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There are any number of suggested approaches to implementing a business software system, but a few tips offered by frequent ERP blogger Eric Kimberling contain some key points that we think all software vendors could agree with.  We’ll share a few of those tips, with which we concur, here.  We could add a few more from our own experience, but these provide a great foundation in helping to avoid time and cost overruns.

  • Create your project management organizational structure. Your ERP provider will have a project manager, or project architect, or maybe both as we often do.  You need to have one on the client side too.  As well, remember (as should your provider) that there are a great many non-technical project aspects to attend to that involve work streams, people issues, organizational changes and the not-so-simple mechanics of having staff available for training and implementation when they already have their ‘real jobs’ to do!
  • Define project roles and responsibilities. No two projects are alike.  Your provider knows in advance (or should know) exactly who will be doing your training, your customizations, your technical work and writing your reports.  But ultimately, it’s your project, so be sure you have defined all the roles at your end, and that each person knows who they’ll be working with.  Strike a balance between your “internal competencies and your bandwidth” as Kimberling puts it.
  • Make key strategic decisions regarding your implementation.  Again, all projects have their unique challenges.  (We’ll get 90% of our side right and still beat ourselves up over how we could have done the other 10% better.)  So early in your project, work with your partners to realistically define project phases and timetables.  Hint: all clients and most implementers underestimate the actual time required, and the unplanned hiccups along the way.  Data conversion is typically one large problem area.  Another hint: the less data you absolutely have to transfer from old to new system, the easier (i.e., less costly) your project.  Remember, you can always turn on the old system on the few occasions where a missing piece of old data is critical.
  • Define your future state business.  Don’t fall into the trap of letting your software always drive your business process improvements.  The software should be made to fit the way you do business.  That’s why buying a ‘customizable’ system is so critically important.  Modifications and customizations exist for a reason: they support the business’ intrinsic competitive advantages.  Don’t settle for software or process flows that do not match up with your own best practices.  Defining your future state can often be accomplished in stage one, after you’ve mapped the current state and identified the gaps and technology touch points you need.
  • Think people. Many projects fail or succeed based on how well firms have handled the changes to the organization and to the workflows that a newer, better system require.  Remember that people are always on the critical path to project success.  And don’t wait until it’s time to get folks trained to bring them into the picture.  The time to involve your team is at the very start of your project.  But that’s a post for another time.

 

Today we’ll feature some of the updates and new views we saw at the recent annual NAV Directions conference in Orlando.  We’re sharing these with our own clients, but it only seemed right to share what’s new from NAV with our larger audience of blog readers as well.  So here goes…

We recently returned from the Microsoft Dynamics NAV annual conference and  we’re pleased to share what we learned there.  We gained insight as to the road ahead for NAV, and saw a number of the fast-growing family of third-party applications many companies are using to enhance NAV’s underlying capabilities.  We thought we’d share a few of those with you here today…

  • Microsoft announced that the forthcoming 2018 product – code named ‘Tenerife’ – would be “the single NAV product, with full NAV functionality, for both cloud and on-premise” going forward. That’s important, because Microsoft is making a push into the cloud like never before, and it’s good to know that the Dynamics NAV product is one they’ve chosen to be fully present in both forms: hosted on someone else’s server (in the cloud) or on your own (on-premise) for the foreseeable future.
  • While past NAV upgrades From Microsoft have recently been scheduled annually in October, this year’s date has not yet been announced. We’ll keep you posted.
  • NAV will continue to be customizable to the way you work – another important consideration. Long true of on-premise versions, it’s now slated to be true in the cloud via ‘extensions.’
  • ‘Tenerife’ (or NAV 2018) will mark a new stage in the interplay between Office 365 and Dynamics 365 (the current cloud product), specifically around Outlook and the Office 365 Business Center, a collection of apps based on NAV.

