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Archive for the ‘General ERP Articles’ Category

Michael Hartmann is CEO of QBS Group and a former Microsoft employee.  In a recent article, he writes about how he thinks ERP buyers will approach Dynamics 365 Business Central (the ERP system formerly known as “Dynamics NAV” or “Navision” for those keeping score), as well what it means to the market and to resellers (like us!).  We’ll share a few of his thoughts here today.

The news is really very good, Hartmann notes.  From a bumpy start in a dual-world of NAV software and the new sort-of NAV D/365 platform, Microsoft has now finally moved to a much clearer path “knowing that it is not just cloud enabled, it is actually developed from the ground up to be the SaaS platform for Dynamics in small and medium businesses. Microsoft will keep a dual strategy, allowing the partner and customer to choose respectively on-premise (Dynamics NAV 2018) or a cloud deployment.”

Hartmann points out that with the new Business Central product now fully available – all based on the original NAV code base – the question arises of how quickly it will be adopted by the marketplace.  He argues that some of the basic rules of the ERP market have not changed.

For one thing, despite the cloud positioning, most existing clients have modifications to their systems.  Migrating these capabilities, Hartmann says, will take time and investment by capable partners, in order to move these modifications into the new “extensions” model Microsoft is providing for modifications to its cloud product.  And, he notes: “customers want to work with an ERP solution that has industry capabilities and they need to mirror business processes that reflect the specifics of their industry.”

Finally, he comments on the path forward for resellers:

“Selling, configuring, deploying, and supporting an ERP platform requires specific skills. Partners will be held accountable if the ERP system does not produce the desired business impact and keep the operation up and running. It is not an easy “expand to ERP” move for an IT partner.

“As a result, generally speaking, only when the trusted partner of an ERP customer is ready to offer migration services will customers go to the new platform, such as Dynamics 365 Business Central.  And it is not the type of quick upgrade that many of us have seen in the past with Office or other productivity apps. Microsoft has considered this and is now investing heavily in a program called Ready-to-Go. This program allows [the reseller] to run through a set of milestones that will make sure [an]existing NAV solution can be successfully migrated and deployed on Dynamics 365 Business Central. Hitting these milestones requires training and work from multiple resources inside a partner organization.

The conclusion to be drawn is that the move from on-premise to cloud will be a journey – something we’ve expounded on many times in the past.  It’s an evolution, not an event.  The great news is that current NAV clients can be confident that their solutions are going to run – either on-premise or in the cloud, at their choosing – for a very long time to come.

And that is very comforting and reassuring to everyone – customers, users and resellers alike – indeed.

You can follow the full text of Hartmann’s article here.

 

 

 

 

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As ERP implementers, we’ve seen many of them: the signs that an ERP project is in jeopardy.  Or in some cases, we get called in after it’s happened, and are asked to help set things right.  In that sense, we’re in the same business as the folks at Panorama Consulting, who recently released a brief outline highlighting some of those very warning signs.  Their list was complete and good enough that we thought we share excerpts of it in our post today.  Here then is their Top 10 Warning Signs list:

 

  1. Unrealistic implementation project timeline, budget, and resources. Unrealistic expectations lead to bad decisions.  A strong dose of reality goes a long way.  This one’s more common that you think – and no one thinks it’s going to happen to them.
  2. Lack of involvement from your executive team. Exec involvement needs to go beyond approving budgets and timelines, and must include being involved in key decisions all along the way.
  3. Unclear business processes and requirements. Take time to complete this step clearly, in writing, with full team cooperation before you begin your implementation process.  The Business Process Analysis is the critical first step toward project success.
  4. Not enough time spent on business process reengineering. If you don’t refine and redefine your business processes, you’re just “paving the cow paths” as they say.  Or automating already inefficient processes that “bake in” those inefficiencies for the long run.
  5. Your organizational change management strategy consists solely of end user training. User training is important, but it’s only one component of what you’ll need to overcome resistance to new ways and new systems.  Change-impact plans and constant communication are required.
  6. Too little or too much dependency on outside ERP consultants. Don’t underestimate your need for outside help, but don’t “outsource” your whole implementation either.  Remember, it’s your system, and you need to own it.  Find the balance that leverages outside help while allowing your team to take project ownership for the long haul.  It’s hard work.
  7. Ill-defined project governance and controls. Make sure you have clearly assigned approval processes in place for changes and change orders.  Scope changes, customization requests and unexpected challenges need to be met with an intelligent process that vets each change, if you want to keep your project within scope, budget and timeline.
  8. No business case or benefits realization plan. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, so be sure to have benchmarks, goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) defined and thought through before you begin to implement.  As Panorama says, your ERP investment should be “a tool to manage and optimize potential business benefits during and after implementation.”
  9. The project is managed like an IT project. The only truly successful projects, as benchmarked by several of the criteria above, are those that approach ERP as a strategic business effort.  While ERP involves technology, in the end, it’s about the business, and not the technology.
  10. You don’t have a contingency budget. Most projects don’t go exactly as planned, and you don’t want to “paint yourself into a corner,” as Panorama notes.  Plan, budget-wise, for the unexpected, so you can finish up your project satisfied that you completed your goals.  They recommend 15% to 20% of expected project cost as a contingency.  A word to the wise.

