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We borrow today from a pretty basic but very worthwhile article penned by ERP consultants Panorama Consulting, in which they give company managers five good arguments for persuading those Powers That Be of the need to upgrade their frontline ERP systems – you know, the ones they run their businesses on every day.  We’ll reprise their five suggested pathways here today.  We thought their comments were smart enough and succinct enough to quote nearly verbatim, but to give due credit, you’ll find the original article here.

 

  1. Return on Investment. Executives need to see when, how and where a new system will start paying dividends. Collecting actual data on costs of time-consuming workarounds (e.g., one full-time employee spending x hours/week hand-counting inventory at $x cost) and showing how the system will increase efficiency and free up staff to generate returns via other efforts.
  2. Measurement Tools. People can be (rightfully) nervous about bloated ERP projects that suck time, energy and money and never meet expectations. Show that a new ERP system will have quantifiable results by identifying and describing key performance indicators of the project. Determine how success will be monitored throughout the implementation and beyond.
  3. Standardization Strategy. One of the great benefits of an ERP system can be realized via standardization across business units. Identify departments wherein standardization could be most easily achieved (human resources, accounting, customer service, etc.) and develop a strategy to blueprint processes in each of them. ERP consultants like can help you sort through “current state” processes to build the “future state” processes needed for enhanced business benefits and ERP system utilization. Documenting and mapping processes is essential prior to software selection.
  4. Change Management. Investigate and document previous training and organizational change management initiatives conducted by your company. What worked? What didn’t? What do end-users need to increase usability, or to save time or money? Create channels of communication with end-users to start achieving buy-in and determining change management strategies from the beginning. Document what they say and communicate it to the executive level.
  5. Total Cost of Ownership. Executives should have a clear picture of the total cost of ownership (TCO) for their purchases. Panorama suggests TCO should be quantified for at least seven years. Sounds about right to us. Executives don’t like surprises. Work with your consultant to determine the true TCO including licensing, resources, integration and customization.

All in all, doing this is not easy, but it’s actually very manageable when viewed as steps in a process.  You can do it, and a little help from your consultant will easily cap off a reasonable proposal if everyone keeps the end goal in sight and moves efficiently.  You won’t be the first, nor the last.  And early in the year is the best time to begin.

 

In the early, exciting days of the PC era – when our firm was getting started — the pace of growth in technology was largely driven by the now famous “Moore’s Law” named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who noted that the power of the PC’s main processor doubled roughly every two years.  That law has governed pretty much the entire computer realm for nearly 50 years.

But no more.  Or should we say, no Moore.

The physical limitations of electrons and heat in confined spaces are bringing this biannual doubling of capacity close to its predictable end.  Moreover, designing chips significantly faster today requires a different sort of Moore-doubling – as in doubling (or more) the cost of the chip fab plants that make them, which are now in the $10 billion plus range.  As a result, there are few competitors remaining, even as the market for chips rose by more than 20% in 2017 alone.

As tempers fray between the U.S. and China and the physics of the matter intervene, the future of the industry looks increasingly messier – and thus ripe for all manner of competition, collapse and new innovations.

China, which does have the money to compete, is on a global quest for technological supremacy by 2025 in national push, and has long been a voracious consumer of American technology, which has often been given up freely American by firms as a right to compete there.  But we’re not here to argue politics, trade wars notwithstanding.

This is a complex supply chain starting with the purest of silicon dioxide mined from the Appalachian Mountains and shipped to Japan to be turned into pure silicon ingots.  These are then sliced into wafers in Taiwan or South Korea and imprinted meticulously with equipment made in the Netherlands.  The design pattern might come from ARM or Intel or one of a handful of other chip designers, and it’s all eventually packaged into ceramic containers that populate any chip board out there today, to be tested in China or Vietnam or the Philippines.  The resulting circuit board arrives in Mexico or Germany or China for assembly into a robot or a PC or a cloud server.

One edge that the West, in particular the U.S., holds is that the semiconductor industry relies greatly on what one industry expert calls “repetitive cycles of learning,” ensuring higher barriers to entry for those without deep prior experience and knowledge.  So it gets harder.  Then again, the effect of something called Dennard scaling has meant that shrinking components tend to offer fewer and fewer benefits in chip making over successive generations.  Thus, being a few steps behind the industry leaders may not matter so much.

But with the demise of Moore’s law, for perhaps the first time in decades, there opens a whole new competitive opportunity.

