I bet that somewhere on your laptop you have an unwieldy Excel sheet containing all the options available for the products your company sells. In some column far off to the right, you might have some comments describing the basic rules for when the specific options are available.
But getting an overview of this complexity is no easy task since all the options and their rules interact. Wouldn’t it be neat to somehow visualize this complexity?
Connecting the dots to configure a truck
Let’s take a truck configurator. We’ll extract all the truck’s options and draw them as dots. Next, let’s connect all dots that have a direct rule between them using a line. Finally, let’s use a so-called clustering algorithm to pull dots that are closely related to each other and color them with the same color.
The result? Quite a pretty picture. A custom piece of art that we can print and hang on the wall in our office (which we’ve actually done, by the way). So what can we learn from this exercise?
Everything is connected
Almost all the dots are connected in our configurator and represent the interdependencies that exist within the construction of a truck. In the image (or should I say painting), only five questions stand on their own. Everything else has at least one line connected to something else, which in turn connects it to the core of the configuration problem. Simply put, this means that if your customer asks you to change one part of their quote – like changing the truck’s tire – there is a high probability that you need to change other, far-away, parts as well – like the air deflector on the roof of the truck.
In other words, keeping track of all parts of the truck to create a correct quote is easier said than done. Especially if you’re using Excel…
Clusters of options
The clustering algorithm I mentioned earlier creates clusters, where the options more likely affect other options that are close to each other. This makes sense, of course; the clusters are subsections of the truck like the cab, powertrain and body. If you change the steering wheel in the cab, you would expect it to affect other options in the cab like the instrument panel.
Pick the right tool for complex customization
A final (and yes, kind of obvious) point about the image – there are lots of options in a truck! If you need a configurator for a product of similar complexity, you’ve got to think about what tool to use. Excel spreadsheets or simple rules-based configurators simply won’t let you create a masterpiece.
If you are curious to see a tool that can handle the kind of complexity mentioned above, watch Tacton’s truck configuration here. Or, drop us a line to discuss further how an advanced configurator could support your business.