Replacing Obsolete Software – Custom or Package?

Scenario

Over a 7-year period, a CPG manufacturer had invested heavily in report/portal software with a 2018 sunset date. Thousands of hours had been logged in order to visualize real-time shop floor execution and deliver quality data.

Problem

Now our customer needed a new visualization tool. Would it be custom or package? They had a list of 15 functional requirements, and a number of stakeholders leaning to the custom route. They were eager to minimize the cost of rework, as data sources and MES would not change.

Solution

Factora was asked to:

  1. Show that ThingWorx, technically and visually, could replace their current software
  2. Make a recommendation between ThingWorx and building a custom application
  3. Include the customer’s software analyst in the development of a ThingWorx PoC (proof of concept), so she could learn and validate the solution.

Demo: Factora demoed a live PoC using existing data sources and code (outside of Fortune 500 firms, Factora has one of North America’s largest groups of certified ThinkWorx developers). Stakeholders were impressed with ThingWorx’s modernized look & feel.

Recommendation: While custom and package routes both offer benefits, at Factora, we’ve seen a trend away from home-grown applications. We ultimately recommended ThingWorx for two key reasons:

  1. ThingWorx allows for rapid deployment; its drag/drop + link widgets allow a non-programmer to easily build data-displaying websites. With ThingWorx, today you’re replacing report/portal software (as we were); tomorrow, it’s a maintenance application, a purchasing form, or a plant manager dashboard/report. ThingWorx is MES-independent, happily indiscriminate about where it finds the data it uses.
  2. The big benefit of custom development is the flexibility of overcoming most, if not all, technical limitations of a package. But with that, you endure all the challenges of a one-off, home-grown solution:
    1. Need to support highly technical resources
    2. Full product development and deployment cycle
  • Technical design that typically involves a full database
  1. User security
  2. Ongoing, and often increasingly difficult, integration of 3rd party toolsets
  3. Specific versions of a programming language.

Typically, out-of-pocket costs are similar or less to that of an annual subscription; softer costs are difficult to measure. But ultimately, granted that ThingWorx was able to meet the functional requirements listed by our customer, Factora saw no reason to recommend a custom application.

Client training: The customer software analyst was included in the development and demo of the PoC, gaining live training on a relevant, in-house application.

Results

Factora and the customer analyst presented a live POC to all stakeholders. Our customer was delighted with its rapid development and high quality:

  • We received high praise for the demo
  • All functional and user requirements for the two subsystems (Work Order Execution and Manual Data Entry) were met
  • POC was completed in just two weeks (and would have been even faster without the requirement to train the analyst)
  • Stakeholders were excited with:
    • Not having to further invest in or rework their data sources
    • The ongoing potential they saw in ThingWorx to further reduce or replace home-grown / licensed applications
    • Gaining live training on ThingWorx for their in-house resource.