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Archive for the ‘General ERP Articles’ Category

Panorama Consulting does a nice job of summing up their view of the key questions companies should ask themselves before embarking on an ERP implementation.  We would concur with virtually all of them.  While a different ten could be just as valid, these are a good starting point for ensuring your implementation team has asked the right ‘big questions’ before the hard work begins.  We’ll reprise them here today from an original posting they did here, adding a few comments from our own experience as well.

 

  1. Do you have the right team? You want the A Team, freed up when necessary to put serious attention to the new plans.  Add to that your vendor team implementation lead consultant, and project managers from both teams.  They should be in on all key planning meetings.
  2. What will the project’s org chart look like? Project roles need to be clearly defined.  Include project management, the core team, functional and technical resources, and key managers who will be involved in the business process analysis.
  3. What will the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the project be? Remember that project estimates are just that – estimates.  Leave margin for error for things not considered, discussed or discovered initially.  Don’t forget hardware, lost productivity or hidden costs beyond your vendor’s purview.
  4. What is the business case (cost justification)? There is always a projected ROI (Return on Investment), or you wouldn’t be doing the project, right?  Beyond the immediate exigencies, be sure you’ve identified the long-term cost benefits – they are often huge, and easily can justify a project.  Establish benchmarks or metrics early on, while understanding that it may take longer to reach them than originally projected (it’s the nature of the beast).  Each company will have its own business case, but yours should be widely shared and understood.
  5. What is your overarching implementation plan? Be sure you’ve worked out things like data migrations (there may be more than one), conference room pilots, necessary modifications and a user training schedule with your vendor.
  6. How will you handle third-party or external program integration? ERP systems don’t typically handle every single aspect of your business – and even if they could, that doesn’t mean that their approach would be your best choice.  Third party applications enable users to choose among best-of-breed solutions to narrower project requirements like shipping modes, EDI, e-commerce and other needs.
  7. What organizational change management strategies and tactics will you deploy? Roles, processes and sometimes even people will change, post-implementation.  Make sure you’ve thought about that ahead of time, so a clear transition strategy can be embraced.
  8. What project governance and controls will you put in place? Poor project management can, as Panorama notes, run a project off the rails.  Be clear ahead of time about who makes what decisions, how they will be made, what controls you will have in place and what issues or decisions will need to be made by the project steering committee.
  9. What milestones will you use to evaluate progress? Take time to evaluate your project at regular intervals, and identify key project criteria that you will compare to with each one.  Don’t be afraid to pull the cord to temporarily stop a project when things go off-track mid-course.
  10. How will you define success? Or as we like to say: What does ‘done’ look like?  This might be the hardest one of all, since continuous improvement – and ERP is simply a tool for continuous improvement – is never ‘done.’  It might be as vague as being better off than before, or as concrete as adherence to a fixed ROI figure.  Each company is unique.  Just be certain in the early going to have some frank internal discussions about what the right success metrics will be for your unique project, and its corresponding investment.

 

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It doesn’t get much clearer than that.  When the world’s leading information technology research company says in effect “be very careful” it might be time to pay attention.

In fact, it was last year when the giant research firm warned those considering “post-modern ERP” that they will not be immune to the “traditional ERP headaches of higher costs, greater complexity and failed integration by 2018.”

The “Achilles Hill,” suggests Gartner, will be the lack of a cloud application integration strategy and related skills.

Carol Hardcastle, Gartner research vice president, said in a statement: “This new environment promises more business agility, but only if the increased complexity is recognized and addressed. Twenty five or more years after ERP solutions entered the applications market, many ERP projects are still compromised in time, cost and more insidiously in business outcomes.”

These so-called post-modern ERP solutions are simply not the “Nirvana” that their cloud publishers want buyers to think they are.  What’s lacking is integration of all the parts, not to mention the skills to pull them altogether.

On-premise providers have had years, decades even, to launch all the necessary software ERP components to comprise a completely integrated suite of applications.  Even those who haven’t will usually have ecosystems of third party providers to provide the key components of those applications, things like accounting, workflows, production management, kitting, manufacturing, planning, purchasing, warehouse management or CRM.