We agree with Panorama’s assessment as shared today, and encourage anyone to match up their own ERP project goals and parameters with those listed above.  Thinking about them will be some of the best time you’ll spend in your entire project.

 

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In our prior post we announced the April 2nd release of the “new NAV” whose name has officially been changed by Microsoft to “Dynamics 365 Business Central.”  We noted then a lack of space in a single blog post to parse all the official announcement’s details, so we’ll cover those here in our concluding post wrap-up.

Current NAV users may be asking themselves: What about us?  Is our beloved NAV going away, only to be replaced by this new cloud-based incarnation?  Of that we can give a resounding ‘No.’  Recall those 160,000 companies out there using NAV, across 2,700,000 users, spread over 195 countries around the world.  Microsoft earns an awful lot (even by Microsoft standards!) of revenues from that installed base, and they’re not anxious to disrupt that.  Rather, by the D365 Business Central evolution, they are fully intent on building a very large base of next generation customers, but still built upon that core NAV code base in which countless millions have already been invested.

In fact, the new D365 BC has a lot to recommend it.  Following are some key highlights:

  • A cloud presence supported on Microsoft Azure, among the world’s leading global cloud platforms.
  • A deep focus on BI – business intelligence, analytics, big data… call it what you will, but the integration of Dynamics 365 with Office 365 and LinkedIn and the custom applications developed by third parties, ISVs and partners means there is an enormous world of data out there to be mined for business insights and improved decision making, in a way never before available. If there’s a big takeaway, we think it’s about this openness to big data.
  • When you realize that instances of D365 BC will also include Azure, Business Intelligence via Power BI, Power Apps, and Microsoft Flow it gives new meaning to the term “all-in-one business management solution.”
  • Starting in fall 2019, there will be no “NAV 2019.” Instead, you’ll have Dynamics 365 Business Central on-premise.  Just like clients up until now have always enjoyed it.  The new cloud implementations are simply an additional, new, future-facing option.
  • The product will be robust. With the entire existing NAV code base, users are offered Marketing, Sales, Service, Operations, Supply Chain, Warehouse Management, Discrete Manufacturing, Talent, and of course, Finance.  It’s full NAV objects and functionality with D365 branded vertical solutions and ISV cloud embed programs (like PrintVis, already a leading business management solution for the print industry).
  • Partners can still do individual client customizations, but we’ll do them via “extensions,” with an option for publishing those extensions in the app store.
  • The code will continue to evolve as Visual Studio, but with 44 business APIs available at the announcement, it leaves the product open to all manner of 3rd party apps and extensions in many other environments including C#, Python, Azure, Android Studio and many others.
  • Pricing will be three-tiered with choices including: Team Member (similar to the former “lite” user), Essentials (like the former “full” user), and Premium (includes Manufacturing & Service).

This new release of Dynamics 365 Business Central is destined to change the face of the ERP landscape and opens up the product and our customers to a whole new world of data insights, interoperability with other pieces and whole new worlds of functionality.  The release is just the first step in the long journey forward to ensure that, by any name, the Microsoft ERP product is destined to be here, in many forms, for a very long time.

We’ll continue to keep you apprised of future Dynamics 365 changes and announcements as always.  For now, welcome to the future!

 

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Microsoft Dynamics NAV has long been one of the world’s most popular, most implemented, best-selling ERP software programs for managing the small to midsize business.  Today, over 160,000 companies, deploy NAV across 2,700,000 users in 195 countries!  So when the core product evolves, the ensuing buzz cuts a wide swath across the IT community.  These days, a product long code-named ‘Tenerife’ is doing just that, as the quickly evolving SaaS (Software as a Service) next generation product begins its long journey as the future of NAV.

And as of yesterday (April 2, 2018) NAV is now (drum roll please…) Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central.