Quantum computing, which relies on principles of physics that exist at the atomic level, afford the opportunity to think in entirely new ways about how we make the next generation(s) of computers.

Quantum can speed up some calculations immensely, even if at the expense of doing so a bit less accurately.  Still, this may hold computational benefits in many fields where absolute calculation perfection is not required.  Google, IBM, Microsoft and others have quantum-computing projects they’re working on right now.  Here again though, China is making big bets, the technology is nascent and not yet fully practicable, and the winners of the future are unclear.

What is clear is that the Moore’s Law that governed the growth of our industry when we started in the 1980s is destined to be something altogether different to the next generation of computing pioneers.

We wish them the best of luck.

We’ve been around long enough to see the advent of computerized (PC-based) accounting go from “nobody wants it (but everybody needs it)” to “everybody has it” in a span of 20 years.  Then we saw the Internet rise seemingly out of nowhere, and next thing you know, a little dorm room operator begets Facebook’s 2 billion users, and in the span of a decade Amazon grows from an online bookseller into a $3 billion revenue behemoth – and last year, nearly $200 billion.

So when it comes to revolutionary change, exploded business models and unforeseen surprises, don’t say it can’t happen.  This thing called Blockchain could, maybe… be next, and it’s worth your paying attention to.

Blockchain is the term used to describe an online, decentralized, distributed-ledger of recent invention (i.e., ten years ago) that is known for its security and simultaneous openness to all its members.  Blockchain has enormous cost-cutting potential in business because it cuts costs by “eliminating the middleman” like say, a bank.   Records cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent ‘blocks,’ thus creating a sense of trust among all parties.  Blockchain has found its way into testing across a variety of applications from supply chain to healthcare, from banking to insurance and a host of others.  Major companies like IBM, JP Morgan, Citi and many others are investing heavily in it.

For now, most blockchain projects remain experimental, largely in their testing phase.  While the concept is as elegant as it is appealing, there are challenges with scaling the technology upwards.  It takes a lot of computing power, after all, to keep an eye on all those ledgers and transactions.  Many projects will doubtless whither on the vine.  But for now, as a recent article in The Economist put it, “the less world-changing a proposed user the better its chance of success.”

The encryption possibilities of blockchain make it appear ideal in the realm of financial documentation and transactions – an easy concept to introduce, given that records are hard to change, making it well-suited for security and potentially very useful.

In supply chains, the back office potential to reduce paperwork, costs, transaction time and administration hold enormous potential, as companies talk directly (digitally) to one another via a shared database that all can use and which, in theory, requires very little regulation or administration.

Clearly, the potential is there, and the appeal is evident to business.  Still, large IT projects always take more time and resources than people usually project – it’s just human nature – and blockchain requires cooperation across multiple firms, so these projects will take even longer.  Backers and participants will need patience.

But then, twenty years ago, how many folks thought the internet would rule so much of commerce today – and still be growing – or that ‘the cloud’ would ultimately become the data repository for so much of the world’s knowledge and the planet’s operations and finance?

 

Our partners at PrintVis, who publish print-industry specific software solutions based on the product formerly known as Dynamics NAV and now known as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, recently posted a good article pointing out a path for folks who have outgrown QuickBooks for accounting, while typically using spreadsheets and the like to handle much of the rest of their print operations.

Business managers, they point out, need a system that provides clearer customer insights to drive decision-making. They also need a system they won’t outgrow. Business Central combines impressive flexibility with powerful functionality in a single, complete system. The engine is Microsoft and the included financial package is superb.

Business Central has quite a few distinct advantages over QuickBooks, but to keep this post from being too long we’ll begin with three.

ONE: QuickBooks does not enable users to set fine-grained permissions for different types of users. The controls are activity-based rather than permissions-based, so if a user can edit invoices, they can edit any invoice connected to any account.

  • Dynamics 365 Business Central enables businesses to fine-tune permissions. They can create a variety of user roles and types, giving them the control they need.
  • It also allows them to create user-specific menus, with functionality including processes, reports, and user defined tasks.
  • Dynamics 365 Business Central also supports web-based reporting portals with the ability to create user- and group-specific portal permissions.

TWO: With QuickBooks, the audit trail is transactional only, and does not record login/logoff or changes to master records. The transactional audit trail can be circumvented in some cases and can be entirely deleted or cleared.

