On demand

Posted on 6 Aug 2010 by The Manufacturer

Edward Machin meets QAD’s Pam Lopker and Gordon Fleming to talk Perfect Lean Markets, On Demand applications and Tube travel. Tickets please…

Used by over 5,555 manufacturers in 90 countries, the Santa Barbara-headquartered QAD offers solutions across the gamut of enterprise software: ERP; MRP; CRM; Lean manufacturing; and supply chain, to name but five.

“Our goal is to facilitate the largest adoption of the company’s products by ensuring that we provide a range of innovative solutions which give our customers a competitive advantage,” says Pam Lopker, QAD’s founder and President. “Instead of a narrow-minded focus on growing revenue exclusively, therefore, we also have spent considerable time and money in making certain that our solutions are as easy to deploy as practically possible.” Launched this year, the company’s Easy On-Boarding methodology seeks to make complex implementations a thing of the past — with users up and running in days and weeks as opposed to months.

Lopker provides a disarmingly simple example of how this is effected in practice. “QAD has approximately 8,000 sites globally, and we have seen every unit of measure possible,” she says.

“Amazingly, however, having tested the measures used by over 2,300 companies, only 17 were unique. Why does a product that is delivered to manufacturers not simply come set up with those unique measures instead of saying ‘lets talk about which unit measure you’re using and see which ones we should put in the product’?” Taking the average implementation time of a new site from two months to less than four weeks, “Deployment portability is something that we’ve focused heavily on, and feel is a differentiator for the company,” says QAD’s chief marketing officer, Gordon Fleming. “Of course it’s great that you can deploy a full-strength application On Demand, and while I may have my corporate headquarters on premise, it shouldn’t preclude me from being able to consolidate and share data. Our Software-as-a- Service offering and Demand architecture enable this, and from our point of view QAD is the only organisation which provides this capability.”

Perfect Lean Market
Much has been made of the company’s ‘Perfect Lean Market,’ but what’s it all about, really? Very simply, explains Lopker, “This is the vision behind QAD; it drives all that we do. So, it is one thing to make operations within your four walls more efficient, but we believe that those same principles of removing and streamlining communication across the entire supply chain are where the next quantum shift in manufacturing efficiency will occur.” As such, the company’s Supply Chain Portal service takes the principles used in QAD Manufacturing — increased quality, speed of production and cost reduction — and extends them to customers’ supply networks. “Approximately 7,000 companies log on daily to communicate their materials transfer,” says Fleming.

“The flexibility of On Demand delivery to enable the agility to adapt to changes in one’s business that remains key.

After all, in the current climate organisations are changing for different reasons than they would in a high growth market, and we are here to facilitate those opportunities.”

Going Underground
Given that the recession has meant a change in working practices for manufacturers of all shapes and sizes, QAD has seen a particular thirst for training of late. “Our clients often tell us that the person who ordinarily would have shown them how to do x, y or z isn’t here for one reason or another,” says Fleming, “leading to an increased need for usability across the ERP product offering.” Confirms Lopker, “I have long held the philosophy that if you need extended training on a system then we are doing something wrong. Now, this doesn’t mean you don’t need some degree of education; more that with the idea of concept training once the framework is understood you shouldn’t be training people on how to push button or to enter an order. The software interface must be intuitive to each and every user, in other words.” A native of California, she likens the ideal ERP system to navigating London’s potentially labyrinth-esque Tube system. “In travelling on the underground I should be able to look at the map and figure out quickly where I have to go, and how best to get there. The same applies to our software.” Having significantly invested into creating what Lopker calls, “The most user-friendly architecture and interfaces on the market,” and with 15% of total company R&D spend on increased usability, QAD’s customers enjoy a user experience specifically tailored to fit their remit — whatever the frequency of travel may be.

Functional functionality
For the ERP ‘tourist,’ a Google-inspired search capability enables users to explore data even though they may not know exactly how to reach their destination. Indeed, says Fleming, “Customers continually tell us that they need a product which their CEO, often as infrequent a traveller as one could wish to meet, can sit down with and find what he or she needs without training. An ability to dip in and out of the software therefore remains vital.” Those with more advanced requirements – the ERP commuter and pilot, respectively – enjoy QAD’s comprehensive workbenches, with both touch-screen and drag/drop facilities. While a transaction screen with purchase orders, demand requirements and inventory may seem impenetrable to the casual user, “The frequent traveller knows that they can simply create shortcuts for each of these functions,” says Lopker.

“Absolutely,” confirms Fleming. “Perhaps the biggest cliché for using ERP is to carry out a function, menu, carry out another function. As well as creating shortcuts, then, I can do everything from within my glass cockpit — configuring my portal to the product as roles change. Users can simply slide their work to the side when required to use an uncharted line and drill down to wherever they need to go next.”

“Of course, there is always more to be done,” says Lopker. “However, when we began this drive towards usability six years ago we made a list of all the products on the market and graded ourselves against it. While we weren’t at the bottom by any means, there was much that needed to be improved. As I talk to you today we are confident that QAD is the undisputed leader in terms of ease of use.”

Heads in the Cloud?
Cloud computing: IT’s latest emperor’s new clothes or a paradigm-shifting evolution in the way which twenty-first century organisations, manufacturers included, do business? While QAD clearly see it as the latter — having embraced the On Demand environment since 2004, with its Supply Chain Portal service with boasting over 6,000 customers to date — even Lopker didn’t see things taking off the way they have.

“While I felt that cloud-based solutions would be used largely as an ancillary tool, an increasing number of customers require their entire operations On Demand,” she says. Remarkably, QAD’s grew 300% in 2009 — with Lopker predicting that as well as continuing to triple digit performance for the foreseeable future, within five years On Demand revenues will equal those of the company’s On Premise offerings.

With Europe somewhat laggered in its uptake of Cloud services, however, where do Lopker and Fleming see the future for QAD — both in the EU and further afield? “We started our business with a focus on manufacturing and, which I firmly believe differentiates us from others in our space, a strong long-range vision for the sector,” she says.

“Having gone through countless evolutions in the last three decades, however, whether you are deploying a solution in the cloud or On-Premise the common denominator is having the capabilities to support both complex manufacturing processes and global businesses.” “Leaving the architecture and software aside, the thing that has kept us at the front of the market is our focus on manufacturing that Pam highlights,” says Fleming. “That we bring to the table each of the aforementioned capabilities, together with three decades of experience, is why QAD remains at the leading edge of ERP deployment. We don’t expect this to change, either!”