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Archive for the ‘General ERP Articles’ Category

For a long time, the idea of implementing ERP and getting lean seemed like they were worlds apart.  ERP was robust and embraced all aspects of the business:  analyzing sales trends… forecasting inventory… pushing materials through production… managing the many aspects of the business.  Meanwhile, lean was small and responsive… material is pulled through production… just-in-time inventory planning becomes paramount… paring things down to their simplest proportions and keeping things moving constantly are key.

And yet.  When you look at lean coupled with ERP—as so many companies do today – you begin to see the synergies.  Streamlining processes (via lean), then automating them (via ERP).  Stripping complexity down (lean) and then using the improved process repeatedly throughout your workflows to eliminate redundant steps and waste (ERP).

Take kanban.  These are visual signals used to resupply inventory.  They’re an important early step in the lean process, and especially effective in single plant locations.  ERP supports kanban by turning these visual signals into electronic trigger points, and they work just as effectively across multiple locations.

A key principle of lean is the just-in-time inventory noted earlier.  You want just enough material to meet demand and keep flow moving.  It’s all about eliminating waste.

Well, with ERP, you can analyze individual workstations or shop floor cells.  You can investigate and analyze the impact of, say, setup times or machine changeovers or maintenance, and their effects on the overall schedule plan.

In the same vein, your ERP reports provide you with the data you need to compare your current inventory levels to your sales demands, and adjust accordingly – and quickly.  That’s critical to keeping inventories low, just-in-time and always moving.

In similar fashion, ERP can identify and track waste, the bane of lean.  You can’t improve something unless and until you can measure it, and with the right ERP setup you can track your most wasteful production areas, and know where to focus your efforts to eliminate it.

In other words, ERP allows you to analyze all of the many factors that come into play on the shop floor, and throughout the business.  It can provide the raw information you need then to begin to identify mistakes, inefficiencies and waste – on the way to getting lean.

We’re big believers in the combined power of lean and ERP.  In our view, they go together like a hand and glove – and together, they are the single most important factor in improving performance and profitability among firms that are growing – and those that want to grow.

 

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Recently another ERP blogger we frequently reference, Eric Kimberling of Colorado, wrote about some of the lessons he’s learned from 12 years of guiding clients in their ERP pathways and decisions.

Given our thirty years of experience, we thought we’d take a few of Mr. Kimberling’s comments and splice them with our own to provide a few thoughts on some of the key lessons we’ve all learned about what he likes to call “digital transformations” or broadly speaking, ERP implementations and workflow improvement initiatives.  For the most part, the topic points are his, and the advice following is ours.

  1. Here we are in unanimous agreement: It’s more about the people and processes than it is about the technology.   Identifying key processes, establishing the right workflows, seeking to make users comfortable with change… and mapping all these efforts into a suitable software solution that removes redundant efforts, eliminates disparate information silos,  streamlines peoples’ jobs and ultimately serves your customers more efficiently – these people- and process- focused initiatives are the real key to digital transformations.
  2. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. There’s a lot of good software out there.  Just as there are a lot of good implementation consultants.  Unfortunately, there are also a lot who know the technology but not the business processes.  Why would you hire anyone that’s not a subject matter expert in your chosen field?  Ours expertise is manufacturing and distribution — so don’t hire us to install your dental practice management software (or fill your cavities) — and vice-versa.
  3. Your business should drive your software and transformation needs – and not the other way around. That also means that if your software cannot be matched to the way you work, then you need to find different software.  (Another reason for hiring implementation consultants that know your territory, i.e., business.)
  4. Take the hype and the jargon with a major grain of salt. Tech is notorious for having a million buzzwords.  Cloud, SaaS, big data, XML, agile… the list goes on forever.  Once again, what’s best for the business?  At the end of the day, where your system is located (local, cloud, etc.) is less important than whether the tool you choose is going to be the right one for the way you work, and be up and running over 99% of the time.  The buzz words and the tech, while sometimes important, always matter less than the interests and flow of your business.
  5. The best technology will not fix broken business processes. We always insist on making the business process analysis the first item on our agenda.  Identifying process flows, both the current ones and what they should look like in the end, is what creates the road map to everything that follows.  Involve all the key stakeholders and users in your project in this crucial step from the very beginning.  That will ensure you’re starting from the right foundation.
  6. Failures, like successes, don’t happen overnight. Usually, win or lose, there is a trail of decisions, events and actions – all driven by people­ – that determines the success or failure of most ERP projects.  These occur along a timeline.  So when you see something going off the rails (and we always tell our own consultants this), be the first to pull the cord and stop the train.  Run towards the fires (issues).  It will usually only get worse if you don’t stop, pivot, re-evaluate and take corrective action to fix the flaws in your foundation sooner, rather than later.

