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Archive for the ‘General ERP Articles’ Category

Managing enterprise data has never been more difficult.  This becomes all too apparent during that critical stage of business management software turnover when it comes time to decide what data to migrate over from the old system to the new, and by implication, what data not to migrate.  We offer a few simple tips here today.

System implementers generally consider your company data to be of two types, often called “Master” (or static) and “Transactional.”  The former consists of the key organizational data elements – things like employee names; inventory part items and descriptions; vendors; customers; general ledger accounts and their numbers.  In other words, the kinds of data that are relatively fixed in nature, referred to frequently, and generally pretty static in terms of their consistency over time.

The other data, transactional records, consists of the everyday events (transaction) records that occur in business, like creating and invoice or adding or removing items from inventory due to production, sale or other effects upon an item.

Technically, a third category might be considered starting balances, or opening general ledger account balances as far as the new system is concerned.

Nowadays, it’s common to use spreadsheets or the tools provided by the vendor to assist in this process.  For example, customers moving off a legacy system into a Dynamics 365 (D/365 cloud-based) environment would use Microsoft’s “Data Management Framework” tool, first to extract data from a legacy system, then transform that data to a relevant framework for the new system, and then import the data into the D/365 application – thus: extract, transform, import.

Here’s what we and others suggest, based on having tried many approaches over many years with many clients, some more successful than others.

Step 1: Use the available tools to migrate all the Master data you can by extracting it, transforming it (usually using a tool or an Excel spreadsheet) into the appropriate new-system fields, then importing the data into the new system.  You’ll save yourself both money and frustration if you carefully review all the data during that transformation process to clear out any old, inactive or inaccurate records.  Clean up your data here and now, one time, so you start fresh and clean in the new system.

Step 2: Don’t even think about porting over (migrating) all your various and complex transactional data.  Your old system and new will handle those transactions in radically different ways, and the odds of migrating your data cost-effectively or efficiently are slim at best.  Somebody will eat an inordinate number of hours trying to migrate your transactional data (trust us).  It’s not worth it, as it’s a whole lot simpler to just leave the legacy system running after you cut over to the new system, so it’s available merely for inquiry purposes, if you really need to look up that transaction later.  You might be surprised at how seldom you’ll need to do this.

Step 3: Then finally key in your beginning G/L account balances into your new system for each G/L account.  It’s not that big a task, and the data entry practice will do your users good.

Approaching your migration along the simple lines we’ve defined here will give you the most bang for your buck, and keep your migration moving forward at a reasonable pace, while limiting the frustration that your employees and your partners would otherwise face by thinking you can simply transfer “everything” from the old system to the new.

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“Organizations don’t prosper,” notes Harvard Business Review, “unless managers in the middle ranks . . . identify and promote the need for change.”

Put another way, managers today sometimes need to advocate for the types of change they want to see in their organizations, and that includes changing your processes and your process management software to better align with the company’s goals.

In that light, a recent article from the folks at Panorama Consulting nicely highlights what they call the “8 Secrets to Developing a Business Case for an ERP Implementation.”  (Full article here.)

 

We’ll share their 8 key tips here today…

  1. Relate the problem to the bottom line. Always the most important factor.  Whether it’s keeping up with growing workloads, managing disparate silos of data or giving common access to all, the best way to pitch your strategy is to relate it to your company’s bottom line.
  2. Show multiple opportunities for improvement. ERP touches all levels of the organization.  Emphasize the transformational benefits, and be sure stakeholders understand: it’s a strategic investment.
  3. Demonstrate long-term usability. Modern systems are powerful, expansive, user-friendly and integrate with other technologies allowing you to adapt to the future.  Outdated systems can be expensive and difficult at best to maintain.  Show the value therein.
  4. Build credibility through case studies and reports. Decision makers need data to justify any investment.  ERP is no different.  Systems providers should be able to provide you with plenty of ammunition.
  5. Anticipate failure. As Panorama notes: “When you approach the executive team, don’t just present the reasons why you should adopt the new technology. Think through the potential reasons why you shouldn’t, and come prepared with answers to objections.”
  6. Set a realistic timeframe. Systems take time… lots of it.  Allow for pre-purchase analysis, workflow and process review, resource allocation efforts, as well as training, testing, data porting, and a well-paced go-live process.  Again, just be realistic, then build in some margin for error.  You’re taxing everyone’s systems, but the results in the end are worth it.
  7. Offer to monitor, report and analyze. Keep up communication with the executive team at all times and regularly.  Provide regular status updates, and be honest about them.  Show that your efforts are aligned with their priorities.
  8. Liaise between executives and end-users. Again, quoting the consultants: “Nobody will have more insight into what’s necessary in an ERP system than the people who currently own your business processes. You can communicate their pain points up the chain of command, ensuring the technology you select meets your business needs.”

Never lose sight of the business case, and build yours around it, if you want to enjoy the benefits of the best that technology has to offer, and the opportunity to make a lasting impression on the entire firm.

