Catching up with…Nessis Inc. President Kathleen Niles
When I checked in on one of my old PCB sales associates recently, he told me that he had a new gig selling the latest and greatest new productivity software tools. He spoke so highly about Nessis Inc. and what their tools could do for companies, especially PCB shops, that I decided to learn more. I arranged to talk with Kathleen Niles, the co-founder and president of Nessis Inc. Here is a portion of that conversation.
Dan: Kathleen, tell me a little bit about the background of Nessis Inc.
Kathleen: The company was started by me and Chris Niles in 2000. Our plan was to create visual work instructions to improve production and eliminate waste. Our mission was to add more visuals to allow for better comprehension of tasks and less mistakes. We wanted to improve the overall ROI for the customer to ensure we remain competitive and keep some of our jobs in North America. When we looked at operations, we found that in many cases—most cases—operators were inconsistent in methods and creating defects because they didn’t have the information they needed to do the job right the first time. Notices of issues came too late and product continued to be built wrong. We saw a need for better communications, better visualization and frankly just a better way to do things, so we developed our own set of tools.
Dan: Very good. Can you tell me about these tools you developed?
Kathleen: Nessis has a suite of software products, which address the most important things within your company, which is providing improvement solutions for quality, productivity, communication, procurement, and training. Our suite can even connect seamlessly into your ERP and MRP systems. Integrated software creates a holistic approach to any business, whether used individually or as a package. With employees and customers as your top priority, Nessis streamlines and manages all the things that help run your business, at an affordable cost.
We have a complete suite of tools so I’ll just go through them one by one. There are five in total: The software packages are VWI, an operational management/SOP tool; SkillTrac, a skill management tool; Alltrac, for continuous improvement and issue tracking; RSM, which holds ISO and other standards your company may have; and Bidtrac, which manages suppliers’ RFPs.
Today, let’s go over VWI—our flagship software. VWI delivers real-time work instructions (WI) to operators on the manufacturing floor. Most SOP/WI are just created to comply with ISO or some standards requirement. They are only really reviewed yearly, just before an audit. The rest of the year people are doing their own thing, making changes with initials and verbal instructions. The cost of maintaining an ineffective system is huge. In the circuit board industry, change needed to happen right away. We only had 24−48 hours to deliver the product but it took 2−3 weeks to put through a change. The VWI was built to handle media-rich WI in real time. Anywhere, anytime, it can make a change, publish and you’re good to go.
Dan: What kind of companies will use these tools?
Kathleen: They are built primarily for manufacturing of products, but methods can be applied to any industry.
Dan: Tell me exactly how they are used. What are the specific capabilities?
Kathleen: Nessis manages tasks at the detail level versus a document management system. SOPs and WI can be viewed on a mobile device as easily as a desktop.
Dan: And how can a company save time and money by using these tools?
Kathleen: In several ways. By using our tools a company Leans out waste, reduces training time and collaborates all the information requirements in one place, connecting to MRP/ERP systems. The tools also show operations’ bottleneck areas and allow for operator time management. BOMs and schedules become part of the overall WI. It takes the SOP/WI off the shelf and puts it to work in real time.
Dan: How easy is it to learn and implement?
Kathleen: Operators can be taught in less than 10 minutes. People producing the “How To’s” can be trained in four hours.
Dan: Let’s talk about a complete installation. From beginning to fully functional, what will that encompass?
Kathleen: The base system—just a WI system installation—is four hours, plus four hours of training. The fully Integrated to ERP/MRP with schedules, BOM, engineering drawings, quality alerts, that’s a typical installation of 3−4 months. The issue becomes more about getting the information from the stored locations versus the software. Our team helps work with the company’s different departments to speed up the process.
Dan: Can you give me an example of how a company is using it?
Kathleen: SpencerARL, a logistics and assemblies company, uses the software as an operations executions system running sub-assemblies for a major bus company who they connect with real time. This project alone saved nine paper-based document handlers and allowed them to be used as expeditors to resolve company issues with product. SpencerARL has grown from using our software in one manufacturing facility to five, in a few years, not including containment services. What is important to know is that our software and services allow companies to expand their markets, train their staff quickly and manage issues and changes right away.
Dan: Now tell me about the service, how much help do your users get?
Kathleen: We provide 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday support services as part of our SaaS model. Additional premium support can be offered to companies that run 24/7 operations.
Dan: Do you offer training?
