Friday, March 30, 2012

Overworked Warehouse Staff

I read a recent post on LinkedIn about a warehouse operation that is experiencing growth and was working their people 60 hours a week and is experiencing high absenteeism.

There are a lot of social and business management issues in this topic and it is tempting to run a little bit here.  Unfortunately there was not a lot of detail from the person who posted the article.  It would be nice to know if this was a temporary or seasonal demand situation or did the company tighten its belt in these economic conditions, started to grow again and just is too squeamish to hire anyone new.

The good news is this is a company that is working.  Bad news is they are headed for a brick wall. 

There are all sorts of management issues.  First, why are you using LinkedIn to get answers?  But now that you did, here come some observations. 

The first few responders to our poster’s article were how to get more water out of a stone.  Employees who are respected and treated well do not usually mind working harder for a limited amount of time for the company’s and everyone else’s sake.  When that time period extends too long, then they feel used and not appreciated.  We all heard about employees giving back when the economy started to tank a few years ago and company owners coming to employees seeking help.  A real spirit of cooperation existed then.

Then came some suggestion of how you can split some shifts or alter time schedules to basically get the same hours out of your employees without it looking like they are working the same.

There were ideas about adding temporary workers to fill the gaps.

Some nice ideas came next about publicly acknowledging the workers with small perks, like donuts, gift cards and employee of the month recognition.  Nice ideas as these are, they should already have existed.

Now I am not suggesting the company is greedy and should hire people, but that did cross my mind.  I do not know who they are or what they produce.  Many organizations are still shell shocked by the last few years and do not want to extend themselves in case the economy tanks again.  However, it is just that attitude that is stalling the recovery.  In any case this is not supposed to be an economics lesson.

One person took the time to ask a whole series of questions.  This is a good idea regardless of any circumstances.  Any business should be doing this on a regular basis and if they do not know what to ask themselves, then they should first look for a trusted advisor to help them set direction.

So why am I writing this article?  Simply, not one person stopped to ask or inquire or even prematurely suggest that the systems they are using may not match their current challenges.  First, is an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system appropriate?  Is the company currently “big enough” or growing fast enough to implement a fully comprehensive system? 

Perhaps they do have a system.  Maybe that system was adequate years past.  Times change and so do the challenges all organizations face.  Here is where a consultation makes sense.  It should be high level to determine if a detailed analysis should be made. 

Are there efficiencies that can be gained by automating the warehouse operations?  Are they bar coding product and using wireless scanning?  Are they a candidate for an assessment from a warehouse engineer?  Would conveyors make sense?  Could a section be updated with robotics? 

What if we just managed the paperwork better?  What if we bulk picked and sorted?  What if we validated the shipments so that the overhead associated with incorrect shipments was minimized?

The questions can go on for quite a bit.  The idea that should be taken from this post is businesses should not just be looking for ways to minimize absenteeism from their overworked and underappreciated employees, but should also be looking for ways to streamline their operations with potentially a combination of Software and Hardware. 

Give the employees the tools they need to get the job done and then get out of the way.  Empower your people to make productive changes. 

Dolvin Consulting works with Manufacturers, Distributors and Specialty Retailers to help them streamline their operations with ERP solutions so they operate more efficiently reduce costs and become more productive.  Contact us today for aninitial consultation.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ways to Increase Inventory Accuracy

The first step to increase the accuracy of your inventory is to validate that it is worth pursuing.  Many organizations feel that their inventory accuracy is “alright” or “okay”. 

Is just “okay” good enough?

Many businesses say we already have an inventory system and it works fine.  Really?  Did you just say that to get rid of a sales person or do you really believe that your inventory is as accurate as it can be?  Do not let pride get in the way of a solution that will help the bottom line.  Check with your Finance Department what a one or two percent drop in inventory levels will do to your overhead and bottom line.

We did a count and it was 100% accurate. 

Great, so does that mean that you cannot improve the other processes that revolve around your inventory system?  Here is a key component.  Do you have an inventory system or do you have an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution which incorporates an inventory module?  Has your company grown over the years such that you have separate systems tied together? 

Are you processing everything in your system or have spread sheets become an integral part?  Do not get me wrong, spread sheet programs have great value and put in the hands of users the ability to manipulate and analyze lots of information.  They have their place.  Do they tie back to the source database?  I invested hours with a senior IT Director one day looking at and verify the assertion that sales were incorrectly reported.  In the end, the problem was an incorrect column sort that skewed the data. 

