Work instructions are one of the first things manufacturers digitize among Industry 4.0 initiatives. Work instructions are a great place to start. With the right software provider, it can both be an “easy win” for digital transformation, and have a significant impact on your operations. Also, championing the right software can be a career-defining decision. As you evaluate which tool is the right one for your organization, ask these eight questions to ensure you make the best choice.

What is your goal?

What goal do you want to accomplish with work instruction software? Seems obvious, but many people don’t take the time to question what they are trying to achieve with digital work instructions. Some manufacturers simply want to go paperless. Others want to digitally transform their operations. Going paperless is a noble goal, but if it’s your only goal, let me tell you a secret: you don’t need specialized software. You might as well use the software you likely already have, such as Powerpoint, to make PDF versions of your current work instructions. Save your money.

Does the software let you create smart work instructions?

If you want to move the needle, look for software that lets you create SMART work instructions. Smart work instructions software dynamically guides operators based on inputs from them and connected devices. Smart work instruction software let’s you add rich media to your work instructions. Examples include video and CAD files. Smart work instructions software also have a robust versioning system. That way you can ensure operators use the correct standard operating procedure (SOP). They also have advanced user management features. These features let you keep track of operator skills and training.

Can the software connect with your other tools and systems?

Smart work instructions software can connect with your devices and systems. This can provide better guidance to your operators. Imagine a process that required picking parts from bins. Smart work instructions software can connect with pick-to-light and light beam sensors. These tools can light the right bin and sense if the operator picked the wrong part. These external devices on your shop floor can provide operators with real-time feedback. Moreover, it allows you to connect with your other systems, like ERP software. These connections present operators with the right information at the right time. As you evaluate different software providers, ask how easy it is to connect with external devices and systems? Learn which protocols they support. Can you connect your existing tools? Will you need to purchase new, compatible ones? Is the connection “plug and play”? Will you have to invest in costly integrations?

Does the software collect actionable data?

Smart work instructions software goes beyond guiding operators.  It also collects valuable data about your operations. It achieves this in several ways. First, as your operators go through the process, smart work instructions software can automatically collect data. For example, it can track cycle time per operator. You can use this data to see if operators are meeting their target times. You can also identify high performers, and give targeted feedback to under-performers. Another way smart work instructions software captures information through forms completed by operators. Lastly, smart work instructions software helps you to collect data from your machines, sensors, smart tools, and devices. For example, you can connect your work instructions to a scale. You can then automatically log the weight of all your assemblies before you ship them.

Collecting data is only half the story. Smart work instructions software also lets you visualize and manipulate the data. This can happen within the software or via your existing analytics tools. Learn whether the solution you’re evaluating allows you to create dashboards. Can you share them with other stakeholders in your operations? This data is not only valuable to you as a manager, but also to your operators . Sharing performance data let’s them know how they fare compared to their peers. This can foster healthy competition. It can also drive engagement that increases the productivity across your operations.

How does the software add value to operators?

The number one reason why operators don’t use work instructions is that they don’t add any value to them. As you evaluate different tools, ask yourself how it can add value to operators. Smart work instructions software adds value to operators by helping them excel at their job. Unlike ‘dumb’ work instructions software, it doesn’t require operators to toggle between instructions and work. Instead, smart work instructions “follow” operators as they do their job. It displays the most relevant information they need to be successful. It’s interactive, and gives operator’s real-time feedback that helps them do a better job. Similarly, it collects data that helps managers provide better feedback and recognition.

How easy is the software to use?

Make sure you ask about training scope and associated costs. Many manufacturing software customers sell hard to use software and charge you for training as their business model. The steeper the learning curve and the longer the implementation period, the longer it will take for you to see a return on investment. As you evaluate different providers, gauge the usability of their software. Ask a demo or trial account, as well as customer testimonials. Also inquire about the resources they have to make you successful. Check out their training resources, including webinars, knowledge bases, and forums. Lastly, ask about the on-boarding process . The best vendors will have a clear plan to get you started as a successful user of their product.

What else can you do with the software? Will you outgrow it?

Digital work instructions are a necessary step in your digital transformation. However, if you chose smart work instructions software you will soon want to digitize other parts of your organization. To complete your digital transformation you will need to find other providers to fulfill your other needs. Going down that road will result in an expensive to maintain software stack. This could also result in data silos, rather than a single view of your entire organization.

To avoid this situation, you can choose a platform instead of a single-point solution. Unlike single-point solutions, platforms are flexible technologies that can solve multiple problems. Think of them as Legos — the possibilities of what you can build are endless. Manufacturing Apps software is an example of this. It allows you to make smart work instructions, but is not limited to that use case. Instead, you can create all sorts of apps to digitize your operations. These include quality apps, visibility apps, and many more. All data lives within the platform, so you get a holistic view of your operations.

Will your provider still be around in a year?

Startups tend to be more innovative than large companies. A benefit is that they are not constrained by the bureaucracy of large organizations. This makes them more agile and innovative. These companies can also attract the best talent and can come up with revolutionary ideas. However, buying from startups or smaller software companies can be scary. IBM capitalized on this fear with their “Nobody ever got fired from buying IBM” campaign.

If the company is well funded and poised to become a market leader, choosing a startup can be great for your organization. You can gain early access to new technologies before your competitors. There are a couple of questions you can ask to de-risk your decision.

First, you can ask about their financial health. Look for credible Venture Capital investors, established customers and a professional management team. Second, you can choose a startup that is poised to become a market leader down the road. How can you assess this? You can see how fast they’re developing and improving their product. If the product has changed substantially over the last few years, you can assume it will continue to grow.

You can also look at the team behind the company. How large is the development team? Are they from top-tier schools? Have they proven themselves in the past? Lastly, is the company under the radar of leading industry analysts? What are Gartner and IDC saying about the company?

Championing new software in your organization can be a great way to boost your productivity and career if you make the right choice. As you consider which software to invest in, we’d love for you to consider Tulip.

Start building your own automated work instructions app in Tulip with a 30-day Free Trial.