With the release of Fourth Shift version 8, Infor hasn’t exactly been shy about the fact that it will be the last full Fourth Shift product release that will be made available to the public. Infor has been doubling down on this stance to such a degree that if you view Infor’s Products Page, you won’t even see Fourth Shift listed as a current product.
Now, Infor has given lip service to their commitment to continuing to support Fourth Shift going forward, but there is definitely a (strong) push towards encouraging customers to upgrade to “more modern” ERPs and Infor solutions. Infor’s official stance on the matter seems to be that the “business application needs of some companies have expanded beyond what Fourth Shift can deliver.”
While that doesn’t sound all too encouraging for companies who still rely on Fourth Shift to drive their businesses, what does it really mean, and what can existing Fourth Shift companies do?
Infor’s Push to Upgrade
When Infor acquired SoftBrands in 2009 (and with it, Fourth Shift), Infor never seemed serious about continuing to develop Fourth Shift as a long-term platform. In fact, based on the lack of new features developed since the acquisition (coupled with the horror stories we’ve heard of some customers trying to get product support), it seems clear that it was always Infor’s plan to consolidate the existing Fourth Shift customer base into one of their other ERP offerings.
Based on webinars, presentations, marketing materials, and even conversations with clients, it seems that Infor’s strategy with Fourth Shift customers is to get them to migrate to its CloudSuite Industrial solution (also known as SyteLine).
Infor’s main pitch for this approach is outlined in an article entitled: Top reasons to upgrade from Infor Fourth Shift to Infor CloudSuite Industrial (SyteLine).
Now, SyteLine (or CloudSuite Industrial – whatever you want to call it) does have a number of improvements over Fourth Shift, many of which have been frequently requested by the Fourth Shift community for some time:
- Multi-site and multi-company support
- Workflow capabilities
- On-premise and cloud deployments options
- Credit card support for customer orders and for paying invoices
- True multi-site inventory
- InForce (Salesforce®) integration
Because of that, we’re not saying that there isn’t value in considering a migration to SyteLine (or a similar ERP such as Microsoft Dynamics AX or NAV, or even Epicor or IQMS). But because it’s in Infor’s best interest to encourage customers to buy into a new product line (and to buy the required services that would go along with that “investment”), what we are saying is that Infor isn’t being 100% transparent about the costs involved with such a move – and that there are often other (more affordable) ways of extending the life (and usefulness) of Fourth Shift.
The True Cost of Switching ERPs
While looking at all of the “pros” of moving to a new ERP (such as new functionality and process improvements), many companies fail to understand the (often costly) “cons”.
The first downside to switching ERPs is the cost involved – and not just the base price of a new ERP system. While a basic ROI analysis based on just the licensing fees alone can often seem appealing, what is often overlooked are the additional costs that are required in performing “the switch”. Without careful planning, some of these costs can creep up at a later date unexpectedly and sometimes long after an ERP migration initiative is well underway.
These kinds of costs may include:
- Process Restructuring
In order to be fully prepared for the costs of an ERP migration, you must be sure that you have explored these areas of concern in full detail. For example, implementation costs can often include data migration efforts as well as re-coding system and partner integrations. For a more detailed exploration of the considerations that should be made when assessing these costs, we highly recommend reading the article Costs of an ERP System.
The good news is that some of these costs may be included in your new ERP licensing costs. Some great questions to ask your new ERP sales rep are:
- “Do we need in-house IT for the implementation, customization, and process restructuring – or is that provided by you and your team?”
- “How much and what kind of training is included?”
- “How much does maintenance, upgrades, and ongoing support typically cost a company of our size and is any of that included in the ERP license?”
At Fourth Gear, we have found that migrating from an existing ERP such as Fourth Shift to a new platform often requires having experts available to assist with data migrations, changes to integrations, and to facilitate business process change and migration. By having these kinds of experts on your ERP migration team, you can avoid costly mistakes and misses that ERP implementation teams not well versed in your legacy platform often fall victim to. (In fact, we’re often brought on as expert technical resources for these very reasons by companies undergoing these kinds of migrations).
It’s best to engage with experts of your existing ERP platform early in an ERP migration project initiative – even as early as the vendor selection process itself. By having these kinds of trusted advisors on your team as early as possible, they’ll be able to help you understand the tradeoffs of specific decisions and platforms and help you avoid costly mistakes before they occur.
In addition to this, we’ve also found that many companies making the switch are caught off guard when they realize just how long an ERP migration can take. In our experience (despite what ERP vendors might tell you), it is not uncommon for moderate to complex ERP migrations to take multiple years to fully implement across an organization. Given that ERPs are often at the heart of a company, and touch everything and everyone in some way, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Migrating data, mapping business processes, rewiring integrations, updating reports, migrating EDI, and retraining staff at various levels in the organization often takes much more time than many first realize.
Beyond that, industry-specific regulations and SOX compliance requirements can be another blind side that organizations should be on the lookout for.
Once you get an idea of what is included “out of the box” and what the cumulative migration efforts will cost in full, you can start to weigh the pros and cons of moving forward with an ERP migration initiative and get a much clearer understanding of your actual return on investment.
