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Benchmarking at Your Fingertips

Review by Dirk Dusharme

IndustryWeek's Benchmarking Tool Kit: The Complete Guide to World-Class Manufacturing is based on the Industry-Week 1997 Census of Manufacturers Research Report conducted in association with Price Waterhouse. The printed report and CD-ROM together represent probably one of the best benchmarking resources around.

The result of a 1997 survey of more than 2,800 plant managers and 300 senior manufacturing representatives across the United States, the CD-ROM database of survey results helps users benchmark their practices to those of the survey participants. Users can look at cumulative responses to the more than 80 questions asked of all the companies or narrow the search to study responses for just their industry sector, company size, annual earnings or other plant metrics.

The tool proves especially valuable when users narrow their search results to those plants whose performance results are similar to the results they want to achieve in areas such as cycle-time reduction, inventory turns or on-time delivery rates. For instance, users may choose to look only at companies whose cycle time was reduced by more than 75 percent during the past five years. Scanning the survey results for that subgroup, they would note that most companies listed have widely adopted just-in-time inventory, agile manufacturing strategies and cellular manufacturing. Viewing companies with specific performance criteria gives users an idea of what practices lead to their desired goals.

The only blemish on this otherwise great resource? The vague instructions for using the CD-ROM. Fortunately, good technical support is a phone call away, and the software is easy to use once you know how. Lethargy is another problem; the database runs under Java, meaning that look- ups and scrolling through profiles is very slow, even on our 200 MHz Pentium.

The 300-page spiral-bound book that accompanies the software is loaded with information about the survey, extrapolations of results, and commentary from industry experts. Even without the CD-ROM, the invaluable information can serve as a guide to what leads to best practices. The package also includes Industry Week's statistical profile of America's Best Plants based on their 10 winners and 15 finalists from 1997.

Companies trying to increase productivity, customer service or just about any other aspect of their business should take a look at IndustryWeek's Benchmarking Tool Kit.


Benchmarking Tool Kit
by IndustryWeek

System requirements: Windows 95 or 3.1, CD-ROM, 16 MB RAM and 16 MB free disk space.

Price: $1,395

Contact: IndustryWeek
1100 Superior Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44114-2543
Telephone: (800) 326-4146
Fax: (216) 696-3755

Painless Customer Surveys
AutoData Systems

Review by Dirk Dusharme

Those who have ever shied away from customer surveys because of the time it takes to develop a form, deliver it and process the returns owe themselves a look at Survey+ by AutoData Systems. Survey+ makes it incredibly easy to develop and process surveys.

Users merely type text into the text entry block, tell Survey+ whether the text is a title, comment or question, and the program puts the preformatted text into the layout. Specify the type of question: yes/no, true/false, male/female or one of several five-step scales, and Survey+ places the question into the layout along with the response fill-in bubbles, headings and scale definitions. Users also may create their own scales with up to 10 response levels or categories. For later data processing, scales may be identified as single mark, single mark scaled (answers are on a continuum, helpful for calculating statistical values) or multiple marks.

Users also may specify hand-printed numerical data such as telephone number, social security number or date. During form processing, optical character recognition will translate hand-printed responses into ASCII text.

As a form generator, Survey+ works well. But forms processing is where the software really shines. Returned forms may be input from a scanner, directly from a fax modem or manually. With automated modes, the software accurately reads which response bubbles are checked, regardless of whether they are completely filled in or simply Xed.

The program does a reasonable job of character recognition on hand-printed entries and may be configured to stop on each hand-printed entry. Data from scanned forms is stored as comma-delimited text and easily imported into any spreadsheet or database program. Survey+ also includes its own post-processing analysis with histograms, trend analysis and cross-tabulations.

The only problem we detected was with the optical character recognition, but we haven't seen an OCR system yet that was entirely accurate. In any case, even with operator verification of each handwritten entry, data entry is much faster than manually keying the forms.

For companies that need to survey customers on a regular basis and want to ease the burden, Survey+ could be the answer.


by AutoData Systems

System requirements: 486 or higher processor, Windows 3.1 or 95, 8 MB RAM, 5 MB free disk space.

Price: $795 for software, $1,045 if purchased with AV100 scanner

Contact: AutoData Systems
6111 Blue Circle Drive
Minnetonka, MN 55343
Telephone: (800) 662-2192
Fax: (612) 938-4693




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