All posts by System Team ISMNET

5 Product-Configuration Essentials for a Next-Generation Customer Experience

How leading companies leverage product configurators to boost efficiency, revenue, and the customer experience

By Darshak D. Patel

5 Essentials for a Next-Generation User Experience

Product configurators allow B2B customers to customize items in real time from a variety of components and options. Product configuration as part of eBusiness/eCommerce is essential in providing a seamless and more personalized customer experience. Product configuration is so much more than color, size, and material selections; it enables complex combinations and variances in construction, shape, and functionality.  There are a multitude of algorithms and unique identifiers that run in the background. Thousands of options and restrictions must be indexed and updated regularly. A product configurator is a component of the user interface (UI) which dictates the user experience (UX).

Here are five things to consider: 

  1. Assign unique identifiers: Not only does it simplify the repurchase process, it can be used to identify and reward customers for referrals. This identification system also ensures that your clients receive the right products and that shipping costs stay low.
  2. Leverage dynamic pricing science: In this competitive climate, price, demand, and market conditions change rapidly. Dynamic pricing enables companies to respond in real time while providing the most advantageous options for the customer.  Complete configuration details can then be sent to the customer and to the sales rep.
  3. Enable a next-generation customer experience: The user interface and experience should be seamless. At the most basic level your modeler should include a definition of parts, complete structural data, and dynamic pricing. Any restrictions or potential conflicts should push an alert to the customer and to the engineering team for immediate review.
  4. Personalize the experience: Full integration with back-end systems such as ERP and CRM provides efficiency and agility for responding to customers’ unique needs and preferences on the fly.
  5. Ensure scalability: Customized solutions allow companies to create their ideal system today with the flexibility to add more features tomorrow. Some key components include:
    • Adding custom text to products
    • Sharing configurations in social media or email
    • Adding customized products to a wish list
    • Enabling easy access to quotation and negotiation tools
    • Automating bill of material (BOM)
    • Providing free training and support
    • 3D visualization via third-party (REST/SOAP)
    • CAD model design via third-party (REST/SOAP)

Companies that are serious about meeting B2B buyers’ rapidly changing expectations are modernizing their eCommerce strategies to further engage customers, increase sales, and improve the overall quality of the eBusiness experience. Have questions or need help in this area? Let us know.

4 Reasons Not to Be Afraid of Artificial Intelligence

AI is creating sea change in the manufacturing and healthcare industries and there are multiple positives for businesses and individuals.

artificial intelligence

Anytime you have two well-known entrepreneurs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, at odds about a topic you know it’s something transcendent. Some common perceptions about artificial intelligence include job loss, conspiracy theories, and even world dominance. At this moment, however, we cannot ignore the extremely positive outcomes AI affords. What AI is, according to Forbes, is a concept of machines’ ability to carry out tasks in a way that people consider “smart.” Many applications fall under the AI umbrella such as machine learning, deep learning, predictive analytics, and others.

Here are four solid reasons not to be afraid of AI:

  1. It saves lives: Early cancer detection and treatment, recognition of brain disorders, and new drug discoveries and treatments are just a few ways in which AI is changing medicine as we know it. Machine learning also helps advance the collection and digitization of electronic health records, thereby improving the quality of the doctor/patient relationship.
  2. It creates possibilities: Ultrasound has been an essential tool in critical moments for monitoring and diagnosing patients for almost a century. A new break-through technology packs the power of ultrasound into a lightweight, cost-effective silicon chip with built-in deep learning. These chips could potentially give access to many healthcare professionals around the world who wouldn’t otherwise.
  3. It entertains: Alexa’s presence in the patient’s room, doctors and nurses can access the records without troubling the patients or logging into computers. Alexa can be a great companion providing stories and music for patients with disabilities. Alexa can also give reminders when it’s time to take/administer medication or serve/eat food.
  4. It skyrockets efficiency: From faster production to optimizing worker schedules leading manufacturers are already experiencing the benefits of AI in their smart factories. Manufacturers can foresee trends and be more innovative by making better, faster business decisions. All of the data from IoT sources presents endless possibilities for manufacturers.


