We were at a machine shop trade show recently and I had a very direct question come from one of the conference attendees. After sizing up our booth he leaned in and asked, “So who’s got the best shop management software here at the show?”

Choosing the best job shop management software sometimes means replacing older systems.

If your shop uses card decks, you may not have the best shop management software.

What job shop software providers wouldn’t jump at the chance to launch into a sales pitch and offer up their product as the perfect solution? But rather than blurt out, “Shoptech’s E2 Shop System, of course,” I posed a few questions myself. Questions that help frame the customer’s needs:

  1. What’s your experience with job shop software?
  2. Are you replacing an existing manufacturing software package?
  3. is this your first time buying shop management software?
  4. Other than improving overall efficiency, is there something specific you’re looking for job shop software to help you with or solve?

Sure we all like to think of ourselves as the guys in the white hats – the good guys, the ones with the perfect software solution for any job shop. But some options might be a better fit than others. Be sure to do your due diligence, and check out industry resources and buyer’s guides. When asking for direct answers from potential job shop software providers, consider your own experiences and some of the following questions. Then you might arrive at which one is the best job shop management software for your business.

Do you have experience buying job shop software?

Job shop software customers fall into two categories: ones with experience – and then there’s the uninitiated.
If you’re replacing an existing system, you’ve likely got more insight than a first-time job shop software buyer. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got it any easier. Often transitioning from a legacy software system to a new platform can be trickier than replacing manual processes or a hodge-podge of spreadsheets.
Most often, job shops that want to replace existing software are doing so because their old systems are behind the times and need more functionality. Make sure you know what additional functionality you’re looking for when shopping to replace an old platform. And if you’re inclined to stick with your current vendor and get the latest, you need to look around at what’s out there since you last purchased. Contract renewals often lead to complacent shopping. Don’t simply settle for a newer version from your current provider. With the advances made by many job shop software suppliers over recent years, software packages are lot more powerful and robust than they were 10, 5, or even 2 years ago.

selecting the best shop management software requires asking the right questions

The right shop management software can make a big difference in shop floor control.

Because many of our new customers are getting into software for the first time, automation and process improvement drive their motivation. It’s a big shift jumping into software to run your shop, so you’re looking to not only improve efficiency in your shop, but do it as painlessly as possible. Believe me, anticipate some pain during the changeover, but a good software provider will minimize and limit the ouch. Be sure you’ve got a good handle on what’s entailed in the implementation phase.

What exactly are your criteria for the ‘best’ shop management software?

Improving efficiency is the overall goal of any job shop software shopper. Whether it’s basic shop floor control or more advanced software tools, companies looking for manufacturing software are looking to more productive and profitable. Most job software solutions can help you streamline your processes, but some are better than others at certain aspects your business.
Particularly if you’re a smaller shop, you might want to ‘ease’ into your software purchase by considering a solution that covers the basics: estimating, quoting, routing, inventory control. Some providers offer additional modules – an a la carte approach – that enable you to build onto your platform by targeting more advanced enterprise-wide management functions (e.g., time tracking, full whiteboard scheduling, accounting).
Whether you need job shop software or need to improve your software, consider:
Basic shop floor control – How simple is it to create a quote? How can we eliminate shop floor bottlenecks? How do we streamline our record keeping?
Job scheduling and tracking – How can I simplify routing and make it more accurate? How can I collect job data in real time – track materials, track labor, or do ‘what-if’ planning?
Better accounting – Are all the financial functions integrated into one system with easy-to-create and easy-to read reports?
Quality certification – Are you missing out on new business opportunities because the hassle of ISO registration will take way too much time? How would being ISO-certified affect your sales?
Comparing job shop software and deciding for yourself what the best shop management software can be a daunting task. But if you break it down, and ask some questions of yourself and others who’ve gone through the process, you can arrive at answers that will help your shop get more productive and more profitable than ever. Without question.
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