 

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Do you need to redefine your information technology strategy?  Our friends at Panorama Consulting in a recent post point out several reasons you might, all of which we’ve found to be valid in our 30 years of helping guide client strategies.  They include:

 

  • You haven’t updated your technology in the last decade.
  • Your IT strategy is not aligned with your overall business strategy (a big one!)
  • You haven’t considered all your strategic options — It’s not just about ERP… What about smaller initiatives? What about Internet of Things (IOT), or Business Intelligence (BI) reporting?
  • You don’t have an action plan for replacing your enterprise and software technology.
  • Your IT strategy doesn’t meet your organization’s ROI thresholds (does your IT strategy fit the costs, tolerance of risk and benefit objectives of your firm?)

Following are six good guidelines for developing your strategy that any company should consider.

  1. Define your company’s overall strategy. You need a written document that summarizes the company vision and where you’re headed in terms of growth, product lines and transformation.
  2. Define IT’s role and purpose in your organization. Does your organization view IT as a commodity or as a competitive differentiator that provides unique value to your customers? This will determine whether your IT team will be in-house or out-sourced, and that in turn may answer further questions about where your tech resides and which type of solutions you consider, from on-premise to hosted.
  3. Assess your IT department’s competencies. A sophisticated IT department can handle a sophisticated ERP system. Less sophisticated IT departments may consider simpler, cloud-based solutions.
  4. Consider all your digital transformation options. There is a nearly bewildering array of options available to companies today. You can piece together best-of-breed solutions from multiple providers, or opt for a single-source solution. Aside from technology, you can transform your organization by reengineering your business processes or reimagining your business model.
  5. 5. Develop a long-term strategy. Some organizations rush into a short-term technology decision without considering the long-term impacts. An example is implementing a CRM system without first determining how well it fits into your overall back-end accounting system. Sounds like a small consideration, but in reality, it’s a deal-breaker.  Keep an eye always toward the long-term view.
  6. Consider the non-technical aspects of your digital strategy. Always keep the people and processes first in your thinking, and make sure the IT strategy serves the business strategy – and not the other way around.

Good tips all, all worth heeding.

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In our prior post, we noted that companies need to order and reengineer their processes first, and then think about the software they’ll use to bake those into the company’s mode of operation.  Today we conclude that post by sharing 7 steps that we think make a lot of sense, as recently published in an article by Panorama Consulting entitled “7 Business Process Reengineering Tips For Competitive Advantage” which you can find here.  They said it well, so we’ll excerpt some of their comments below.

  1. Budget adequate time and resources. Business process reengineering takes time. In fact, it takes more time than the technical configuration, testing and implementation of ERP software. It probably took your organization years to adopt your current processes, so it will likely take some time to change those well-established processes. You should ensure sufficient time for defining, improving and implementing new business processes. Benchmarking against organizations of similar size and industry will help you set realistic expectations for your project.
  2. Define business requirements before selecting ERP software. Organizations often find that modern ERP systems are too flexible to simply start using out of the box. Even the simplest business processes have multiple workflow options. This complexity will slow down your project if your business processes aren’t well defined before the design and build phases of your implementation.
  3. Improve business processes before selecting ERP software. Just as you should define business requirements before software selection, you should also improve your processes as early as possible. This is also the time to consider whether your processes align with your long-term organizational strategy.
  4. Don’t treat all business processes equally. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of business processes you need to document, analyze and improve. So start by focusing on just the processes that are competitive differentiators. These processes should drive your selection of ERP software and shouldn’t be constrained by software best practices, which may not be best practices for your unique operations.
  5. Integrate business process reengineering with change management. Resistance to change is one of the main reasons business transformation takes longer than expected. Ensuring employees understand and accept new processes is challenging because people naturally dislike change. Before training employees, you should identify the gaps between your current and future state, so employees understand new processes in the context of their day-to-day jobs.
  6. Integrate analytics into business processes. ERP vendors offer innovative solutions that leverage business intelligence and predictive analytics, often utilizing AI technologies. When defining your future state business processes, you should include processes for analyzing and acting on data. Chances are, most of your competitors don’t have a strategy for leveraging AI nor have they implemented this innovative technology.
  7. Measure results and make incremental improvements. Measuring post-implementation results helps you stay on track to realizing expected business benefits. Continually measuring incremental benefits realization allows you to make corrections as needed. Misalignment between business requirements and software functionality can deter benefits realization. Lack of employee buy-in can also create a roadblock.

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Every company wants its business software (or ERP system) to support the way their underlying business works.  It only makes sense, and with today’s business systems, that capability is actually within reach.

We remember 20 or 30 years ago when merely implementing the “accounting” portion of a client’s business was a long and tedious undertaking, and usually subject to some pretty rigid software rules dependent on how your particular accounting software was written.  Then again, that wasn’t that big of a problem since by definition accounting systems should conform to generally accepted accounting principles – and those were generally incorporated, at least in basic form, in most systems.

But today, we’ve gone way, way beyond mere accounting.  Today’s ERP applications are comprised (or can be) of a broad range of applications affecting nearly all areas of the business.  These include human resources (beyond just payroll), most phases of production and process control, all the accounting of course, as well as webstore interaction, electronic data interchange with trading partners, bar-coded freight systems and complete warehouse management for picking, packing, license-plating, receiving, putaway and shipping.