Simply throwing software up onto a cloud service provider does not automatically make these things happen.  Even top tier players in the space we happen to work and live in – the small to midsize business – have mostly only managed to cobble together partial or incomplete ERP cloud versions of their systems, often lacking the full-featured capabilities of their earth-bound brethren.

An article in the UK’s “The Register” (byline: ‘Biting the hand that feeds IT’) noted last year, “Nobody was singled out by Gartner, but it’s been the iPad toting, cloud-friendly sales and executive classes who have driven uptake of business software providers such as Salesforce, side-lining the more considered counsel of those in IT who could have taken a more measured approach.  However, according to Gartner, vendors are also guilty, putting self-interest ahead of their customers.”

Ms. Hardcastle concludes… “The blame for this does not lie solely with end-user organizations that lack the experience and expertise to avoid many of the pitfalls. System integrators and ERP vendors have to be accountable to their customers in this respect.”

The solution, as always, includes the important precepts: Starting with a solid ERP plan… having full management buy-in… analyzing your processes before your begin… aligning people, processes and systems… planning your integrations carefully… and keeping your eyes on the big prize – that is, what you need to do to take your company to the level you dreamed and planned for in the first place.

A dream, Gartner Research might well add, that may not yet include any clouds.

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Okay, so let’s dispel that myth right away: No, a robot won’t be your accountant.  At least not any time soon.  But robot-like accounting technology is doing a lot of the grunt work accountants do, particularly in some very large and far-flung operations, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal (8-15-17).

Companies like Duke Energy, Red Hat and Dun & Bradstreet are using advanced technologies to close their books faster than ever before.  In fact, PricewaterhouseCoopers states that it now takes companies just 4-1/2 days to close their books each quarter, down from 6 days in 2009.  Companies that close their books faster, of course, have results in hand sooner, and that helps in making better decisions faster and staying nimble.

Among the most helpful advances have been technologies that accelerate the book-closing process.  Companies are increasingly automating closes and reducing manual activities, as they use their accounting systems to collect ever more transactional data for management reporting on things like cost of goods sold, revenue, shipments and other key performance indicators.

At D&B, the CFO notes that “the lure of cost savings has prompted investments in robotics and automation technology that accelerate the quarterly reporting process.”  D&B closes its books now in four days despite operating across over 200 countries.  Their teams are already testing potential applications for robotic process automation in finance.

Increasingly, companies are utilizing more widely distributed and more powerful accounting systems, tracking and capturing more categories of revenues and expenses than ever before, in the effort to save time, reduce costs, report more quickly and gain a competitive advantage by managing more of this data-capture via automated information systems.

Accounting reporting has historically been a low priority among companies who often do it on a shoestring.  But actionable reporting that can drive better decision making are a key reason to pay more attention to management reporting, and a reason more companies today are more fully utilizing their accounting systems to automate more, faster.

The fact that today’s modern accounting, MRP and ERP reporting systems can do this on a PC makes these benefits available today to virtually any company willing to make the investment to deploy and learn how to use them.

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For folks contemplating an upgrade to a new business management system – given that many have been on old, or even ancient systems, for a very long time now – one question to ask early on can have a big effect on how well the implementation proceeds.  In essence, it comes down to this: Where does your company stand on the standardization vs. flexibility spectrum?

We are reminded of this question by the folks at Panorama Consulting, and we would concur that it’s an important question to ask oneself.

Standardization certainly has its benefits.  If you have reasonably clear, easy to understand (and teach) repeatable processes, you have the makings of a successful ERP implementation.  Generally speaking, if you can provide the logic process and stick to it, your software can be made to conform to that logic over and over again. It gets even better if your processes happen mostly to coincide with how your software works out of the box, more or less.

Some businesses can conform to that prescription.  Burger chains come to mind, though of course they’re not what we usually think of when it comes to ERP.  But the idea that even your company, say a manufacturer or a distributor, can set out process flows that are consistent over time and customer, implies that standardization could serve you well, and ease the pains of ERP implementation.

The downside is this doesn’t leave you as open to changing trends, industry shifts, or simply producing custom products.  One’s not better than the other, they just reflect different business models.