To begin with, what we’re seeing here is the evolution of NAV from an on-premise based software solution that’s been around for decades, that then evolved into a cloud-deployable solution (hosted by anyone from your local reseller to global partners who specialized in hosting), into the latest rendition, in which the CBFKAN (code base formerly known as NAV) evolves onto a Microsoft SaaS platform that is sold on a subscription basis (by “named user”) to users within a company for one flat monthly per-user cost.  (There will actually be three levels of pricing, dependent on the ‘type’ of user you choose to purchase.)

To reiterate, D365 Business Central is the complete installation of NAV software, that is, it’s the same code base.  That means that the functionality and flexibility and extensibility for which NAV has been long known are still there and fully functional.  NAV is a special, unique product, so that code base integrity is important.  But while the product itself remains intact, the ‘branding’ (and hence, name) is changing.

With D365 BC, there are some new wrinkles.  For one, it puts the individual users – the ‘clients’ – in a web-only situation.  These clients run on tablets and phones or in your computer’s web browser but, notably lacking at least at this point, is a traditional Windows client.  For existing NAV users, that might be a deal-breaker right there.  For the newer user starting fresh, perhaps not so much.

The software license is now provided via the Cloud Solution Provider program, a newer Microsoft delivery program in which providers must be registered.  It renders users as ‘named’ users (one client instance by individual name, generally) paid for via a monthly subscription-based fee.  There are no ‘concurrent’ users in the D365 BC/CSP model, but there are also no upfront software costs or what today is known as annual maintenance.  It’s all bundled into the one monthly fee.

D365 Business Central takes advantage of an app store philosophy embraced years ago by Apple and later others, in which applications are purchased through an online store.  With D365/BC, these apps add or extend the functionality of the base NAV product, and fit neatly into preassigned code areas within NAV for ‘plug-in’ flexibility and ease of installation.  In NAV, these are known as ‘extensions.’  The aim, at least for Microsoft, is to build a large and robust community of extension developers and users, thus growing the overall base of Dynamics 365 users.

There’s more to the announcement than will fit in a single post, so we’ll finish this post in a second installment in our next post.  Stay tuned…

 

 

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We noted in our prior post that underlying the cryptocurrency called “bitcoin” is what, in the long run, may be the more important element at play here: the blockchain.  Our prior post quotes The Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims’ fine explanation of the concept.  Now we’ll look at some important applications of blockchain technology.

In logistics, Walmart already uses a blockchain to list for sale over a million items, including chicken and almond milk, that provides its supply chain with traceability all the way forward and backward from source to sale.

Global shipper Maersk uses IBM’s blockchain technology to track shipping containers and move them through customs faster.

Both efforts are expanding rapidly, and other companies cited by Mims include Kroger, Nestle,Tyson Foods and Unilever.

A company called Everledger was started in 2014 with the intent of creating a blockchain that traces every certified diamond in the world.  It already has over 2 million diamonds in its registry, and adds another million or so per year.  Everledger records 40 measures of each stone, lending it traceability “from when it’s pulled from the earth to the day it’s purchased by a consumer.”  Every participant in that chain from miner to retailer maintains a node with a copy of the database in the blockchain.

A company in Israel puts internet-connected sensors on pallets and uses business intelligence analytics to determine when and where items could be damaged.  Blockchain participants can record every stage of the package’s journey via package, pallet and shipping container.

Even whole countries are adopting blockchain.  Dubai intends to be “the first blockchain powered government in the world by 2020.”  By moving its central record of all real estate transactions onto a blockchain, it will be faster and easier to transfer property titles, for example.

As blockchain technology becomes more widely accepted and integrated into supply chains, it has the potential, as Mims notes, to be a “fundamental enabling technology,” similar to how new data transmission standards across networks made the internet we know today possible.  It could one day underlie everything from “how we vote to whom we connect with online to what we buy.”

That being said, it’s wise to recognize that the current bitcoin craze is merely one application of the blockchain technology.  Clearly, much more will be, and is, possible through blockchain.  Bitcoin may — or may not — be here to stay; but blockchain seems to have all the merits and rapid adoption of a technological foundation that could change the way businesses run.

 

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With all the hype surrounding bitcoin these days making it sound more and more like a modern-day equivalent of the 17th century tulip bulb mania, it’s important to remember that there actually is something important going on here.  And it’s not about the bitcoin.  It’s about the underlying technology for bitcoin – the blockchain.