How many copies of the information now exist?  Have your well intentioned people just created silos of disconnected information?

So, okay, we feel that this is worth looking into. 

Here are a few places to get started:

·         Labeling.  Check to ensure that vendor labeling is correct.  You may have to work with your suppliers to ensure correct and readable labels that include bar coding.  Bar codes are a necessary ingredient.  Whenever you can eliminate manual processing or keying, you will increase accuracy and efficiency.

·         Validate receipts.  As quickly as possible you want your staff to validate that the inventory that was received was what you ordered (on your purchase order).  This allows discrepancies to be discovered sooner.  Saving time with putting away the wrong items.  Saving time with the accounting people having to handle extra steps.  You work to ensure accurate shipments, hopefully your suppliers are doing the same thing.

·         Know where it is and where it is going and where it went.  Tracking and validating the receipt, in-transit, and put-away to final bin is important.  Who handled it?  How long did it take?  Where did it go?  Can we find it now?

·         Review your pick process.  Pick in bulk, then sort?  Pick sequentially?  Voice pick?  Bar code validation?  Count-backs?   Is your inventory located in a logical way for pick automation?  Does the put-away process go to bulk areas or picking and is that optimized for picking?

·         Confirm and validate what has been picked.  No one likes receiving the wrong material.  You do not, so why would your customers?  Not to mention the overhead on shipping the wrong items.  Return freight expense, expedited replacement shipping.  Employee overhead to inspect and return stock.  Employee time taken away from production to re-pick the correct items.  Employee overhead creating and processing the paperwork for returns, credits, and replacement ordering.  It adds up.

·         Optimize pick/pack size.  When possible breaking cases to fulfill orders should be minimized.  It leads to errors in picking, it is inefficient, and creates problems when doing physical inventory.  It may make sense if you need break cases to stock whole and partial quantities in separate areas.  Bulk replenishment, case pick and individual product. 

·         Manage your results.  Test, track, measure, analyze and repeat.  Manage the process and look for areas of improvement.  The least written, but the most important step.  If you do not know what you are trying to fix, how will you know if you are doing the right thing or when you get there.

Big savings often come from small incremental improvement steps.  Each step small and manageable, yet each necessary.  You do not create a pyramid by waving a wand.  You build it one brick at a time.  The difference between profit and loss or success and failure is not this big gap.  It is the attention to small details.

Can we help?  It depends on you being willing and able to look at what you are doing and acknowledging that you need help.  Maybe you are already doing what you can with the budget available, but want and need to improve.  There are great solutions out there, but you also need to be able to pay for them and generate a reasonable Return on Investment (ROI).

Dolvin Consulting can help you by leveraging their experience and industry contacts.  Right now all you have to do is click on the Contact Link right here and fill out the information and we will call or email you.  It is that simple. 

If you are a consulting firm, pass this link along to your clients that may be in need of assistance.  You will gain creditability with them by letting them know you care.  We are not out to replace you, we are here to assist you in helping your clients.  Do it now, contact us.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Customer Service is Key to Success

Montebello Foods has a need to automate their warehouse, adjust pricing while monitoring food expiration realizes they need a better solution so they can make their customers happy.  Montebello has many of the classic symptoms that Food Distributors have. 

Read the full story by clicking here.

Manual processing is the door way to mistakes, cost overruns, lost profits and unhappy customers.  In comparison a system that streamlines operations and tracks and manages their inventory in real-time is a step forward.  Tracking inventory both inbound and outbound adds confidence to their processing that the customer will receive the right order on-time and you maintain the right inventory levels.

The right partner for Montebello is similar to Montebello’s customers finding the right supplier for their needs.  Eliminating manual processing was a key step.  Integrating the truck routing in the ERP solution was also a key ingredient.  The fact that Routing was integrated and up and running quickly ensured that a good Return on Investment (ROI) would occur.

Improved warehouse processes and accuracy increased the amount of inventory that could be picked by 40% each hour.  That is a tremendous improvement.  40 percent increase in anything is great.  Why, how about labor savings and increased access to real-time information?

What is nice about the relationship of VAI and Montebello is the working relationship they developed.  VAI helped to streamline processes that Montebello did not even know could be improved.  There is value in a relationship that is symbiotic.   VAI’s care for Montebello is similar to their care for their customers.