Among recently announced enhancements from our favorite 3rd party providers…

  • Warehouse Insight: Mobile warehouse data collection using handhelds in the warehouse to pick, pack & ship… Get real-time access to NAV inventory & production… Perform all those inventory and warehouse functions from hand-held devices… Capture lot & serial
  • Advanced inventory counting now simplifies inventory and cycle count entry, reconciliation, posting and analysis.
  • Integrated shipping with all major carriers including FedEx and UPS with real-time, detailed package management.
  • NAV Sales Configurator: Accurately quote your products with multiple configuration options that allow for assemble-to-order configurations directly from quotes and orders, or create production BOMs for more complex production environments.
  • Additionally: Production scheduling solutions from Insight Works and others… advanced document management and new expense reporting from ZetaDocs… and more.

Dynamics NAV is Microsoft’s best-selling ERP system worldwide, by far, proudly serving over 120,000 companies today worldwide.  Knowing that it’s a platform well poised for the future both on-premise and in the cloud is a strong message going forward for all those users, and we’re glad to see the product continue to grow in both functionality and users, worldwide.

 

Those in the I.T. and ERP arena who implement software and hardware solutions for a living have long known – or at least, should know – that speaking the language of business is as important as speaking the various languages of technology.  A recent article on the shortage of data scientists in the U.S. in the 21st century makes that point clear, noting that a McKinsey analysis recently predicted a shortage of 250,000 data scientists here by 2024.  Worth noting: Countries like Malaysia are busy building national programs as they seek to fill the gap by becoming a global hub of data science talent.

An article from information-management.com reinforces the point, noting that data is becoming more ubiquitous in every organization and data scientists are bound to grow in importance.  “Today’s students will be the first data-native employees of the future, and it’s critical that they understand data science, how data science is changing and how data science solves real world problems,” says Ashish Thusoo, CEO and chief data scientist at Qubole a “data-as-a-service” company in Santa Clara, California.

As the impact of AI (artificial intelligence), machine learning and big data all seep into the business world, it becomes more important than ever that tomorrow’s data scientists can optimize business processes, think in the language of business and apply human creativity to solving real-world business problems.  A lot of the tedious and manual data entry work is going to be performed by machines and algorithms, and the pace of change will only accelerate.  The critical question then becomes: Can we teach our students and employees to master the arcana of data while thinking like business people?

Mr. Thusoo puts it nicely in an article found here: “Data scientists will need to be able to think like MBAs and MBAs will need to think like data scientists. That requires an interdisciplinary approach to education.”

 

These future data masons will be working across multiple disciplines and communication skills will be of great importance.  They will need to be collaborators, understanding the various aspects of the business while being effective communicators.  They’ll require multi-disciplinary talents for sure, and be able to speak a bit of many ‘languages,’ like marketing, production, sales, accounting and leadership.

And of course, the learning never stops.  These workers will require social skills, data skills and overall learning skills to go with foundational hard technical skills.

In the end we are learning that data science is rapidly evolving into a profession that requires a whole suite of both soft and hard skills, and that we will need a whole lot more folks to fill these roles.  But then again, today’s best business analysts, software engineers and enterprise implementation teams have always known this.

The difference going forward is that we are going to need a whole more of us.

 

At a recent “Digital Enterprise Boot Camp” in Toronto, a group of leading IT executives and project managers discussed their experiences with recent ERP implementations and digital transformations.  Some of the key takeaways included…

For starters, there’s budget.  ERP implementations are large and costly, and one takeaway was that you don’t have to buy every module.  Focus those capital expenditures on the key project areas and the fewest number of early feasible users.  That way, you can see some progress, and pitfalls, along the way, and only invest more deeply later as project objectives begin to prove out.

Think next about best practices that are not necessarily technical in nature.  There are very real differences between projects that succeed and projects that fail, and they often have little to do with technology.  Best operational practices add real value to an ERP implementation, and smart CIOs consider those workflows and the people who will manage them before evening thinking about specific software.

