Build a self-service portal yourself or opt for a SaaS solution?

Opting for a self-service portal pays off, especially for metalworkers with customers who request relatively simple products. What does it yield? Less pressure on your own sales department, more convenience for your customers. There is one big but: developing a self-service portal yourself comes with major challenges. Give yourself a carefree alternative and opt for a SaaS solution. This blog explains why that is the best choice.

Convenience serves man. This time-honored adage also applies to user-friendly self-service portals in the metal industry. Because they ensure that your customers can request quotes at any time of the day and throughout the week. All they have to do is select the material and the quantities. They then immediately have insight into the prices and, possibly after comparing with the rates of other suppliers, they can immediately decide whether they want to turn it into an order.

This takes customers less time than preparing a request via email. They just need to pour the information into the self-service portal. In addition, your customers have greater assurance that the request will be processed properly. The factory’s sales department cannot make mistakes. After all, the customer makes his own request and is therefore in control of the information and the process.

A metalworking quotation quickly and easily

These advantages apply even more strongly when dealing with customers whose buyers are of a younger generation. They don’t really need telephone conversations and warm contact. They want to be able to arrange standard activities easily, quickly and digitally.

Combine this with a full customer portfolio consisting mainly of customers who request relatively simple products and a self-service portal can triple your turnover as a metalworker. And the great thing is that you hardly have to pay attention to all those offers. That means a lesser burden on your sales department.

More air for estimators and salespeople

There are more reasons that make it very attractive to choose a self-service portal as a metalworker. For example, if you have customers who engineer themselves. This means that they often have to make design decisions. The associated pricing issues all come through your sales department.

This costs you a lot of time and hardly yields you anything. If you give your own engineers and those of your customer access to a self-service portal, so that they can work with it themselves, there is more room for your estimators and salespeople.

Self-service portal as additional sales channels

Another advantage of self-service is that you can see it as an extra sales channel in addition to the telephone and email. And what a great one. It is the basis for deploying multiple channels (omnichannel strategy), through which you can receive quotation requests in all kinds of (digital) ways.

For example, a marketplace to which you connect your self-service process. Or ERP systems of very important customers, so that you can receive requests directly from their systems. And of course the requests that can be received and processed via the SCSN network (Smart Connected Supplier Network).

Essentially nothing changes for you as a receiving metalworker. Underneath is the same automated quotation process. That is, the same IT facilities needed to estimate everything needed to prepare a quotation. It is about a powerful and versatile expansion of your options. The moment you opt for a self-service portal, it opens up gateways to use many more sales channels.

The challenges of a self-service portal within the metalworking industry

And so the arrival of a self-service portal extends in all sorts of ways the business model that you have as a metalworker. But that doesn’t happen automatically. There are significant challenges you will face when developing and maintaining a self-service portal yourself. Or rather, problems. And they make it complex.

 the challenges of a self-service portal within the metalworking industry

Automation of the quotation process

The first challenge is technical in nature. Many companies offer quotations based on excel sheets, CAD viewers, CAM systems and ERP quotation modules. They run on computers within their own factory walls (on-premise), while the website with the self-service portal is active in the cloud. This raises the question of how to connect them.

A complicated exercise. If you work with excel sheets, this means that your employees make many decisions themselves. Then you will first have to automate before you have an automatic quotation process that you can connect to your web portal.

In addition, your estimators and work planners often use local CAD/CAM systems to estimate production times and determine manufacturability. They usually operate it manually. So you will also have to automate all this if you want to connect a self-service portal.

The possible (over)loading of existing systems

The second problem is scalability. The moment you start using self-service for your customers, it may be that many users use your web portal at the same time. That is different from roughly two to five estimators within your own organization that are making quotes in the familiar way with the available tools.

It is highly questionable whether the interconnected systems running in your factory can handle that load. Before you know it, you have to think about purchasing more licenses of CAD/CAM systems that can run simultaneously. And how do you get them to work together in parallel to distribute the load?