VAI was not simply happy to make a sale.  They took the time to learn and understand how Montebello worked and determine their challenges.  They had Montebello’s best interest, their end customers, in mind when developing and delivering their solution. 

Making customer service and happy customers a priority is always a good idea.  Really, think about it.  No really, this is an exercise.  How happy are you when you receive excellent customer service?  How much more likely will you shop someplace that screws up and makes it right?  You become even more loyal, regardless of the problem.  Why?  They treated you like a human being.

People do not care about you until they know you care about them.  They could care less about your company, the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system you have, or anything else.  All they want is friendly service from someone who cares, is responsive to their needs, and will listen.  They care about what your product does for them, not about your product and if you make that a priority you will have happier customers.

When the entire supply chain is empowered with the same care and concern, happy customers are the result.  That is good business in anyone’s language.  In similar fashion Dolvin Consulting cares about the businesses they work with.  What is going to help you, your business, and ultimately your customers is what counts.  Contact us today to seehow we can help.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Warehouse and Inventory Security

Theft, breakage, shipped, or lost- out there someplace.  What did we receive, where is it or where was it last?  Are we going to be late shipping to our customers, because we do not know what happened to the inventory?  How big of an impact on our financials does this loss have?  Is it just the cost of doing business?

Some aspects of lost or stolen inventory may have to be handled outside of your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution.  That is unfortunate, but the reality of integrating video surveillance is likely to be cost prohibitive, in most cases.  Some ERP solutions have links to files or folders where relevant documents can be stored.  However, most camera data pertains to a warehouse section, not a single inventory item and you may not want everyone to have access to it. 

Making everyone aware that the location is under surveillance is a twin edge sword.   In one case it can ward off potential theft as people may be afraid of detection.  On the other hand, it may make the thieves more creative.  Unknown surveillance has some benefits.  Generally this is more of a management decision versus a technology department decision.  Sometimes a locked vault or cage area is necessary for high value items.

Electronic badges and keypads help to keep track of employee movement through restricted areas, but it does not verify the quantity moved unless they are large and heavy.  The systems does however, reinforce how well management considers the value of the product.  Usually a combination of badge and camera systems works best.

So where can an ERP or WMS solution help?

ERP systems have Inventory Management modules.  Inventory lets you know how much of an item you have and where it is.  Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) track the movement of inventory. These movements include receipt, put-away, transfer, movement, picking, packing, shipment and inventory counting.

If you have properly implemented your inventory system, then you will know exactly what you have and where it is.  This helps by confirming to everyone that inventory just does not get misplaced.  If the system says there are 100 pieces in a particular bin location, then everyone expects that quantity to be there.  If it is not, then people will check and make investigations as to cause of the shortage. 

Accountability is paramount.

Warehouse management systems automatically record every transaction and movement of an inventory item (part).  These transactions are logged.  We know when it was picked up, by whom, where it traveled to, how long that took, and where it ended up.

Traceability is paramount.

With an accurate system or as matter of process or in an effort to create an accurate system, count-backs help.  A count-back is a method of location quantity verification.  It has many names, but the principal is this:  Your system expects 50 cases at a certain location.  A worker is issued a pick ticket on paper, voice, or mobile terminal to pick 10 cases (they are not told how many should be at that location).  The system prompts you to pick your quantity and then count the remainder.  You key in 40.  Since the system expects there to be 50 and you picked 10 it knows that 40 is correct.  If you key any other number the system will require verification of quantities at the same time notifications are sent. 

Count-back inventory processing would appear to create time consuming constraints on the picking process.  This is true to some extent initially, that is until workers understand the process and gain confidence in the inventory system.  This confidence is a necessary component.  This process helps significantly where operations have had trouble with accurate inventory.  Soon everyone knows and expects accurate inventory. 

Confidence grows and the thought of getting away with theft diminishes.

Physical inventory is a measure of how carefully you have implemented your system.  Accurate inventory is a byproduct of people that are held accountable for their actions.  Errors are not simply adjusted, but researched and reviewed with workers.  Accurate inventory is a precursor to suggested purchasing routines that produce accurate predictions.  Accurate inventory allows the reduction in safety stock, because management can count on the system being accurate.

Have you ever gone into a supply house for a part, any part?  The sales person at the counter tells you that the computer says they have 10 in stock, but he will go make sure.  What he really just said is that there is no inventory system.

