Monday, April 29, 2013

Decision Making

What process do you go through when making a decision?  Do you ask some questions?  Do you like the way it looks?  Do the details, the little things matter?

When you purchase an appliance or television, do you read the manual, ask a salesperson, a trusted advisor, your neighbor, someone else you know that recently went through the same decision process?  Do you research it via a search engine, read online reviews? 

I had this discussion with my wife recently.  Like most relationships each of us has our roles.  Mine includes the official read-the-manual (if it pleases you) role.  She has the role of plug-it-in or turn-it-on (and ask me what to do that if she has problems).

We have been fortunate to be able to drive a wide variety of vehicles since being together.  We used to own, now we are used to leasing and really enjoy having a new vehicle every three years and not have to worry about maintenance or other long-term car care issues.  Once you are used to the payment, they typically stay about the same and it just becomes part of your budget.  Very similar to leasing server equipment for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions.  Hmmm?

My wife now enjoys, I mean really enjoys driving her Jeep Wrangler.  Enough so that she is on her second one and states that she will always have one now.  It took some trial and error over several years to finally try and lease this Jeep.  She had talked about it, her brother gave it two thumbs down, but she test drove it, liked it (loved really), and introduced me to the dealer where I could test drive what she already selected.

She likes the variety of options.  A Freedom top, which is a combination of hard-top, T-roof and also a soft-top, which has many options and she has me lower for her in the summer.  She likes the options, but really just uses the hard-top in the winter and soft-top in the summer seasons.  She, of course, adds a few options to customize to her style.

Notice that I said that I take care of the top- up, down, hard, soft.  Yes, I read the instructions.  I even know how to remotely start it with the key.  She said she could not make that work and thus hands them to me.  She is management and strategic, I am technical and tactical.  It works in our relationship.  We each take care of what we do best.

For my car, I researched all the options, checked with the dealer, went to one of their promotional events to get a discount on a new model.  I needed to know everything, even though I knew what I was going to do, I just needed to justify it properly.  I like watching the Salesrep demonstrate the car features when I picked it up.  I probably knew as much as he at that point.  I asked a few questions, one of which he had to double check.  Amazing what information is available. 

I often tell company owners the most dangerous employee is the one who reads the help instructions.

Should an ERP system be analyzed and if so, to what extent?   Considering that replacing an existing ERP solution is comparable to open heart transplant surgery.  If the doctors are smart and the homework and prep done right it can proceed without issue and your life continues happily ever after.  Done wrong or steps skipped and a less than optimal existence will follow.

What challenges are you trying to solve? 

What options are available in the solution?  What will the Return on Investment (ROI) be?  Can you purchase and deploy in a phased manner or do you have to jump in fully? 

Two really important questions are how well does the software match your company’s culture and does it give you the ability to improve customer service levels?  There are a great number of solutions to choose from today.  Does the new solution employ new technology that requires hiring new people or does it involve too many steps to process a simple transaction?  Is it just a matter of the learning curve or will it just frustrate everyone.  Most new solutions require some learning.  What will life be like six months later? 

Change is the hardest thing for people to do.

If the fit is good, then it is not uncommon to actually hear six months after implementation that “I wish we had done this earlier, I do not know how we functioned before”. 

Does anyone have a vision of the future?  The most successful people have coaches.  In the business world we call them Trusted Advisors.

Does it matter?  The questions and due diligence? 

If you asked my wife, her answer would likely be “No”.  She is in that rare group that has that ability to just pick the right one.  Besides, she knows that I will do the research regardless, so why should she do it also.  Remember she is the strategic one.  For me, the answer is “Yes”.  Yes, it matters.  It matters very much.  What about your business? 

What are your most asked and yet unanswered questions? 

What keeps you awake at night?

Contact Dolvin Consulting with your questions.  That is why we are here.  We work with industry experts to ensure you have the right solution to your challenges. 

We look forward to serving you.


Monday, April 22, 2013

No Shortcuts to a Better ERP Solution

Well, not really anyway, but there may be a few tools to help you with the journey. 

