Monday, February 23, 2015

ERP Mentoring

Ask anyone anywhere who has accomplished anything, the proof is there, if you know what you are looking for.  Ask a professional sports player how they perform at such a high level.  Ask a professional sports player why they have a coach, after all they typically have been doing the same sport since they were a young child.  What more is there to learn?  At some point don’t they know it all?

What is it that you want to accomplish and is it realistic in the time frame and budget you have set?

If you want to achieve more, then you need to associate with someone who has fruit on their tree in the area of your need.  Someone who has succeeded and has experience with the challenges you expect to have and the hurdles you are not even aware of.

When settlers started expanding west (here in the United States for my foreign readers) they looked for guides that knew the territory they would travel, the challenges they would likely encounter and knew which resources they would need.  How long would the trip take?  What would they experience?  Had anyone else been successful?  How would they know when they were “there”?  It was a big land and easy to get lost.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions have similar challenges for businesses and equally challenging objectives for the solution providers.

  • What is working now?  What is not working?  Why? 
  • Have you mapped out your processes?
  • Do you know what makes money and what increases overhead?
  • What amount of budget have you allocated to an ERP project?
  • Who are the stakeholders?  Who makes the final decision?
  • What would it cost you if you did nothing?

How long can you remain competitive if you continued doing what you always have done in the way you have always done it?

One of the biggest challenges businesses find themselves having to navigate when they make a decision to start looking for a new solution or upgrade, is what is it exactly that they do and how do they do it.

It really is a necessity to map out the existing business process.


How are customers found and serviced?  You know, the people or organizations that actually buy the “stuff” you provide.  Where are they located?  What do they buy and when?

How do you manage their credit?  You are their supplier.  How do they communicate with you and how do you keep them up to date? 

What tools do your customer service people have available to answer the questions from your customers?  What tools do you provide to let them self-serve their needs? 

Products and Services (Stuff).

How do you stock and deliver that stuff?  How do you know how much stuff to keep on hand and how do you find it?  Do you know how much stuff you have now and where it is located?  How do your people find it, pick it, and ship the right stuff?  What does it cost if you ship the wrong stuff or the right stuff to the wrong customer?

What tools do your procurement people (buyers) have to identify what needs to be ordered and when?  Do you buy based on supplier deals or customer demand?  Do they guess what is needed?  Do they walk around and use an educated guess?

Suppliers and Vendors.

Where do you get your stuff or the material to make your stuff?  How do you know what to purchase and when?  How much is too much?  How long does it take to get more stuff?  Do you drop ship any of your products?  Are you being billed the right amount?

How do you generate a forecast and keep in touch with the organizations that ultimately enable you to deliver your solution or finished product to your customers?  How do they need to get paid?  How do you manage your credit?

Employees and Labor.

How many people does it take to service customers?  How many to pick, pack and ship orders?  How many people to run your finance department?  Procurement?  Warehousing?  Production?  How often are you on-time or late on customer deliveries?  Do you have sales people on the road?  How many locations do you need to coordinate?

A big clue that you should be looking for a new solution is when you start adding people and you do not gain an equivalent amount of productivity.  For example, you have 10 people in your warehouse.  You add two more.  You might expect 20% more productivity and you do not even come close to that return. 

In fact the inefficiencies in your operations just absorbs the extra labor capacity.

There is no magic pill.

No simple article is going to solve your challenges.  Likewise, no volumes of information are going to transform your operations.  There is too much information and too little experience to sort through it all to find the pieces you need, that relate and fit your organization.

A sales person is not the first one you should start with.  It is not that they are not intelligent.  It is not that they do not know about the solution they represent.  It is not that they do not know about competitive solutions. 

The issue with sales people is that their goal is sales.  After all is that not what you want your sales people to do?  They are needed and there is a time and place for them.

What you need most is a mentor and coach, often referred to a Trusted Advisor.  What is their goal? Is it your solution that addresses your critical business needs?  First and foremost the trusted advisor’s responsibility is to help you identify your business process, how you operate and what options are available within your budget and most of all what is reasonable and achievable.  You may want to have 100% accurate inventory, but that might not be possible.  You may want to ship more products with less people, but what investment would be necessary to make that happen?

A note of caution regarding people involved in the decision process.  When taking inventory of the stakeholders in your operations, the more people that are involved in the decision the less consensus there will be.  It is not linear, the lack of consensus will be exponential in growth with more people involved.

MaaS – Mentoring as a Service.  It is what we do.