Recognize the need for strong internal discipline.  This was especially valid for companies who had grown both organically and via acquisition, as different cultures and business styles lead to different processes and different outcomes.  You’re looking for standardized and consistent operations, mapped out before you implement process changes and software to match.

ERP isn’t just about software, it’s about the business transformation.  Most of the best projects are more about people and processes than software.  Software alone is not an effective blueprint for running your business.  Effective change management and project management are the real keys.

20 years is too long to be on the same legacy system.  Businesses change a lot over twenty years – these days more than ever, and twenty year-old ERP systems simply don’t keep up.  Business today is more aligned with technology than ever, and your systems need to keep up.  Organizational change management and careful planning of processes and the people involved are the first steps.

Internal biases are alive and well entrenched.  Most organizations have internal biases, recognized or not.  The main thing is to mitigate the biases by understanding the changes and flows truly required to align your business with its best profit-making capabilities today, and then explore the solutions – from change management and process flow through software and implementation services customized to our unique circumstances – that will truly match your needs.  After all, there’s a good chance those choices will have to work for you for the next twenty years.

(Read the full article here.)

 

 

We noted last week Microsoft’s recent announcement at the annual “Directions” Conference in Orlando that Dynamics NAV would be available as a complete ERP platform both on-premise and the cloud in its forthcoming 2018 release.  Today, we thought we’d highlight a few other capabilities of NAV courtesy of its many ISVs.  These independent software vendors create added functionality for a base ERP product so that users can experience true ‘best-of-breed’ functionality with their software.

While some vendors try to be a one size fits all application, the world has evolved.  Today we know that the best applications are those that use proven base-ERP (accounting, production, etc.) technology from leading publishers, and then allow ISV providers to enhance the product in specific ways that make it a more precise fit for a wide variety of user types with specialized needs.  Manufacturing perhaps best defines the benefits of this approach.

Insight Works (formerly Dynamics Manufacturing Solutions) publishes a number of modules that integrate tightly and directly with Dynamics NAV to enhance the user experience.  Here are a few we like in particular that will benefit a lot of those users engaged in manufacturing or distribution.

  • Mobile Warehouse Data Collection – Locations and items can be tracked via mobile devices with real-time access to NAV warehouse, inventory and production data on the shop floor. You can scan directly to sales and production tickets for immediate picking, capture lot and serial numbers, use License Plating to streamline warehouse operations, and even customize views and menus on your handheld mobile units.
  • Shop Floor Data Collection – Use barcodes to capture time, field service and employee time management, thus eliminating a tedious manual input chore. You can capture shop floor data including consumption, output, scrap and quality, as well as record non-productive and rework time for reporting.  Time & attendance based on employee shifts with multi-level time card approval from the shop floor or from NAV are available.  Access your information via a web browser or enable data entry from devices in the field or on the shop floor.
  • Advanced Inventory Counting – Simplify inventory and cycle counting with comprehensive data entry, reconciliation, posting and analysis tools. You can easily perform manual or barcoded inventory counts and cycle counts, and automatically post lot or serial number discrepancies.  Use predefined count sheets to complete on the spot inventory counts and track historical statistics.  Supports all location types, and allows multi-user manual entry for non-barcoded counts to add to count sheets on the fly.
  • NAV Sale Configurator – Improve your ability to accurately and quickly quote products that have multiple possible options and configurations. You can create assemble-to-order configurations directly from your sales quotes and orders, or create production BOMs for more complex requirements.

These are just a few of the many added capabilities companies can take advantage of when they work with a flexible, customizable and extensible solution like Dynamics NAV.  That’s just one of the many reasons why over 120,000 companies in over 70 countries rely on NAV to run their business.

Despite our frequent and recent reminders about how everything is moving to the cloud, Robert McMillan, a reporter with the Wall Street Journal recently pointed out an unexpected security problem in the cloud.  As more companies unplug their own data centers and rent from the likes of Amazon and Microsoft, they are discovering that they’re accidentally leaving their corporate date exposed for all the world to see.