Kathleen: We provide training to all our clients to ensure they have a much smoother transition and utilize the software to its fullest.
Dan: How about updates and new revisions—do you provide these as well?
Kathleen: Yes, as part of our SaaS model we are continually building and evolving the software. Nessis has also partnered with a virtual reality company as we see work instructions evolving in the next few years.
Dan: Regarding other software tools like these, what makes yours better, or stand out?
Kathleen: We have not only built a real-time SOP system but have a unique team of professionals to assist the company with their transformation. Other software companies handle the document—check in, check out—we handle the details. Change can happen and be controlled in just minutes. Our mandate is to deliver all WI to the person performing the task in less than three seconds.
Dan: What types of companies as customers are you best suited to work for?
Kathleen: Manufacturing primarily, but we see a fit in any industry that has steps to perform a task.
Dan: How is your product being received in the marketplace?
Kathleen: As you know Dan, manufacturing is slow to make changes and we have been growing mostly by word of mouth. We haven’t been able to openly talk about our clients because they see us as a differentiator and are trying to keep us a secret.
Dan: They are so happy with the tools that they want to keep them for themselves; that’s kind of a double-edged sword.
Kathleen: Yes, a bit of one. But recently we are putting a sales plan in place, we are bringing on some professional salespeople as well as developing some marketing. Our plan is to spread the word. We are optimistic; we are seeing trends of bringing back manufacturing to North America and so we are trying to be the software/engineering firm to go to. Progressive, visual and responsive.
Dan: What are your future plans? Where do you want to be in five years?
Kathleen: In five years, we would like to be integrated to the SOPs of the world and create a holistic operational management system that delivers, instructs and collects all the pieces of information needed to allow us to make good product the first time. We fill the gaps to allow for this to be a real vision.
Dan: Can I ask you what the price range is for this tool set?
Kathleen: Sure, we have taken into consideration the economics of our average customers and tried to make the price as affordable as possible. It is, in fact, a fraction of what larger, more generic and less industry specific software costs. Overall, we like to say if that for less than $50 a day our customers get a completely paperless visual work instruction that is connected to your ERP/MRP system allowing employees not only access to all drawings, how to's and instant updates, but also sets up their daily work schedule. Just the time and money they save, never mind the efficiencies they gain, makes this a very good deal.
Dan: Fair enough. Can you expand on the ROI gained by using these software tools?
Kathleen: The ROI is dependent on company needs. Right now, we are working with a company to assist them with FDA approval—what does that cost if they can’t sell to healthcare because there are no work instructions available? But here are a couple of real-life examples.
A creamery was losing their ability to sell butter, and not because they didn’t know how but because they didn’t understand the food regulations. We helped them with that. They passed their food Inspection audit and have gone on to win awards for their butter.
An ambulance company had won a contract in New York. Information needed to be collected to allow them to expand to New York. Staff in Canada was French and mechanics had been doing the job for 15 years. Our mandate: build one good ambulance. They hit their milestone of 100 ambulances in January 2016.
Dan: Now let’s talk about service. Kathleen, what do you consider good service?
Kathleen: Good software (no bugs), good support (four-hour response time) and investing in our people and products. 100% uptime is our target.
Dan: What do you think your customers are looking for when it comes to service?
Kathleen: When they need our help, we call them back and work through the problems. Sometimes it’s not always our issue but providing a team that can help resolve what’s going on is critical.
Dan: Why are you outstanding when it comes to service?
Kathleen: We don’t squabble about the issues. Our mandate is to keep production moving forward. We also build in the changes they ask for if it makes sense to the overall product strategy.
Dan: Regarding sales at Nessis, what has worked for you?
Kathleen: Well, as I indicated, we didn’t have a sales strategy until this year. Now we are building strategic partnerships with multiple verticals to get the push that’s required. We are trying social media, TWI training (AME) and aligning with other software solutions that do MRP/ERP that see value in the WI integration. In terms of marketing, we want to expand our market reach, educate the manufacturing clients on the need for a holistic approach that includes the Work Instruction level.
Dan: Very good, so how do people find out more about your company and software tools?
Kathleen: The best way is to go to our website, www.nessis.ca, and if someone is interested they can contact us through the website contact form. We would be happy to provide a demo.
Dan: Kathleen it has been a pleasure talking with you and learning more about your products. Thanks for taking the time today.
Kathleen: Thank you, Dan.