Continuously monitor and optimize the process

Then there is another shortcoming that soon presents itself. Let’s say you’ve been able to tie all the systems together and the self-service portal is finally up and running. Then there will soon be one, two, maybe even three people watching monitors all day long to see if something is going wrong somewhere in the process. And that happens regularly, for example because your customers’ drawing errors prevent your CAD/CAM systems from being able to use them. Or that a link between systems falters.

Moreover, your customers can draw and design with such a great diversity that the same CAD/CAM systems regularly suffer from it. Your people have to continuously fix that manually. So they are putting out fires all day long. And that is very expensive.

In addition, CAD/CAM systems have not been developed with this vision and the connections between the systems are often not made to be robust. If something goes wrong, it messes up the quotation process. And then you have to intervene manually to get the process going again. That is a lot of hassle and takes time. Moreover, it requires constant tinkering and refining.

Alignment with all software suppliers

The problems are piling up. Because if you want to connect your self-service portal with the systems in your factory so that you can quote automatically, you have to deal with a multitude of software suppliers. This makes the development of the portal very sluggish. After all, you have to interact with many parties to make it a whole. Do you want to make a change? Even then, in many cases, you will have to deal with all those parties. Usually they don’t have time right away and planning and coordination becomes a lot of hassle.

You are often also dependent on the parties that made the software, such as the ERP or CAD systems. You can still have such inventive ideas for new features in your portal, the question is whether the integrated systems can do it.

An example: If you want to perform manufacturability analyzes in your self-service portal – after all, you don’t want to make quotations for things you cannot do – you depend on systems in your quotation process and whether they can perform such analyses. There is a good chance that you will also need your work preparation department, so that you are again dependent on people who do feasibility checks. In that case, the business process is not yet suitable for a self-service portal.

High investment costs

Finally, you have to deal with the valuable time that is required and the risk that it entails to have a self-service portal developed. It is so complex that you quickly need a turnaround time of one to two years. The fact that you have to wait so long before your portal can pay off makes you consider the cost of “not having it” as well. Moreover, it is difficult to find IT parties that can deliver on these kinds of promises, because these are IT projects with a high risk profile.

All these factors mean that developing a self-service portal quickly costs hundreds of thousands of euros. And then it also takes two or more FTEs to manage everything on a daily basis and keep it up and running. What you will then have for that money and that time investment is a minimal variant that you will continue to tweak for years as well. In addition, the price can sometimes double or even worse: triple or even quadruple…

The alternative to a self-developed customer portal

The alternative to a self-developed customer portal

It seems impossible to get a customer portal up and running, were it not for the fact that the solution already exists. The Quotation Factory provides self-service portals for the metalworking industry as a service. Namely Software as a Service (SaaS), which can completely unburden its customers. This cloud native platform is built for the cloud. That is, it was conceived from the start with scalability, robustness and security in mind. The features are so extensive that it is virtually impossible to compete with it with your own project.

All customers benefit from a learning platform

Forget the FTEs you should make available to monitor what goes wrong. Get rid of that hassle. The Quotation Factory is responsible for meeting service levels, such as availability.

Gone are the concerns about disruptions due to the quality of drawings. Because such an enormous volume of drawings passes through the Quotation Factory platform that it only has to solve the problems that arise for all drawing variants once. All customers whose self-service portal runs on this platform will benefit from this. The platform learns from all customers who upload drawings for quotation. In short: you ride along with the solutions for the other.

Safety, reliability and operational security guaranteed

Finally, the Quotation Factory solution is set up in such a way that its infrastructure is able to communicate with ERP and CAD/CAM systems. Safety, reliability and operational security guaranteed. Regardless of which link is involved with which system in your factory.

Offering this solution and thus tackling all the aforementioned problems is the core business of the Quotation Factory. That makes the difference for you as a metalworker and your customers. You focus on your core business, the Quotation Factory on its core business. Software as a Service, in other words.

Conclusion of this story? In particular, opt for a self-service portal, because it pays off. But those who want to invent the wheel themselves are in for a treat. Especially now that the advanced SaaS solutions are available and it has become the core business of specialized IT companies, you have to ask yourself whether outsourcing is not the most sensible option. Especially because your competitors can now have a self-service portal very easily and quickly, without all the increasing costs and headaches.

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