Take for instance the recipe for “Spaghetti alla puttanesca” (literally "whore's style spaghetti" in Italian) which is a tangy, somewhat salty Italian pasta dish invented in the mid-20th century. The ingredients are typical of Southern Italian cuisine: tomatoes, olive oil, olives, capers, and garlic.


Various accounts exist as to when and how the dish originated, but it likely dates to the mid-twentieth century. The earliest known mention of it is in a 1961 Italian novel which mentions spaghetti alla puttanesca come li fanno a Siracusa (spaghetti alla puttanesca as they make it in Syracuse).  According to the Professional Union of Italian Pasta Makers the sauce became popular in the 1960s.

The 1971 edition of the Cucchiaio d’argento has no recipe with this name, but two which are similar. The Neapolitan Spaghetti alla partenopea, is made with anchovies and generous quantities of oregano, while spaghetti alla siciliana is distinguished by the addition of green peppers.

According to Annarita Cuomo, writer for Il Golfo, a newspaper serving the Italian islands of Ischia and Procida, sugo alla puttanesca was invented in the 1950s by Sandro Petti, co-owner of Rancio Fellone, a famous Ischian restaurant and nightspot.

Basic recipe

The sauce alone is called sugo alla puttanesca in Italian. Recipes may differ according to preferences; for instance the Neapolitan version is prepared without anchovies, unlike the version popular in Lazio, and chili pepper is sometimes added. In most cases, however, the sugo is a little salty (from the capers, olives, and anchovies) and quite fragrant (from the garlic). Traditionally, the sauce is served with spaghetti, although it also goes well with penne, bucatini, linguine and vermicelli.

Chopped garlic and anchovies (omitted in the Neapolitan version) are sautéed in olive oil. Chopped chili peppers, olives, capers, diced tomatoes and oregano are added along with salt and black pepper to taste. The cook then reduces this mixture by simmering and it is poured over spaghetti cooked al dente. The final touch is a topping of parsley.

So, thanks to Wikipedia for the insightful recipe.  Our family version is a little different as it is likely different in many homes.  What is consistent here is the recipe for a quick, filling, hot meal for a hungry family.  It is a quick dinner sauce served over pasta.  Pasta, a starch staple of so many people, like rice and potatoes.

So how does this relate to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions?

We so often look for a quick solution, something easy, something to ease the pain.  And sometimes we luck out and find an individual or organization that is worth the investment that takes your company on a new journey, like a tour guide.  As you can imagine there are all different levels of competency in tour guides and associated budgets. 

The key is finding a guide or trusted advisor that you feel comfortable with that takes the time to get to know you, your business and objectives and balances that with the available solutions and is able to recommend and show you potential solutions to your challenges.

Just a good guide can make your journey enjoyable and a quick meal filling, a bad guide or a guide that goes too quick or does not invest the time needed or simply just does not understand your industry, your business, your people or culture, can make a ERP search seem like the something from the dead zone. 

At Dolvin Consulting, we are proud to receive your requests for help.  That is why we are here.  To help your company navigate the seas of constant change and flux in technology.  We leverage our industry relationships to bring comprehensive solutions to you.  Contact us today to see how we can help.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Out with the old, in with the new

I am not sure where everyone is located who reads this article.  For me, I am located in New Jersey, United States of America.  “Joysey” as we often refer to it and no, it is nothing like the Jersey Shore television show (those are visiting New Yorkers and could be the subject of a whole book). 

We have not had a terrible winter season, yet there have been cold spells.  This weekend overall has given us a taste of spring weather.  Warmer, more moderate temperatures, sunny skies, and a light breeze.  Ideal weather to see how well in-shape we are from the winter to go out and start cleaning up the yard, fighting the weeds, pruning the bushes and pondering where our lawn went and if it will ever be the same.