Cycle counting can replace annual physicals when the inventory is accurate.  The process takes less time and interrupts operations less.  How much down time and money lost on physical inventory?  Smaller and regular counting keeps people honest.  People are less likely to take something if they know or suspect that at any given time someone will count the inventory.  Time to discovery is reduced and increase the chance of detection and conviction.

Having an accurate inventory helps when trying to reduce inventory levels and cut overhead.  It is the quickest way to a Return on Investment (ROI).  Invest in your systems, save time, save labor, save money.  A good ROI goal for your system is a complete return in one year or less.  This allows you to extrapolate how much you are losing by not doing anything and to gage exactly how big a problem you really have.

Dolvin Consulting works with manufactures, distributors and specialty retailers to help them implement accurate inventory systems.  Contact us today for a no-charge assessment consultation to determine if an in-depth study is required.  We are here for you.


Monday, March 19, 2012

Integrated Sales Force Automation with ERP Solution Increases Customer Satisfaction

“Algoma’s outside sales team likes the ability to look at an account and optionally print the customer’s information, which they can then bring directly to the customer during visits.  Now they can also see the customer Accounts Receivable and sales information all within the same location, without having to navigate around through the regular S2K menu options,” commented Rachel Christian. “It used to take hours before to come up with total sales for a given customer across all companies and now we have it with the click of a button.”

Efficiency, time savings, delivering high customer satisfaction, and better communication are common goals for most organizations.  Who would not want happier customers?  After all they pay the bills.  If you make it easier for your Salesforce to service your customers, everyone wins.

One way an integrated solution helps achieve results is by enabling and tracking all the communications between the internal and external sales force as well as its customer base.  Communication is essential, tracking it is critical to drive efficiency.

Because Algoma selected another module from their existing ERP solution provider, VAI, the implementation time would be less and the solution more cost effective.

The Sales Force application enables their sales force to complete the entire sales process through their portal.  This enables them to react quickly to customer issues and opportunities.  Any customer will like a quick and responsive representative.  Happy customers means more and bigger sales, referrals and loyalty.

The difference between this solution and others that Algoma may have used is the integration.  It becomes a business person’s tool.

Businesses need powerful solutions to drive efficiency.  If the new solution increases the maintenance and requires manual intervention to operate, then there are more places where the solution can fail.  Manual processing costs money and adds time, the opposite of the goals most organizations set.

Dolvin Consulting works with businesses to help them identify areas where integration will create benefit.  Those companies typically struggle with warehouse and inventory control issues or are concerned that they have outgrown manual processes and are looking to improve or streamline their operations.  Contact us today to getstarted.


Friday, March 16, 2012

ERP Business Requirements

The first clue to a pending Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) implementation failure is a statement from upper management to the person responsible for technology stating that they need and ERP solution.   This is like predicting the path of a hurricane.  You can look at the weather models, history, and current storm characteristics, but the storm will do what it is going to do.

The ERP solution is not the problem.

The problem comes from not taking the time to determine where you are now and where you want to be in the future.   You cannot plot a course or know when you arrive at the destination, if you do not know where the destination is or what it is supposed to look like when you are there.

Ask your team, management, or requestor what they want to achieve.  Is it reasonable?  Do you have the needed resources to get there?  Do not, I repeat, do start by performing an Internet search with ERP and start sorting through the 6 million results.  There is too much information and too little way to narrow down the results to the top 5 candidates at this point in time.

Having clearly defined objectives is a key ingredient to success.  There can be multiple ones, but there needs to be some yardstick to measure results.  Oh, yes, you do need to determine the metrics of success as they relate to your organization.  For example, reduce customer returns by 20% by year end.  Increase inventory accuracy to 99% in the next year.  Consolidate the eight different systems to one.  Eliminate manual processes.

Having the objectives and metrics will allow you to calculate the time it takes to get your Return on Investment (ROI).  Given the time frame you should be able to estimate the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) during that period.

Depending on the goals set, you may need milestones which will help gauge if you are on track and provide checkpoints for corrective action.

Try starting with a self assessment.  A trusted advisor will help in this area by helping you to define what to look for.  These will vary depending on the business.  The biggest component are the people and equally so, the culture or environment.  Getting buy-in from the top through to the person sweeping the floor is an essential ingredient.  Management needs to understand exactly how the savings due to increased efficiency will accumulate.  Office staff needs to see how the new steps in a proposed solution compare to the steps they take now.  Floor workers will be more productive, if they understand this is not going to saddle them with more work, but rather increase their efficiency without increasing the work load.  A good solution may be sabotaged by lack of commitment at any level of the organization. 