It seems that configuration errors made while using cloud-storage services are common, according to security experts, and often occur when users set access permissions so someone outside the company can see the data.  As Vincent Liu, a partner at computer security consulting firm Bishop Fox notes, “More data has been lost due to poor configuration than anything else on the cloud.”

One nonprofit foundation has tracked nearly 175,000 examples of misconfigured software and services in the cloud this year.  While Gartner projects that the market for cloud-computing services will grow 17% this year, with cloud infrastructure leading the way, these are the very basic computer storage and networking services that are particularly prone to configuration problems.

Cloud computing initially caught on as part of cost-saving effort by corporate IT strategists that provided an end-around for what Mr. McMillan refers to as “stodgy corporate information technology departments.”  Often they found it quicker simply to purchase cloud resources directly from someone like Amazon or Microsoft almost instantly.  Rather than waiting for their IT departments to deliver timely information, they could test out new programs in minutes, with time bought on, say, their Amazon accounts.

The issue is that most cloud users don’t have the expertise to keep things secure.  Such projects have become unsanctioned “shadow IT” projects.  There was a lack of plan or governance model.  Recently, IT departments are said to have begun to understand better when a company’s assets are online, when they need to be patched, and how they interconnect.

To correct these potential pitfalls, Amazon has introduced a new service to help companies stay on top of their infrastructure.  Microsoft, utilizing its popular Azure platform, says it has several services to help clients protect sensitive data.  (One of the speakers at Microsoft’s recent “Directions” conference which we attended in Orlando last week told us that the company spends $2.2 billion dollars on cloud security alone.)  As a company spokesman noted in the Journal, “we continue to invest heavily in new innovations that build on our strength in cloud security.”

Security experts say one thing that might help is for cloud providers to help companies better determine when an employee is using a corporate credit card to purchase a new Amazon or Microsoft service.  As Mr. Liu notes, “Provisioning is now in the hands of someone sitting in a cubicle who has a credit card and a web browser.”

Scary thought indeed.

 

We just returned from the annual Microsoft Dynamics NAV “Directions” conference held this year in Orlando, Florida.  In today’s post we’ll share what we’ve learned about the future direction of Microsoft’s best-selling ERP product globally, Dynamics NAV.

It’s best summed up by the words of Microsoft General Manager Marki Perisic, who told partners last week that the next version of NAV – currently code-named “Tenerife” – is “the single product moving forward in the cloud and on-premises.”

That comment stood in contrast to last year’s announcement of the Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations Business edition.  With the new announcement, it becomes clear that the full NAV framework is the way forward, both on-premise, and in the cloud.

While Microsoft is making a very big push to bring everyone into the cloud, they also recognize that not everyone is ready to go there just yet.  Said Perisic, “We’ll do everything we can to make the cloud the more attractive option, but we give you the on-premises option for those who can’t go to the cloud.”  He went on to announce new plans in areas including user interface, tighter Office 365 integration, Azure-based services consumption, AppSource and “accountant experiences” (imagine being able to ping your accountant’s assistance directly from within NAV).

At the conference Microsoft announced that ‘Tenerife’ will offer “full NAV functionality” in Dynamics 365 (the current cloud offering), and is expected to offer a broader range of customization and add-on options than previously expected.

NAV ‘Tenerife’ will also mark a new stage in the dynamic interplay between Dynamics 365 and Office 365, specifically around tighter integration with Microsoft Outlook and around Office 365 Business Center, the collection of business apps that include Invoicing, Bookings, and others, and which will be using Dynamics 365 Tenerife “under the covers.”

The conference made clear that NAV (as well as companion Microsoft ERP products AX and CRM) are going to be the way forward.  Less clear was what is going to happen to the users of SL (formerly Solomon) and GP (formerly Great Plains) who seem to have been left out of the new direction.  While GP and SL are not going away, Microsoft has made its choice for the future of small to mid-size business ERP systems – and NAV is set to be a pivotal element of that future strategy.