Both Kimberling and we could list more, but today’s list should provide any company about to embark on a digital transformation or process and software upgrade with the key lessons they’ll want to know – before they begin the effort.

 

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(This is the second of our two posts reflecting the thoughts of noted NAV blogger Eric Wauters on the upcoming release of the new Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2018.  His full, original post can be found here.)

 

Fact 8: Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2018 will be released on December 1st.  Thanks to the Directions conference in Orlando last month, and the feedback and the passion of the partners, this had to happen.  As Microsoft has already announced, the product itself is ready.  It’s the pricing and positioning issues they are working on that have delayed the release.

Fact 9: Extension V2 will work on Dynamics NAV 2018.  In non-Geek-speak this simply means that a very modern development experience in VSCode will work on the December release, and that we will be able to create extensions on top of our own customizations and products as well.

Fact 10: Yes, you will be able to white label your product, but you don’t have to.  “Powered by Microsoft Dynamics 365” or not, it’s your choice.  (Early word last month was that Microsoft would change the marketing thrust from promoting “NAV” to promoting a “Powered by…” approach, thus allowing resellers and ISVs the ability to “white label” their accouring offerings.  But really… I mean, really?  Would you rather by “Brian’s Accounting & Manufacturing Powered by Microsoft Dynamics” or simply Microsoft Dynamics NAV, as you always have?  No brainer.

Fact 11: Microsoft is working on the pricing.  Considering the various options… on-premise… cloud… as discrete functional-areas apps (like CRM or Marketing) and not just the “ful-blown” complete ERP system… Microsoft has a lot to think about.  But it’s coming.

Fact 12: There is no monetization in AppSource – but it will come.  This one is mostly for partners.  It means that we’ll be able to sell customized apps through the Microsoft App Store, and there will be a ‘monetization’ policy at some point.  In other words, Microsoft will likely have an approval process for apps and then make them available on the store and take their cut.  Think of Apple’s app store model.

Fact 13: Microsoft Dynamics NAV consumes an insane amount of Azure stuff – and that’s a good thing.  Cloud based NAV can generate a lot of data and metrics on its Azure cloud, and that stuff will eventually be available as analytics of some kind or another.  It’s a work in progress for now.

A new development environment… new features… the ability to run either in the cloud or at your own site… the ability to create apps… the enhanced capabilities to run with the Microsoft “stack” of applications from Windows to Office 365 (Word, Excel, etc.) to Outlook… Dynamics NAV will be at the heart of it all.

And for our customers, that safety in numbers and place in the Microsoft hierarchy of applications upon which you run your business might be the very best news of all!  It all starts happening in December.  Are you ready?

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Eric Wauters is a most knowledgeable and well-known blogger about Microsoft Dynamics best-selling ERP system, Dynamics NAV.  Wauters recently put together a great list of the key highlights (his ‘Facts’) gleaned from recent conferences and conversations regarding the upcoming release of the newest NAV version, 2018.  While we’ve written a bit about NAV 2019 (codename ‘Tenerife’) here recently, we felt his list of news & updates was the most definitive yet.

Since there’s too much to push into a single post, we’ll edit for length and publish Wauters’ facts in our own blog here as two posts, today and in the post following.  For the original article, go here.

 

Fact 1: the market around the product we know as “Dynamics NAV” keeps being a partner model.  NAV is Microsoft’s biggest ERP cash generator, and partners have been selling, implementing, customizing and supporting the product successfully for years, making or exceeding Microsoft’s goals for the product.  In the future, that won’t change, nor does anyone want it to do.  Now, on to the NAV product itself…

Fact 2: NAV will be available in the cloud.  In Spring 2018, there is going to be Microsoft Dynamics 365 in the cloud, based on NAV.  And that’s important to those, like us, who serve the SMB (small to midsize business) market exclusively.