Look at the ERP solution.  Does it contain the needed modules or are they vendor integrated?  You can customize the solution yourself, but one that is already built will save a great deal of time and money, while providing more stability and a quicker ROI.

My suggestion, and I am biased here, is to contact someone like myself to help you look at what you are trying to accomplish.  Determine if it is reasonable.  Look at your budget.  Look at your time table.  Look at the key people.  Look, hear, feel the pulse of your organization.  Assemble an internal team to work with your advisor so that each aspect of change can be rated to its potential impact on business operations and implementation.  This will help in prioritization and fit with the proposed new solution.

Next identify and qualify your ERP candidates based on their fit.  Do not attempt a demonstration at this point in time.  It is too early and it is a clear sign that the ERP vendor has a one-size-fits-all approach.  There should be some dialog and question and answers before getting distracted by a glitzy demo. 

What may make sense is to discuss the top five issues with the solution provider to see how they have helped others with these challenges.  I am quite sure you are not unique in your challenges and others have already blazed a trail for you.

If there seems to be a fit between your challenges and their solution, then a high level executive overview of the solution makes sense.  It is an opportunity to evaluate the company and gage the personality match between the two organizations.  After which there should be new talks with your team to identify specific issues and possible solutions.  Each department can refine their needs and the solution provider can demonstrate how they feel their solution will address your needs.

Once you have narrowed down your choices to two or three candidates, ask to meet with the company president.  This is a great test to see how responsive they are to you and how important your business is to them.  If they do not care about you now, what happens after you sign the contract?

There are a lot of details to review and discuss.  No single article will answer all your questions.  That is why you should be contacting Dolvin Consulting right now by clicking this text and filling out the contactform.  We promise to listen and will do our best to serve you.  If we cannot help you, then we will do our best to make a referral to someone that can.  That is our promise to you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What Went Wrong and What Happens Next?

I usually write an article about an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution or challenge.  I often repeat the notion that there is far too much information available today and organizations need to start at the point of “we do not know what we do not know” and look for a trusted advisor first.  After I write the article I look for an image that captures my current mindset.  Sometimes I get lucky and find the perfect one.

This time I am starting with the picture.  They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and with the schedule we have in today’s world, I will take any time savings I can.  What is nice about this picture is that it is captivating and tells a story and not just saves us the trouble of reading too many words.

I keep going back and looking at the picture.

How many times in life, let alone when we are trying to find a new solution for our company’s problems do we find ourselves repeating the caption at the bottom of the picture?  Do we imagine the bear is our boss and we the wolf?  If you are the owner, do you imagine yourself as the boss and the wolf your ERP vendor? Is it how you feel commuting to work knowing what is ahead of you today?  Is it just wishful thinking?

How would you even know the best question to ask a solution provider?  They probably just want to sell you something so you already know what they will say.  Perhaps that is your gauge for a future relationship.  Sounds like it will waste a lot of time that we saved by looking at the picture. 

A trusted advisor will help you look at your own operations first.  Ask you questions so that you both will better understand what is going on in your organization.  What impact a broken piece of equipment has on your workflow.  How impactful is a customer return, because your floor people picked the wrong item or customer service keyed the wrong item or your operations manager had a bad day and mixed up the paperwork?

When your customer receives the wrong shipment or the shipment is late and you had control of it, are they the bear?  How open are your communication lines?  Do you have understanding customers? 

Any solution and I mean any, must address your customer’s satisfaction first and foremost.  It is alright to improve your profitability, but that will do little for you in the long run, if you do not have any customers.  Customers like being happy and referring others to you.  They want to share a good thing with the only possible exception being their competition. 

Return on Investment (ROI) and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) calculations typically look at hard costs.  I reduce inventory by two percent, I save $50,000.00 per month in handling and overhead costs.   I ship more orders, more accurately and I save on labor costs.  I replace old servers with new and save on maintenance and energy costs. 

What about HCB or Happy Customer Benefits?  What value to your organization would more happy customers have? 

What makes customers happy?  The right product, shipped on time at the right price and, most importantly, dealing with happy people.  How does your current solution enable your people to be of benefit to your customers?  Are your employees as frustrated as you and they take it out on the customers?  Believe me, they do.  How do you empower your employees to make a difference? 

