Monday, December 22, 2014

Retail Software – Achieving Effective Integration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Inventory Balances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to serving your needs.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Innovation (ERP)

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

Both fill niches. 

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

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

Both have value.

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

Business Development

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

It also takes a community. 

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

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

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

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

Effective, but not intuitive. 

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

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

Monday, October 27, 2014

Time for Help

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

Struggle is normal. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accuracy is key to driving profitability. 

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

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

Any benefit comes after effort. 

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

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Customer Self Service Matters

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

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

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

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

Less overhead is a good thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve your customers and grow your business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please share your thoughts with our readers.

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cycle Counting (Part 2): Tips for Choosing the Right Inventory Software to Support It

How accurate are your inventory records? It’s a question you've probably asked yourself on more than one occasion.  It is what every organization that handles inventory struggles with at one level or another, at one time or another, and coincides with automation and efficiency efforts.

Changing from Annual to Cycle counting does take some planning, but the long term benefits may well be worth the effort.  It also something that may need to be approved by your board or other regulatory body depending on your industry.  

We have found that many businesses need to do both Annual and Cycle counting until they show a consistent accurate inventory for at least one year.  After that time period the annual counting can be discontinued.  It is important that you demonstrate good accounting controls and financial reporting.

Please read the article series below to find out more.

Find Accounting Software continues their 2-part series and answers some additional questions about cycle counting.  Find Accounting Software has some great resources to help you navigate through the sea of change.  Read on for more information.


Where are you struggling?  Do you know how to get started?  What you should count and when?  What approach will you take?

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cycle Counting (Part 1): What Every Inventory Manager Should Know About It

Are you finding variances in your inventory counts no matter how hard you try, no matter what controls are in place?  Enter the Annual Physical Inventory and all the prep work, resource allocation, overtime, headaches and putting business on hold while you try to lock down your inventory during counting.

Are you considering cycle counting in addition to or as a replacement to an annual physical count? 

Please read the article series below to find out more.

Find Accounting Software starts their 2-part series and answers some important questions about cycle counting.  Find Accounting Software has some great resources to help you navigate through the sea of change.  Read on for more information.

Where are you struggling?  Do you know how to get started?  What you should count and when?  What approach will you take?

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

What Do Your Customers Really Want?

Recently I had a well-intentioned discussion with someone.  The conversation was initiated by a request of a mutual contact.  The person who asked me to have the talk hoped that common points between me and this other person would make the conversation easier that it would have been for them. 

The conversation goal was to address a challenge and suggest a workable solution.  Seemed simple enough at the time.  After all, how hard would it be to have a helpful conversation?  It should have been a win-win situation.

I started with a true story.  I wanted to let him know that I knew that I understood the challenge and it was not just an empty conversation by someone who thought they knew everything.  The conversation started well, the approach taken was good, and he appreciated the heartfelt thoughts and the personal impact of the story.

What then was the problem?

What problems do most customers or prospects have with people (sales) that just want to help?

In my opinion the problem/challenge in this case was made worse and not better, because I made some assumptions.  Yes, I know the old adage about the word assume.  The personal impact story was a good start.  It created a bonding.  The person indicated that they appreciated the approach.  He uses the same approach with the people he works with. 

What I found out after our second conversation was that the conversation went bad, because one of the additional examples I used to make the point.  It was a third party story instead of a personal story and the person was put off by it.  I certainly did not intend it to be this way.  I was quite sincere in my presentation and just wanted to give an alternative example.

Lessons learned.

We can all take note of the point here.  People do business with people they like and are like them.  Personal stories help build a relationships.  What do “we” both have in common?  How do I know and what makes me believe that you understand my challenges and pains? 

We all want to be heard, and perhaps more importantly, understood.

We all know that we are supposed to ask questions.  What happens too often is we ask a few questions and then start in with a solution.  We make assumptions.  For many of us we have seen similar situations so often, that we go into an automatic mode of “I recognize this problem, here is the solution”. 

The reality is that it probably is the same problem we have seen so many times.  Something like inaccurate inventory, inefficiency of operations, missed or late shipments, management decisions based on old information, etc. 

When we deal with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions for a long period of time the challenges do seem the same and we try to put them into a solution category.  We deal in efficiency and the sooner we find a match between challenge and solution, the better.  So efficient.  So perfect.

The problem is our prospects and customers have trouble seeing outside the box when they are in the box.  They need to know that we understand and actually care that they find a successful solution to “their” challenge.  They typically have a lot more riding on the solution than simply more efficient operations.  Almost everyone would like to be more efficient.  Everyone wants happier customers. Happy customers are the ones that refer new business and come back again and again and are loyal.

