalog? Of course not, because our Catalogues are different than other catalogs. And we’re not just saying that!
Here are nine great benefits that makes our Catalogues solution unique and a great option for companies as their first step to upload their products into CET Designer.
1. Own your data
A pretty unique approach we chose for Catalogues was that each manufacturer owns its own data. This means that you don’t rely on anyone else but can upload your data in the Catalogue Creator and then use the same data for other projects in other places. You have full control of your own products and brand.
2. Update whenever you want
Another unique feature with Catalogues is that everything is instant and always accessible. You can make updates and changes whenever is most convenient for you - you never have to wait for an official release to release your new product line – and your immediate changes will reach your salespeople and designers instantly. On top of that, we do not charge you for every update you make!
3. Users can get access to new products instantly
Everything you publish will immediately be available to everyone who has access to your Catalogue. This means no delays or release cycles, what you save to the cloud is immediately accessible whether it be product lines, pricelists or new symbols.
4. Full control of development
Creating your own Catalogue means that you have full control over development in-house. You don’t need to handover all your company secrets and rely on our staff to make changes to your product lines. It can all be handled by your own staff.
5. Get products in front of thousands of users
Catalogues is a great strategy for manufacturers that want to get their products in front of designers. Today, more than 3,500 designers around the world uses CET Designer which makes it a powerful tool to get in front of the right people.
6. Complete control over who can see your products
Catalogues let you choose whether you want to be public or private. The public option releases your products to all our users. The private option lets you decide who can access it. So, if you only want your own sales people and designers to access your products, this is easily managed.
7. No programming necessary
You don’t need any programming background to create products with Catalogues. Everything is created through drag and drop or imports. See this short video how easy it is to import your products:
8. Get immediate feedback on what you enter
Everything you enter into the Catalogue Creator can be immediately viewed in the virtual world of CET Designer. Enter a product and see what it will look like, make changes and update your symbol. What you see is what you get and it’s always instant.
9. Standard formats
We use the industry standard formats OFDAxml for all our Catalogues. But our Creator is also very intelligent and can create OFDAxml code from other standards such as SIF. If your data is already in these formats, then all you have to do is to import all your existing data and your Catalogue is ready to roll.
How to get started
Many chose to start on a small scale to create their Catalogue. In fact, why not just try it out? Download a free trial of CET Designer and the Catalogue Creator from our Marketplace to get started. The Catalogue Creator is one of our developer tools. The Catalogue Creator is an easy to use Extension to CET Designer, which lets you create Catalogues fast and easy.
Are you ready to learn some more? Or get a more in-depth understanding of what Catalogues could mean for your company? On June 10th and June 19th, we’re hosting one day workshops with Catalogues, in our Grand Rapids office. Shi Jia is our 3D Designer at Configura with experience in various industrial design fields, including furniture design and manufacturing. Learn from the pros and save time. Attend our Catalogues training by signing up here.
Twice a year, we hold a Partner Meeting.
A longer way of putting it would be to say: Twice a year, we bring together some of the largest competitors in office furniture manufacturing to meet in person, in the same room, for half a day. Yes, these competitors, our customers – Steelcase, Haworth, Teknion, KI, Inscape and others – literally sit next to each other around a large U-shaped table.
We also invite software companies to this same table – in some ways, these companies are Configura’s competitors.
We’re all independent companies, but we’re also all on the same team, moving the ball forward for the same solution – the solution started in Sweden by Configura years ago. The solution that today, with our partners, is changing global industries.
Together, we’re evolving how office furniture (or any configurable products, for that matter) are specified, ordered and even manufactured.
We wrapped our most recent Partner Meeting just a few weeks ago in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, where we have a North American office. In October, we’ll hold our fall Partner Meeting in conjunction with our CET Designer User Conference. We’ve been holding these Partner Meetings for at least seven years now.
Why do we do this? Why do competitors come together, break bread, laugh and joke – and yes, have very frank discussions?
Because we all knew – even years ago – that there had to be a way to simplify the sales and order process. Configura found a way through Parametric Graphical Configuration (PGC). But PGC is so different from the “old way” that it takes more than just us at Configura to say, “Hey, look here.” It takes more than just us to move PGC into the future.
When we started Configura, we said really early on that we needed to work with customers who were more than customers – we wanted them to be partners. We wanted them to invest in our solution, and they would own what they’d invested in. We also said we needed to create an infrastructure so our manufacturer partners – and independent software developers – could build and maintain solutions using our technology. Because there are so many possibilities with PGC, we wanted to create an environment in which our partners could be in charge of their own destinies.
So, Configura created – and continues to create – the tools and the environment that make it easy for our partners to work with our innovations. Most recently we release CET Developer, our own integrated development platform that is now used by all our internal and external developers to create CET Designer Extensions.
We also created a transparent work model based on collaboration, virtual and in-person meetings, and the sharing of best practices. Our responsibility is to keep developing innovations and fostering a collaborative environment.
We’ve created an ecosystem in which we depend on each other. Sometimes it’s a little scary, but there is a lot of power in working together. Together, we can make the impossible possible.
It’s not about “us” versus “them” when it comes to our technology. It’s ultimately about changing the selling process for entire industries – so it’s simpler for everyone.
Yes, competitors still compete. It’s just that technology is making certain processes easier, so manufacturers and their dealers can focus on the things that really matter – things like creating great products and spaces, providing excellent customer service and producing error-free product installations – instead of continually crunching numbers. PGC lets software deal with the technical complexities of configurable products so people can focus on doing their best work.
But a lot of people are used to “the numbers.” They’ve gotten comfortable with the old way of working. Maybe it’s their safety net.
The safety net is an illusion. And our team of partners is shattering that illusion. It’s slow-going – kind of like a crack in the ice, but once that crack begins to splinter and spread, there’s no stopping it.
So, we want to work with the best of the best. It doesn’t really matter where these people are in the world. We just need to make it possible for people collaborate. We need to make it possible for these people to meet, like at our Partner Meeting.
In conjunction with the Partner Meeting, we’ve also held Developer Conferences for several years now. At these conferences, discussions go into more detail about PGC and related technologies that you need to know in order to create your own Extensions. It’s the place where our own internal developers meet all our external developers.
Our most recent Developer Conference took a deep dive into the power and possibilities of our new CET Developer platform, how the tools included in this package can be used to its ultimate potential.
Collaboration is our foundation. It’s a journey that we’re on together. Where will this journey take us? Join us and find out.
– 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
- 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 CET Developer 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.