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Archive for the ‘General ERP Articles’ Category

Recently the folks at Panorama Consulting wrote an article about who should be on a company’s digital transformation project management team.  Included were the results of a study by two professors who came up with a clever way to think of the personality traits required of that team.  We’ll get to that in a moment, but first…

They first noted that teams can run from a very few players to as many as 15 or so.  Most, in our experience, have about 3 to 5 key members.  That team will develop a project charter to assign responsibilities and resources, both internal and external, throughout the project.  This steering committee decides which tasks can be handed off, and which (like final sign off on future-state business processes) cannot.  The charter defines how decisions are made, and by whom.

The team also addresses the fact that while major transformation is occurring, the business must still go on.  Day to day operations are ongoing, even as the new special project takes precedence, and senior managers need to determine how that’s going to work.  Overtime?  Suck it up?  Hire temps?  Wait for a slowdown in business?  Whatever the answer, it must be addressed at the outset, and adhered to thereafter.

In their article Panorama notes that…

“Some organizations build their project team based on who they believe to be the smartest or most technically-skilled. While technical expertise and operational knowledge are important, communication skills are also valuable, especially when the project team is tasked with executing an organizational change management plan to engage and train employees.”

Professors Kenneth Benne and Paul Sheats published a study, Functional Roles of Group Members, in which they identified key personality traits that contribute to strong teams. Here are five of those personality traits:

  • The Cheerleader encourages other project team members to participate and recognizes them for their contributions. This role is useful for encouraging engagement on both the project team and throughout the organization.
  • The Peacemaker helps project team members reach a consensus when compromise is necessary. Peacemakers focus on the success of the organization as a whole. This role is useful when defining and prioritizing business processes.
  • The Sergeant-at-Arms ensures the project team meets deadlines and expectations while adhering to the organization’s core values. This role can help develop strong project controls and governance and gently remind team members of these guidelines.
  • The Good-Humor Man relieves the tension and anxiety of digital transformation. The right amount of jest can lighten the mood and reenergize team members.
  • The Contrarian is a critical thinker and innovator who is not afraid to share his/her opinion. This role can challenge project team members to think about the project from a people and process perspective instead of a technical perspective. The contrarian can also ensure that the project team preserves the organization’s competitive advantage during business process management.

Make sense for you?  Worth thinking about, for sure.

 

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Companies executing a digital transformation in an effort to keep up with the pace of business change today and all its competitive challenges need to consider a lot of strategies when doing so.  A recent article from Panorama Consulting reminds us that setting the right expectations comes first.

 

Starting with a statement of project scope, you need to then develop the business case – why are you implementing new technology in the first place? – and then work out the elements of ROI (return on investment), and the corresponding budget and timeline.  Clear understanding of expectations must then be communicated throughout the organization.

Timelines, let alone budgets, are often very difficult to estimate.  Changes to both are inevitable.  But you can help your planning by considering a few aspects that are often overlooked.  Among the key project tasks Panorama’s consultants advise organizations to remember are:

  • Quantifying specific benefits you hope to achieve, such as visibility into real-time data, visibility across functional areas, reduced inventory and decreased days to close
  • Developing a master data management strategy and data migration strategy
  • Conducting an organizational readiness assessment
  • Developing and executing an organizational change management plan
  • Assessing staffing needs for each phase of the project, and possibly augmenting your staff with outside resources
  • Working with functional leads to map current and future state business processes and identify pain points
  • Working with functional leads to define requirements, validate requirements and schedule software demos
  • Recruiting stakeholders from different departments, business units and locations to help define requirements
  • Distributing workshop guides to prepare employees for requirements gathering workshops
  • Prioritizing functional requirements into three categories (mandatory, value-add, nice to have)
  • Balancing the need for software customization with the cost of training
  • Reskilling employees whose jobs will become automated
  • Meeting with the vendor for an organizational design session

It’s a lot of ground to cover, but considering these details before you commit can save a lot of time, money and frustration, and go along ways towards ensuring your digital transformation project’s success.

 

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We’re glad you asked!  And with the help of our friends at Insight Works, a leading provider of 3rd party and added-functionality software solutions for Microsoft Dynamics (NAV), we’ll share a few ideas with you today… just to get the folks who aren’t so automated out there on the shop floor… thinking!

 

Following are a few activities you might not think of initially when you think about production, but each of these represents a streamlining of your production flow, speedier order output, and all the corresponding effects upon efficiency, throughput and the bottom line.

Production Order Assignment – Enable users to assign production orders to Shop Floor employees. Dispatch lists can then be filtered in a number of different ways to show specific production orders, like assigned or unassigned.

Shift Scheduling – Gives users the ability to schedule recurring shift patterns. Recurring patterns are quickly and easily configured with the shift schedule configuration list and can be applied to groups of employees and individual employees.  Applying a schedule will commit the pattern to ‘Alternate Shifts,’ allowing easy overrides and manual configuration of exceptions.  You can even view a visual shift calendar to make things simpler.