My neighbor, after saying hello, said he did not know what he was going to do with his back yard.  I agreed, saying that I really did not have grass any more, just weeds.  At least he has grass in his front yard.  I do not have much of anything that looks like grass.  In truth the soil has run through many seasons and it is just not workable anymore.  The weeds seem to like it fine.  Yet, there are even a few dead spots the weeds do not even like to venture.


As interesting as this may sound (insert laugh sound here), it relates to a few of my customers who recently decided to replace their entire infrastructure.   Everything.  Servers, workstations, laptops, switches, operating systems, office software, etc. 

I am not sure if it is a matter of the economy being so bad for so long, that no one did any maintenance and the future all-of-a-sudden caught up, like in a time warp.  Or, if there was no one at the helm directing or deciding on what needed to be done.  In one case the organization decided on new software which had new requirements.  The old equipment just could not keep up and was painfully slow. 

For many smaller companies it may be a matter of not having a Technology Department or budget.  The companies are too small to have a dedicated person.  They operate on a break-fix method instead of being proactive.  Sometimes they have Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, but the vendor does not force updates and they end up getting left behind. 

No one seems to want to take responsibility.

Now, I am not advocating that once an organization has a solution that they should be forced to stay current, yet there is some thought that is why you select an outside solution provider versus developing the code in-house.  Someone to keep you current and invest the resources needed to keep current with today’s trends and changes and demands, demands of their customers.

Software as a service (SaaS) solutions have the advantage of keeping you current.  They can sometimes be limited in that you cannot make all of the changes you want and you need to mold your business to the software.  A big advantage is that you are always current.  Small incremental changes instead of dramatic culture changes.

As a solution provider I run up against the challenge of whether or not I need to keep after my smaller clients or devote my time and energies, not to mention income, towards companies that are actively looking for help.  I really do care, but how many times can I go to management and let them know they are at risk for not keeping current.  I hear all the time that “we are not a target”, “no one is trying to break in”, “we do not have any money”, “everything is fine”, well at least not until after-the-fact.  Then they have that puzzled look. 

I do not ever say “I told you so”, I ask how I can help. 

There was a time when things were simpler.  The challenge usually was not enough disk space or a workstation that was disconnected or not communicating.  You know, simple, not like there has been a data breach, our employee identities have been compromised and the regulators are calling.

There have been a few ideas on getting my clients current.  Depending on just how bad things are helps to determine if upgrading incrementally is an option or if replacing everything is the solution.

When the decision is made to replace everything, there are virtualization options.  The technology has come a long way and takes advantage of the older workstations being used as clients to a central system.  There are a number of advantages, central administration, backup, disaster recovery, easily creating new workstations from templates.  Another significant benefit is that all of the data resides in-house and for people traveling with laptop computers, this is a big advantage in cases where the device is lost or stolen. 

The downside of virtualization seems to be in a few main areas.  One, they has to be enough infrastructure to make it worthwhile.  Virtualization has upfront costs and there has to be enough “stuff” to offset those startup costs.  Two, you need someone on the technical side to help administer the system.  Yes, these systems are fairly well automated, but there are needs that require knowledgeable people.  These are powerful and sophisticated server systems.  Three, there are virtualization systems that run in-house and others are hosted.  The hosted ones take care of a lot of the administration and upkeep, however, if there are any connectivity issues, then this can be a dangerous combination.  If everything is virtualized and “out-there”, then what happens when you cannot connect?

Last fall on the East coast, right here in NJ, hurricane Sandy came running through.  Some businesses were completely unprepared.  Still, others thought they had everything covered, because their servers were in the “cloud”.  Great, but no one could connect.  The Internet is growing and hosts valuable resources, but they are only good, if you can get to them.

Another option for the smaller organizations is leasing.  If all of the equipment needs to be replaced, then it can all be leased.  At the end of three years, purchase two thirds of it at fair market value, and then lease one third every year thereafter.  At that point in time you will be replacing your workstations every three years and you can feel relatively confident that you will be current or not that far behind.  Every three years you will be all-new.  The servers can be leased as well, but you may want more time on them.  One advantage of a shorter term lease is that you can configure the hardware more to your immediate needs and not worry too much about the future, because you will be replacing it in a few years. 

