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Archive for the ‘General ERP Articles’ Category

As most of us have noticed by now, the pace of technology – long proceeding at a snail’s pace as generation after generation lived more or less as their parents had – has been accelerating at what to many feels like a breakneck rate.  We’ve gone from linear progress to exponential, moving from the industrial revolution to the current digital one at an ever-quickening pace.

Moore’s Law, now over 50 years old, postulated that the number of transistors per square inch on a circuit board would double every year or two since – and today, that continued pace means that exotic technologies that include AI (artificial intelligence), robots, cloud computing and 3-D printing systems are proliferating, evolving in many cases faster than we humans can keep up.  It seems like things keep getting faster, smaller and smarter.

And therein lies the downside of all this technical innovation, says Gary Smith, a logistics expert with the New York City Transit in a recent issue of APICS Magazine.  Smith believes that “the rate of technological change exceeds the rate at which we can absorb, understand and accept it.”  This is acutely true in the world of supply chain, with its deep reach into manufacturing, distribution and just business in general.

Most importantly he notes that “disruptive technologies require a workforce that adapts to new processes, new ways of learning and training systems.”  In that spirit, he suggests key considerations and qualities that are going to be important within supply chains of the future, ones that the next generation workforce can expect to have to incorporate into their work patterns.  Among them:

  • Data analysis and database development skills. The ability to analyze and produce actionable results from data using logic and fact with insightful opinions and interpretation of available data will be critical.
  • Critical thinking. It’s vital to data analysis and fact-based decision making.  The ability to quickly acquire knowledge and break it down into its logical components, and then analyze and drill for accurate and actionable conclusions matters.  You have to be able to take complex situations and break them down into their component tasks.  Or as Franklin Covey would say, “start with the end in mind.”  Critical thinking means “abstraction, systems thinking, experimentation and collaboration,” notes Gary Smith.  To wit:
  • Abstraction. The ability to discover patterns in data.  Often, lessons from one industry can be applied to another, for example.
  • Systems thinking. That is, viewing issues as a part of the whole – how issues relate to the rest of a system.  Often, the “good of the many outweighs the good of the few.”
  • Experimentation. Complex problems require trial and error, testing and experimentation.  It’s okay to fail, as that’s part of learning.  Fail fast, think differently and learn to adapt as new conditions present themselves.
  • Collaboration. It’s working with others toward the common goal.  Easier said than done.  It requires team-building and facilitation skills, along with everyone keeping their eyes on the prize.  Collaboration is particularly important in supply chain and ERP work, where silos need to be broken down and people need to cooperate and effectively communicate.

These are the critical skills companies will be looking for.  We see the need for it every day in ours, and we’re only one of many.  So in a very real sense, the future really is now.

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We see clients wrestle every day with a number of common complaints, obstacles and productivity-wasters when they talk to us about upgrading their business management systems.  These issues seem to be common across many companies, so don’t feel too badly if they just so happen to describe your office too.  We’re talking about things like…

  • Spreadsheets.  They’re everywhere.  They’re disconnected.  They’re not available to everyone.  They can be difficult and costly to maintain and keep current.  And worst of all, they represent double- or even triple-entry effort across disparate platforms.  A lot of waste, redundancy and mistakes.
  • Information that’s all in one person’s head. Years ago, we had a client with a production scheduler who had all the magic formulas for How-To-Produce-What-On-Which-Machine (in what order) lodged inside his head, and his alone.  Job security, right?  I thought so too.  Until the company President told me that this fellow had already had two heart attacks!  They could joke about it among themselves (I mostly just kept my head down, and eventually developed a scheduler for them based on some of his knowledge). We have had many clients over the years where the institutional knowledge of certain critical functions was stored in the head of one person – often an owner.  Not exactly conducive to a happy exit strategy, is it?
  • Lack of inter-departmental communication. The classic “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” syndrome.  Usually it’s front office vs. back office, or production vs. shipping.  Sometimes, it’s like you’re working in two different companies – mostly because the information that needs to be shared simply isn’t in the right place at the right time.  The result is lots of trips out back (or front)… lots of intercom calls… lots of emails… and a whole lot of inefficiency, wasted steps, misspent energy, and “expedited” orders that become the norm.
  • Gut instinct and guesswork as stand-ins for accurate reporting and real business intelligence. When you don’t have the data, you guess — sometimes correctly, sometimes not so much.  Or you ask a person who really doesn’t know the answer.  Or you do it the way you’ve always done it because, hey… that’s the way we’ve always done it.

