Monday, December 30, 2013

ERP Leaders

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."   John Quincy Adams (6th U.S. President).


Can Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions themselves be leaders?  Is it even possible for software to be a leader or are the companies that provide the solution leaders? 


Should ERP solution providers be leaders?  Do they need to be or do they just need to provide workable solutions?


People generally want to be on a winning team.  But, after you peel away the layers, if the solution works, then does it matter if you are working with number one or two or some other ranking? 


The solution has to be a solution.


Call it what you want, rate it however you like, but the bottom line is: it has to work.  The solution needs to provide a platform to generate a positive Return on Investment (ROI).  Without that you would need to have a specialized need or operation to choose a solution that did not provide a basis to generate a good return.


What does a “Leader” mean to you, the purchaser?


One thing a leader in the software industry offers are direct relationships with hardware providers to ensure their applications take full advantage of available resources, that their software handles upgrades and operating systems updates seamlessly without interruption to business operations. 


Another leader quality is a commitment to development, research and support.  Taking feedback from their user base to build better solutions that fulfill their needs (customer service).   Research and development into new technologies to keep current with evolving supply chain demands.


What are you paying for?


With ERP solutions you typically pay in initial license fee and then an annual maintenance fee.  I had a conversation with a business owner a little while back about these fees.  He thought they did not make sense since the software had already been written.  He understood the hardware costs, but not the software fees.  Conversion and implementation estimates were another discussion.  We discussed that the fees are not really to pay for the software that has already been developed; it is to support the organization that supports your business operations.  It pays for continued improvements, bug fixes, and error/message handling. 


Granted the proposed software did have some significant costs associated with its development and the initial fee offsets those costs to the developer.  The annual fee is reasonable when you consider that you need the efforts of a leading developer to keep you current with your industry. 


You need a leader in the industry in order to provide training and support. 


There are plenty of solutions available and you need to select a solution provider that will be able to help you train, prepare, convert and support you as you transition and grow.  If the supplier it too small, then what happens if the economy turns, or they get really busy or they get hit by a bus?  If the organization is too large, then you can end up being just a number and lose any personal contact.  Most people like to be known to their supplier and have a relationship. 


Technology is continuing to develop at a faster and faster pace.  You need a partner that understands your business and is committed to continue growth efforts to both your business and theirs.  You have a mutually vested interest in both succeeding.


What do you think of leaders in ERP solutions?  How important is it to your business?  Do you just prefer a low cost solution and are not concerned about upgrades and support?  How do you currently utilize the support services provided by your supplier?  What is important to you?  What does your business need to grow?  What support services are a necessity and what is a luxury?


At Dolvin Consulting, we would like to know what you think.  Please share your ideas with us.  Contact us, if you need help.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Unlimited Growth Potential for ERP Solutions

Is there really such a thing as a smart solution?  Unlimited growth?  One of the first things we learn in technology is the phrase “GIGO” or Garbage In, Garbage Out.  A smart solution has multiple objectives to achieve if it is going to actually be considered smart. 


First and foremost no matter how it achieves it, any change must contribute to providing great customer satisfaction.  In order to do that it has to be responsive to user needs.  It has to have the ability to collect and analyze information from multiple sources and present that information to users in a timely manner so that intelligent business decisions can be made quickly and accurately that grow revenue, protect margins, and improve profitability.


The future of Enterprise Computing is certainly going to include adoption of Internet Technologies.  The benefits of this type of development are great.  A consistent and simple user interface that reduces training needs, removes the need for custom client software which helps to reduce costs and provides for a customizable single sign and access to all needed resources. 


This migration to web or cloud computing will provide uses access with any device, at any time and at any location.  The flip side of this access is the need to secure the enterprise with borderless technology solutions.  These security challenges are very achievable, but are also something to not glance over in any rush to modernize.


ERP solution providers now have to develop robust solutions that solve real world business issues and drive bottom-line results.   Anytime access is great, but you have to connect with accurate real-time information first. 


The solution designs do have to conform to the equipment and devices that people want to use.  Sometimes referred to as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).  The logical choice is web based as that is relatively standard software interface with any device available today.  This is a shift from the traditional standard of use-this-software, because that is what we support with our solution.  Now solution providers must tailor their solution to the client software of choice.  The different web browsers are the answer whether the solution is hosted in-house or in-the-cloud. 


One of the challenges that persist is how each web browser vendor implements web presentation in their respective version and the constant rush to get new versions out that may not be fully supported.  If a solution provider releases a version of their web browser is must support published standards. 


Anytime, anywhere access.


Just as the solution providers are changing their solutions, organizations are increasingly adopting and demanding cloud offerings for critical business operations.  As more consumers and businesses adopt tools such as smart phones and tablets, the ability to host data in the cloud and access it from just about anywhere on the planet is quickly becoming vital. Any solution today will need to allow customers multiple options for their infrastructure including on-premise servers, platform as a service, or software as a service.


