FEED and ration formulators develop an emotional attachment to their formulation software. There are several good reasons for this, such as:
* The software's capabilities are mission-critical for the formulator's job.
* They use the software almost every day and grow accustomed to its look and feel.
* They get very proficient with key functions and "fly" through commonly used keystrokes, having long since forgotten the learning curve required to get to where they are today.
* All key data reside in the associated database and are accessed through the formulation application. A huge cumulative time investment was required to get all of that data loaded into the system.
* They may have developed a strong, trusting relationship with a representative of the software vendor.
* The formulator's organization may have invested in custom-developed add-on functionality and interfaces with other key business applications.
* The formulator may have had input on the design or function of the core software and, therefore, feels a strong sense of ownership in the application.
* Formulators spend entirely too much time formulating feeds or complete diets, resulting in a lonely, desperate lifestyle in which their only opportunity for an emotional attachment is with their formulation software.
Hopefully, you laughed at that last bullet point rather than nodding your head in solemn agreement. Still, the truth is that formulators invest a lot of time and effort interacting with their formulation application.
The bullet points listed increase switching costs, the costs of switching to another supplier of formulation software or the cost of duplicating or expanding the investment in the current solution when a new one is purchased.
Switching costs come in one or more of the following forms:
* The cost of learning how to use the new application across the organization;
* The cost of new hardware needed to run the application;
* The cost of duplicating or replacing custom add-ons and interfaces with other applications;
* The financial and anxiety cost of migrating all of the data to the new application's database;
* Fees for ending one contractual obligation and beginning a new one, and
* Even the emotional and psychological costs — the stress-related costs associated with change.
So, what's your relationship with your formulation software? Should you continue to go steady with your current application or break up and transfer that emotional energy to a new BFF (best formulation friend) that's either an upgrade to your existing application or a new application from a different vendor?
Here are some things to consider:
* Where do you want to take your business? Could new formulation technology enable your strategy? Could it help you beat your competition?
* Does your current application "break" too often? Complex software applications are never 100% bug-free, but there's a limit, right?
* Are you missing some key new features available in other industry offerings? Furthermore, could those new features increase user efficiency or productivity? Could you spend less time on mundane tasks and more time on value-adding activities? Are those new features more intuitive or user friendly? Could they improve your finished products? Are you lacking interfaces with other key applications?
* Does your current software provider accept your suggestions and act on them? (This is particularly important if you participate in a software enhancement plan.)
* Have you assessed your software provider's products and services recently?
* Does your team ever get together to discuss ideas for improving the formulation function in your business? If so, what actions are taken?
It has been estimated that 40% of software users don't upgrade when they probably should. Why? Either because they're worried about security, they believe that upgrades will take too much time or they simply don't understand how the upgrades will benefit them.
Still, we live in a time when customers have unprecedented power to deeply influence the products and services they use. Are you exerting your power? What do you need in your formulation software that isn't there today? Have you told your software provider? If not, please do.
*Dr. John Foley is the formulation portfolio manager for Feed Management Systems Inc. focused on feed formulation, ration formulation and related software solutions that enhance ingredient evaluation (including nutrient measurement) and the flow of essential nutrition and pricing data in the animal nutrition industries.