Leasing also has the advantage of deferring the costs.  A smaller monthly payment than having to come up with all that money at once.  Cap-ex versus Op-ex expenditures.  There is a cost to leasing, but the administration reduction typically pays for it. 

I cannot say leasing is right for you, but I do suggest you take a look at the option.

So how is my yard and your computing infrastructure similar?  Well, I have been “doing” my yard for decades, feel I have a good feel for what it needs, fertilizer, water, mowing, weeding, etc.,  just like you do with your equipment and software.  I also know that a little knowledge and being knowledgeable are two different things.  Perhaps if I let the lawn care to someone, i.e. a business, that does lawn care for a business that I might not only free up my time for things that only I can do, but I might also end up with a great lawn that I do not have to worry about. 

At Dolvin Consulting we either have expertise or we work with industry experts that do have the expertise to help you understand your challenges, develop a reasonable plan of action direct you into a profitable future.  Contact us today to see how we can help.


Monday, April 8, 2013

Service Level and Customer Satisfaction

Is servicing your customers by shipping same day while at the same time balancing manufacturing and distribution something your organization wishes they could do better?

My guess, the answer is “Yes”. 

First of all customer service is the only reason to make changes.  You do not need any process improvement for the sake of making improvements.  There are always better ways of doing the things you are already doing.  Some come at the cost of increased complexity.  Some come at a high price.  Some never materialize.  We look for a Return on Investment (ROI) and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) when evaluating a new solution.  Does that return include happy customers?

Even if the process improvement is only designed to save costs.  Do the lower operating costs enable you to maintain competitive pricing for your customers (customer satisfaction)?

For example take a look at this company’s success story:


Multiple locations, many customers, same day service, manufacturing work orders, Material Requirements Planning (MRP), distribution, high inventory levels, warehousing, order entry, shipment processing and financials. 

All on a single system, not multiple systems.

A complete package, simple interface that met the company’s culture, key customer support from the vendor (just like they service their customers), and on a very reliable platform.  Six months from contract to full implementation. 

Automation continues to be the key to cost containment, efficiency and profitability.  Immediate order printing, barcode scanning, picking, shipment integration, and invoicing.  All key to maintaining a high business level for this company.

Forecasting future sales based on history and select overrides enables better planning.  Full integration enables production planning to meet demand.  Capacity planning allows management to adjust resources to meet demand.  Shop Floor Control increases labor reporting accuracy. 

·         “Our service level is second to none.” 

·         “Our Customers can count on us.” 

·         “The quality level is right.”

Where does your company struggle the most? 

Would working with a proven leader be a good start?  You will need to evaluate how well they work with organizations like yours.  Are they so big that you never get a chance to deal directly with their management?  Are they so small that you worry about them getting hit by a bus or going out of business?  Do you have concerns about them being bought out and having to reestablish a new relationship with a new firm?

There is no pain free solution. 

It is an uncomfortable transition to a new system, especially one that may be completely foreign to the way you operate now.  It is akin to open heart surgery.  Run you business as usual and plan, train and implement a new solution at the same time.  Not a pleasant thought, but then again neither is going out of business, because you cannot compete in ever changing markets.  Management needs the information and tools to see how their business is operating and make changes as needed.  A multi vendor solution can have difficulties in presenting the information in a timely manner.   A “big” system can do the job, but may be overkill for the job need.  You need the right size fit. 

A gauge of success is the statement six months later that we do not know how we ever managed before. 

If you can say this, then you know you made the right decision.  The challenge is that you do not know this is what you will say when you start.  So you have to go based on like success stories, and most importantly, your gut reaction dealing with the solution provider.  Are the accessible?  Do they listen?  Do they understand your business, not just your challenges?

At Dolvin Consulting we work with your team to learn what your pain points are and what effect they have on your operations.  We work with industry experts like VAI and IBM to deliver proven quality solutions.  Contact us today to see how we can help you look at what you are doing with new eyes. 