One of the major benefits of this type of computing and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions in general is the ability to collaborate more effectively.  This collaboration results in increased productivity from business process automation.  A fully integrated Contact Relationship Management (CRM) system becomes a necessary component in fulfilling this challenge.  It is designed to collect and present notifications as well as monitor and assign daily tasks and business alerts.  


Web based portal interfaces give users an intuitive workspace where screens, applications, and dashboards have been consolidated and customized for the specific role and authority of the user.  By giving users the ability to configure their screens with the exact applications and information that is important to their business function, companies can empower their employees to drive results instead of hinder productivity.


Some key benefits of embracing this technology shift:

  • Single sign on and interface to all needed resources.
  • Responsive design and consistent user experience.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Reduce training costs.
  • Access on any device, anytime, anywhere computing.
  • Central point of access to Collaboration and tools that make job functions easier.
  • Flexible and configurable interface to exact applications and content.
  • Business process automation.
  • Immediate access to accurate enterprise data and business intelligence dashboards.
  • Monitoring of daily tasks and business alerts.
  • Insight into business opportunities and trends.
  • Communicate business goals consistently.
  • Grow revenue, protect margins, and improve profitability.
  • Robust solutions for real-world situations that drive bottom line results.
  • Enterprises can compete at a high level.

The web provides unlimited growth potential.

Clearly, the Internet is the future of ERP.  The writing is on the web page.  The challenge is in separating the latest technology hype and finding out what real results you can expect to drive by embracing and implementing changes in your infrastructure.


What changes have you made? 

What problems have you encountered? 

Have you tried tying together separate systems to achieve results or have you implemented a new fully integrated solution?


We would like to know.  Please share your failures and successes with our readers.  Contact Dolvin Consulting to see how we can help you sort through the constant flux of technology to find solutions that empower your enterprise.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Selling or Buying?

Selling or Buying ERP Solutions?

People love to buy, but hate to be sold.  Why is it that when a person walks into a store and a sales person approaches with "May I help you?" almost everyone answers the same way? "No, I'm just looking."


It really is two sides of the same coin.  The buyer wants and actually needs what is being sold and the sales person would like to sell the product or service.  It is like when you look at want ads in the newspaper and services offered.  You wonder why these two ad writers do not see each other.  From the outside it seems like a perfect match.


Qualities of a good salesperson include someone who focuses on the buyer’s needs instead of their own.  It is not that the buyer does not care, but you are on their time.  They have a need and the salespersons job is to ask the right questions to uncover if there is a good match between challenge and solution.


A good salesperson needs to be able to listen carefully.  How else will they know if the solution will fit?  They also need to create value for the buyer.  It is not just a matter of dollars and cents.  Creditability must be established first.  There must be honesty, patience, a good attitude and product knowledge.


What does the buyer need? 


The buyer typically needs to confirm the suspicion they have that things could be better.  That is a needs identification process.   They need to identify how impactful the challenge is to their business, how things could be better and what will happen if they do nothing.  What options exist?   What process do they go through to determine budget for changes, the Return on Investment (ROI), and the impact on business.  What is the decision making process and who needs to be involved? 


What amount of rapport exists between both the seller and buyer?  You do not have to be best buddies, but you do need to trust one another.  This can be done quickly and it helps if it is sincere and not just small talk that wastes time.  It is an incredible opportunity to learn more about the impact the current challenges have on the buyer’s life.  The goal is to get enough information from the buyer to enable a relevant presentation that is appropriate to his/her needs and circumstances.


The best way to start and finish is by asking questions.  That is how we all learn anything that is important.  Once the buyer’s situation is discovered and the impact those challenges are having on business operations, then the introduction and discussion of how possible solutions address the challenges come next. 


Both the buyer and seller have the responsibility to be open and honest.  If there is no solution, then it is best to state that fact.   It is better to not have a sale than to convince a buyer to purchase a product that is not suitable.  No one gains in this situation.  No problems are solved.  A lot of time can be wasted.


This writing is not supposed to be a sales training manual, it does serve as a reminder that both sides of the conversation need to exist and be balanced.  How much bonding and rapport exist?  How well does each side trust one another?  Is the solution the right solution?  How does it match and address the challenges?  How well does it fit the budget?  Where will the money come from?  What commitment exists to make changes? 



How well there is a fit between challenge and solution relates to how effective the questions that were asked.


The conversation could start on either side.  The reality is that in most situations when it comes to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions many buyers either do not need what is available or they need it and do not have the budget to address the need at that time.    


Too often sales people will launch in to a dissertation of features and benefits that the buyer does not want to hear.  They hope that something will stick.  Fact is that most buyers want to be heard and know that someone is there with answers and look forward to that point in time when the conversation turns to them.