Since AI is still rather young, there are much more applications to which we can look forward. According to Forrester, the evolution of AI will likely see the most success in three – five years.


Unlock the Power of Modern Data Science and Advanced Analytics for Competitive Advantage

Gartner predicts the number of connected devices (IoT) will reach $21 billion by 2020. That means the resulting Big Data including customer data is a goldmine and leading manufacturers are cashing in to increase revenue, personalize marketing, and improve the B2B customer experience.

In this white paper manufacturing leaders will learn:

  • How modern tools help overcome two of the toughest data challenges
  • How easy it can be to obtain real-time actionable insights on your own
  • The endless possibilities that modernizing legacy systems enables

Start transforming the explosion of Big Data and other disparate data sources into actionable intelligence by downloading your complimentary copy today.

Download White Paper

The Third Level of Customer Engagement in eBusiness/eCommerce


Forty-one percent of eBusiness & eCommerce customers are only somewhat engaged, according to a recent study by ISM, Inc.  Our findings indicate there is more work to be done to meet the ever-changing needs and preferences of the modern B2B customer.

Readers of this report will learn:

  • The complete findings from our study
  • Tips to increase B2B customer engagement
  • The top three issues B2B customers face when conducting eBusiness
  • The role of social, cloud, mobile, and analytics in B2B customer engagement

Also, check out our latest blog on the subject The Evolution of eBusiness

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8 Key Drivers of IT Projects That Don’t Flop

Pravin Dabhi, PMP, PMI-ACP and Vanessa Saulsberry contributed to this article

Not all organizations fully understand the value of effective project management. Indeed, over half of IT projects fail. That’s a staggering percentage considering how important IT projects are in delivering real business value to the organization and its stakeholders. Nevertheless, many project management executives don’t know how their projects align with their company’s business strategy. The good news is that the rate of project success is on the rise. According to Project Management Institute, even though today’s companies still meander $97 million on average per $1 billion invested – it’s a sizable decline (20%) compared to the year prior.[i]

When user experience, revenue, and reputation are on the line, it’s vital that companies get it right. Some companies know all too well the woes of project failures. In 2009[ii], RBS’s customers were locked out of their accounts for two weeks following a botched software update. In 2013 the rollout failed to sign up the majority of Americans who tried to enroll ahead of the impending deadline[iii] What about Hershey’s not-so-sweet ERP project that caused an eight percent dip in its stock price?[iv] You get the point. IT failures have long been the subject of many articles, keynote speeches, research studies, and the like. In this post, we examine eight of the key drivers to IT project success.

W. Clement Stone writes, “Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement.” We all know that projects start with inputs which in turn generate outputs. But we seldom distinguish between outputs and outcomes/impact. Imagine a project in which we build a bridge. Building a bridge that is ready for use is an output – a short-term goal. Building that bridge so that it generates millions in revenue for the state, and reduces traffic jams is an outcome or the long-term impact. Intended or consequence, knowing your projects short- and long-term goals are crucial to success. As such, it is the very first driver we address:

  1. Identifying short- and long-term goals: Some projects are meant to bear fruit immediately, and others ramp up in value. For example; let’s say that one of your projects is to add business intelligence (BI) and predictive analytics to your current data analytics system. The other one is a project to build a mobile application for an upcoming tradeshow. The goal of the embedded application project is apparently long term, while the main goal of the mobile app is short term. The outcome/impact of the mobile app may be positive because if people fall in love with the experience and rave about it for years to come, that’s an added benefit. The short-term goal is to engage attendees; keep them informed, organized, and connected throughout the live event. According to Project Management Institute, only 64% of projects meet their goals. It would seem that a good portion of that outcome is due to either misinterpreted or misguided goals.
  1. Insufficient planning: Benjamin Franklin writes, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” 39% of IT projects fail due to lack of sufficient planning. The valuable time you put into planning your project at the outset will help guide the execution of phases seamlessly and make provisions for managing time, cost, quality, change, risk, and more. Brian Tracy writes “Every single minute of planning saves 10 minutes in execution, yielding a 100% return on energy”.
  1. Scope creep: “Projects are like icebergs; it’s easy to see the third above the water, but it’s the two-thirds below that sink the ship”—Eave Capital. We’ve all been there. Misunderstandings or last minute additions which, by the way, are “nice-to- haves” versus “essentials,” are often due to poor requirements gathering. Upon a thorough assessment, however, some changes bring much more value to the final deliverable and are worth pursuing. As such, developing a flexible change-management plan is vital.
  1. Inadequate leadership: A recent IndustryWeek article identified three types of leaders: One-Step-Ahead Managers, Two-Steps-Ahead Managers, and Three-Steps-Ahead Managers. The premise is that the unique leadership qualities found in each of these leader types (from the risk-averse tweaker to the risk-taking visionary) are all necessary qualities for effective leadership, especially when attempting to implement significant change. At the same time, someone who holds a position of leadership is not necessarily a good leader. Some leaders lack the interpersonal and motivational skills to rally team members and provide the necessary direction. They tend to be more focused on executing tasks versus overseeing the project and ensuring measures are in place for success.
  1. Poor communication: Communication is a core competency for organizations. All stakeholders should feel as though they have a voice in the project’s outcome. Listening to and addressing their concerns, where feasible, promotes transparency and aids in problem-solving and decision-making. According to a study conducted by PMI, poor communication is one of the most important factors responsible for project failure and ranks second to poor planning. When executed poorly it can polarize project teams and its stakeholders, leaving the project doomed for cost overruns, rework, and even worse—failure.
  1. Conflicting priorities: Companies must identify which projects will bring the most value to the organization and its stakeholders, and then make those a priority[v]. Working on a project for the sake of checking it off your list is a waste of time, energy, and resources. Instead, coordinate with business leaders, who are sensitive to the needs of the organization and customers, and then assess the business impact of each project on your list. Be sure to involve your CIO early on in the project so that he or she can help align the project outcomes to the strategic goals of the organization.
  1. Stakeholder management: Stakeholders have a vested interest in the project. A project is only successful when objectives and expectations of its stakeholders are met. Typically, the more stakeholders involved in your project, the more complex and stressful it becomes. Earlier we mentioned keeping the lines of communication open for stakeholders throughout the project. It is equally important to create a process by which ideas can be vetted properly for either inclusion in the current project or reserved for a later date. The criteria outlined below is essential to managing stakeholders effectively:
  • Interpret their expectations
  • Define clear success criteria
  • Accurately assess their influence
  • Keep them involved and informed
  1. Resource misalignment/overallocation: Assembling the right team with the right capabilities, experience, and skill sets is critical. PMI found that less than one in three companies currently prioritize the continued development of technical, leadership, or business skills, rendering most teams ill-equipped to manage complex technology projects. Overallocation is another issue for organizations looking to embrace new technology for competitive advantage. There are just too few people participating in too many projects, snuffing out any real chance of success. When this happens, it not only dampens team morale, it creates a lot of undue stress.  Outsourcing your IT project might be a feasible option as long as they have experience within your particular industry and follow an agile methodology for speed and flexibility. Indeed, 75% of highly agile organizations met their goals/business intent, 65% finished on time, and 67% finished within budget, according to PMI.

