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Doing more with less.  That’s what most customers are trying to do when they ask about EDI.  Increasing business velocity… new supply chain channels (that often skip traditional pieces, like retailers)… and the desire to use their existing accounting and supply chain tools to do more – automatically.

Historically, manufacturing was one of the key sweet spots for EDI (electronic data interchange).  Over the years, three types of document were most common: purchase orders, ASNs (Advanced Shipping Notices) and invoices.

Today, the range has been extended.  Payment orders, remittance advice, warehouse shipping orders, file transfers, freight manifests and lots of other data now changes hands between supplier and customer automatically, with relatively little human intervention.  And as long as nothing changes, EDI is pretty much hands-off, once up and running.  Today, companies are sharing more documents and data, with less staff, than ever before – mostly, because they have to.

eRetailers (Amazon, Wayfair, etc.) have helped change the rules as goods move from manufacturer or distributor to customer without ever passing through a retailer.

So who’s doing EDI?  According to a survey conducted done in 2015 and 2016 of readers of MSDynamicsWorld, about half were already EDI users or customers, and among those, about one-fourth used legacy commercial systems, another one-third used a “custom” solution, and over 40% had already begun using more modern commercial EDI systems, which are now commonly available to run with most accounting and ERP systems on the market today.

Given the explosion in users and document types, EDI clients all face similar challenges, and survey respondents cited the most common as…

  • Customizations: the most polarizing issue. Nearly 80% of users had some sort of customizations, with about 20% describing “extensive” mods.  Most cited “business rules validation” as the main contributor, especially when those “rules” change frequently.  Others noted the need for modifications driven by new features powered by their underlying ERP/accounting systems.  While survey respondents reported preferring fully “out-of-the-box” solutions, they acknowledged that customizations are often needed.
  • The second most-cited challenge was “error handling,” followed by “managing transaction levels” (i.e., we keep getting busier…).
  • Onboarding new trading partners was cited as a challenge, as were the challenges of educating personnel in EDI usage.
  • Managing support and service costs is always a challenge when volume is predicated on external factors, as is the case with EDI, and transaction costs are always an irritant, especially when audits reveal their sizable investment here.

Perhaps the most important takeaways: legacy systems are becoming a thing of the past as leaner and more flexible EDI solutions become available, and those “home grown” solutions are freighted with an awful lot of excess baggage in terms of costs and maintenance requirements.

As the technology has evolved, more companies than ever before are choosing to adopt commercially available standalone EDI systems that they can integrate with their existing accounting and order processing software.  And as the costs of doing so decline, along with the need for customization levels, the trend is expected only to continue.

The world of ERP, like all tech initiatives, is constantly evolving.  A recent opinion piece from Panorama Consulting suggests that in this light, ERP implementations — which have a “bad reputation” for being over-budget, over-time, and low on the ROI scale – are being replaced by “digital transformations,” a broader initiative designed to position the organization for future growth, accelerate competitive advantage and produce real ROI.

Our image above portrays some of the contrasts defined in Panorama’s post, found here.

They prescribe a change management strategy based on “large-scale change,” noting that if you’re after a “truly digital transformation,” then you must consider the large-scale change: “…that means you’re changing more than your technology – you’re undergoing large-scale change and fundamentally altering structures, processes and employees’ day-to-day jobs. If new technology is merely enhancing one of these elements, then you’re likely experiencing small-scale change.”

Like many initiatives, large-scale change requires three key elements:

  • preparing for change, including risk analysis and a readiness assessment and roadmap
  • managing the change, with a focus on communications, and overcoming resistance
  • reinforcing the change, where you gather employee feedback to assess results, root causes of resistance, and celebrate successes.

Key signposts for change management failure, according to Panorama include:

  • lack of executive sponsorship
  • ignoring the “people side” of change
  • lack of dedicated resources
  • ignoring resistance to change
  • no communications plan

When you think about it, those are many of the same hallmarks of failed ERP implementation plans as well.  There’s a familiar theme here, and in the end it’s really about the scale of change you’re trying to implement.  The larger the scale, or the greater the desire for ROI, r the more intense the focus on positioning for growth… the more executive talent, time and resources, as well as communications, strategy and roadmap creation become critical to a successful result.