Fact 3: There is a roadmap beyond Spring 2018.  Because NAV is now developed in what’s known as an ‘agile’ development environment (i.e., quick, incremental releases keeping the product fresh and up-to-date), it’s impossible to guarantee a future road map.  But they do a pretty good job nonetheless.  Dynamics 365 for Financial and Operations and 365 ‘Tenerife’ (a temporary name until the actual product is released) are the currently slated releases for late this year and early next year, and they are right on track.  The future NAV – available either on-premise or in the cloud – will follow this same roadmap.

Fact 4: On Premise is there to stay.  As long as there is business for On Premise, we will be able to do it with NAV. Microsoft’s focus is “cloud” for sure, but On Premise is there to stay.

Fact 5: Dynamics 365 will have full NAV capabilities.  Says Wauters:  “Rest assured – for whatever we will do in the cloud – we can do all! From Manufacturing to Jobs to Relationship Management to… Whatever! All a SMB wants to do – it will be there! With the power of the cloud!”

Fact 6: One Codebase.  We will have a slightly different experience in the cloud, but all will be one codebase.  Basically the design is somewhat different in Dynamics 365 (let’s call it the “Dynamics 365 Experience”), and a lot is “tuned” with Application Areas, but for all we do, the codebase is the same.

Fact 7: Extensibility with Extensions.  NAV has an extensibility model, aka “Extensions” or “Apps.”  This allows developers to create apps for Dynamics 365 and extensions for on-prem installations.  These can be built on customized databases, ensuring modifications unique to a client can be enabled.

And that’s only the half of it!  We’ll reveal the rest of Wauters’ thoughts – including the timing of the NAV 2018 release date – in our next post, so stay tuned…

 

 

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The influence of technology in areas from retail to manufacturing is frequently blamed for everything from income inequality to the bifurcation of America.  But as the statistics show, nothing could be further from the truth.

And the truth is…

  • In E-commerce… brick and mortar employees today perform many of the same tasks as their predecessors in the 1980s, and their real wages reflect that lack of change. In fact, they earn about the same today in inflation-adjusted dollars as they did then.  Meanwhile, workers in e-commerce fulfillment equipped with tech tools and better information earn, on average, over 30% more than their brick-and-mortar counterparts (according to researchers at Progressive Policy Institute).
  • Over the past two years, brick-and-mortar employment has fallen by about 1%, or 123,000 jobs, while e-commerce has added 178,000 jobs. If you add in the new wave of express delivery workers required today, it adds another 58,000 jobs.
  • While e-commerce employment will continue to soar, increased automation of fulfillment centers will bring down distribution costs which today have been estimated to be as much as half of the final purchase price on a wide range of consumer goods. Driving down those prices of course helps customers.
  • And that fulfillment automation will then lead to changes in manufacturing too. When individual items can be sorted and delivered inexpensively, the economics of small-batch and custom manufacturing become ever more attractive and persuasive.  It’s also likely these small-batch custom manufacturers will be located closer to the ultimate consumer.
  • We’re fast moving into an Internet of Goods era, states Michael Mandel, a senior fellow at the Mack Institute for Innovation Management at the Wharton School, in an article he wrote in the October 16th issue of The Wall Street Journal .
  • And finally, if e-commerce is the indicator we think it is, tech-savvy jobs that simply require workers who “have a good mix of physical and cognitive skills, just the like the industrial jobs of the early-20th century” will mean plenty of jobs for folks that don’t have a college education. It’s all just an example once again of how the march of progress, while not a straight line, inevitably replaces old jobs with newer, better-paying ones.

And the real lesson in all this?  For the willing, tech is your friend, and it will be your future.  It will be the source of more and more (and better-paying) jobs.  It’s nothing to fear.  But it is something to learn.

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There are any number of suggested approaches to implementing a business software system, but a few tips offered by frequent ERP blogger Eric Kimberling contain some key points that we think all software vendors could agree with.  We’ll share a few of those tips, with which we concur, here.  We could add a few more from our own experience, but these provide a great foundation in helping to avoid time and cost overruns.