Your challenges are important to you and your business.  More than likely they are not unique in your industry.  Dolvin Consulting provides business consultation services that can be used to help you navigate the sea of change.  We leverage our industry and business relationships to help you identify your challenges so that we can find a solution together.  Please contact us today to see how we can help.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Information is Cheap

Information, once highly valued, has become a very cheap commodity. 

Thanks to the interconnected world and web browsers, just about anyone with an Internet connection can find out just about anything at any time.  Connection is provided in so many ways today with so many devices providing access.  Information resources often number in the thousands or hundreds of thousands or even millions. 

“ERP Software Solutions” returned 4,850,000 results during the writing of this posting.  If you really wanted valuable information, it is available.  This information is available for the most part at no-charge or the dreaded word “Free”.  Each and every day the time equivalent of more than eight years of video information is uploaded to YouTube.

What information will be of value?  Which piece of information helps solve your problem?  Do you even know where your problem lays?

Anyone who has been around a while knows the true value of free.  Either it is worth what it costs or it is of little value. 

With so many resources available much pressure exists for the suppliers of information to position their resources high on search engines creating a potential conflict of interest of genuine information of value and the quest for income.  Everyone screaming look at me, look at me.

In general we love having choices and having so much information available, but how can we apply it to our decision making?  What happens if we really need the information to transform our businesses?  We seek more and more of it, not less.  How can we filter what we need with what we have available?

This information quest applies both in external resources and internal management of business operations.  Information is key.  Not knowing where you are going leaves you nowhere.

We are now at the point where Internet Librarians have become the valued resource.  It is not enough to know the answer to a question.  The Internet is full of answers. 

The key is knowing the questions and how to apply the answers to your real world challenges.  

Business Technology consultants have become that well needed resource.  It is important to understand the difference between Managed Service Providers (MSP) which provide the resources, monitoring and support to keep your business operating versus Business Technology Providers which consult as trusted advisors to guide you into the future.

At their core all Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions for Manufacturing and Distribution are designed to help companies manage inventory more efficiently.  All of the modules and add-ons have that imbedded in their design, either directly or via a supporting functional role, such as Finance. 

The Supply Chain’s needs have not changed since the beginning of distribution services.

Wikipedia defines Supply Chain Management (SCM) as "the systemic, strategic coordination of the traditional business functions and the tactics across these business functions within a particular company and across businesses within the supply chain, for the purposes of improving the long-term performance of the individual companies and the supply chain as a whole”.  It has also been defined as the "design, planning, execution, control, and monitoring of supply chain activities with the objective of creating net value, building a competitive infrastructure, leveraging worldwide logistics, synchronizing supply with demand and measuring performance globally."

If the challenges of the supply chain have not changed significantly over time and there is ever more information available, then what is the problem?  The answers exists.  In fact the ratio of answers to question have exponentially increased.  Every business should be running great.

What we now need is help with our questions. 

Action is the answer to the question you are asking now.  That is where opportunity to advance lays. 

What actions can I take now that will help me run and operate my business more efficiently, lower my costs and be more competitive? How do we learn what questions to ask to get the answers we need?  How do we incorporate this new philosophy?   How do we get the best information to the people who need it most?

How do we deliver on the promise of results?

Dolvin Consulting has the experience, resources and contacts to help you find the right questions to the answers you need.  Contact us today for help, which is why we are here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Retail Software – Achieving Effective Integration

New technology available today allows Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) solution providers to more economically provide integrated solutions that actually drive efficiency.  There is only so much overhead costs that can be cut.  Product, personnel and overhead cost inevitably increase over time.  Add business growth to the overhead increase and you end up needing a solution that can grow with your needs.

Companies are typically growing or shrinking and those cycles alternate.  Long term we hope the trend is upward.  If so, then that company will need a solution that meets their current demand and will provide the tools and resources to match and facilitate growth.

Some key features of a capable solution would (should) include:
  • Automatically calculate restocking orders.  Regardless of how your products are ordered, you solution needs to track inventory movement and balance reorder availability and timelines to ensure you have enough stock to meet future demands and not too much that your overhead and handling costs increase.
  • Timely reporting on sales.  Up to the minute, real-time reporting is a necessity for management to make informed decisions.
  • Speed up customer check-out.  No one likes waiting in lines and they expect the prices to ring correctly.
  • Integrated credit card processing.  Not only do retailers need to process credit cards, but they need to do so quickly, accurately, and safely.  Key benefits are when the credit card processing is fully integrated with the order fulfillment system. 
  • Reward your customers.  Loyalty tracking allows you to recognize and cater to the needs of your customers as well as attract new customers that have similar needs.
  • A single solution.  A single integrated solution that links retail stores, Ecommerce, inventory and warehousing will inevitably drive efficiency and fulfill the other objectives listed hear.
  • Timely reporting.  Management needs access to real-time information, but also sales history from all sources and inventory movement for better planning.
  • Procurement tools.  Purchasing needs access to all sales information to gauge trends on ordering and resupply decisions.
  • Easy customer enrollment.  Online solutions need to be customer friendly.  If you make it easy for your customers to business with you, they are likely to return and do more business with you.
  • Integrated marketing tools.  Your business needs integrated and easy to use tools to stay in touch with your customers.  Customer relationships need constant nurturing.
  • Provide tools for your customers.  Customers need access to their information as well including sales history regardless of their point of purchase.  This helps with common questions and reordering. 
  • On account customer service.  Your account customer need the same tools as retail customers.  They also need to review their credit line, reprint invoices and check order status.