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

Assuming you’ve digested our prior post on blockchain basics and its importance in creating secure transactions, we’ll look now in this second post at some applications that are aimed at proving blockchain’s value to users everywhere

We noted earlier that blockchain provides secure digitally-signed access to transactions to all members of the chain.  The data is distributed across a network of servers rather than just a single server, thus making it transparent, immutable and secure for reasons touted earlier.  So then, what can we do with this new framework that will make a difference in our own lives?  Let’s look at a few examples, as provided in a recent article by Nir Ksahetri, a business professor at the Univ. of North Carolina, in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

Let’s start with distribution.  A number of companies including Cisco Systems, Bosch and Bank of New York Mellon have banded together to create a blockchain-based IoT security standard, to bind together weaker IoT identities like serial numbers, barcodes, UPCs and QR codes into stronger crypto-graphic entities.  Widespread use would allow device makers to securely distribute updates and patches, even if a device is moved or sold (since all that information would be part of the blockchain transaction record).  Manufacturers can be sure they’re communicating with the right dev ice.

In health care and banking, providers today store your personal information and we as consumers have little control over who sees it or shares it.  With blockchain, entire medical records or banking records can be stored in encrypted ledgers with the patient’s private-key.  Changes to the record can be communicated via public keys and providers with permission can see the data with patient or customer authorization and permission, but they can’t store it.

In developing countries, land fraud due to administrative corruption is a problem.   Corrupt officials alter property records to benefit themselves in exchange for bribes, creating land fraud.  With blockchain, if a property changes ownership, the transaction record reflects time, location, price and parties involved.  Government agencies can authenticate the title information when entered, and law enforcement agencies can inspect documents to enforce compliance with “know-your-customer” and anti-money laundering policies.  Blockchain of course also protects against unauthorized access to data and the owner controls the ultimate (private-key) record.

All these applications, and many more, are being (or have been) developed utilizing blockchain technology, and we’re only at the beginning.  While challenges loom, like bringing down costs at the IoT and labeling level, creating wider user-community acceptance and providing better communication to decision makers of blockchain’s many benefits, it’s all coming.  Already nearly four in ten companies (of 369) surveyed a year ago by the Journal were deploying or considering deployment of blockchain technology.  It’s only a matter of time.

 

Among the most promising of new technologies, yet one that most people know virtually nothing about, is blockchain.  And yet, it’s going to be very important – already is, some argue – to commerce around the world.  One key reason is the very thing that most computer users lately have come to fear the most: security.  Security is getting harder these days, not easier, and blockchain may well be the answer.

If you’ve heard about blockchain at all, it probably has something to do with bitcoin or other so-called cryptocurrencies, a new mode of currency that is in fact built on top of a blockchain, but which are at best a distraction from blockchain’s real value and importance.  Ignore all the bitcoin hype and naysayers might still argue that blockchain is just another way of doing computerized accounting.  Fair enough.  But the technology is so much more important than even that.  And its success could revolutionize the world of computer security, one that ultimately affects all of us as users.

Fair to say, blockchain is deserving of your attention if you work in the world of business, information technology, or are just a day to day user of modern technology – which adds up to most of us.

What is blockchain? Simply put, it’s a digital record of transactions that are stored on multiple servers around the world.  It could be hundreds of computers, thousands, or even millions.  Because of blockchain’s method of distributing data over a network, it doesn’t carry the weight and responsibility of trying to store (and secure) all that data on a single server.  That means that it cannot be easily tampered with, hacked or disturbed.  Post a record of a transaction on a blockchain, and it’s there for all the world to see, safely encrypted no less, but visible to all with rights to see it, rendering it virtually impossible to alter or falsify the record.

Blockchains use secure digital signatures to verify a user’s identity.  Users validate transactions through a private key when a user creates an account.  A private key is a very long, random and virtually impossible-to-hack alphanumeric code known only to the person who controls the record.  Other users can then have access to public keys created from those private keys to share selected (allowed) information.  So a common example is a bitcoin ‘wallet’ where others can send bitcoin payments (using a public key) but only the person with the private key can spend the bitcoin.

Notably, this blockchain security has never been hacked.  (Bitcoin exchanges have been hacked, but the underlying blockchain has never been hacked.)