As a result, we (like Panorama) find some companies end up being too standardized.  They end up missing out on opportunities when they are unable to customize or configure to specific client needs.  The software side of that problem is that it often requires customization or modifications to accommodate that kind of flexibility.

In between these two poles comes resistance to change on one hand, or an insistence on abiding by standard business processes to the exclusion of what’s truly good for the business (like customizing product or getting creative in delivery).

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the problem, any more than there is a “perfect” software solution.  Certain software products tend to be less customizable and more rigid, but may allow you sufficient room to embrace your own standard processes and keep everything simple.  Other solutions tend to be more complex, with the associated higher level of flexibility and customization, but with the attendant implementation cost and complexity.

Like we said, there’s no right answer.  But the question itself is one every company should wrestle with and discuss, both internally and externally, before making any final ERP decisions.

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In our prior post we began listing some of the red flags, incidents culled from real-life incidents as noted in a white paper from Tribridge, which hurt businesses in multiple ways.  As it turns out, there are a lot of them, so we’re adding a few more here to round out a two-part post.  The original document can be found here.

Continuing our list of issues we often see clients wrestle with – and waste TONS of time and money on – here are a few more that can be remedied by taking the plunge and finally updating that old, tired accounting system to one of today’s new offerings.

  1. Errors tracking time and equipment. Paper based tracking systems invariably lead to mistakes, but when those mistakes show up in somebody’s paycheck as the result of mistaken record keeping, things can get a bit testy.  Multiple teams performing manual time entry on paper sheets is one such recipe.  Not to mention a lack of insight into T&M performance (since it’s all written down instead of inside the computer).  Today’s modern systems provide web-based data collection opportunities for remote employees.  These can feed payroll – or a payroll service – and later provide all the reporting a company needs to track and manage its service performance.
  2. Document delays that slow month-end close. We see it all the time: companies that can’t close their books within a couple days of month-end.   (Some can’t do it within a couple months!)  While there are a host of causes, most have to do with manual processing of various sorts, often coupled with high transaction volumes and multiple silos of unconnected information. An ERP system is built to manage and consolidate exactly this type of month-end chaos.
  3. Service and warranty confusion. Service management software, often built piecemeal a decade or two ago and with few links to accounting, can cause delays to service work, lack of up to date inventory information and poor warranty tracking that makes tech’s lives difficult.  A fully integrated modern system utilizing tablets in the field can record service work, material consumption and keep warranty information up to date.  Orders can be placed and managed, and inventory and assets can be tracked accurately and almost instantly.
  4. Inaccurate inventory levels. Whether you’re in retail, wholesale or manufacturing, inventory counts.  Errors in counts, lack of consistent cycle counting, month-end closing complications, difficulty with counting bulk-weight items (like nuts and bolts), and no inventory into warehouse moves or inter-store transactions are but a few of the ways that inventory can become inaccurate, or worse.
  5. Unsupported inventory practices. A lot of older systems do not support all the recognized inventory accounting and costing practices (like LIFO, FIFO or Standard) or, if they do, they are often awkwardly implemented and difficult to use.  This can lead to using spreadsheets to manage inventory.  But manufacturers need to be flexible enough to manage processes unique to their particular build-to-order or build-to-stock or engineer-to-order requirements.   Today’s newer systems allow for better synchronization of build-to-order and –stock situations, and allow for a choice of costing systems (typically Standard, Average, LIFO and FIFO) which, with careful management and implementation, can better match up with manufacturers’ exact requirements.

Time and space prohibit us from sharing even more red flags.  Suffice it to say that if even a few of these issues are yours or sound familiar, it may be time for you to start your search.  The answers lie in today’s advanced, sophisticated, and yet very cost effective new ERP systems.

 

 

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A recent white paper from a company called Tribridge highlighted 15 ways culled from real companies in in which those companies’ accounting system was hurting their business.  As we reprise a few of them here, it’s amazing to see how many similar situations we’ve run across with our own clients over the years.  How many look familiar to you?