If some or all of these sound familiar – and they’re usually only the tip of the iceberg – you’re not alone.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something about it.  The sad truth is, companies lose tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to these sorts of inefficiencies – and they don’t even realize it!

What could it do your bottom line, your company’s value and your ability to serve the customer… if only you did realize it – and did something about it?

In the end, you may not be alone.  Misery loves company, right?  But is that really the competitive position you want to be in?  For now, just be glad you don’t know what it’s really costing you. And when you’re finally ready to do something about it, you’ll be taking the first step on the road to a better company.

 

 

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APICS (The American Production and Inventory Control Society, “the premier professional association for supply chain management”) provides a wealth of information both practical and theoretical about how companies (especially manufacturers and distributors, but applicable beyond) can manage for results and continuously improve their operations through lean initiatives and supply chain excellence.

In the Mar/Apr issue of their magazine, in an article entitled “Targeting Continuous Improvement with Laser Focus,” APICS member Iris Nielsen points out four factors essential to successful continuous improvement which “when implemented properly, can help professionals reach near-perfect results:”

  1. The support of an organization’s executive team. Arguably the number one requirement.  Executives need to demonstrate support for the initiative and model behaviors they want employees to emulate.
  2. The time and mental capacity required must be present and available. Too often, companies work harder instead of smarter.  Problems in need of fixing are often a series of small failures that distract teams from identifying root causes of the real issue at hand.  Be aware of those who cut corners or cause chaos, as you search out root causes.
  3. Constancy of purpose. This was the first of W. Edwards Deming’s 14 key principles for significantly improving business effectiveness.  It relates to an unwavering focus on improvement, which is critical to maintaining and sustaining forward momentum.  Progress here is not so much an initiative as “a long-term practice that permeates the core of the organization.”
  4. Consider the long-lasting effects of the work. Sometimes managers get so focused on monthly or quarterly targets that it “becomes counterintuitive to prioritize improvements” that don’t have an immediate impact.  But continuous improvement is as much a mind-set as it is about action.  Sometimes you have to take a step backwards in order to take two steps forward.

Remember too, Nielsen adds, to celebrate the “tiny triumphs.”  They lie at the heart of continuous improvement, and their celebration will incentivize the types of forward momentum that will keep your own improvement initiatives on track.

Clearly communicate expectations, design processes to meet customer needs and “give them what they value.”  While perfection may never be achieved, striving for it is key.  Know what to look for, what to adjust or fix, and when to act when a process is not creating the optimal product or service.  Only then, notes Nielsen, will real innovation be realized.

 

 

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Anyone who’s gone through the rigors of an ERP implementation and its associated process analysis knows something about “resistance” to organizational change.  After all, no one likes to have their world rocked, or to see the comfort or regularity of their daily lives (work, or otherwise) suddenly changed.

But change is always a part – or certainly should be – of any enterprise improvement initiative.  So a recent post by the folks at Panorama Consulting reminds us that the resistance to that change can cause harm to any organization.  In article posted here, they point out 5 ways in which organizational change resistance “will hurt your operational efficiency if you are not adequately addressing it during your ERP implementation.”  We’ll take their points and add our commentary from experience below…

  1. Your business processes become misaligned.Resistance to change is natural, but if your team is resisting the corporate standard, “then they are instead creating their own operational reality,” which is going to create misalignment of your business processes, and defeats the entire purpose of an ERP software initiative.  A thorough analysis prior to implementation, along with healthy and ongoing discussion among all affected parties from the outset, will go a long way toward mitigating change concerns and making all participants feel like active change agents themselves.
  1. You are fostering “black market” ERP systems.“Although it may be the opposite of your intent, not addressing organizational change results in people creating their own systems and workarounds.”   It’s not for no reason that companies have multiple, redundant spreadsheets and other “silos of information” that fail to give the company the one thing it needs: a common, unified view of the company “truth.”  But when all stakeholders and team members are actively involved, they become part of the solution, and will work with you to eliminate those redundancies.
  1. End-user training is typically a mess.“When employee resistance is high, you can forget about effective end-user training. Instead of learning to use the new system, your employees will spend their time reacting to all the changes they don’t agree with, and they won’t be absorbing how they should be implementing new processes in systems and in their day-to-day responsibilities.”  In fact, training should be the end point “that finalizes all the acceptance of change that has led up to that point in the project.”
  1. Your project team will get blamed for the resistance. ERP implementations can fail when change resistance overwhelms all of management’s good intentions.  That’s why organizational change must come at the start of your project, and issues managed all along the way so they don’t turn into operational failures. 
  1. Business benefits aren’t realized. The bottom line, right?  If we simply replicate the often redundant and inefficient processes of the past in a new ERP system, will anything have really changed?  Without attention to change management, process review and improvement, the “new” system simply makes the bad old ways faster (maybe, and even then not always) but real business benefits are never realized.