As Nir Kshetri, professor of business at the Univ. of No. Carolina points out, “Blockchain’s key features – decentralizations, immutability and cryptography-based authentication – are what make it such a powerful cybersecurity tool.  A user’s identity cannot be forged because only he or she has the private-key proof of identity.  Third parties can be given limited access to records, while blockchain’s built-in audit trail means there is complete documentation of the creation, modification and deletion of records.”

This has very real and powerful implications to applications ranging from simple barcoding to the Internet of Things in the world’s supply chains, and in realms ranging from the storing of your personal medical records to the elimination of land transaction fraud in Africa.

We’ll take a look at how blockchain can bring secure access to a whole new world of applications like these in our follow-up post.  Stay tuned…

 

 

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Every NAV client we know (and every NON-NAV client too, for that matter) eventually confronts the need to adjust their costs.  A recent blog post by Alex Chow, of AP Commerce, a California (and Taiwan)-based NAV consultant provides a quick tip that NAV users should know.  While his advice won’t solve all costing issues, it provides an important foundation.

Chow points out that users occasionally need to use NAV’s “Adjust Cost-Item Entries” feature.  The problem is, when you do this, NAV also adjusts the entry date of that item, often causing an unwanted back-dating issue in a previous accounting period.

The reason, Chows notes, is that the adjust cost process will always adjust to the date of the original sales transaction (unless specified otherwise)

For example, if you haven’t run Adjust Cost in a while, and you then run it say in June, and there was a sale transaction in, say, March that has not been adjusted yet, the resulting entry will date itself to that of the June entry.  That’s a problem if you’ve already closed the books on March, as is likely.

However, as Chow points out, “this is where the Allow Posting From field from the General Ledger Setup screen comes to the rescue.”  If you set the “Allow Posting From” field on the General Ledger Setup to a different date (say for our example, June 1), any adjusted entries that are BEFORE the Allow Posting From date will have same posting date as the Allow Posting From field entry.

In our example above, it’s 6/30/18 and you run the adjust cost process. In addition, you set the Allow Posting From to 6/1/18. If there was a sales transaction that occurred on 3/15/18 that has not been adjusted yet, the resulting adjusting entry will be posted on 6/1/18.

Setting the Allow Posting From should be done after you close the month out, NOT before, notes Chow, adding that “I’ve seen situations where the user changed the Allow Posting From BEFORE the adjust cost was ran.  So all of the adjusting entries were posted in the current period instead of the period that they should’ve been in.”

The more you know…

 

We take a break from our usual business and technology topics to wish all our friends and acquaintances a happy, healthy safe and sane July 4th.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s also a perfect time to remember how we got here, why we’re here, and to think about how we can ensure that the next generations will be celebrating too.

 

 

The Internet of Things promises to transform the way humans, through their machines, interact with the Internet, and when you think about it, it’s already here.  Manufacturing is a case in point.

Today, sensors attached to shop floor equipment are capable of sending reams of production and equipment data back to the ERP systems, which hold that data in a repository for future use or analysis.

Handheld scanners are used to track the movement of parts, pieces and production.  Beyond that, they also aid warehouse workers in the movement — the picking, packing and shipping – of countless SKUs.  Everyone from the folks walking the floor to the folks in the front and back offices can have access to the same production and inventory information, in real time, at the same time.

Smartphones in the customer service and CRM arenas have made possible up-to-date information on all manner of data, from customer sales and orders to inventory quantities on-hand to sales reports across the territory or across the globe.  From checking into hotels to allowing physicians to check in on patient records from their phones and tablets, the interconnectedness of machines, ERP and the web has reached critical mass.

It’s the full-flowering of Bill Gates’ long-ago promise of IAYF: Information At Your Fingertips.

By 2020 according to one industry analyst, fully 95% of products are expected to be IoT enabled.  (We think that’s a bit optimistic, but their point is well taken nonetheless.)

All these advances have their advantages of course.  They save time – lots of it.  They save money – again, lots of it.  They speed up delivery, improve customer responsiveness, enable customers to become self-serving, and generally raise the level of satisfaction among a wide range of customers and their supporting companies.

For companies today frankly, there is little choice any more: adopt and adapt, or be left behind.  Sometimes the toughest question becomes: where do we start?  Luckily, there’s no shortage of consultants and solution providers willing and capable of providing the necessary guidance to get started.  About the only thing you can’t do any more is… wait.