This might sound like motivational training and not ERP solutions, but the two are related.  Ever do work around the home with the wrong tool.  You end up taking too much time and end up with results that just are not right.  Your ERP solution is the tool your employees use to interact with your customers and suppliers.

What about giving away versus paying for information? 

It is not the information that is as important as the knowledge a Trusted Advisor brings to your team.  For example, say you have engine trouble in your car (your business).  I have a repair manual for the auto (ERP solution) that details every single step of the repair process.  I give you the manual (blind Internet search).  You then look at me with wide eyes open (I paid you, you fix it).  You say thank you, but you do not have the tools, you do not have time, and you do not have experience and perhaps the skills to perform the repairs yourself (I need help).  Maybe, just maybe, that is where your mechanic (Trusted advisor) has value.  

Perhaps this is where your trusted advisor adds value.  Perhaps the savings in aggravation is worth the investment.  Just maybe you are tired of being the wolf in the picture.

Dolvin Consulting works with Manufacturers, Distributors, Specialty Retailers, and other organizations that handle inventory to streamline their operations, reduce costs and increase profitability.  No wild promises, just true effort.  We can help.  Contact us today to learn more.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Automation and Integration Increases Efficiency with ERP Solution

Berk Enterprises:  Integration of AbileElilte and S2K improves rating, routing, planning, optimization, execution and reconciliation capabilities.

The Problem: Transportation costs are unmanageable and there is no easy direct method of comparison.  Manual processing.  No auditing to determine best cost or time in transit.  Frustration on the part of the shipper and equal disappointment in customer satisfaction are the results.

The Solution.  Behind the scenes, third party fully integrated solution by a resource that is dedicated to the transportation industry.  This dedication brings expert industry experience and thoughtfulness to the real world challenges faced by distributors and those in the distribution chain.

The Results: Seamless integration, reduction of costs, standardization, and reduction in employee resources.  Greater observability in tracking and identification of lost and late shipments, reduction in manpower, transportation costs are better managed.

The Concern:  Adding a third party solution to a well functioning Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution.  Modifications, however well intentioned, can destabilize a working solution.  Extreme care must be taken when making changes to your system.  Many candidates for a new system come from clients that started with a working system that they modified over time to meet their growing business demands.  After a while the system becomes destabilized and has a whole series of manual processing and integration issues.  Errors creep in and extra manpower is needed to maintain all the links. 

Every time a human is involved in the manipulation or transmission of data it has a greater potential of being corrupted. The relationship becomes exponential as more manual processes and people are involved, the risk rises quickly.

An all-in-one solution is best, but in today’s world there are so many facets of business that are in need of automation, that no one source will have the expertise to deliver all of the needed results.  Good things happen when you have a strategic partnership with a goal of customer satisfaction at the core of a solution. 

In this case Agile’s seamless integration with VAI’s S2K ERP solution is an example of good planning.  Agile is dedicated to the transportation industry.  They have the experience to manage the complexities of transportation.  That is what they do best.  VAI has extensive experience working with Manufacturers and Distributors to know and understand their challenges.  This is what they do best.

The Difference:  When an ERP solution provider creates and maintains the integration of a third party solution, they have the knowledge of their software and its intricacies.  They are responsible to maintain the interface.  When a release update comes out, they are managing the interface and update.  Errors are reduced or eliminated.  They have a team of people that understand the subtleties and nuances of their respective solutions.  They manage the risk of change so you can concentrate on your business, not the solution running the business.

A great interface is evident when that interface is seamless to the end user.  The user of the ERP solution gains the benefits of automation and efficiency.  It is how they compete with their global competition.  Efficiency reduces costs.  Efficiency increases customer satisfaction.  

Dolvin Consulting is dedicated to the solution needs of their clients.  We help you to better understand how new solutions meet your challenges and work hard to match available solutions to your budget.  Contact us today to gain a fresh perspective on what you are already doing.  Maybe you are already doing the best you can with the resources at your disposal.  Maybe you are overlooking easy changes that will improve your operations.  The only way to be sure is to look and ask questions.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Detecting Fraud in your ERP Solution

Fraud and theft are difficult topics to address.  There are so many resources available, so many places to review in your organization.  How often do we just make the assumption that our Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution has all the needed checks and balances? 

ERP systems can help by organizing operations and allowing auditors to spot trends in the data.