 

 

 

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Be sure to read our previous post beginning here on some basics of “blockchain” technology.  Today, we’ll tell you about an even newer evolution in the rapidly evolving blockchain saga.

Our title headline today is how a fellow named Joe Lubin, founder of a company called ConsenSys that develops applications for the burgeoning “Blockchain” technology, describes Ethereum.  Chances are if you’ve heard of Ethereum at all, it’s because the new platform was the victim of a $60 million hack a while back.

What you may not know is that companies including IBM, Microsoft, BP, JP Morgan and a lot of others recently attended a forum sponsored by an industry group called the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.  Ethereum technology, while still young, comes with enormous promise, despite last year’s hack setback.  Advocates believe Ethereum “could be a universally accessible machine for running businesses,” according to a Matthew Leising of Bloomberg Businessweek.

Cornell University professor Emin Gun Sirer says “Ethereum gives you a new way for the computer to interact with the real world and how money moves.”  In effect, it’s a complete business-to-business transaction engine and database.  It’s based on the “Blockchain” concept of digital money.  The idea behind Blockchain is to create a verifiable virtual currency that can be distributed as easily as an email.  It’s an online ledger on computers distributed around the world.

We’ll spare you the details, but the idea is that every “bitcoin” distributed is tracked and verified, in a system that basically runs itself.  Its main purpose is to move currency from point A to point B.

What Ethereum adds to the Blockchain is the ability to store fully functioning programs called “smart contracts.”  So beyond moving money, users can potentially control contracts or projects, thus allowing a person to complete a job for a customer and trigger payment on completion – all without added human intervention, in a secure framework.

That’s the concept, at any rate.  As Leising notes, “Once you can create contracts – which in essence are just operating procedures – you can use them to manage almost any kind of enterprise or organization.”

A variant on the technology would see companies participate in an Ethereum platform on a closed invitation basis, given that a public platform tends to increase security risks, whereas a semi-private network among aligned business partners might provide an effective alternative with the same end result.

A variety of companies are exploring their options today.  John Hancock is experimenting with compliance tracking and anti-money-laundering regulations in its wealth management unit.  Airbus is exploring ways to move its entire supply chain to a Blockchain.

If all this sounds a lot like the future of enterprise business models, one shouldn’t be surprised.  There are security and logistical wrinkles to be worked out, to be sure, but the idea of a self-regulating supply chain of integrated enterprise systems that embrace project management, verifiable currency transfers and contract fulfillment has a lot of companies paying attention to the Blockchain ledger technology.

Right now, Ethereum is helping to lead the way.  It’s a name worth remembering.

 

 

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As we began in our prior post to look at a new technology called “blockchain,” we posed the question: What if you could document and preserve all the data associated with a product’s life cycle from the origin of the raw materials to the final sale of the finished good as it travels along the supply chain, with 100% certainty?

In today’s concluding post, we start with a supply chain counterpoint: Even if you could, is it worth it?

An analyst at Aberdeen Group, Bryan Hall, is quoted in a recent article in the Mar/Apr 2017 issue of APICS Magazine pointing out that supply chains are full of unexpected events and disruptions, ranging from damaged goods to carrier capacity issues, not to mention customs delays, clogged ports, theft and other issues.  The key to adjusting and correcting often lies in what Hall calls the “occasional heroics” that keep plans on track – and none of these actions are possible without visibility.

According to Aberdeen, fewer than 60% of companies had online visibility into in-transit shipment status.  The percentages were even lower for visibility into data to make decisions, or to view supplier quality and manufacturing processes – in other words, traceability.

Other studies have generally confirmed that most companies lack full visibility into their supply chains, and most experience supply chain disruptions periodically.  Often, the source is not even analyzed, and all come at a cost.

And as Business Insider reports, according to APICS, the growth of IoT (Internet of Things – i.e., internet connected devices and machines) will generate yet more massive amounts of data.  Writes Crandall, “Blockchains have the potential to provide security and accountability that traditional databases don’t.”