Final thoughts:
Customer service is important.  Serve your customers well and they will return.  Remember if you do not service them, someone else will.  A key sign your customer value your relationship is when they refer others to do business with you.

Integration is key.  Every time people have to touch information and manual processing, you are increasing the likelihood of errors and inefficiency.

Information is key.  Real-time and accurate information is critically important to manage and run your operations.

Information and integration help to drive efficiency in your operations, reduce costs and deliver great customer service.  This cycle will repeat itself if you are using the right ERP solution. 

Performance and up-time are critical in Retail operations.  Make sure your solution runs on systems that can ensure you meet your customer’s needs first and foremost.  Kiosks are another customer service tool that generates repeat business.

Whether you have a single location with many terminals or many locations, a few part numbers or many SKU’s, the right solution should be helpful in managing operations.  Faster replenishment and minimized outages that result from new solutions help move you towards a Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory management solution.

Contact Dolvin Consulting to find out how our industry expertise and relationships can help your organization improve the way you deliver to your customers.  We are here to help.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with our readers.  What applications and tools have you implemented that have helped?  What are you looking for in a future update or system?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Inventory Balances

If you are in the food industry you already know that one of the primary challenges is your inventory level.  You need enough supplies to satisfy customer demand, but not too much due to obvious reasons of expiration dates and potential spoilage. 

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions are designed to streamline operations and provide a central repository of information to effectively manage inventory processing.

Do you walk around and “look” at inventory to guess and gauge usage and need?

Many food distributors do just that.  They have been in business a long time and there is built in knowledge of customer and seasonal demand.  What moves, what does not and what to do with surpluses or not having sufficient supply and cost expense of expediting replacement inventory?

How does your organization handle recalls and FDA requirements (FDA Food Safety Modernization Act - FSMA)?  Do you have the ability to include all lot numbers on products and paperwork?  How much time and effort does it take you to process a recall?  What about the paperwork and certificates of origin?  Where are these documents found and how are they linked to your inventory?

If you are processing food inventory manually, then your ability to meet the FSMA requirements will be limited and expose your business to great risk and regulatory nightmare.

How efficiently do you process your distribution, truck loading and routing?  What tools does your ERP solution provide to ensure your customer needs are met?  How long does it take to train your workforce?  Is the equipment and process intuitive?  How many times during the day do they have to look up information and how much time does it take?

Handling inventory is a primary focus of food distributors as is financial processing.  You need to service your customers, yet also manage their credit usage on the Accounts Receivable (AR) side and expenditures via Accounts Payable (AP) on the vendor/supplier side.  The General Ledger (GL) ties all the various aspects of the financial reporting and forecasting together.

If these topics strike a nerve with your organization and you are curious if you are doing everything reasonably possible to empower your workforce and drive efficiency in your operations, then it is time to contact Dolvin Consulting.  We work with industry experts to help you look at and evaluate your organization from a fresh perspective.

We look forward to serving your needs.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Innovation (ERP)

Over the last few weeks I have had the opportunity to attend several events.  The evens were both Trade shows and Expos.  I define Trade Show somewhat differently than an Expo.  An Expo tends to be cross industry and a Trade show tends to be more vertical in nature. 

Both fill niches. 

An Expo’s value is typically the concentrated focus which is helpful, because you have experts in product delivery and service together to share industry best trends and practices.  You know, stuff to help your grow and expand your business.

A cross industry perspective is the value of an Expo.  Unlike a trade show, you have multiple industries instead of one that support, supply, work with and purchase from.

Both have value.

There was a security conference which talked about risk management and the state of uncertainty.  An Expo which represented a cross section of business and industry in a market area.  A Trade Show in technology service and support.  Then off to another industry Trade Show and finally to a Business Development industry focused event. 

