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We occasionally like to share tips from others like the folks at Panorama Consulting that we feel support our own best practices advice when it comes to implementing complex business software systems, like the “5 Tips” they recently shared here.

 

Panorama’s “New Year” tips included these…

  1. Educate yourself on ERP software best practices. As they wisely note: “The most dangerous implementations are led by those that aren’t well educated on the risks, challenges, and best practices associated with an ERP implementation.”  While Panorama uses this one to promote its webinars (and we might do the same by searching on “ERP implementation” at our own blog), the fact is, there is a lot of information out there on best practices.  But just as importantly, many modern software options today embed those best practices within their workflows.  The point is, work with your ERP consultant to determine where your current workflows can be improved and map those efforts to your new software selection choices.
  2. Control the tempo of your initiatives. Having a solid plan in place is more important than the understandable urge just to “get something done,” notes the post’s author.  You need the right resources in place, a realistic timeline, a clearly defined project lead, as well as project controls and benchmarks.  Believe it or not, slow and steady, even if it takes longer, will actually save you money in the long run.
  3. Invest in the people side of your digital strategy. The number one cause of software project failure?  Not technology.  It’s people.  The right people in the right place, with an understanding of how organizational change management is an integral part of the ERP solution.  Training… communications… strategic planning… they are all critical, and they all start with people.
  4. Take industry hype with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of marketing, advertising, shilling and hype out there.  Choose wisely.  Everyone has a bias.  ERP solutions are not a silver bullet, and contrary to what many will tell you, they are not quickly implemented – at least not in any truly meaningful, business-transforming sense.  And if you’re not out to further the cause of your business’ growth and transformation, then why proceed in the first place?  Don’t believe the hype, do your own homework, and most of all, find someone you can trust.  It will be a long relationship.
  5. Don’t be afraid to leverage outside ERP consultants. Here, outfits like Panorama hype their “independence” (they don’t sell solutions), and that makes sense.  But a great many providers (yes, like us) offer more than one solution, and it’s in our business’ best interests to be objective and truthful.  That’s even true of those who sell only a single solution, though their options may be more limited.  Your initial analysis can be done either with, or without, bias.  Both have advantages.  Talk to your consultants and trust your gut.  Find the solution approach and implementation methodology that you believe in your heart will work best for you.

 

Reinventing Finance

If you follow the finance and the realm of money at all these days, then the notion of someone trying to reinvent finance may pique your interest.  That’s exactly the goal of a cryptocurrency exchange called Coinbase.  It’s a 225-person startup located in San Francisco whose vision of the (not-too-distant) future for loans, fund transfers, venture capital and the trading of stocks will be done with electronic currency – instead of banks.

As a recent article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek points out, Coinbase is already popular with individual traders, and is now actively seeking “the legitimacy that comes from persuading big companies to use its platform,” while reassuring regulators that bitcoin isn’t simply “a market for hackers and money launderers.”

They’re off to a good start.  From an apartment-based startup three years ago, today it operates as an exchange for individual investors as well as a more sophisticated platform for traders called the Global Digit Asset Exchange (GDAX).  Today trading volume is driven mostly by hedge funds, but they’re working on luring players like Goldman Sachs to the platform.

Developing ties with banks is a priority for Coinbase, so owners who want to cash out for dollars have an exchange to do so.  It apparently has several banks already in partnership with them, as well as a partnership with Fidelity Investments.  Coinbase thus far has raised over $200 million from investors, and after recently doubling headcount is on track to double it again in advance of going public in 2018.  The company currently holds over $10 billion in assets.

Of greater interest to investors and regulators is the fact that Coinbase – unlike others operating in the bitcoin realm – has never been hacked.  As Ari Paul, chief investment officer of a hedge fund called BlockTower Capital Advisors has said, “They’ve been the largest hacking target in the world for a long time, and they’ve proven they can handle it.”  At the same time, they’ve been building strong relationships with regulators.

GDAX CEO Adam White notes that “This isn’t a couple dozen kids in a garage kind of hacking away.  We recognize we’re protecting people’s money.”  Coinbase stores USB drives and paper backups of 98% of customers’ digital currencies in safe deposit boxes.  Only 2 percent is kept online, covered by insurance against security beaches.

Notes one Coinbase executive, “We’re going to be successful not because the price [of bitcoin] goes from $10,000 to $100,000, [but] because we have millions of customers who trust us.”

As Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong notes, as more institutional money flows into the cryptocurrency space, it will help grow the entire industry.  Notes one hedge fund manager, “Institutions are just chomping at the bit waiting to come in.”

And if Coinbase and their fellow financiers have their way, the future of money will never be the same.

 

According to Elliott Kass of Information Management, U.S. business is expected to spend big on technology in 2018.  Corporate and government tech budgets are set for around $1.5 trillion in the year ahead.  That’s a whopping 9% increase over 2017.