  • Microsoft’s solution provides more accounting controls, including audit trails. In Dynamics 365 Business Central, a record must be reversed, rather than deleted, ensuring there is a valid audit trail.

THREE: While QuickBooks users can use third-party add-ons to enhance reporting capabilities, these add-ons increase the overall cost of the solution, require additional management, and may lead to compatibility issues in the future.

  • From the ability to support a web-based reporting portal, to calculating and displaying business metrics, Dynamics 365 Business Central provides extensive reporting capabilities. For example, in accounts payable, you can see more reports and analytics on open purchase orders and purchase comparisons.  In order entry reports, you can see a daily order analysis, cash receipts analysis, sales history report, and salesperson performance analysis.

These are just a few examples of the reporting capabilities Dynamics 365 Business Central includes.

Software implementations carry significant risks, including budget and duration overruns and implementation failures. As the folks at Panorama Consulting pointed out in a recent article, quite often, these risks can be mitigated with proper planning at the beginning of the project. Instead of making decisions based on fear, you should feel confident you’re addressing the potential pitfalls of ERP projects.  Here are six ways they propose to mitigate risk before beginning the software implementation process:

 

  1. Understand Your Business Strategy Objectives – Clarifying your business strategy requires collaboration among all stakeholders. During these discussions, define what customer success looks like and determine what’s working and what’s not. Most importantly, clearly articulate your objectives – do you want to create new business models or generate new revenue using ERP software? These discussions will help you achieve organizational alignment. Ultimately, executives and middle management should be aligned around what changes are needed to improve your organization’s competitive advantage.
  2. Set Realistic Expectations – ERP failure is often caused by unrealistic timelines and budgets. Understanding what benchmarks are realistic for your industry and company size will help you set realistic expectations. While you may need to adjust expectations throughout the project, starting with a realistic estimate will make these adjustments less surprising to executives.
  3. Prepare Employees for Organizational Change – It is human nature to resist change. Change resistance causes implementation delays, quality problems and reduced productivity. If employees don’t adapt to change, your digital strategy will not lead to lasting business transformation. Obtaining buy-in from executives first is a good way to obtain buy-in from team members and employees. If executives are excited for change, this attitude will be contagious. You can obtain buy-in from all stakeholders by communicating the nature of upcoming changes and the reason for change. Communication should be guided by a change management plan, which is informed by readiness assessments and user acceptance testing.
  4. Optimize Your Business Processes – An ERP implementation is a good opportunity to optimize your business processes. While most back-office processes can be optimized based on standard software functionality, some processes should be redesigned independent of software. Processes that provide competitive advantage shouldn’t be constrained by an ERP vendor’s “best practices.” Optimized processes help you develop demo scripts for ERP vendors to ensure they focus on your unique needs.
  5. Plan for Data Migration – With every software implementation, there is the risk that ERP software will not enable the organization’s strategic objectives. To mitigate this risk, reliable and actionable data is essential.  As soon as you select a software application, you should start preparing for data migration. Most legacy data is not ready for new systems. Data is usually spread across multiple sources with various structures and formats.  To account for this complexity, document and establish a data strategy. You also should define future nomenclature for items, item descriptions, units of measure, etc.  Successful data migration requires involvement from four key groups: data owners, the functional team, the data migration team and the project team.
  6. Limit Software Customization – Once you start down the path of software customization, it’s difficult to stop. Strong project governance and project management ensure the implementation team doesn’t over-customize the ERP software. Investing in business process reengineering also is a good strategy for limiting last-minute customization.

We think these tips are a good foundation for looking at your ERP project, and encourage all purchasers to think them through early and often.  History will then be on your side.

 

Jason Gumpert is a blogger and the editor of MSDynamicsWorld.com.  A couple weeks ago he released an overview of the top news for our Microsoft Dynamics (i.e., Business Central, and one-time Dynamics NAV) users and followers.  We’ll quote a few of his key takeaways today.  Like…