Investment manias may come and go, and bitcoin will likely make some folks rich (it already has for those who bought bitcoin at the start of 2017 at $963 and watched its price soar to nearly $20,000 by year-end; it’s since fallen back to around $8,300 as of this writing), and likely leave some ‘greater fools’ broke a little further down the line.  After all, bitcoin has no intrinsic value, it’s not based economically on anything, and its essential value is merely the result of what some other person is willing to pay for it.  As a currency proxy, it has a ways to go.

But the blockchain that bitcoin is built upon – that’s another thing.  And a recent article by Christopher Mims in The Wall Street Journal provides some of the best explanation we’ve seen for why it matters.

What is a blockchain?  As Mims explains:

“It’s essentially a secure database, or ledger, spread across multiple computers.  Everyone has the same record of all transactions, so tampering with one instance of it is pointless.”

He goes on to explain that the underlying cryptography…

“…allows agents to securely interact – transfer assets, for example – while guaranteeing that once a transaction has been made the blockchain remains at immutable record of it.”

Blockchain has the power to transform industries for three reasons, notes Mims.

First, it’s well-suited to transactions that require trust and a permanent record.

Second, blockchain requires the cooperation of many different third parties.

And third is… the hype.  “The excitement around cryptocurrency gives blockchain the visibility to attract developers and encourage adoption.”  In this way, blockchain resembles the cloud, which also gave many industries “new business processes, disruptive startups and new divisions within existing companies, an ecosystem of supporting technologies, and new ways to charge for services.”

We’ll take a look at some of that disruption in our concluding post, so stay tuned.

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Our friends at Insight Works, a provider of automated warehouse and software solutions, have pointed out the most common ways companies lose money through warehouse and inventory mistakes.  Considering that these mistakes are common, and that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the number of U.S. warehouses has risen 15% since 2010, they are worth sharing.

Overstocking.  It’s an expensive issue for all supply chain operations.  Statistics show that U.S. companies are sitting on $1.43 of inventory for every $1 in sales – and that’s too much.  Errors that range from incorrect bin labeling and putaway procedures, to lack of oversight or pure laziness are all contributors.  But the bottom line is a considerable amount of tied-up working capital which, if recaptured, represents a sizeable bump in the bottom line.

That’s where automation helps, and often, very quickly once implemented.  A warehouse management system can automate stocking processes and ensure accuracy in stock counts, while also supporting managers with insights into optimal time to restock.

Mispicks-and Mis-shipments.  A single mis-pick costs, on average, about $22, and the average U.S. company has been shown to lose $390,000 annually due to mis-picks (yes, this obviously includes some pretty large firms, but not exclusively).

Here again, automation pays.  A robust warehouse management system can pinpoint and address inefficiencies. Barcode scanners help reduce the chances of mispicks and mis-shipments by eliminating risks associated with manual data entry.  Any picking errors are identified instantly by the barcode scanner, and incorrect items never make it to shipping, let alone customers.

Inventory count errors.  Mistakes in cycle counts, prevalent in manual or paper-based systems, hurt efficiency and drive up mistakes of either too much, or occasionally, too little inventory.

As the folks at Insights Works note… While inventory counts are undertaken to help support accurate inventory records, manual counts are time-consuming and prone to error.  A worker may, for example, accidentally group differently sized items together and count them as the same size, resulting in an incorrect count.  Replacing these manual processes with an automated system that leverages barcode scanners can reduce time spent on cycle and inventory counts and cut down on errors.  Best of all, when items are scanned and counted, data is automatically added to the inventory management system, further reducing administrative tasks and supporting accuracy without extra work.

Picking time.  Today’s WMS systems can direct workers on the most efficient routes to make their picks when filling orders.  Some can even provide optimal picking order based on certain order characteristics.  Workers save time, increase pick rates, and substantially reduce picking errors compared to manual systems.  This helps make even new, less experienced workers more efficient in short order.

Incoming inventory errors.  Some warehouses still use time-consuming and error-prone manual processes for counting and reconciling incoming shipments, which delay outgoing orders awaiting updated inventory data.  Instead, workers can leverage barcode scanning to more quickly receive and verify incoming shipments because scanned data is automatically sent to the warehouse management system — no extra steps needed. This supports speed and accuracy, and ensures that human errors related to incoming inventory are avoided.

 

The bottom line is this: Automated warehouse management systems have been around for years, and they greatly improve the efficiencies of all warehouse operations.  In fact, probably no other ERP automation component provides a faster payback.  If you’re not already fully automated ‘out back,’ perhaps it’s time you asked yourself why.

 

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