  1. Unstable system, slow performance. This is the most common one.  Reports run slowly, the system locks up regularly and error messages are common.  Modern systems today are built on solid transactional databases, mostly SQL in the PC world, complete with transaction rollback capabilities to minimize corruption.  Newer systems – once properly installed and finely tuned – will run everything faster, from daily transactions to month-end reports.  (While the Tribridge report skews toward Microsoft Dynamics as a solution, it’s not the only good one out there.)
  2. A growing paper problem. Manually entering invoice data into the system.  Tracking down and matching up invoices.  Searching for old orders or payment history.  And so on.  With an automated Accounts Payable system, you eliminate much of the office paper flow.  As well, invoices can be coded intelligently or by approvers during a rules-based approval process.
  3. Production schedule delays. Delays, inaccuracies and frequent rush orders (with extra freight charges to expedite) are tell-tale signs of the problem.  Modern systems allow for full integration of EDI integrating them directly into production scheduling, thus eliminating many of the human errors that plague so many distribution and manufacturing companies.  Yes, it takes time and effort and patience to set it all up, but once you do, it just runs.
  4. Inaccurate cost calculations. Whether it’s losing a contract due to inaccurate pricing, or building in a cushion, or high raw material costs due to poor inventory tracking or simply the unending burden of manual, time consuming reporting – these are all common results of inaccurate costing.  Costing is tough, to be sure.  They comprise many of our own most complex implementation issues for clients.  But they must be tackled, in modern systems they can be, in order to ensure peak performance, accuracy and ultimately profitability.
  5. Time wasted having employees create reports manually. Employees often find themselves compiling report data from three, four, even five separate sources.  They often have to wait for others to compile their contribution.  And then there’s the number/data double-checking, the occasional Excel formula error (or change).  All lead to laborious, redundant and often inaccurate reporting.  Financial reporting need not be that difficult – once you have your system implemented properly, well-tuned and honed by trained users.
  6. Selling out-of-stock products. When accounting is disconnected from inventory, the warehouse or the e-commerce platform you might sell by, you may end up managing stock keeping units in more than one system.  In-stock quantity errors are not uncommon.  Mistakes happen.  You can end up buying out-of-stock items on rush orders for the wrong price.  You lose visibility.  When everything is disconnected, you lose money.

We’re not half-way through Tribridge’s list (white paper here), so we’ll look at a few more and wrap up in the following post.  Stay tuned.

 

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We don’t generally use our blog to “promote” the products we sell, but we thought it worth reprising a few highlights from the new release of TIW’s ALERE accounting and manufacturing software system.  We’ve be a TIW reseller for over 20 years, and they recently announced version 12 of their software – a full-fledged manufacturing accounting system for the small to medium size business.

ALERE functionality covers a broad range, including Accounting, Manufacturing, Mobility and automated Data Acquisition.  We’ve long considered it to be one of the premier manufacturing packages available in the market today for the small to midsize business (say a few million up to $100 million plus in revenues), with a robust suite of manufacturing and accounting modules.

For our many current users of ALERE, as a customer courtesy we provide the most recent updates as recently announced by TIW itself, below:

The release of ALERE Business Applications v12 will bring both new features and enhancements to existing modules into the fold. A few of the more notable additions…

Credit Card Processing: A credit card processing gateway will be built in. ALERE will utilize the Authorize.net gateway by default for transactions which still allows the use of your choice of merchant account. Processing will be handled through AR/Cash receipts as if it were another transaction.

64bit Office Support: A mechanism has been added to ALERE which allows it to export information in a manner which may be read by 64 bit versions of Excel. Additionally, an option has been added to control the launch of Excel.

InTouch Module (ALERE’S integrated contact manager): A number of enhancements and interface changes have been made to InTouch. The interface will be getting a more streamlined look, condensing down email chains to a blog style interface. The controls which handle the interface with Outlook have also been rewritten in order increase speed. Finally, InTouch will enable markup allowing graphics and general dress-up of content to be passed through to emails.

Commission Module. The Commission module is undergoing an overhaul to add a significant number of options which add further flexibility to the manner by which commissions are calculated and distributed. Notably, the upgrade will allow for both the combination of rules and split commissions.

TIW has announced that they will be releasing more information as the shipment date approaches.

 

 

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