Graphic, easier to use Modeling Environment Realized, Finally!

Copyright © by Don Cochran

After some recent reviews over the last two to three months of more than a dozen Configuration Solution Suppliers in North America and Europe, it is apparent that customers are demanding easy to learn and easy to use rule creation and maintenance capability and many of the software suppliers have listened.

In virtually every application reviewed, it was stated over and over again with emphasis that a company/customer with complex products and services seeking new configuration capability will no longer accept the concept where a knowledge worker, engineer, or product manager must translate product information into programming code to create logic for representing their products. They have been there and done that and they now insist on something better.

Also, there are very few software suppliers that only offer “product configurator” applications any more. Furthermore, most customers are no longer first time users of “product configurators” and they have experienced first and perhaps second generation configurator applications that require “programming like” code to define their product offering and they want a change.

The “product configurator” market place is about 25 years old and has recently matured. Customers are smarter, more experienced and consequently more demanding. The customer’s customer is becoming or already is very demanding and forcing a different theme of “are you easy to business with”? You have heard that before haven’t you?

Product loyalty is always a help to keep customers, but it is hard to stay ahead and keep these customers happy when product life cycles are only 3 months long vs. 3 years. If a company is to stay ahead of their competition, they have to react quickly to new product releases. You have heard that too. So have most of the configurator software suppliers.

No longer is it okay to release a product without it being offered on the web at the same time it is released to the public. Just how have companies kept up in the past? You know the answer to this. They had to have lots of people to create, maintain, market, support, administer and display product information. Leaner times just don’t allow for all those people anymore. The ROI doesn’t justify all these people. Rapid turnaround for new product announcements and rapid turnaround with fewer people to maintain these information assets demands higher productivity. This message has been heard, too.

The successful configuration solution provider of today has listened, designed tools to ease this pain and invested into making their rules modeling environment to match the market need. Easy to use is the mantra. They now offer a rules modeling solution that made it easier to understand, learn and use. The knowledge worker has to be more productive! Based on what I have seen, many have made giant steps forward vs. what was available just 18 months ago.

The software landscape has changed significantly and there are many new configurator companies, believe it or not, with robust offerings available in the market today and some of the old standby’s are just that, standing by watching the newer more technically savvy companies take away their business. Don’t get me wrong, not all of them are standing by. But, Selectica and Firepond are examples of some of those that are no longer significant “players” in this market. Why are they losing business? They didn’t react to the stated need and those smarter customers.

The winning company is offering a capability that their customers view as a productivity tool and allows them to react more quickly to market conditions. Their new customers became new customers because they saw real life production examples where they could reduce costs, improve productivity and respond to the market more quicky. What they saw made business sense and the ROI numbers were good enough for them to be willing to invest their time and money to gain the higher productivity needed. So many have embraced the “ease of use” and higher productivity concept and many of the newer configurator offerings are thriving because of this. Are they major players? No. But, there are no major third party players.

Before your eyes glaze over, wake up, because this is a significant achievement in the configure-to-order software market space. No longer is it necessary for it to be a hard task to create and maintain product models/definitions. Not true for all configure-to-order applications, but most of the suppliers I have recently talked to or applications seen, the modeling capability is an order of magnitude easier.

Virtually every configuration solution supplier reviewed has some graphical modeling capability. Yes, every one is different and some are better than others, but the concept has come to fruition that in order to compete and sell to customers, the definition of product and its maintenance has to be easier and faster than previous generations of software. It wasn’t a Mission Impossible after all. The good news is that “Ease of Use” translates to higher productivity with fewer people and quicker time to market. Isn’t that what good business is all about?

These “more enlightened” offerings range from drag and drop rules from a tree to some other place on the tree to using Visio images, or photo-realistic images or CAD drawings as configured objects. Creating relationships between products or options or classes is not always done with code. Rule firing sequence has been a problem in the past and many have solved this.

This is not just some over zealous sales guy doing a demo or developing a prototype. Virtually all these applications are solving very complex, ETO system configuration problems with a graphic look and feel with virtually no or little requirement for “slam it in” rule writing. The drag and drop of an image to a palette is easy to learn and use. The new graphics capability also provides a visual documentation of the model.

There are products on the market that create product documentation text, attributes, rules for creation and drawings to name a few and then reuse that information to validate standard company product offerings. This is one of the “some are better than others”. I saw some impressive examples of models for some complex telecommunications product[s] and systems with service overlays that generated bills of material, pricing and some rather robust, multi-paged proposals generated. All of this was done with little to no traditional rule writing.

With time everything changes. Thankfully, the times have changed!

In future editions, I will describe in more detail some of the offerings that were reviewed.

Please send comments to Don Cochran, at