Production Dispatch Lists – Used as a primary means of clocking into production orders or viewing outstanding work. When there are hundreds of rows displayed it can be difficult to identify specific items, so Shop Floor Insight streamlines processes by only displaying the list of production orders that are relevant.  Effective dispatch means scannability (a small, focused list), focused on the task at hand (by restricting which work centers are shown), and process-focused (i.e., utilizing global filters so that only orders ready to be released are released, and only finished when actually finished).

Cleaning up barcodes – Barcode entries are used to hold mapping for people, production orders, jobs, and more. Over time these entries can grow in volume, especially on installs that have a very high throughput of barcodes, and generally need cleanup to keep scanning speed fast.  Cleaning barcodes provides options to decide how to clean, whether you’d like to just remove finished production orders, or people that have been removed from the system.

Color code your visual cues – Color-coded visual cues are a great way to help identify which time card lines are open (not yet clocked out), as well as whether the setup time or runtime has been clocked-in – all of which help to make time card management easier.

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Doing more with less.  That’s what most customers are trying to do when they ask about EDI.  Increasing business velocity… new supply chain channels (that often skip traditional pieces, like retailers)… and the desire to use their existing accounting and supply chain tools to do more – automatically.

Historically, manufacturing was one of the key sweet spots for EDI (electronic data interchange).  Over the years, three types of document were most common: purchase orders, ASNs (Advanced Shipping Notices) and invoices.

Today, the range has been extended.  Payment orders, remittance advice, warehouse shipping orders, file transfers, freight manifests and lots of other data now changes hands between supplier and customer automatically, with relatively little human intervention.  And as long as nothing changes, EDI is pretty much hands-off, once up and running.  Today, companies are sharing more documents and data, with less staff, than ever before – mostly, because they have to.

eRetailers (Amazon, Wayfair, etc.) have helped change the rules as goods move from manufacturer or distributor to customer without ever passing through a retailer.

So who’s doing EDI?  According to a survey conducted done in 2015 and 2016 of readers of MSDynamicsWorld, about half were already EDI users or customers, and among those, about one-fourth used legacy commercial systems, another one-third used a “custom” solution, and over 40% had already begun using more modern commercial EDI systems, which are now commonly available to run with most accounting and ERP systems on the market today.

Given the explosion in users and document types, EDI clients all face similar challenges, and survey respondents cited the most common as…

  • Customizations: the most polarizing issue. Nearly 80% of users had some sort of customizations, with about 20% describing “extensive” mods.  Most cited “business rules validation” as the main contributor, especially when those “rules” change frequently.  Others noted the need for modifications driven by new features powered by their underlying ERP/accounting systems.  While survey respondents reported preferring fully “out-of-the-box” solutions, they acknowledged that customizations are often needed.
  • The second most-cited challenge was “error handling,” followed by “managing transaction levels” (i.e., we keep getting busier…).
  • Onboarding new trading partners was cited as a challenge, as were the challenges of educating personnel in EDI usage.
  • Managing support and service costs is always a challenge when volume is predicated on external factors, as is the case with EDI, and transaction costs are always an irritant, especially when audits reveal their sizable investment here.

Perhaps the most important takeaways: legacy systems are becoming a thing of the past as leaner and more flexible EDI solutions become available, and those “home grown” solutions are freighted with an awful lot of excess baggage in terms of costs and maintenance requirements.

As the technology has evolved, more companies than ever before are choosing to adopt commercially available standalone EDI systems that they can integrate with their existing accounting and order processing software.  And as the costs of doing so decline, along with the need for customization levels, the trend is expected only to continue.

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The world of ERP, like all tech initiatives, is constantly evolving.  A recent opinion piece from Panorama Consulting suggests that in this light, ERP implementations — which have a “bad reputation” for being over-budget, over-time, and low on the ROI scale – are being replaced by “digital transformations,” a broader initiative designed to position the organization for future growth, accelerate competitive advantage and produce real ROI.

Our image above portrays some of the contrasts defined in Panorama’s post, found here.

They prescribe a change management strategy based on “large-scale change,” noting that if you’re after a “truly digital transformation,” then you must consider the large-scale change: “…that means you’re changing more than your technology – you’re undergoing large-scale change and fundamentally altering structures, processes and employees’ day-to-day jobs. If new technology is merely enhancing one of these elements, then you’re likely experiencing small-scale change.”

Like many initiatives, large-scale change requires three key elements:

  • preparing for change, including risk analysis and a readiness assessment and roadmap
  • managing the change, with a focus on communications, and overcoming resistance
  • reinforcing the change, where you gather employee feedback to assess results, root causes of resistance, and celebrate successes.

Key signposts for change management failure, according to Panorama include:

  • lack of executive sponsorship
  • ignoring the “people side” of change
  • lack of dedicated resources
  • ignoring resistance to change
  • no communications plan

When you think about it, those are many of the same hallmarks of failed ERP implementation plans as well.  There’s a familiar theme here, and in the end it’s really about the scale of change you’re trying to implement.  The larger the scale, or the greater the desire for ROI, r the more intense the focus on positioning for growth… the more executive talent, time and resources, as well as communications, strategy and roadmap creation become critical to a successful result.