So what does all of this mean? At a high level, leading companies are leveraging technology to transform every corner of their businesses and are driving positive outcomes as a result. To achieve this IT projects must receive the proper oversight to bring tangible value to the organization, its stakeholders, and customers.  We recognize eight key drivers of IT project success ranging from effective planning to transformational leadership. Most importantly, industry-specific challenges and nuances require seasoned project teams with an agile approach to delivery. Daily tasks and activities, stakeholder engagement, and continued innovation are crucial for navigating large-scale IT initiatives, as is salience in understanding and advising on complex requirements. When in-house projects stall or never get off the ground, a trusted service provider can step in to help busy executives navigate the technology landscape.  A good strategic IT partner will keep your implicit and explicit needs at the center of its approach to ensure your project’s success and long-term business outcomes. The end goal is to be able to answer yes to the most important questions. Does it meet the intended scope? Did we stay on or around the budget? Was it delivered on time? Does it provide the organization and its stakeholders the intended value?

For a deeper dive on this topic download our latest e-book which includes more advice for bringing the best out of your IT teams: 8 Tips for IT Projects That Don’t Flop


The Power of Advanced Analytics in Manufacturing

Hitesh Soni and Vanessa Saulsberry contributed to this article


12.3 Million. That’s how many workers the U.S. manufacturing industry employs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting for almost 1/10th of the workforce. That’s a lot of jobs supporting growing families and businesses. Clearly, with the industry representing over 12 percent of the United States’ total GDP[i], manufacturing companies are a critical component to building a stronger economy.

Manufacturing leaders are facing some tough challenges and immense competition. The only way to stay competitive in this environment is through good old-fashioned innovation. Despite outspending global counterparts in R&D[ii], there are untapped opportunities hidden in the vast amounts of data manufacturers collect.

These opportunities are wide ranging and include:

  • Improving the customer experience
  • Retaining top talent and increasing employee engagement
  • Margin recovery
  • Enhanced product quality and safety
  • Boosting supplier and vendor relations
  • Improved efficiency on the plant floor

The possibilities and potential applications are endless. Indeed, IDC predicts that by 2020 the global Big Data and business analytics market will increase by $73 Billion[iii].

Over the last decade the complexities often associated with gathering and analyzing large volumes of data, including Big Data, IoT, and now IIoT, have dissipated. Modern data science and business intelligence tools go one step further, allowing department heads to serve up highly-visual, ad-hoc reports on their own, eliminating much of the heavy lifting by IT.

Manufacturing companies that embed predictive analytics can pry open new doors for additional insights regarding future outcomes. Suddenly, business leaders have transformed legacy systems into something far more valuable, unlocking greater ROI and influencing positive business impact.

For a deeper dive into this topic read the white paper: Leveraging Modern Data Science, Predictive Analytics, and BI for Competitive Advantage.

[i] Bureau of Economic Analysis, real value added by industry (accessed January 13, 2017) –
[ii] U.S. Manufacturing in International Perspective Marc Levinson Section Research Manager January 18, 2017

A New Year of Opportunities and Challenges


2017 is sure to bring its unique set of challenges and opportunities for companies across the globe. From an upsurge in cyber threats to advances in AI and 3D printing, we’re headed for some of the most interesting developments we’ve seen in some time. Not to mention a host of economic, political, and social developments to consider.

For enterprise companies to stay competitive and profitable they must find ways to stand out from the crowd—a new or enhanced product or service, a new customer-first culture, or streamlined and cost-effective operations; they’re all top of mind for savvy business leaders.

Faster – better – stronger; that’s what all companies want to become. The problem is that it’s not easy to get there without commitment from the top down. Flat or shrinking budgets, along with lack of executive buy-in can bring these types of far-reaching initiatives to a screeching halt. The good news is more companies are considering sizable investments in people, process, and technology. It should make for an interesting year and we can’t wait to see what 2017 ushers in.

We’re planning some pretty cool things ourselves. Starting with a few updates to our website, we’ll also be developing some new content resources that we hope our customers and friends will find useful. We’ll also be sharing ideas and seeking feedback from our customers and new friends. Stay tuned, as we’ll be rolling out these updates over the next few months.

From our family to yours – have a happy and prosperous New Year!

The ISM, Inc. team