Does your software satisfy your needs?

Most manufacturers provide weighing systems, but how can you be sure that the associated software is up to standard? Simon Hallam offers some pointers.

In the novel The Valley of Fear, Sherlock Holmes observes: "The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our professional lives." While he was not talking about process efficiency in modern business, this quote illustrates the importance of data to make informed decisions.

Weighing equipment is at the heart of such data. Whether you subscribe to lean manufacturing, six sigma, kaizen or just plain common sense, you must be able to measure the impact of a decision before and after its implementation. Most manufacturers will provide weighing systems, implying that they provide both hardware and software. This makes sense as experts in weighing technology can advise on the best way to use and report data, based on extensive experience. These same suppliers will then maintain and service the hardware and offer software support. This makes sense.

They should understand their system and have ready access to parts. How many times, do you find that it is the software that causes problems rather than the hardware? It may be too complicated, be delivered late or perhaps it does not interface with your back office system - whether this is bought in or your own proprietary software.

Do your homework
For a major investment on system critical equipment, you will do your homework. For the hardware you may insist the organisation has ISO 9001. This focuses on a company's ability to provide consistent and conformant products or services. It is process driven to ensure that the organisation has systems in place to achieve consistent standards.

You need to ensure that the manufactured products conform to standards and are suitable for what you need. But we are talking about weighing systems, so what about the software? I would argue that ISO 9001 on its own will not ensure that the software developed for you will satisfy your needs.

Software normally evolves and changes far more rapidly than hardware. It also needs to be adapted so that it can interface with different systems. So how can you be sure that your chosen supplier will be able to integrate its solutions with yours? The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University advocates a process improvement approach called capability maturity model integration (CMMI).

This recognised measure enables organisations to have predictable and measurable results. Just like ISO 9001, CMMI verifies that an organisation has the correct processes in place. It was developed because many in industry recognised that the processes adopted by software developers can be chaotic and as a result, project failures and late delivery are far too common.

Using a CMMI certified supplier helps to avoid such issues. It means that there is an established quality control process for each development step - there is better communication since there are established rules and procedures and there is improved visibility due to better documentation.

The software supplier should have expertise in its chosen area if it is to provide maximum value. You need to ensure that you will have the correct data and that you can make sense and use this data constructively. So when you are specifying weighing systems, check that the hardware is what you need and don't overlook the software.

Simon Hallam is global product manager at Avery Weigh-Tronix

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