This sounds important.  Where do I start?  First of all, this is not meant to be a technical report, nor a complete one.  I only hope to highlight the importance of security and how your system can enable or prevent fraud from occurring.

Does your ERP solution run on a secure platform?  This is the physical stuff, the box, the server, the equipment.  This question must be asked and answered regardless if the solution is in-house or hosted in the Cloud.  Who has physical access to the system?  Who has wired and/or wireless, VPN, or virtual connectivity to the system?

The next step after the physical equipment would be to look at the operating system running on the system.  Many servers have choices in operating systems, some servers have proprietary operating system.  Regardless all operating systems have security settings.  These settings should be based on the user, resource accessed, the device being used, and where the person is located.

The next layer is the ERP software solution itself.  How are controls enabled?  Does each user have a unique login credentials?  How are the modules and the options secured?  Does the software audit and track changes by user, date and time. 

Above this are functional roles.  For example there should be a check and balance (more than one person) processing the billing and the receipts.  More than one person counting inventory and auditing the counts.  There are many such role checks that should be implemented in your organization.  The specifics should be discussed with your audit team.

Where do the threats come from?  Ultimately people are involved.  Are they solo efforts or are they conspiracies?  Do you perform background checks on your personnel?  Do they have gambling problems or prior criminal records?  Men and women of all ages commit fraud. 

Some industries have higher rates of embezzlement than others, but few, if any are exempt from the risk.  It does not matter if it is nonprofit or for-profit.  The incidents often happen over a long period of time.  Small amounts taken regularly versus an armed robbery all-at-once.

Today there are many financial and operational standards, particularly for publicly held companies.  Again, I am not here to tell you which ones or how they should be implemented.  I am suggesting that the ERP solution you have should meet those standards.   The security solution like the software modules should be integrated in the system, not a separate bolt on effort.

The long term solution is to engage with your Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and find a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) to take a close look at your organization.  Accountant relationships are one of the select few where you do not like to make changes unless something goes terribly wrong.  No one wants to bear their sole over again with someone new.  However, if the relationship is professional, an independent audit will not offend your finance person and may only need to be done every few years.  This will assure ownership that the proper controls are in place and allow you to keep your advisor.

Dolvin Consulting is available to help you find and implement sound ERP solutions that meet your challenges and budget.  Contact us today to see how we can help.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Most Mid Size Companies Already Have an ERP System

To remain competitive organizations of all sizes, but in particular, midsize companies must integrate their operations across their enterprise.  This integration should include as many department or function roles as possible.  The tighter and more completely your company communicates, the greater the potential Return on Investment (ROI). 

Separate systems or systems loosely connected with manual procedures are obvious candidates for updates.  What may not be obvious is the effect of Mergers and Acquisitions has on the industry or having an older system.  Older is relative, but if your system is more than five years old, your team should at least be talking with your advisor to learn what is available.  You do not necessarily have to make changes, but you should be aware they exist.

Has your organization created its own application extensions to meet your needs?  Custom solutions are great, because they are built to your specifications and needs.  Bad, in the sense that now you have something that must be re-integrated, re-engineered, or thrown away with an upgrade or new system.  A new system that already has those functions built-in is insurance against obsolescence.

What you may find is that your current software vendor already has upgraded your software and it is the most logical solution for your growth.  Same equipment and familiar interface methods reduce the impact of the learning curve and speed adoption of new features to enhance productivity.

Standardization of systems, reduction of power usage, simplification of management and maintenance are also components to consider when calculating your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).  Of course there are upfront costs associated with anything new, but these can often be offset by savings and increased efficiency.  Why else would you consider making such an impactful change?

Your advisor is a critical component.  There is just too much information to sort through on the Internet.  Your advisor knows you best and can help narrow the field of interest.  This narrowed field is more easily researched, because you now know what you are looking for.  Let your advisor pick the weeds out of your garden.  That is why you invest in one. 

Are you looking for better ways to service your customers?  Better ways of communicating with your suppliers?  Implementing EDI, Barcodes, Wireless technologies, RFID, Voice picking?  Does your purchasing team need a better way to calculate suggested purchases?  Perhaps your system works, but you need a better way to schedule routine tasks or receive notifications of critical events. 

Maybe you need the same output in a more user friendly format such as PDF’s or Spread sheets.  How fast does it take to check someone out at your Retail/POS stations?  After checkout does your Ecommerce site know the inventory is gone or do you have to manually update availability? 