According to the Forrester Research team behind those projections, cloud-based software-as-a-service leads the way, especially for applications that attract and retain new customers, like CRM, e-commerce, mobile apps and services, which together will account for over $500 billion.

Core financial, HR, hardware, telecom and other services will make up the other $1 trillion, logging about 3% annual growth.

Forrester estimates that spending on new projects next year will grow by 7% and CIOs will take advantage of favorable economic conditions to “expand their application portfolio.”  For the past couple of years they note, IT spending has been outstripping nominal GDP growth, with cloud services viewed as new technology that can spur tech buying to exceed those economic growth rates.

CIOs are slated to bring to fruition many of their wish list items in the year ahead, focusing on projects that improve customer satisfaction and the overall customer experience.

With security always a concern, the Forrester Research lead, Andrew Bartels, took the chance recently to emphasize the importance of security and backups, noting that with cloud applications come growing concerns about safety and security.  Bartels recommends balancing cloud adoption with “alternatives” since the cloud offerings can be compromised.  As Bartels notes: “Businesses should back up their data, whether it resides on its own systems or the systems of a cloud service provider, and maintain ‘a reserve of on-premised systems’ that would allow it to continue to operate, if its cloud service provider becomes inaccessible.”

Says Bartels: “Any firm that puts all its tech eggs in one cloud vendor’s basket is asking for trouble.”

The full text of the Information Management article can be found here.

 

 

Did you know that all six of the first programmers of America’s first computer, ENIAC, were women?

Did you know that the proportion of women earning degrees in computer science peaked in 1984 at 37%, and has since declined to half that percentage?

Or this (according to an article by Christopher Mims in the Dec. 11th edition of The Wall Street Journal): “Memos from UK government archives reveal that in 1959, an unnamed British female computer programmer was given an assignment to train two men.  The memos said the woman had ‘a good brain and a special flair’ for working with computers.  Nevertheless, a year later the men became her managers.  Since she was a different class of government worker, she had no chance of ever rising to their pay grade.”

These facts from Mims’ article would probably come as little surprise to many women today.  The sad truth is, with such a low rate of female computing grads, it’s no surprise that at companies as large as Google and Facebook, only about one engineer in five is female.  (Over our own thirty year history as an ERP services firm, our level of female tech support specialists has hovered around 50%, varying from year to year, but lower on the pure ‘programmer’ side.)

But according the Journal, a growing number of women and other minorities are working on the issue.  U.K. history shows that simply educating more women and other minorities to be engineers won’t solve the problem.  At its genesis, computer programming was initially thought of as menial labor and it “was feminized, a kind of ‘women’s work’ that wasn’t considered crucial.”  The U.K. government considered these workers to be of the low-paid “Machine Operator Class.”  Later, women were pushed out of the field during the postwar era by the then-common belief that women should be denied entry into higher-paid professions because they would leave once married.  Instead, the government set out to develop a class of “career-minded and management-bound young men.”

Turns out, the males were often less qualified, and left the field, viewing it as ‘unmanly.’

In fact, a shortage of programmers actually forced the U.K. government “to consolidate its computers in a handful of centers with the remaining coders.  It also meant the government demanded gigantic mainframes and ignored more distributed systems of midsize and mini computers which would give rise to the personal computer, according to Univ. of Wisconsin Professor Marie Hicks, in her book “Programmed Inequality.”

As a result, the U.K. computing industry imploded down to a single firm by 1968 – and the dream of personal computers was probably delayed by a couple of decades.

One of the women pushed out, Dame Stephanie Shirley, built a tech firm in the 1960s made up almost entirely of women with family-friendly benefits like working from home.  (It was eventually sold to a rival in 2007 for $1 billion.)  Shirley said when she founded the firm, she was seeking not wealth but “a workplace where I was not hemmed in by prejudice or by… preconceptions about what I could or could not do.”

As to progress today: Stephenie Palmeri, a  partner at Venture Capital firm Uncork Capital says raising the ratio of women in tech requires having more women in positions of power, both as investors and as executives.

Adds Dr. Hicks, “Without external influence, you can’t expect a system that prizes ‘culture fit’ to change.”  You can’t expect to rise in a meritocracy that does not reward everyone equally.

Today the challenge is all the greater: companies are racing to build artificial intelligence systems to propel smarter hiring, and the need to eliminate bias has never been greater.  AI learns from pre-existing notions of what constitutes a ‘good employee’ much like the personality tests given by many firms in the past.  We can scarcely afford to build in biases that inherently limit the opportunity for a level playing field at all.

 

Happy New Year!

Wherever your travels or life may take you in the year ahead, may they bring you closer to the places you wish to be and the people you want to share them with.