We care.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Resurrecting Your ERP System

In this Christian Easter season of resurrection and forgiveness is it time to look at you Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system with new vision? 

After all, if you are in business today after the last few years, then you have accomplished something great.  It has been tough.  Give yourself a pat on the back and a nod in the mirror. 


If my phone and email are any indication you probably receive dozens of calls and hundreds of emails every day.  Everyone seems to have “The Answer” to your challenges.  They all seem to know all-of-a-sudden how your business runs, what is wrong and the miracle solution.  Are they trying to tell you how to run your business?

Really?  How long have they been in business? 

Now, in all fairness, length in business alone is not always a fair indication of success.  A lot of people have been displaced and have opened their own business with the talents and skills built in a lifetime.  A famous person said in response to a salesperson’s claim of 20 years of experience (and no new sales) that he really had one year of experience 20 times and perhaps he needed to look at what he was doing and how with a new perspective. 
You cannot do what you have always done and expect the same results.

Times are a changing.  Your ERP system has updates.  The world is changing and there is a need to stay “current”.  What worked in the past may not work well with the future.  Think about how you do banking now.  It is still leveraging income, expenses and cash flow.  But, how do you interact with your financial institution?  Are you using their online services?  Balance inquiries, statements, transactions, transfers?

In what way is your financial institution servicing your needs and the needs of their customers in general?  Is customer service a key component?  Forget for the moment the fees they tack on to seemingly everything, are they customer focused?  After all how different are all of these separate banks? 

I see it all the time at networking meetings.  This somebody tells me how great their bank is and how wonderful life is there.  Then six months later they are working at a competitor’s bank and guess what?  I hear how wonderful they are and how they are customer centric and they now have the tools to service their customers better.  All they did is switch business cards.  What is missing is that they are the key ingredient.  If they learn to listen and service their customers, then when they switch banks in another year, their customers will follow. 

It is customer service and relationships that matter most.

So, what does this have to do with resurrecting your ERP system?  Everything. 

You may actually have everything you need at your fingertips.  You may just not be utilizing what you have.  Have you turned on all of the interfaces?  Can you properly cost your manufactured items?  Are you taking advantage of all of your part discounts from your suppliers?  What about vendor discounts?  The list is long. 

What are you doing now?  How can that change?  Do you need to change?

Perhaps you just need to stop making changes and take advantage of the upgrades you are already entitled to now.  Most ERP providers today charge an initial license fee and an annual license fee.  The initial fee is what you pay to get started.  The annual fee is your payment of confidence that the solution provider is constantly looking to providing great service to their customers, listening to your needs and upgrading their solution to meet changing demands.  It is how the ERP provider stays in business.  Service their customer’s needs.

You need to service your customer’s needs too.  Otherwise, they will go else ware.  A happy customer is loyal and a loyal customer refers business to you.  When is the last time any one of your customers sent you a referral?  When is the last time you sent a referral to someone else?  It is a two way street. 

Resurrecting your aging systems may mean new training, upgrading or perhaps selecting a new system, because your customers are worth the investment.

How do you know which if anything should change?  That is where your trusted advisor comes in and even if you already have one, maybe you need new eyes.  A long time advisor is a great asset.  But when can that relationship hurt you?  If they know you so well as to shy away from what you need for any type of fear, loss of business, hurt feelings, etc, then they have lost their objectivity.   I am not suggesting you terminate that relationship.  They still are a great asset and can contribute in many ways, but you also need to look out for your business.

At Dolvin Consulting we leverage our relationships with industry experts to help your team look at what you are already doing to see if a resurrection is necessary.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.  After all, you may just find out that you are already doing everything you can.  That would be a nice feeling, would it not? 

There are all types of solutions at all levels of investment.  That does not mean they fit your budget.  What can you do now to prepare the way for the future?  What are your options?  What will your business look like in 5-10 years?  Will your current solution provider be able to keep up?  Will they still be in business?  Will they be bought out by another company that does not care about you? 

The time to build you new relationship is now.  Contact us to see how we can help.