In today’s world, the only way to ensure that your software is going to match your processes is to reengineer them before you do your software selection.  Job one is to optimize those processes – enlisting the aid of what is usually an outside process expert or lean consultant – to ensure that everything you’re doing in the business has been optimized for efficiency, removal of obstacles and redundancies, and shared internally to ensure that all parties can eventually have access to the same process ‘picture’ – and the same data silos — where required.

To do all that, you need to order your processes first, and then think about the software you’ll use to bake those into your company’s mode of operation.  As the folks at Panorama Consulting note in a recent article:

Business process reengineering also ensures your chosen ERP software aligns with your long-term organizational goals. ERP systems are a big investment, so they should support your processes for at least the next five to ten years.

Most importantly, business process reengineering helps you beat the competition by ensuring your ERP system enables differentiated, efficient business processes.

In our following post, we’ll share what they had to say about 7 process reengineering tips that are designed to give your company a competitive advantage.  Stay tuned…

 

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In a recent report compilation the editors at Panorama Consulting Solutions listed what they considered to be four of the top manufacturing software solutions, as well as their prescription for the “ideal” manufacturing software system, from among the now over 200 solutions from which companies today have to choose.  Those top four included SAP, Oracle, Infor and Microsoft Dynamics.

Of the Dynamics 365 solution, Panorama writes…

Microsoft Dynamics solutions have a familiar user interface and suit organizations of all sizes. Microsoft Dynamics D365 Enterprise enables data and resource integration across various departments and locations. The solution has been redeveloped as a pure SaaS model, but also can be deployed on-premise or hosted in the cloud. In terms of field service functionality, Microsoft Dynamics employs IoT technology to improve response times and operational efficiency.

This October, Dynamics 365 for Sales will be enabled with artificial intelligence, which will give manufacturers better visibility into their supply chain. Dynamics D365 continues its reliance on a partner ecosystem to develop niche functionality. Partners are currently in the process of understanding niche IP development for the new version of Microsoft Dynamics.

As to that “ideal” manufacturing system?  Here’s some sage advice:

The ideal manufacturing solution should address the entire supply chain, from product inception to customer delivery. It should have functionality to track suppliers, materials, production costs, maintenance and customer relationships. Ultimately, it should increase operational efficiency and provide full visibility into manufacturing processes and business data. Transforming your manufacturing organization requires technology that drives efficiency and enables full supply chain visibility.

While it’s helpful to compare the strengths of various ERP systems, the best solution for your business depends on your unique needs and situation.

To their advice we would add:

Discuss your needs with a software reselling partner or consultant who knows the territory, one who specializes in the manufacturing sector, and is aware of the many nuances of production, scheduling, bills of material and the unique inventory requirements that attend to them.  Find a good consultant, determine whether you’re comfortable with their people and if they have a methodology for getting you to where you want to go.  Then, when you think you’re ready, talk to a couple of their references, make sure you are on the same page with respect to your unique project roadmap, and be willing to provide the full range of resources and staff commitment required to get the job done.

After all, you only want to do this once.

(You can find access to the full report beginning here.)

 

 

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We’ve written here before about the rise of blockchain, with posts on what it all means… on blockchain’s impact on the supply chain (and hence, ERP)… as well as blockchain’s implications for the future of computer security, among other posts.

Now blockchain is making major inroads into social media.  The timing is interesting given the recent drops in share prices of Facebook and Twitter in late July.  These price drops share a common component across the social media landscape: moderating these feeds becomes very expensive as they scale up.  Both companies are finding out just how expensive, as they hire hundreds of engineers in an effort to thwart purveyors of fake news and web-crawling bots.  In fact, removing many of these ended up lowering overall user counts at both platforms recently, even as costs to manage the effort soared.

In a recent article on a jobsite called AngelList Weekly, the editors point out an innovative solution to the problem: give the users power to self-moderate.  They do this by offering decentralized platforms that often use the more secure blockchain technology.

One, called Steemit now boasts 800,000 users, and while that may pale in comparison to Facebook’s 2 billion plus, it has an interesting twist.  It uses “upvotes” which are tokens that hold real market value, so users, not advertisers, are rewarded for engagement.

Another, called Sapien, built on the popular Etherium blockchain, has thousands of users and features “a global reputation system, a reward system for users, and a marketplace for creators.”

An open source alternative to Twitter with close to 200,000 users claims to “put social media back in your hands” with no ads and no ‘algorithmic feeds’ and runs on community-owned and operated servers.

All of them, while small today, have a common perspective: that centrally moderated sites like Facebook, Twitter and others are “unfair or inconsistent.”  And while Facebook and Twitter aren’t going away, these sites and others like them are growing fast – on blockchains.

The idea of secure, private networks in which all transactions on a system are visible to all users provides a welcome sense of ‘ownership’ when contrasted with the controlled environments that are moderated in the huge cloud-based servers owned by the social giants.  In a way, it represents a return of the internet and social media to their more decentralized and less monetized roots.

It may be too late for these companies to displace Twitter and Facebook, but their scope and their downstream influence on others is bound to grow.  It’s a trend worth watching.

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