This is where a good conversation can be rewarding.  What information can be shared?  What aspect of operations could be optimized with a new or upgraded solution that will have a positive return on investment?  The type of return that pays for the investment in a one or two year span that after which the profits go straight to the bottom line.  


ERP changes can be painful.  No way around it, especially when replacing an entire system.  The promise is great, but the gap might be wide.  Inevitably, if due diligence was applied and the right decision was made, six months later after implementing a new solution, the buyer’s people are saying – why didn’t we do this earlier?. 


On the other side a career or two may be riding on the decision.  This is no small point to glance over.  The decision is important to the business and critical for the individual.   


Effectiveness in communication.  Not sales, not buying, communicating. 


What do you think?  Have any war stories to share?  We would like to know your best question and worse day.  At Dolvin Consulting we would like to know what keeps you awake at night.  What drives you to work the hours that you do.  What you vision of the future looks like.   Contact us today to see how we can help.


Monday, December 9, 2013

ERP Disaster Recovery

Today’s economy is no different than yesterdays.  There are plenty of pressures to keep current, catch up, and compete.  Add to that the lack of budget, compliance mandates and a false sense of security and you have all the ingredients that drive a disaster recovery situation into a financial meltdown. 


Many technology providers are changing their mantra from disaster recovery to business continuity.  The concept is good.  Do we want to recover or do we want to continue operating?  Failing to plan is planning to fail.


Many providers now have real, viable, and proven solutions for Microsoft Windows server technology.  What about solutions or applications that do not run on Windows?  They leave that up to your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution provider.  That may be the first bit of good news.  You ERP solution provider knows your system and has experience in recovery procedures that should include both hardware and software.  If your ERP selection was done right they have taken into account your risk quotient and have addressed your specific needs.  You did have that conversation, right?


A Disaster Recovery (DR) plan starts with the plan and that is little good unless the plan actually exists and it is practiced and takes into account the changes that are occurring almost daily.  Does the DR plan take into account the actual business requirements?  Sure you have backups, do you have a hot site that you can restore to?  Does the plan include a reverse recovery plan?  How do you transition back to your production environment? 


Does the plan take into account that during most testing it is under a controlled circumstances and the testing is planned in advance when in reality a real disaster is rarely a planned event.  Getting key people in place, getting needed resources to the recovery point is not so easy when everyone in your region is doing the same thing at the same time.   The problem with disasters is that they often affect a region at a time and not necessarily a single organization.


How much time will it take to actually restore your entire system?  Or, is it systems?  What interdependencies exist?  The priority is typically the ERP system, but what about user accounts, email, communications?  What about user data, spread sheets and documents?  Do you keep both sites in sync so that in a disaster situation only current data needs to be refreshed?  Do you try to do all of this yourself or do you hire a firm that has experience and resources to manage the process when you need it most. 


You might need help.  Think of a management organization like a paramedic when you have an accident.  As you are lying there, at that point in time you really do not care how much experience the help has or how much it costs, you just do not want to die.  What would be different if your own professionally trained and experienced healthcare team followed you around?


At this point we do know that we need a plan and we have to test it regularly.  Take into account that in a real emergency it will not go as you hope, but your contingency plans will help accommodate the chaos.  The DR plan cannot just scratch the surface.  The plan also needs to address the switch back to the normal production environment. 


On of the hardest things to address is the constant evolution of your processing.  Your team must have up to date run books.  A simple program change or update to increase operational efficiency can have a dramatic impact on documentation.  It is inevitable that documentation can lag behind.  The question is what impact it will have when you are in a recovery situation.  One of the best things to be done is to cross train personnel and periodically let a person from a different department run through the instructions to ensure that in a recovery situation the most critical operations will continue.


Remember, a backup tape is not a disaster recovery solution.  How long does it take to backup?  How long will it take to restore?  Where and what will you restore to?  It is the same hardware?


Are cloud solutions an exception to disaster recovery?  The data resources may be safe, but can you get to it and with what client?  What bandwidth will be available when power and communication lines are down?  In the case of a regional weather impact your people will be concerned about their families and homes.  Who will make your business a priority over their family?


Remember, just because you trained does not mean you are qualified.  Practice, practice and yes of course, practice.  Test, test and yes test.  Test not just one system, but your entire infrastructure.  Test the restoration to production.  Plan, plan, and plan.  In a real disaster recovery situation, there will be situations that you cannot plan for, but you can have contingency plans. 


At Dolvin Consulting, we would like to know what your organization doing in the area of disaster recovery and business continuity.  We would like to know, your colleagues would like to know.  Share your ideas, best practices and checklists.  The one you help will be yourself.  As you share, you validate your efforts and get much needed feedback.  Contact us today to see how we can help with your plans.