Monday, March 25, 2013

Next Generate ERP Solutions

New tools, new approach to the same challenges.  How does an organization link its varied departments and resources to better drive efficiency and collaboration in its workforce and supply chain?  How does an organization do this and at the same time keep to its budget?  Are the returns on this type of investment real?


Your organization does not need to upgrade to keep doing business the way you always have.  You do not need to invest in a new solution, if what you have works and you have no competition and are not worried about the loss of your customer base.

In fact, you can keep doing what you always have and keep getting the same or less results you always have and if that is satisfactory to your outlook, then you do not need to read further. 

Why did you happen upon this article in the first place?

I have been working indepentently with a colleauge on a project for a mutual organization.  Initially there was great interest in moving forward, integrating their separate systems, many of which are manual and paper based.  No telling what is missed, lost in translation, billed incorrectly, if at all.  The project started well enough with some detailed analysis and departmental interviews.  Numerous issues were discovered that did not mesh with the vision for the future. 

And then…

Politicis and egos crept in.  No telling if the people in positions of authority suddenly became concerned about the budget for doing further analysis, or the budget for making improvments or really concerned that in moving forward they would have to acknowledge that they dropped the ball somewhere along the way.  It may not have been avoidable, it may not have been a case of being inept, it may not have been in their control.  It was, however, their responsibility.

A common challenge for many budget conscience organizations is to look at the costs of moving forward instead of looking at the process as an investment.  An investment implies a Return on Investment (ROI).

The spirit of investigation was and continues to be one where teams are built to identify and address areas that can use and benefit from improvements.  Improvments that in time will pay for the upgrades and process improvments. 

Improvments where analysis cleary indicates that they have been hemoraging.  It may not have mattered to their busines in the past, but it certainly will in the future.  In order to maintain and increase their customer base, they will need to focus more on the customer, than on their own egos. 

Titles are nice when it allows an organization to focus on decision makers.  Titles are nice when it empowers servant based leadership.  Titles are nice when what needs to get done, actually gets done.  Titles are bad, if all that person is concerned about is their title.

Customer service is the most important function any organization can prioritize. 

New solutions and new ways of collecting and anyalyzing information have value, if the purpose is to drive better efficiencies in your organization in order to deliver great customer service.  Linking departments and streamlining operations, eliminating manual processes so that management has a birds eye view of business through dashboards and drill-downs is generally a good investment, if it helps drive customer service.  Other improvments for other reasons are not without merrit, but remember without customers, you have no business.

New technologies are shortcuts to better operations.  Portal, web and client applications typically reduce the costs of delivering the technology.

I remember the good ole’ days when there was a main computer and dumb terminals.  No virus’ to worry about and no employee distractions.  Did have the occasional distruption due to someone rearranging their office and unplugging daisy-chained devices.  As technology improved, we had the higher costs associated with workstation emulation cards, configuration issues, but also had increased producdtivity and reduced landscape in office spaces from less devices. 

Then technology advances started accelerating and the ability to keep up and manage the kaos brought on a whole new industry and new problems. 

We are starting to come full circle where the focus is not so much on the technology, but on the results the technology can bring to the organization.  Technology that can be used to link the various departments and operations.  Technology that is available anytime, anywhere, from any device that provides seemless integration and is configurable to an individuals specific needs. 

Needs in an organization that are focused on the providing the best customer service they can with the resouces they can afford.

At Dolvin Consulting, we are anxious and zealous for your future.  We work with your team to drive results that improve operations and customer service.  We typically help manufacturers, distributors and specialty retailers streamline their operations with integrated ERP solutions which imporove efficiencies, reduce costs and result in increased profits.  Profits that can be used to pursue and retain happy customers.  Contact us today to see how we can help.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Control and Visibility

Is there a way to achieve improved productivity, industry compliance and increased profitability?  At the same time?  These goals are not mutually exclusive and in particular the food industry has added pressure from an extra layer of compliance needs with the implementation of the recent act by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Food Distribution and Manufacturing company’s jobs became a bit more complex after January 2011 when the Food Safety Modernization Act was signed.  This “Act” placed added pressure on food manufacturers and distributors to ensure a safe food supply chain.

The law gave the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the power to order recalls of contaminated food and request records from food organizations to provide reports related to the manufacturing, distribution and packaging of any product. If your company sells a food product and the FDA uncovers a problem with it, be it contaminated or expired for example, the government can request all of your records.  If you fail to provide these records, your company can be banned from selling that product. Furthermore, the FDA has the power to suspend and shut down your business.