Everyone at PSSI wishes you much joy and prosperity for 2018.

Happy New Year everyone!

We’ll end 2017 with the conclusion of our two-part post about improving your warehouse through better data.  As we pointed out in our prior post, having a decent Warehouse Management System within your ERP system is not enough – it needs to run with accurate data.  The answer: barcoding.

In our prior post we reprised comments from Insight Works’ Brian Neufeld regarding how barcode scanning is the best choice for warehouse goods tracking.  As Brian notes:

  • Barcode scanning efficiency results in more frequent inventory and cycle counts, and faster cycle counts can improve data accuracy which also improves productivity and fill rates.
  • Order fulfillment is more accurate, ultimately improving shipping times and customer satisfaction.
  • Warehouse managers see a reduction in necessary labor time, so barcode systems can pay for themselves after the first annual count.

How?  Well, in a manual environment, ONLY with great effort.  Inventory counts performed outside regular hours and requiring overtime are often required to collect, record, check and input the data.  It can take days, as we’ve seen with some companies.  And the counts are still subject to many errors.

With barcoding, employees utilize handheld scanners to scan bin numbers, and 2D labels on products and bins make unit counts quick and easy.  Counts can be entered into the scanners when required, and each employee is a unique (and accountable) scanner/counter.  Scanning can cut inventory count times by up to 90%.

As always, it comes down to cost, but here, the news is mostly good.  Most barcode solutions, once successfully implemented (and yes, there is time and a learning curve and some integration to be considered) can yield a payback with a relatively quick ROI — especially when you’re saving up to 90% of the time-value of those costly and tedious inventory counts.

A consultant can help you determine answers to issues like selecting the right barcode method, the right devices (fixed or mobile), and the right formats, labels and media.  The cost recapture on the savings from reduced data entry errors, reduced picking errors, and especially from reduced inventory, can add up much faster than most people realize.  The combination of savings in a typical warehouse can run into the tens of thousands of dollars in savings in very short order.  We’ve seen it often.

In the end, it’s not a question of “if” you should do barcode, but “when.”  You have to crawl before you walk before you run, as we often like to say.  It’s not usually the first warehouse project we tackle, but when your WMS and ERP and inventory systems are ready, it can be one of the fastest and biggest payouts you’ll find inside your company.

Sounds like a great way to start the New Year, doesn’t it?

And on that note… Our best wishes to you and yours for a very Happy New Year as well!

For the year’s final two posts we take a look at an issue that’s troubling to many of our clients and would-be clients: effective warehouse management.  Starting a new year seems to be the perfect time to address this nemesis of many a distribution and manufacturing operation.  Many companies use the pre-New Year’s week as a week to wind down and to attend to inventory and warehouse matters… so here goes.

Managing a warehouse accurately can be a multi-faceted and almost overwhelming responsibility, made worse by the fact that most warehouse operations are in a constant state of flux.  That’s true even in smaller warehouse operations.  So in this post and our next one we’ll take a look at some issues and advice on how warehouse managers can ‘get a grip’ on their operations, and how today’s tools can make the job more manageable.

The better ERP systems (though not nearly all) can act as a repository for warehouse data.  But just because you have an integrated ERP system that holds that warehouse data doesn’t mean you have complete control over the operation.  You simply have a tool – one that can highlight existing inefficiencies, inaccuracies, bad counts, inventory overstocks and shortages, and a host of other issues.

Warehouse managers face tough challenges that include having capital tied up in too much excess inventory, bad records that too often lead to costly ‘expedited’ purchases, lower than anticipated margins, late shipments and lower customer satisfaction and/or on-time deliveries.

The common problem in all cases is inaccurate data.  After all, if it weren’t, you’d have the right inventory, and you’d have what you thought you had (or the reports told you that you had) in your bins and shelves.  You’d deliver on-time more often, more accurately.

Often, even with a WMS (Warehouse Management System) in place, warehouses can become beholden to too many slips of paper – handwritten receipt notifications that never quite make it “into the system,” or hand-marked (and re-marked) physical inventory counts, picking tickets and special notes to pickers.

At some point, it all becomes too time-consuming, frustrating and error-prone.  And that all comes at a cost.  WMS is not enough – you also have to have accurate data to work from.

And that’s where barcode scanning comes into play.

As Brian Neufeld of Insight Works points out (in a post on MSDynamicsWorld):

“In terms of cost and universal acceptance, barcode scanning is the best choice for warehouse goods tracking. Put simply, these software systems allow transactions in a warehouse to be processed much faster and with considerably less errors, with such transactions encompassing everything from inventory counts to put-aways, receipts, picks, shipments, and more.”

We agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Neufeld, and so in our next and concluding post, we’ll take a look at how to put a solution into action.  Stay tuned…