  • MS Dynamics Finance & Operations product customer based tripled over the last year, and Microsoft is “preparing to make D365FO a single-version cloud solution to which all SaaS customers must align for monthly and semi-annual updates. Getting to that state by April 2019 will be painless for some customers but harrowing for others…”
  • Did you know Dynamics GP customers are now Dynamics 365 Business Central customers? With Business Central now Microsoft’s official SMB cloud business application, customers of GP, NAV, and SL are all combined with nominal Business Central users to make up a Business Central “user base” of 220,000. That number, as of October 2018, is roughly made up of 160,000 NAV/BC customers and 60,000 GP and SL customers.
  • Is it a little confusing to refer to all these customers as Business Central? Yes. Will it further irritate the GP and SL communities? Undoubtedly. But Microsoft spent 2018 positioning the Dynamics SMB product lineup to break from the past. Dynamics GP doesn’t go away, but it will continue to see less investment, slower product progress, and offer fewer incentives to partners.
  • The Business Central roadmap through 2021 calls for a focus on “proficiency improvements” in 2019, including user experience and productivity. 2020 will see Microsoft adopt the web client only for Business Central both on-premise and in the cloud. And the themes of Common Data Service (CDS), data and intelligence will persist over time.
  • Microsoft now seems committed to letting product management push cross-product scenarios forward, backed up with R&D investment. The result has been a steady stream of improvements in areas including Flow, PowerApps, Teams, and Power BI integration points.
  • Microsoft will be adding new capabilities to Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations (D365FO) in several areas in 2019 thanks to new IP deals with partners. The enhancements range from finance and public sector to revenue recognition rules compliance to advanced warehouse and transportation capabilities.
  • Microsoft is de-prioritizing on-premises technology.
  • MVPs (defined as Microsoft-focused technology experts who have shown a deep commitment to innovation) today don’t see nearly as far into the product roadmaps under NDA as they did five years ago. In an agile R&D environment, releases just aren’t planned that way.
  • For Dynamics developers, the acquisition of GitHub (announced last June for $7.5 billion in stock) points toward more open-source development in Microsoft’s future. GitHub already hosted projects including the XRM Toolbox for CRM or the AL language for NAV.

One thing we can count on… change and progress at an ever-increasing rate is in our future.

Oh, and that cloud thing: yeah, it’s here to stay.

Of particular interest to our ALERE (aka TIW Technologies) software is the announcement of their latest release: version 14.  The list of new features is too lengthy to detail here (but you can view it here any time: https://www.tiwcorp.com/downloads/history/new_features_v14.pdf)… So we thought we’d recap just a few today.  If you’re an ALERE user, get in touch with us about installing the new version.

Not an ALERE user?  Well then, you’re missing out on one of the premier PC-based manufacturing solutions out there today.  We’ve been proud to represent this product since its early days, going back about 25 years or so.  If you’re looking for manufacturing solutions, ask us about ALERE.

New features added to the latest release include…

  • A new Service module was added to the ALERE product to support the generation and execution of service jobs. The Service module contains the screens necessary to define the service elements (Service Catalog, Service Site Information, Resource Class, Service Ticket and Recurring Service Generation). Additionally, various service reports were integrated into the module.
  • Dispatch Module – A new Dispatch module was added to the ALERE product to support the scheduling (and reporting) of service jobs. The Service Scheduling segment includes the screens used to define the scheduling of service jobs (Resource Calendar, Dispatch Board and Service View).
  • Adjustable Supplier Item Number Fields – Throughout the entire product, the length of the supplier item number can be adjusted by changing the value in the foreign fields table, allowing for whatever lengths are necessary for an individual company’s needs.
  • Adjustment Notes – The Physical Inventory Count screen has a new field to enter notes for the inventory adjustments being made when the counts are posted.
  • UPS Integration – The product now interfaces with UPS to provide tracking, costing and label creation capabilities.
  • Error Screen for Physical Inventory – The Physical Inventory Count screen will now display an errors screen after posting which contains a list of any items that did not post along with the error message. The list can be printed or exported to Excel.
  • Expanded Serial Numbers – Throughout the entire product, the length of the serial numbers has been increased from 20 to 25 characters.
  • Standalone Appointments/Tasks – The InTouch calendar appointments and tasks can now be utilized without a link to Outlook. The information is stored within the ALERE contact management tables.
  • Copy Document Types – The Copy button on the Purchase Order screen has been changed to allow copying one document type to another document type.
  • Transfer/Purchase Order Support – The Add button on the Transfer Order screen has been changed to allow the creation of a transfer order from a purchase order. This will create a transfer order in add

These are just a few of the more than 60 new features and enhancements added with this new release, published just last week.

But you get the drift.  You can check out the entire list with screen shots via the link at the top of this post… or just contact PSSI for details.