These are not pleasing thoughts for an industry already struggling with economic issues, high labor costs, overhead, and cutthroat competition.  Margins are small and volume is needed to make a profit.


Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions are often the rescue of these organizations.  Whether it is a new solution or upgrade of an existing solution, ERP solution providers are answering the call for compliance while at the same time they typically reduce the manpower needed to achieve results via bar-coding and automation. 


ERP solutions are being leveraged to help with record keeping of purchases, manufacturing, inventory, and pick-pack-ship processing. This automation also helps with rebates, pricing and quality control testing and record keeping.  The transactions and testing can be documented in the case of an audit.


Record keeping is something that computerized solutions do very well.  There may be some additional data collection, but you will utilize the system to do this instead of pen and paper. 


Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are often coupled with an ERP solution to streamline the automation process and reduce labor overhead.  They become integral components.  Some are third party solutions while others are fully integrated.  Fully integrated solutions are almost always preferable if they provide the functionality needed.  The reduction in overhead in integration and maintenance often makes up the financial difference.  If your ERP solution does offer this module or equivalent, then it is time to perform an evaluation of what else you may be missing.


Control and visibility of inventory, product movement and operations are key components to an efficient operation.  Efficient operations lead to reduced costs and higher profits.  Profits that can be reinvested in your organization to gain a competitive edge.   


Dolvin Consulting works with industry experts to find powerful solutions that will enable your organization to break through the glass ceiling that is holding you back from growth.  Contact us today to see how we can help.  That is why we are here and how we deliver value.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Is it time to replace your outdated system?

First of all, you have to find out if your system is actually outdated.  This is answered not only by how old your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution is, but also by how many releases behind you are and how well is your staff utilizing the solution now.  If all of your departments are integrated using the system and there are not a lot of manual processes, you may very well be using the system to its full potential. 


That, by the way, is not the answer to the question if the system is outdated.  It is like the comparison of system up-time versus up-and-available-time.  It is a key component, but only a component.


How efficient are your operations?  How much time do your employees spend doing their various tasks? 


Several years ago I had a conversation with a CFO about replacing some workstations.  The issue of cost came up as it usually does when discussing equipment.  The old workstations were slow and gave his people the opportunity to get and sometimes drink a cup of coffee before it finished starting up.  During the day there were numerous delays waiting, waiting, and waiting.  PC workstations have come down in cost significantly over time and I asked based on some examples if he thought any particular staff member would save between 10-15 minutes a day (2 minutes saved every hour is 16/day).  The number is reasonable.  I suggested we average down to be conservative and estimate 1 hour a week in time savings and to be even safer, just 40 weeks a year.  That is a conservative 40 hours saved or an entire work week.  Now multiply that by the number of workstations and their average hourly wage (not even counting employer overhead) and it now became obvious that new workstations would actually be free or have at minimum a high Return on Investment (ROI).


How efficient is your ERP system?


How much time does it take to post transactions?  Are you even posting everything?  Your system may work, after all if you are still in business after that last few years, then you must be doing something right.  Is everyone using the same system?  How prevalent are spread sheets and other office tools?  How many silos of information exist and how do you cross check the information?  How long does that take?  Do you have any metrics to perform and analysis?


You may not even know there is another way to do the same-old-thing.


Doing the same old thing a different way may be as foreign as... 


If you are old enough to remember the high jump competition from years past you know that everyone used to jump over the bar with their stomachs down for the most part (to be fair there were multiple methods including, straddling, western roll and scissors kick).  Basically this is was the way it was always done.  Then along came someone called Dick Fosbury in the 1968 Olympics with a new concept. Run up there, jump and have your back towards the ground and carefully unfold your legs as you go over the bar.  Jumpers today follow a more or less standard 10-step run up approach to build the speed needed to clear the bar. Momentum caries the jumper over the bar.  The Fosbury Flop as it is called is now is the way jumpers jump and clear the bar.  Now the mere mention of jumping the “old” way is foreign.


Your ERP solution follows the same concept when you start to consider if it is outdated.  You need to work with someone that has figured out the new approach.  It will feel awkward in the beginning, it always will when you do the same old thing a different way.  Is there no way you could do something old a new way more quickly, could you?  How long have you been doing it the old way?  How much time is reasonable to learn and perfect your processes a new way?  How long did it take you to develop the methods you use now?


