Configura was born from the need to figure out a solution to problems a manufacturer within the furniture industry had. Today, 25 years later, this software company is an international successful operation, with offices in the U.S and Malaysia aside Sweden. Office furniture and kitchen manufacturers are their dominating customers.
The trigger to the innovation, their very own software ‘CET Designer’, was that the father of Göran Rydqvist, one of Configura’s founders, in producing panel systems had problems to get the calculations right. Sometimes, with all the different components and materials he set the price too low – and consequently lost money – and sometimes lost the order when he, calculating wrongly, priced the order too high compared to competitors.
Göran, along with the forthcoming company’s CEO Johan Lyreborn, while studying at the University in Linköping, Sweden, set out to come up with a software solution, with a graphic user profile, and by using intelligent symbols.
Can solve anything
They call it PGC – Parametrical Graphical Configuration, explains says Niels Madsen, Head of Asia Operation and CFO.
“With PGC, our origin and where we are most strong, we can solve anything. The more complex the product the more competitive we are,” explains Niels at their downtown Kuala Lumpur office.
So what Configura does, is creating intelligent space-planning software for manufacturers, dealers and designers in the contract furniture, kitchen and bath, material handling and industrial machinery industries.
“In these industries products are manufactured as components that can be pieced together. For example, a chair can be configured with different arms, headrests, frame finishes, cushions, base options and so on, adding up to thousands of potential combinations.”
“Products change when they are altered or pieced together with other products.”
Niels mentions, as example, that a desk needs different legs/support depending on the length of the desk or when combined with storage.
“This is system configuration – when you look beyond the individual product to focus on the relationships between the products within a space.”
Commonly, how these various components match each other is based on a rule system.
“We create a comprehensive, ‘visual configurator’ that takes care of this complexity by doing all calculations for the user. The software is intelligent so it won’t let users make mistakes such as making the desk too long, not adding enough support, piecing it together with products it can’t be connected to etc.”
Click and choose
This enables to retailer to use this as a sales tool, for example when the customer comes into the shop of the Swedish kitchen brand Marbodal. Using their customised version of the Configura software they can handle every step in the sales process.
“They can create a drawing in 2D and 3D, working in front of and together with the client – which saves a lot of time. The idea is that the salesperson should be able to make a drawing/rendering easily without knowing all the articles numbers and information.”
“And if you are to make all these choices individually it takes time but it gets easier if you just need to click and choose,” Niels adds.
Sales can draw a kitchen or office or whatever for the customer and can also email this to the customer as proposal.
“As they are designing, the software automatically calculates all the products, ensuring that all product rules are followed. The program can also generate installation drawings and orders so everything they need is done in the single software as the design process is happening.”
Once the user has done the configuration and have generated the drawing how she/he would like it, there will be no errors, provided that all the data put into the system are correct.
Configura has developed its own solution, which Niels describes as quite unique. Its programming language enables solving relatively difficult tasks and faster compared to the traditional way.
“It’s a dedicated language which is a comparative advantage that we have.”
Cost-effective solution in Malaysia
There is also a quite large segment where clients have fairly simple products, with little or no configuration.
“Then one does not need to programme and for those we have come up with the catalogue tools, where it is fast to manufacture and bring in less complex products into our system.”
It is within the office furniture segment that Configura has its largest customer; the global producer Steelcase.
“They have a service centre here in Kuala Lumpur where they use our software in order to programme and we collaborate with them. And we could see how well it works here in Kuala Lumpur, so we set up an office here in 2012. The main purpose was to reduce costs – everything costs less in Malaysia – and our customers want to get more for their money. This was a cost-effective solution to serve all our customers.”
“Today, we have developers in Kuala Lumpur that work closely with a number of customers. It’s also here that all software undergoes extensive quality assurance testing.”
“We also assist customers who are already in Asia, or plan to be, as well as new Asian customers.”
Configura wanted to expand into the Asian market and knew they could find qualified personnel who, aside English also know Mandarin, Hindu and Bahasa Malaysia to cover their most important markets for expansion in Asia.
“Within the Asian division our global customers often have a growth of 20-30 percent per year. They grow a lot, in particular China!”
In the U.S Configura is based in Michigan, which is the centre for office furniture manufacturing, while Malaysia is the equivalent in Southeast Asia.
Attempts selling to local customers have been slow as these are not so technique-driven. Niels says that professional companies can understand the cost savings that can be achieved, but sometimes the tradition and culture is lacking with the local companies.
“But we believe they will evolve as time goes by!”
Recruiting is issue number one
The number one issue they have been facing in Malaysia is however to source qualified staff members.
“We had not imagined that it would be as difficult as it turned out to be.”
Configura’s solution is to look for those with the right talent and train them.
“Our experience has been that it’s quite grateful to bring in fresh graduates from the universities and train them in-house, by sending them to the U.S and Sweden. And we regularly also send people here to do training.”
“We have a very strong culture that we are very proud of – calling ourselves ‘Configurians’ – and want that atmosphere, vibe and way for team collaboration here. So we have become like a big family. It’s very important that we find the right people that fits in and will enjoy working at Configura. That makes for an overall better, more enjoyable and more productive environment.”
“It’s not easy to recruit as many who graduate who are clever becomes attractive on the job market and go to the large corporations. But all along, as we are showing track record and winning recognition, our employees recommend us, so the word will be out about us being seen as a good employer.
As an IT company Configura can apply for Malaysia Super Corridor (MSC) status, which would allow recruiting also from other companies.
“So far we’ve had the strategy to recruit locally – as we want to keep employees for the long term, and it takes a long time for us to get to know them and for them to learn our business.”
Configura (22 employees end of 2015) plans to recruit another 15 persons yearly during the next five years, which is what they will have capacity for in terms of the training needed.