Do you need integration with shipping companies or truck routing?  Perhaps knowing and tracking your Landed costs and rolling them up in your product costs is a factor worth investigating.  Do you know how much your product costs and therefore your profit margins?  Does management have the tools to determine trends in your sales?

If you want specifics, then we need to talk.  No one knows your business better than you do.  It takes time to build a relationship of trust and understanding. Time to know what the impact of change will be to your organization.

No short or long article online will replace a face-to-face meeting.  There is no commitment other than to look, ask questions, and see what alternatives you have.  Contact Dolvin Consultingtoday.  You have challenges, we havesolutions.  Let us determine if there is a match.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Integration Increases Accuracy and Efficiency

If your organization grows and adds more locations including a mobile work force, more parts (SKU’s), more personnel, the need for tighter integration increases.  Customer service should and is the major driving force for better integration and accuracy.  This results in greater efficiency which helps to offset the investment in technology and makes your organization more competitive and profitable.

We all want more profit, but raising prices will only force your customers to look to other sources.  You can lay off employees, but at some point customer service falls.  I am sure you remember the last time you talked with someone who was not happy working where they were.  How did you feel after that call or visit?  Are you going back there, probably not if you have an alternative?  If you do, are you going to purchase just the minimum or will you shop.  Well, surprise your customers are looking at you the same way.

What can you do?

Do you have separate systems?  If your counter sells a product, does the mobile Salesrep know that fact?  More importantly, when that mobile sales person tells the customer “no problem, you will have the parts by week end”, did he just tell a lie?  How happy will your customer be when the delivery is late? 

How well does your purchasing team function with separate systems.  Analysis with spread sheets is fine as long as the information ties back to a central repository.  Do you drop ship to your customer, store location or distribution center?  If your purchasing is not centralized, how will you take advantage of discounts?

How long do your customers like to wait when checking out, either in person or online?

Do you service what you sell?  How well can you track parts and labor?  What about warranty information?  Is Service and Repair part of your system?

How efficient is your warehouse?  Are you taking advantage of barcodes and Radio Frequency (RF) devices?  What about voice picking?  Business operations today need ways to increase accuracy without overwhelming workers with complex technology.  It should look and act simply.  It is the technology behind the scenes that is supposed to take care of the complexities.  A modern Warehouse Management System (WMS) provides the infrastructure to drive efficiency and accuracy when handling inventory. 

What would happen to your bottom line if you were able to increase customer fill rates and satisfaction at the same time you reduced your inventory level by just two or three percent?

What integrated modules in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system would help drive this efficiency? 

How about a Contact Relationship Management (CRM) system that was integrated and your employees did would not have to leave the application and could enter a prospect, quote them, convert the prospect to a customer and sell them products with a few simple steps? 

How about a fully integrated Ecommerce system providing real time inventory, pricing and credit checks?  A system where the customer and inside management can get an accurate picture of their account and orders.

How about a “system” that, since all the modules were part of one system, that employees had fast learning curves, because it was one system?  How about a system where management had dash boards with drill down capabilities to inquire on details when needed?  How about a system which reduces the amount of paperwork to process an order?   How about a system that had checks and balances?  How about a system that automatically alerted your personnel of important events or thresholds?

 So far we talked a lot about “what if” and “how about”.  Now it is time to “imagine what” and “imagine how”.  For many, they just do not know what they do not know, so anything that proposes a change is scary.  Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of cost overruns, fear of job loss.  You could just pretend your business does not have the problems everyone else has or that they are not so bad.  After all you are still making money.  You have survived this recession (is it over yet?). 

You might be saying now is not the right time.  We made it this far.  Now is not the time to take any risks.  I am not suggesting you do that.  Now is the time to take a good look at what you are doing and how you are doing what you do.  Start with Dolvin Consulting as an advisor.  Define metrics and collect data so you have a baseline for a Return on Investment (ROI) calculation.  Invest time now to determine the true Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) associated with a newer system.  Build you relationship with your advisor now.  Start slow and use industry expertise to learn about your operations. 

When the time is right you will be in a better position to judge the potential benefits of change.  It will be a lot less scary then.  You will have the information to make an intelligent decision.  Contact us today.  We will not sell you anything.  We provide service and advice to the faithful.  We believe we make a difference by listening to your needs and matching them with powerfulsolutions.  Solutions that drive accuracy and efficiency in your operations that make you more profitable at the same time you increase your customer’s satisfaction.