Remember the first word in ERP is Enterprise.  ERP solutions work best when they integrate the entire operation. 


It takes an investment in time to look at what you are currently doing with fresh eyes and determine if there are better ways.  Seamlessly collecting information in as near real-time as possible across all departments is a critical component.  This ultimately will help to drive down inventory levels and potentially achieve a just-in-time (JIT) inventory or a system that is close to JIT. 


Collecting data or information is the first part.  The second is analyzing the information to spot trends and enable quicker, smarter decisions.  Establish metrics and then track and measure results.  Tweak the process, repeat and gain a more efficient operation.


You need to take your time to search for the ERP system that works, fits your business culture and your budget. 


You will need look at your solution provider as a business partner, if you want any level of success.  How is their customer service?  How is yours?  An ERP solution is like a marriage.  Easy to get into, not so easy to get out of, so you need to take your time and choose wisely.  Are they large enough to provide stability and commit to future enhancements?  Change is the constant and system requirements will continue to evolve.  Are they small enough to know you and treat you like your business and success is equally important to them as it is to you?


We started talking about the possibility of your system being outdated.  We ended up with customer service.  Why upgrade any system?  If it works, then why mess with it, right?  Remember how frustrating adding fax support was to your operations?  How about email?  Now, can you imagine going back to faxing, modems and that fun curly paper?  If you cannot or will not service your customers, then someone else will.


What will the next 10 years bring?


Dolvin Consulting is your business partner.  We work with industry experts, like IBM and VAI to deliver real world solutions, to your real world challenges.  Contact us today to see how we can help your team deliver the right solution that will grow with your business over time.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Is Reliability Important?

When you hear the term reliability you think of many things.  Is showing up one-time on time a sign of reliability?  How about every day of the year?  What about the equipment that your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution runs on?  Whether it runs in the cloud or on premise, does it matter?  Should it matter?


What does 99.999% reliability mean?  How does that translate to actual uptime?  What about 99%?  How much down time can your organization afford?  What about the company that actually supports the equipment?  Do they need a good reputation and commitment to help their customers?

Would you (your organization, company, etc) be more productive if you were able to concentrate on running your business instead of running your equipment? 
Uptime and availability is not the same thing.  A system could be up, but not available.


What makes a lot more sense is to think of reliability as the key to longevity.  How will you serve your customers if your systems are down?  What will your employees do while the system is down?  How will your Salesforce function without the information they need, when they need it?  Will your customers go shop someplace else?  Will they come back? 


For the most part you want to select your ERP solution based on the solution.  Does the solution solve your challenges, align with your culture and fit your budget?  It is also important that the solution be up and running, so equal amount of attention should be given to the system it runs on.  Solution first, hardware second.  If either is not a good match, it is time to move on and keep looking.    Both software and hardware make the solution.  It has nothing to do with the cloud.


Software itself has to be reliable.  It needs to collect information, process it and product results consistently.  It does this running on hardware equipment.


Your systems need to be up and running, run reliably, and serve your users, customers, and suppliers.  If you had two relatively equal systems that ran on two different platforms and one had approximately 13 minutes of unplanned downtime a year and another had over 4 hours, would that make a difference?  After all four hours does not sound too bad, but what happens if that four hours is during your peak busy season or right before a board meeting?  How many servers does your organization need?  Multiply the downtime by the number of servers. 


Many organizations will shy away from a solution if they do not have experience with a particular platform.  New technology may mean new support issues, personnel and concerns.  This is where cloud solutions have a lot of appeal.  Just use the solution and leave the hardware issues to someone else.  Not a bad idea, unless the shift from in-house to external creates more problems than benefits.


Cloud has its challenges too.  Who owns the data, what happens if the hosting company goes out of business or is acquired by another firm?  What happens then?  Who has access?  Are you a regulated company?  How do you get your information back if you change your mind?  Will you be able to create your own reports?  What about data collection?  How reliable is your Internet connection?  Do you need redundant connections?  What if you are located in an area that has no choices?


At this point you may be more confused than when you started reading.  That is why we are here.  At Dolvin Consulting we work with your team to find solutions that fit your company’s culture, needs and budget.  We help manufacturers, distributors and specialty retailers streamline their computer operations with reliable ERP solutions so that they operate more efficiently, reduce costs and increase profits.


If you struggle with warehouse or inventory control issues, are concerned you have too many manual processes, have a fear that the constant flux in technology is leaving you behind, then contact us to see how we can help.  We care.