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

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Assuming you’ve digested our prior post on blockchain basics and its importance in creating secure transactions, we’ll look now in this second post at some applications that are aimed at proving blockchain’s value to users everywhere

We noted earlier that blockchain provides secure digitally-signed access to transactions to all members of the chain.  The data is distributed across a network of servers rather than just a single server, thus making it transparent, immutable and secure for reasons touted earlier.  So then, what can we do with this new framework that will make a difference in our own lives?  Let’s look at a few examples, as provided in a recent article by Nir Ksahetri, a business professor at the Univ. of North Carolina, in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.

Let’s start with distribution.  A number of companies including Cisco Systems, Bosch and Bank of New York Mellon have banded together to create a blockchain-based IoT security standard, to bind together weaker IoT identities like serial numbers, barcodes, UPCs and QR codes into stronger crypto-graphic entities.  Widespread use would allow device makers to securely distribute updates and patches, even if a device is moved or sold (since all that information would be part of the blockchain transaction record).  Manufacturers can be sure they’re communicating with the right dev ice.

In health care and banking, providers today store your personal information and we as consumers have little control over who sees it or shares it.  With blockchain, entire medical records or banking records can be stored in encrypted ledgers with the patient’s private-key.  Changes to the record can be communicated via public keys and providers with permission can see the data with patient or customer authorization and permission, but they can’t store it.

In developing countries, land fraud due to administrative corruption is a problem.   Corrupt officials alter property records to benefit themselves in exchange for bribes, creating land fraud.  With blockchain, if a property changes ownership, the transaction record reflects time, location, price and parties involved.  Government agencies can authenticate the title information when entered, and law enforcement agencies can inspect documents to enforce compliance with “know-your-customer” and anti-money laundering policies.  Blockchain of course also protects against unauthorized access to data and the owner controls the ultimate (private-key) record.

All these applications, and many more, are being (or have been) developed utilizing blockchain technology, and we’re only at the beginning.  While challenges loom, like bringing down costs at the IoT and labeling level, creating wider user-community acceptance and providing better communication to decision makers of blockchain’s many benefits, it’s all coming.  Already nearly four in ten companies (of 369) surveyed a year ago by the Journal were deploying or considering deployment of blockchain technology.  It’s only a matter of time.

 

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Among the most promising of new technologies, yet one that most people know virtually nothing about, is blockchain.  And yet, it’s going to be very important – already is, some argue – to commerce around the world.  One key reason is the very thing that most computer users lately have come to fear the most: security.  Security is getting harder these days, not easier, and blockchain may well be the answer.

If you’ve heard about blockchain at all, it probably has something to do with bitcoin or other so-called cryptocurrencies, a new mode of currency that is in fact built on top of a blockchain, but which are at best a distraction from blockchain’s real value and importance.  Ignore all the bitcoin hype and naysayers might still argue that blockchain is just another way of doing computerized accounting.  Fair enough.  But the technology is so much more important than even that.  And its success could revolutionize the world of computer security, one that ultimately affects all of us as users.

Fair to say, blockchain is deserving of your attention if you work in the world of business, information technology, or are just a day to day user of modern technology – which adds up to most of us.

What is blockchain? Simply put, it’s a digital record of transactions that are stored on multiple servers around the world.  It could be hundreds of computers, thousands, or even millions.  Because of blockchain’s method of distributing data over a network, it doesn’t carry the weight and responsibility of trying to store (and secure) all that data on a single server.  That means that it cannot be easily tampered with, hacked or disturbed.  Post a record of a transaction on a blockchain, and it’s there for all the world to see, safely encrypted no less, but visible to all with rights to see it, rendering it virtually impossible to alter or falsify the record.

Blockchains use secure digital signatures to verify a user’s identity.  Users validate transactions through a private key when a user creates an account.  A private key is a very long, random and virtually impossible-to-hack alphanumeric code known only to the person who controls the record.  Other users can then have access to public keys created from those private keys to share selected (allowed) information.  So a common example is a bitcoin ‘wallet’ where others can send bitcoin payments (using a public key) but only the person with the private key can spend the bitcoin.

Notably, this blockchain security has never been hacked.  (Bitcoin exchanges have been hacked, but the underlying blockchain has never been hacked.)

As Nir Kshetri, professor of business at the Univ. of No. Carolina points out, “Blockchain’s key features – decentralizations, immutability and cryptography-based authentication – are what make it such a powerful cybersecurity tool.  A user’s identity cannot be forged because only he or she has the private-key proof of identity.  Third parties can be given limited access to records, while blockchain’s built-in audit trail means there is complete documentation of the creation, modification and deletion of records.”

This has very real and powerful implications to applications ranging from simple barcoding to the Internet of Things in the world’s supply chains, and in realms ranging from the storing of your personal medical records to the elimination of land transaction fraud in Africa.

We’ll take a look at how blockchain can bring secure access to a whole new world of applications like these in our follow-up post.  Stay tuned…

 

 

T

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