Business Development

The Business development event was by far the bestest.  Okay “bestest” is not really a word, but the event, if you could call it that, was a conglomeration of medical people and up and coming businesses working in an accelerator to create new and innovative solutions to improve, streamline and create efficiencies that save organizations time, money and most of all lives.

At the end of the day, if you can succeed in business by helping others and increase the quality of lives, that is a pretty good achievement.

The Business Development event is somewhat of a cross mix between a Trade Show and Expo. 

It was organized by government sponsored organization whose goal was to take existing businesses, put them together to nurture their growth and then place them in front of the medical community and business leaders to showcase what they developed, kind of like a graduation ceremony, and take feedback to grow further and present an opportunity to present and hopefully sell their solution to their industry.

What made this event great was the mix of people and business and the anticipation.  Most of all was the atmosphere of community.  That we are all working to address a growing challenge that transcends borders and cultures.  Medical issues are foremost in all societies.  Everyone gets older and at some point we want to improve the quality of our lives and those we love.  

So, you might ask, what does this have to do with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions?


There are needs to have innovation, industry focus, and cross community collaboration.  Any business needs support of others in their same industry to share challenges and find solutions. They need cross industry support to help them with their challenges, supply goods and services, and provide solutions. 

Businesses also need incubator type of organizations to provide a fresh look, a new set of eyes, to develop new and innovative solutions to the challenges they face.  These incubators or accelerators need funding, government support, and industry nurturing to be effective. 

It takes much more than throwing money at a problem to find a solution.  It also takes a leader with vision.

It also takes a community. 

It takes questions, a lot of questions to find the answers to questions not yet asked.  It takes a cross section of industry to observe and think of new ways to solve the challenges of business.  All too often a closed industry of technologists keeps coming up with new ways to solve the same problem, which is not really a problem.  Inventing a better mouse trap when a trap is not what is needed.  Mice are not the issue after all.

I know of an ERP solution provider that takes the time to provide a user forum to educate their users and take their challenges to heart and create updates that address those challenges.  New features are created to address their real-world struggles. 

They are smart enough to know that if they want to be of value they need to provide value.

I have also seen screens and field prompts that were clearly written by technical people.  The prompt asks a question in reverse.  Instead of simply asking if a product in their catalog should be available on their Internet web site.  A simple Yes/No question.  They ask if the part should not be excluded.  A reverse answered question.  They should just ask if they want the item to appear.  Instead they ask if the item should be excluded.  So, to get the item listed, they have to answer “No”. 

Effective, but not intuitive. 

Users should not have to figure out logic questions to get their work done.  In the end most businesses just want their systems to work so that their people remain productive.  Customer service needs to be knowledgeable about their products, availability and to serve their customers well.  The other departments of business need to service the customer service department and those who directly face the customers.  All employees, even those who sweep up the shop floor contribute to the ability of your organization to serve your customers.

A good solution is one that looks beyond itself to drive efficiency and collaboration in the Enterprise.  Dolvin Consulting works with your team and industry experts to find solutions to your challenges.  Contact us today to see how we can help.  That is why we do what we do.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Time for Help

What keeps you up at night when you are in charge of technology delivery for your business?  Every company struggles at some point in time.  At different periods of growth and contraction, struggle is part of the process.

Struggle is normal. 

The theory goes that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions are designed to integrate the entire business (i.e. the Enterprise).  The more this is embraced and the more departments or functional roles that are integrated in your solution the more efficient your operations could be. 

Okay, makes sense right, purchase an ERP solution, install it, migrate your information, train your people, and start saving lots of money, buy a boat and relax.  But what if you already have an ERP solution?  What if you have more projects than budget?   Where are the savings you thought you were supposed to have?

Savings are potentially there, but like a sculptor, you need to uncover them. 

Where most companies start is inventory.  Even small reductions in inventory levels have the potential of improving the bottom line.  Small is relative, but think in terms of two to three percentage point drop in levels.  Cutting your inventory in half is not realistic.  It would cripple your business, but a small drop of a few percentage points is realistic and achievable.

The other area that works hand in hand with inventory levels is high accuracy.  It is the other side of the coin and cannot be separated.  There are several ways to measure accuracy, but most practical is the count.  Is what you have on the shelf the same as what you have in your inventory system?  How close these two numbers are is a measure of accuracy. 

The ultimate goal is 100% and that may or may not be realistic, but 97/98% or higher is where you need to be headed.

I know of a company that had 100% accurate inventory every month, but only one day a month, once a month.  When they did a complete physical inventory count each month, it was accurate, at that time.  Then it was off the rest of the month.  They did not have an inventory control system. 

For some companies it is the same or similar story.  They only know what they have when they count it or when they do not have it.  Out of stock equals zero and that is accurate, but not good when a customer orders it.  Their systems have not kept up with their business and the problems have cascaded from there. 