Our customers and future customers need to know that we understand.  

They need time to digest and discover that the solution we see in our minds solves their challenges.  You cannot tell them it will work.  You and I need to ask more detailed questions that identify our common interests, needs and wants.  The solution then addresses the problems or it does not. 

No sales, just conversation.

The people we interact with want to communicate.  A sale is the byproduct of great conversations, not the purpose of one.
At Dolvin Consulting we are always learning and would like to take the knowledge journey with you.  We want to listen to what is important to you.  Contact us today so we can start our conversation. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Life Cycle Part Two

Nature duplicates life we create or is it really that the life we create duplicates nature.  It really makes sense if you think about it, because we tend to replicate our environment in the way we live, learn and grow.  Last time we looked at the life cycle of ERP solutions with a comparison to Sunflowers and plant life.  Sunflowers are an interesting plant.  The flowers follow the sun through the day, supply food for birds and animals in their replication cycle.  Their plant-life-goal is to mature, grow and plant the seeds for the next generation. 

Dragonflies are also interesting in general and in their similarities to ERP solutions. 

First there are some 5000 varieties of the species.  There are a lot of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions too.  

Each solution has its benefits, limits and niche where they work best. 

Dragonflies start as larvae in water where they spend the bulk of their life.  The early stages of ERP is often a developmental stage where a lot of the work is not seen and includes implementation, migration and training to fully take advantage of the service offerings.  

The winged version of dragonflies are what most of us are familiar with and comes after growth and trials and struggles to survive.  Once mature there is the need to stay alive, stay current and continued growth.  This is similar to ERP as more and more function is utilized in the solution and give need via growth and life cycle to a new generation. 

The next generation is inevitable. 

That next generation can be an upgrade or new solution, but it will come.  No new generation and the solution will eventually wear out and perish.  

Business needs and cycles change and ERP solutions need to change and adapt to the way your customers prefer to do business.

Choosing an upgrade or new solution is not always an easy task even if what is currently in use does not work.  Decision makers need to decide if they want to keep a narrow focus on their industry such as manufacturing, distribution or application like order entry.  Or, the decision makers need to take a more broad view of their applications and embrace the ERP moniker and include more functional roles such as customer service management which would include order entry, inventory, procurement, and manufacturing applications, like capacity planning, in one big picture.

Enterprise solutions are optimized to maximize their return when the entire enterprise is integrated.

Industry solutions are an important grouping of applications that are used and optimized for specific industries such as retail, wholesale distribution, or manufacturing.  Decision makers now have to consider traditional on premise or hosted solutions as well as more traditional questions.

Some questions to consider:  

How long has the particular software been used and how successfully? 

Total cost of ownership (TCO) is an important factor.  Most people realize that the initial upfront costs are often outpaced by the ongoing administration and operational costs. 

What initial costs must be absorbed in your return on investment (ROI) calculation?   Hardware for on premise, software licensing, maintenance, support, implementation, migration, and training?

What type of support is available?  On line, documents, phone and what time windows?

What skills are needed?  Who will provide training?  Train the trainers?  How much time will it take to get your staff up to date?  Which modules will you activate and in which order?  Do you need to know how to run everything all at once or can you train as you go after having covered the basic modules first?

Should your solution be an open-source solution or is a proprietary solution better?  What size provider is right for your business?  Are you a global organization?  Do you need a global solution? 

An open source solution may seem like a winner especially with lower license fees, however, getting support may be limited or a challenge when you get locked into a custom solution that few outside of the solution provider know how to support.  A proprietary system actually can be more “open” in the sense that people that know how to support the system will have knowledge of how to support any solution running on this same platform. 

Regardless there may be nothing worse than having a solution that is not a fit for the culture of your organization and how your customers prefer to be served.

Maturity of the solution may be a more important factor that what platform they run on.  How responsive is the solution provider to listen and understand the nuances of your operations?  Or, do they just want to pack you in a box that “works” and hope you can manage the internal changes needed to fit their mold.

Conversely, be wary of too much customization.  An over eager solution provider that will customize everything will equally box you in.  With so many customizations, how will you take advantage of new releases?  How will they keep you current with industry trends?  

Too many modifications either means the solution is not the right fit for your organization or you have highly unique business requirements.

Where will you get support?  Will it come from, is it available directly from, the solution creator?  Are there local dealers with expertise that can be onsite to help?  How many of your staff will need to be trained in support? 