As examples he cites IBM using a blockchain in the diamond industry… PwC using blockchain to deliver on-stop solution for financial service firms… Wal-Mart testing blockchain’s abilities to track the flow of certain food items to quickly identify items that may be tainted and subject to recall.  The downstream implications of that one – the ability to possibly prevent foodborne illnesses which cause 3,000 people per year and hospitalize more than 100,000 – quickly become clear.

TechCrunch contributor Ben Dickson has written of how blockchains will “enable companies to register information about a product transfer and the product’s price, location, quality and any other information that is relevant to managing it.”

And by its very nature, a public blockchain will ensure that all users have equal and common visibility into everyone’s supply chain.  The decentralized and open nature of blockchains inherently restricts withholding or manipulating information to gain advantage, while built-in encryption will help to ensure data integrity.

In the end, blockchains in the supply chain will eventually assure better regulation compliance, product integrity, customer satisfaction and confidence in product knowledge and movement for the entire family of producers, distributors and consumers.  According to APICS, The World Economic Forum has said that 10 percent of all global domestic product will be stored in a blockchain by 2025.

While still in its infancy, this new technology will present supply chain professionals with both opportunities and challenges.  But as noted business guru Peter Drucker observed long ago, the best executives focus on opportunities, not problems.

 

In our next post, we’ll take one final look (for now) at the newest wrinkle in blockchain, called Ethereum.  A lot of very big companies are getting on board with it as you’ll see.  We’ll tell you more in our very next post.  Stay tuned…

 

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What if you could document and preserve all the data associated with a product’s life cycle from the origin of the raw materials to the final sale of the finished good as it travels along the supply chain, with 100% certainty?

That could be a reality in the not too distant future, thanks to a fast-growing technology we’ve written about several times here before, called “blockchain.”  We thought today we’d take you through a few of the basics of this important new technology, which you’ll be hearing more about in the future.

Some of our source material here comes from APICS and APICS Magazine (Mar/Arp 2017 issue, and others), and other publications.  APICS is an organization devoted to improving the skills of supply chain professionals everywhere through teaching and training in principles of supply chain excellence.  We are a long-time supporter of the organization and its efforts, and recommend their programs often to our clients.  As disclaimer, we are in no way affiliated with APICS other than as longstanding members, benefiting over the years from their training programs, most notably the CPIM (Certified in Production and Inventory Management) certification program.  PSSI also holds multiple “Company of the Year” award designations from our local chapter.  Learn more about the local chapter here.

Blockchain is basically a ledger system built on a peer-to-peer network (think: database) used to record and track transactions on computers.  The first blockchain was developed by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 and was implemented in 2009 as a ledger for a new kind of currency called “bitcoin.”

One of block chain’s appealing characteristics is that it does not require a “central authority” or a trusted third party, such as a bank.  Instead, a blockchain relies on three components: a transaction, a record of that transaction, and a system that verifies and stores the record.  Once stored, it is said to be difficult (though as the remedy to a recent Ethereum blockchain hack has demonstrated, not necessarily impossible) to delete.

According to an APICS Magazine article by Dr. Richard Crandall of Appalachian State University (referencing an article in The Economist in 2015), blockchain has “… a mixture of mechanical subtlety and computational brute force built into its ‘consensus mechanism,’ the process by which the parties involved agree on how to update the blockchain to reflect the transfer of [records or] bitcoins from one person to another.”

When someone wants to add to a blockchain, the other participants run an algorithm to evaluate and verify the proposed transaction.  If approved (a process too complex to describe here), the new transaction is added to the blockchain.  Or, in the case of the bitcoin currency, a new coin is added.

Marc Andreessen, a highly successful venture capitalist and inventor of the first popular web browser, Mosaic, describes the importance: “The practical consequence is that for the first time… one internet user can transfer a unique piece of digital property to another [that] is guaranteed safe and secure, everyone knows that the transfer has taken place, and nobody can challenge the legitimacy of the transfer.  The consequences of this breakthrough are hard to overstate.”

Ultimately, say blockchain advocates, if chains can be used to transfer and track bitcoins, companies can use blockchains as public ledgers to track product attributes including ingredients and history of production.

And that will usher in the next generation of supply chain innovation.  We’ll take a look at some of the implication of blockchains on supply chains in our concluding post next.  Stay tuned…

 

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