The Inventory Control module name implies that you will have control of your inventory once you install it.  In most places the inventory is in control instead of the other way around. 

You in fact must trust the system to do what it is designed to do, but that is hard to do when there is no confidence in the system.  When that happens people do just about anything to bypass and avoid the very solution that is designed to help.

The Inventory Control module is intended to do is give you observability.  Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are designed to monitor the movement of inventory from reception, to put-away, counting, and pick-pack-ship. 

WMS solutions are usually separate and do incur additional investment, but make sense, because it provides the tools to effectively manage inventory.  By monitoring the movement of inventory you do add a level of effort, but the payback is in accuracy and people actually using the system you paid for and depend on. 

When your workers actually find the inventory the system says should be there in the place it says it should be, then their confidence increases.  That increased confidence leads users to use the system more. 

Most people do not mind using a system that actually works and helps them do their job.  Trusting and using the system are critical components to building accuracy. 

Accuracy is key to driving profitability. 

With an accurate system, procurement orders the right amount of the correct products.  Customer service can accurately answer customer questions and concerns.  The Finance department can process transactions and produce financial reporting more quickly and accurately.   

There are a lot of intricacies of implementing and actually using both an Inventory Control and Warehouse Management System properly.  Books have been written on the subject.  The purpose of this writing is not to tell you how, but to give you confidence that you can have accurate inventory, you can trust your system and you can generate savings. 

Any benefit comes after effort. 

These systems work, if you trust them to do what they are designed to do.  Dolvin Consulting works with manufacturers and distributors to help them understand and implement their inventory systems.  Contact us today to see how we can help.

Please share your success and failure stories here with the rest of our readers.  You story counts.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Customer Self Service Matters

Most organizations understand that if you treat your customers fairly, they will return.  If you treat them really well they will refer others to your business.  What is equally true is if you treat your customers poorly, they will tell everyone they know whenever they can.

A positive customer experience should be at the heart of any system improvement, upgrade, or replacement.  Efficiency matters when it ultimately drives customer needs.  Automation matters when it means products are ordered, stocked, picked and delivered to meet your customer’s needs.

In what way can you serve your customer’s needs without significantly increasing your overhead?  What is your competition doing to serve their customers and attract your customers away?

Many Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions have an integrated web or Ecommerce module.  Fully integrated is preferable, because of the efficiency, reduced errors and time delays in processing and updating. 

Less overhead is a good thing.

But what about the thought that your products do not fit the standard perception of what people purchase online?

As it turns out when you provide your customers and users with self-serve capabilities they feel empowered.  They feel like you trust them. They feel like you value them.

Adding this capability may not be where you would think you can increase productivity, especially when you look at the upfront costs.  However, by adding or upgrading Ecommerce, Sales force automation, and Contact Relationship Management (CRM) solutions to your system, you are removing roadblocks to growth. 

Customers know when you value them and are providing them tools to access what they need when they need it at a time when it is convenient to them.  Employees know when you are trying to help them do their job better by providing better access.  Management knows the satisfaction of being able to get the information they need when they need it.

Real-time access to information is the heart of your ERP system.

Increased sales as a result of these improvements is a natural result.  Increase customer satisfaction is priceless.  Customers like the ability to research products, view transaction history, place orders, get hard copies of invoices, check balances and yes of course pay balances online.  Customer self-service reduces employee resources needed to service the inquiries.

Automation allows a business to use their people where they can do the most good.  Sales force personnel need quick access to stock and balance information for their customer service needs.

Serve your customers and grow your business.

Providing web services will improve customer retention and capture business that might go to your competitors.  Even if your products are not something that ships easily or at all, providing the capability for your customers to browse, research and collect information will benefit your business. 

Take a look at how and where you do business.  Don’t you think your customers want the same thing? 

Not all solutions are created equal.  Integration with your ERP solution is key.  Some businesses build interfaces to integrate separate systems that have the functionality their customers need.  Keep in mind that the more pieces the greater the chance of a break down. 

Regardless of how your solution is built, the solution must address your customer’s needs and not yours.

With the potential return on investment (ROI) and the general movement towards a connected world, Ecommerce, Sales Force, and CRM solutions are prime areas for update, upgrade or replacement.

In what ways are you serving your customers?  What solutions are you considering or have implemented?  What returns are you expecting or received? 

Please share your thoughts with our readers.

At Dolvin Consulting we work with your team to find solutions that drive efficiency and automation in your operations.  Working solutions that are just-right for you, your business and your customers.  Contact us today to see how we can help.