Interview with INNERGY CEO Marc Sanderson on New DESIGN Software.
It is 11:30am at the INNERGY booth at AWFS and Marc has just come back from giving a lecture on Job costing. When I met him the day before at INNERGY’s announcement of their new software, DESIGN, Marc was ready to do an interview on the spot. He launches into the story of his company’s history as though no time has passed between then and now. His story begins at a time when developing tailored software for industries outside of the financial sector was just becoming a mainstream idea.
“I met my business partner in grad school, got my MBA, and went out looking for companies to buy. We made offers on a deli salad company, a fan manufacturer, a company that actually re-did cellular phones when they were still the bag-phones, the bricks.”
“Offer number 13 was a woodworking firm. I grew up with a woodshop and working with my Dad. So, we bought the company, but what we thought on day one was that it wasn’t about the sawdust, its about getting all the problems solved on the front end with the ones and zeros and then the sawdust is easy, absolutely easy. We bought this woodworking shop called Ron’s Cabinets back in ’97. By ‘99 we were writing our own software because we couldn’t find anything that was out there. There was nothing out there at the time. So INNERGY is a culmination of over 25 years of grey hair and experience, writing our own software at Wilkie for 20 of those years experimenting: ‘oops that didn’t work, let’s try solving this problem this way’. Then, we finally got to a place where we could put all this learning in a current architectural stack that we could go to market with. So, yes, we’re a 5- or 6-year-old company, but with grey hair that goes back 25 years.”
INNERGY’s corporate identity, however, is just as much a product of intentional planning as it is decades of first-hand industry experience.
“We spend a lot of time on our value proposition: who are we going to be? What are we going to deliver? How will we end up delivering it? One of those things that is very clear is that we are for woodworkers by woodworkers. There are a lot of organizations that don’t understand that problem-solution connection of ‘you got to be in the industry to know what the industry needs.’”
“Let’s go around the room,” says Marc as we pivot and he points to various team members.
“Dan [Brill], here, used to be my estimating manager at Wilkie, he ended up writing my estimating software at Wilkie before INNERGY was a glimmer in our eye –so 15-20 years of woodworking experience of us working together.”
“Now, Sam [Harper] worked at Island, one of our customers in New York: millwork background and family has been in the woodworking industry for a long time”.
“Cassie [Gibson], who heads up our education, has 15 years, 11 of which is with industry associations serving the woodworking industry, AWI to be very specific.”
“I could keep going around the room, it is a team of woodworkers who are passionate about what we are doing: driving the solutions to industry problems. That is very specific in our strategy and our value prop.”
While DESIGN visually presents as a modern and sleek blueprinting and design software, a major component of Marc Sanderson’s and INNERGY’s vision for DESIGN is standardizing and enhancing the fidelity of communication in a shop’s production.
“There’s so much friction in the workflow, so much friction in the process within our industry, whether it’s analog or digital, on paper or in a pdf, there is still that ‘flat data’ that goes out, gets reviewed, comes back, repeat. Much of the production process happens relative to the design piece. But there is also estimation, shop drawing, engineering, which ends up in double data, triple data, quadruple data entry. With DESIGN, it’s one dataset all the way through.”
“The cool thing about having DESIGN integrated with the same architecture as our ERP, all the data is easily interchanged – it’s the same data – and so our front-end estimating system is parametric, I mean, I’m gonna do it old-school, it’s table-based but it’s parametric. Those parametric values can extend all the way into the design piece. We know where the walls are on the floor plan, pre-draw the walls and put them in 3D, that’s easy. If we know where the walls are, we know where the rooms are, we know what the elevation marker is, so we can find the elevation marker and put that as wallpaper on the side of the wall that we just made. From there we can know what product is in the room because we just identified the room, so there’s so much in just collapsing the overall workflow because of the information we know at the very beginning. There is a lot of friction that we’re trying to eliminate throughout the whole workflow as an industry, that is what I think our mission is and that’s where we’re headed.”
“A key part of standardization is also customization. There are problem-sets that are common to all woodworkers, but unique to each shop, so our tools are to the problem. The ability for a client to configure and customize that ‘tool’ [DESIGN] for their uniqueness is the key, I would argue.”
“Our Industry is all about the Theory of Constraints and Bottlenecks,” Marc Explains. “If you have read The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt, the question is: where is the bottleneck moving and how does it shift? The Bottleneck Report absolutely addresses that constant movement and shifting, not bottlenecks on the shop floor necessarily—we can see those, that’s where inventory builds up—but bottlenecks in the office nobody sees because you don’t see the inboxes building. The point to this is: your series of steps that your workflow needs to go through might be different than mine, but you’re going to have bottlenecks moving depending on that ‘lumpiness’ that comes in, in terms of your sales process, and what happens in terms of what you have to deliver [referring to the holistic shop production experience], and so we are addressing the problems in a way that– here’s the standard tool to solve that problem, but you get to put it into your customized way for your specific firm.”
There is also a lot more to be said about DESIGN being a cloud-hosted software that allows multiple users to work on the same project, an @mention and Notes feature that allows DESIGN to work like a content management system, and the extensive customer service and user-focused development strategies that INNERGY has made a part of their corporate ideals. We will have to wait and see how DESIGN evolves as a software and industry tool, but for as much as it promises, the additional features that INNGERY has planned for DESIGN along the product roadmap are completely viable if not already realized.
Tyler Holt is the Editor of Wood Industry / Le monde du bois magazine. He has a master’s degree in literature and publication, and years of experience in the publishing and digital media industry. His main area of study is the effect of digital technologies on industrial and networked production.