  • Create your project management organizational structure. Your ERP provider will have a project manager, or project architect, or maybe both as we often do.  You need to have one on the client side too.  As well, remember (as should your provider) that there are a great many non-technical project aspects to attend to that involve work streams, people issues, organizational changes and the not-so-simple mechanics of having staff available for training and implementation when they already have their ‘real jobs’ to do!
  • Define project roles and responsibilities. No two projects are alike.  Your provider knows in advance (or should know) exactly who will be doing your training, your customizations, your technical work and writing your reports.  But ultimately, it’s your project, so be sure you have defined all the roles at your end, and that each person knows who they’ll be working with.  Strike a balance between your “internal competencies and your bandwidth” as Kimberling puts it.
  • Make key strategic decisions regarding your implementation.  Again, all projects have their unique challenges.  (We’ll get 90% of our side right and still beat ourselves up over how we could have done the other 10% better.)  So early in your project, work with your partners to realistically define project phases and timetables.  Hint: all clients and most implementers underestimate the actual time required, and the unplanned hiccups along the way.  Data conversion is typically one large problem area.  Another hint: the less data you absolutely have to transfer from old to new system, the easier (i.e., less costly) your project.  Remember, you can always turn on the old system on the few occasions where a missing piece of old data is critical.
  • Define your future state business.  Don’t fall into the trap of letting your software always drive your business process improvements.  The software should be made to fit the way you do business.  That’s why buying a ‘customizable’ system is so critically important.  Modifications and customizations exist for a reason: they support the business’ intrinsic competitive advantages.  Don’t settle for software or process flows that do not match up with your own best practices.  Defining your future state can often be accomplished in stage one, after you’ve mapped the current state and identified the gaps and technology touch points you need.
  • Think people. Many projects fail or succeed based on how well firms have handled the changes to the organization and to the workflows that a newer, better system require.  Remember that people are always on the critical path to project success.  And don’t wait until it’s time to get folks trained to bring them into the picture.  The time to involve your team is at the very start of your project.  But that’s a post for another time.

 

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Today we’ll feature some of the updates and new views we saw at the recent annual NAV Directions conference in Orlando.  We’re sharing these with our own clients, but it only seemed right to share what’s new from NAV with our larger audience of blog readers as well.  So here goes…

We recently returned from the Microsoft Dynamics NAV annual conference and  we’re pleased to share what we learned there.  We gained insight as to the road ahead for NAV, and saw a number of the fast-growing family of third-party applications many companies are using to enhance NAV’s underlying capabilities.  We thought we’d share a few of those with you here today…

  • Microsoft announced that the forthcoming 2018 product – code named ‘Tenerife’ – would be “the single NAV product, with full NAV functionality, for both cloud and on-premise” going forward. That’s important, because Microsoft is making a push into the cloud like never before, and it’s good to know that the Dynamics NAV product is one they’ve chosen to be fully present in both forms: hosted on someone else’s server (in the cloud) or on your own (on-premise) for the foreseeable future.
  • While past NAV upgrades From Microsoft have recently been scheduled annually in October, this year’s date has not yet been announced. We’ll keep you posted.
  • NAV will continue to be customizable to the way you work – another important consideration. Long true of on-premise versions, it’s now slated to be true in the cloud via ‘extensions.’
  • ‘Tenerife’ (or NAV 2018) will mark a new stage in the interplay between Office 365 and Dynamics 365 (the current cloud product), specifically around Outlook and the Office 365 Business Center, a collection of apps based on NAV.

Among recently announced enhancements from our favorite 3rd party providers…

  • Warehouse Insight: Mobile warehouse data collection using handhelds in the warehouse to pick, pack & ship… Get real-time access to NAV inventory & production… Perform all those inventory and warehouse functions from hand-held devices… Capture lot & serial
  • Advanced inventory counting now simplifies inventory and cycle count entry, reconciliation, posting and analysis.
  • Integrated shipping with all major carriers including FedEx and UPS with real-time, detailed package management.
  • NAV Sales Configurator: Accurately quote your products with multiple configuration options that allow for assemble-to-order configurations directly from quotes and orders, or create production BOMs for more complex production environments.
  • Additionally: Production scheduling solutions from Insight Works and others… advanced document management and new expense reporting from ZetaDocs… and more.

Dynamics NAV is Microsoft’s best-selling ERP system worldwide, by far, proudly serving over 120,000 companies today worldwide.  Knowing that it’s a platform well poised for the future both on-premise and in the cloud is a strong message going forward for all those users, and we’re glad to see the product continue to grow in both functionality and users, worldwide.

 

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