Adding value to PLM for the SME

Louise Smyth

Bob Hillier explains why working with PLM Value Added Resellers allows small and medium sized companies to get the most from their software

In 1963, children's author Leo Lionni published his bestselling book, Swimmy. In this classic book, a school of smaller fish team up and swim as one, to avoid being eaten by the larger creatures.

The story sums up the challenges faced by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), especially when it comes to product development.

There are numerous advantages of working with small businesses, due to their agility and flexibility.

Small companies, large impact

Everyone loves winning a new customer, but for VARs, this has a much bigger impact. A £100,000 implementation is one per cent of a typical PLM VAR's turnover, but only 0.00003% of the largest PLM vendor's turnover.

Smaller customers are more significant to a VAR, so they receive more frequent contact and more time spent on their solution. A PLM system can represent a multi-year relationship and companies want the assurance they will get continued preference beyond the initial implementation.

A VAR not only resells products, but also adds to them to produce a complete solution package that is tailored to a company’s specific needs. Working with a VAR can give smaller businesses access to the best PLM solutions, along with support from a team of experienced software engineers and a rapid implementation so that the value of PLM can be realised sooner rather than later.

Whilst it is true that VARs tend to have fewer staff than vendors they represent, they are laser focussed on the customer relationship. If a problem does occur, customers know they can usually speak to the managing director or one of the experienced members of the team, in order to get a resolution. With the large software vendors, it is much more difficult for  a small customer to reach senior management.

Know your team

When purchasing from a large vendor, the people a customer meets during the sale are usually different to those that carry out the implementation and who will offer ongoing support. This can become confusing and customers may not be sure who their main point of contact is.

With a VAR, the people, who you meet at the sale stage, will work with you throughout the project. This will result in a more converged PLM solution that fits with your business requirements. Because of their experience, VARs are also able to challenge a company’s specification if they there are better options to suit the business and achieve a successful project.

Continuity of contact

The majority of VARs in the SME community have longstanding employees that work with accounts over many years, becoming trusted advisors and technology partners. Design Rule has been working with some of its customers since 1997 and the technical team on the account has rarely changed.

This knowledge continuity is critical for PLM applications. If a customer loses a member of staff, the VAR can provide a history of the system and train new employees on using the software. A vendor's customer might not always have this support, as accounts tend to get shuffled between account managers and software engineers every few years or even annually.

The clue's in the name

A true VAR has a deep understanding of the products it sells. It's because of this that many VARs can develop additional applications based on feedback from their customers.

For example, Design Rule's own product, DRL Productivity Tools started development in 2003, because several customers needed the capability to manage automation and batch processing. Since then the application has continued to be enhanced as new customer requirements have been added.

PLM vendors are well suited to producing a solution for large, global organisations where the customer requires a platform that is tailored to their needs. Vendors also have bigger IT budgets for long-term support and dedicated teams for administration and upgrades. SMEs have similar complexity in their business processes, but demand a lighter touch service and a support function that can be called upon when they need it.

In summary, VARs may not be the largest fish in the ocean, but there are advantages to working with one, especially when it comes to flexibility, experience, continuity and customer service.

Bob Hillier is managing director of product lifecycle management (PLM) expert, Design Rule

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