It is one thing to purchase a solution, it is entirely another matter to maintain it.  Like our dragonfly, your ERP solutions need regular tending-to, environment, and opportunity to grow.  Likewise it also has to be protected from and fend off predators.  A dragon fly starts small and is usually unseen until it has passed through various growth stages until it emerges mature and winged.  It is only then we see and appreciate its beauty and appetite for the insects it consumes daily.

Let Dolvin Consulting help you navigate to a new solution, upgrade or to feel comfortable with the solution you are already using.  Contact us today to get started.  We are here to help.

Monday, August 18, 2014

ERP Life Cycle

Enterprise Resource Planning solutions have life cycles, just as plants and humans have.  They differ in many ways and also have many similarities.

Sunflower plants follow the pattern of:

  1. Existing mature flowers make seeds.
  2. Seeds find fertile ground.
  3. Seeds grow into new plants.
  4. A young plant is a seedling and grows bigger.
  5. The fully grown plant flowers.
  6. The cycle repeats.
ERP software function as a business management solution and usually consist of a suite of integrated applications that a business uses to collect, store, manage and interpret data from many business activities, including: product planning, cost and development, Manufacturing or service delivery, marketing and sales, inventory management and shipping and payment.

ERP cycles through:

  1. A business operates and spurs new growth.
  2. New modules or third party solutions are added to address growth and the need to capture and manage additional streams of information.
  3. Inefficiencies increase as growth outpaces capacity.
  4. Separate systems are implemented to address growth.
  5. A new solution or upgrade is implemented to address the new scope of business.
  6. The cycle repeats.

There are a lot of definitions of ERP cycles. 

Most start with planning and package selection, then move on to implementation and then operation.  While these stages are true most companies are already in the middle step of operation mode.  The existing solutions can be a full ERP solution or a mish-mash mix of manual, spread sheet, or older solutions.  One of the biggest challenges are determining if the current growth is temporary or a sign of future activity.

What has changed?  What is driving the need to change?

Many factors stimulate change.  Growth, Mergers and Acquisitions are common sources as well as a new product or service lines or a myriad of other economic influences.  What becomes a driving factor is the incumbent solution worked at one level of business and was not able to scale up or down to address the new level of need.  The need could be to handle additional or a drop in transactions, new or a loss of business units. 

The need could be up or down, growth or decay.

Increased activity without a corresponding increase in revenue is a sign of inefficiency.  The higher overhead drains an organization’s resources.  In today’s business world automation is the key to sustained growth. 

When selecting a new ERP solution it needs to address the current needs, pains and anticipated growth.  Many organizations concentrate on the current needs and how the proposed solution addresses their pain.  This is certainly a good starting point.  However, a good solution should also address future growth.  A great solution takes into account business cycles and can address both future growth and downturns.

There are seasons to business cycles just like plant life.  There is a nurturing point in time, growth, maturity and then the cycle inevitably repeats.  A lot of businesses forget this point.  What goes up comes down and with proper planning business goes up again.  Your solution must scale in the same way. 

  • How is your solution designed to address future business cycles?  
  • What downturns have your business triumphed through with your ERP solution?  
  • What key components are you considering in your next solution or upgrade?  
  • What cycles does your solution need to address?

Dolvin Consulting works with businesses in Manufacturing, Distribution and Specialty Retail to help them identify and address their growth pains.  Take a minute to post and share your successes and failures here with our readers.  Contact us to discuss your challenges.  We are your trusted advisor and want to help.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Will Analytics help Forecasting?

One definition of Analytics is “Information resulting from the systematic analysis of data or statistics”.

In a recent conversation I had with a contact he said his inventory was 99.8% accurate and that his firm used cycle counting to ensure accuracy.  He shared information with me about the business he obviously cares very much about and has invested a good portion of his life to as we talked about his operations, inventory and growth projections.

We discussed his Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution and he is satisfied with it, in fact his company is planning on an upgrade.  I mentioned that I worked with another company and they asked if bin locations worked.  And I said, yes, if you let the system do what it is designed to do. He agreed that ERP systems can be rigid, but they do work if you let them do what they are designed to do.

I then asked him based on what he shared where his bottleneck was.  Every business has a bottleneck.  They occur at different points at different times.  If a company is growing, then bottlenecks are enviable.  What works at one level of business often does not at a higher level.

He said Forecasting was his biggest challenge at this point in time.  I asked if he meant receiving forecasts from his suppliers.  He said, no, it was sales forecasting.  This company has been growing steadily for some time and one of their product lines is really moving. 

Inventory is key and managing it is much like a dominos effect and is why companies invest in ERP solutions. 