Extending Fourth Shift’s Shelf Life
Many companies struggle to firmly justify the cost and ROI of a new ERP, especially when they are only looking to improve certain processes, obtain specific functionality, or just find a way to access and enter data easier and faster.
Not only that, but many companies just can’t afford to dedicate the time, resources, or capital towards such an effort for such an extended period of time – not to mention the disruption to their business and operations.
In those instances, it often makes more sense to simply extend the shelf life of Fourth Shift. As mentioned earlier, Infor has an ongoing commitment to support the Fourth Shift platform for years to come. Although they may not be actively adding functionality to the core product, that doesn’t mean that you need to be “stuck” with Fourth Shift’s base offering. In fact, there are several vendors that provide third-party products that can help fill a number of the gaps that you may be looking to fill by switching to a new ERP in the first place:
- Quoting – Innovative Consulting Group has a number of products designed to work with Fourth Shift, including Quote2Order (Q20), an application that helps streamline the quoting process.
- Estimation – Fourth Gear has developed an advanced quoting and estimation platform that helps fabricators and other manufacturers with complex estimation needs drastically reduce their time to quote (and increases quoting accuracy). Unlike many other lower cost estimation platforms, Fourth Gear’s Estimator even includes a powerful configurator that enables companies to break down complex estimation workflows and calculations into a series of question and answer prompts that estimators can use to drive their estimates.
- Inventory Management – Axiom is a long-time favorite solution for inventory management in the Fourth Shift community with its IAMS inventory and asset management system, which even helps with cycle count processes. It now has a web based version that uses SQL Server, making it easier to manage and access in today’s modern IT environment.
- Data Collection – When it comes to data collection, VisiBar and Fourth Shift have gone hand-in-hand for years. Unfortunately, VisiBar has a reputation for being expensive and difficult to use, and its technology has not kept up with the times. Newer, modern data collection platforms such as Fourth Gear Data Collection have emerged in recent years, which allow you to perform tasks on the floor such as purchase order receipts, inventory moves and adjustments, cycle counts, material picks, and more with affordable modern devices like tablets and mobile scanners.
- Production Planning and Scheduling – User Solutions’s flagship product, Resource Manager, is an APS (advanced planning and scheduling) that helps Fourth Shift users resolve complex manufacturing scheduling challenges.
- EDI – It’s no secret that Fourth Shift’s EDI module has a number of drawbacks and issues. Fourth Gear has also developed an EDI processing framework that can be leveraged by companies looking to overcome some of these limitations and to enable more modern business drivers such as real-time EDI integration and custom business workflows.
These offerings are often more powerful and robust than many built-in ERP offerings as they are products singly dedicated to solving specific needs. Not only that, but the time and cost (not to mention the organizational disruption) involved with implementing an add-on product is substantially less than the cost involved in performing an ERP migration. For these reasons, we would recommend checking out any of the above products to solve any immediate needs and pains with Fourth Shift, as you can very often extend the life of your Fourth Shift installation for years until you’re ready to make the full-time commitment to switching platforms.
When Nothing Else Fits
So what can you do if you’re in a spot where migrating ERPs doesn’t make sense and you can’t find an off the shelf product that fits your needs?
Surprisingly, there are several options that you can pursue that can help you and your organization get exactly what it needs.
The first option at your disposal is to hire a .NET developer (either as an employee or as a contractor) that can build custom applications for your organization. By leveraging Fourth Shift’s database views and its integration capabilities (through the APIs provided by the FSTM module), your developer can build custom applications that directly integrate with Fourth Shift.
While effective, hiring a developer directly can come with some caveats, especially if you’re not well versed in managing software projects. Most developers will expect that you provide requirements and guidance about the applications you ask them to build, and will most certainly look to you for validation and testing feedback. Because Fourth Shift is not a platform that most developers are familiar with, you will need to keep a sharp eye on their progress and work product: In other words, you’ll need to manage them closely. Many companies that take this path are often surprised at how little developers know about the manufacturing process and how much direction developers require in order to build a working solution.
If learning about how to manage software projects and developers isn’t something you have time to include in your day-to-day responsibilities (or if you can’t justify the additional headcount), you may want to consider hiring a Fourth Shift consulting firm to help you build custom applications. Not only will consultants be well versed and familiar with guiding you through the process of how to go from idea to application, but they’ll often assume the role of project manager on your behalf. In addition to this, you’re leveraging the experience and expertise that these firms have with developing solutions for Fourth Shift, rather than taking a chance on a developer who’s never seen it before.
As far as professional Fourth Shift consulting firms go, there are only a handful in the marketplace, and fewer still that have dedicated, full-time Fourth Shift development professionals on staff. For these reasons, we would be remiss if we didn’t encourage you to consider Fourth Gear as a potential partner for your custom Fourth Shift application needs.
Hopefully you now have more to consider when it comes to making a decision about whether to make the switch from Fourth Shift, to extend its shelf life with third-party applications, or to solve your own unique challenges with a custom or boxed solution.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about your own challenges and experiences with Fourth Shift and your plans for moving your business forward with it. Feel free to leave some comments below if you’d be interested in hearing our thoughts about your plans or if you’re interested in hearing about how we might be able to help you with your current situation, fill out the form below and we can provide a free consultation.