How much raw inventory and finished goods you keep on hand is dependent on your sales projections.  Too little and you may become late, too much and you end up wasting space and paying taxes on what is left hanging around.  You need to fulfill customer orders in a timely manner and you also need to plan. 

In addition to the accuracy level, an indicator many firms use to judge their inventory level is called Inventory Turns or Turnover.  It is a measure of number of times inventory is sold or used in a given time period.  It is usually calculated as a ratio of the cost of goods sold divided by the average inventory.

Back to point.  Would a robust analytics solution that was used to analyze past and current sales to identify trends, be helpful in forecasting future sales and thus predict better inventory levels?

At its core Analytics is used to provide insight into customers and products.

Speed and efficiency are critical in businesses that operate at high volume.  These businesses have a need for real-time visibility into sales and inventories.  Their management has needs for ad-hoc as well as standardized reporting and analytics helps fill that need.

The key to Analytics and ERP in general is data integrity.  The old saying in computer technology is “Garbage In, Garbage Out”.  It means that the value of the information the system generates is only as good as the quality of the information taken in.  One of the goals of implementing these types of solutions is for people to concentrate on the results of the information analyzed and not worry about how they were achieved.

New data engines and tools speed up reporting that once took hours to produce and distribute to just minutes.  Dashboards, once built, provide management with top level overview and drill-down capability that business need to make better decisions more quickly.

Management can determine when they see customer sales dropping off if the problem is related to inventory, usage or a period of inactivity.  Increased awareness allows insight into greater margin awareness.

Greater awareness allows for more accurate forecasting and the ability to identify variances and make adjustments as demands change.  Reacting quickly to issues can make the difference in customer retention.  Knowing why a customer is purchasing less is important so that corrective action can be taken.

Forecasting not only allows users to spot global trends, but also identify specific issues that might otherwise have been missed.  Today’s systems generate and collect a large amount of information.  Tools like Analytics applications give insight.

What are your systems designed to do?  Do you use Analytics to forecast sales and inventory levels?  What successes and pitfalls have you encountered implementing your systems?  How long did it take?  How much did you budget?  Was the Analytics solution part of your ERP solution or was it a third party solution?

Dolvin Consulting works with industry experts to help your organization identify bottlenecks and streamline operations.  Contact us to learn how we can help your business.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Customer Service Matters

Through hardware, software and service offerings, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems can provide a portfolio of solutions to help manufacturers and distributors streamline production, operate more efficiently, improve planning and scheduling and implement more fine-grained and flexible decision-making processes.  Solution providers are helping businesses optimize their technology and make the most of their ERP and supply chain applications by extending analytic capabilities, making better decisions, improving order management and purchasing, plus many other capabilities.

The driving factor for many organizations often starts with “there ought to be a better way”, “our overhead is too high”, “we have too many errors”, “there is no observability”, “it takes too long” to name but a few.  There are also some that rationalize not addressing the issues by saying “that’s the way we have always done ‘it’”.  Find any challenge and add “too much” or “too little” to it and it will become the seed to change when someone tacks a price tag on it.

What type of benefits should a solution have?

Ultimately manufacturers, distributors, retailers and others need to make better, quicker decisions and act faster in complex markets. They need solutions that deliver powerful advantages which includes the ability to find the right information, from the right place, at the right time.  This includes workflow tools and notifications. 

Higher productivity. 

When you can help your employees avoid the clutter and overload of increasingly complex solutions to be able to focus on the information they need to make decisions and move their workload forward.  You empower your employees to attend to more important tasks first.

Easy Access to systems.

The definition of mobility has evolved in recent years to mean any device, any time, any where.  While this is the evolving definition for the mobile sales force, many companies are single location based and their devices are desktop computers.  What they find with newer solutions is that they can take advantage of mobile solutions at client meetings or when they count, receive, or pick-pack-ship inventory.  The theme of the ivory tower and dished-out information no longer works in competitive industries.  Businesses must improve the efficiency of the way they collect and deliver information to their employees, suppliers and customers.


Newer solutions must increasingly bridge the gap between the traditional ERP solution and other web based solutions such as social media.  This integration creates new opportunities for employees to collaborate in real time with colleagues, suppliers, and most importantly customers.  Empowering employees to answer questions more quickly is a key component in customer service.  Meetings can be planned and coordinated more quickly.  Complex tasks can be divided and delegated with greater efficiency.

Customer Service.
Overall we should be investing a lot more time and energy in solutions that drive customer service.  Whether that is an updated ERP solution, integration with social media, contact management, or other solution.   It does not matter if the solutions are on premise or hosted in the cloud as long as the integration is tight and does not increase errors.  ERP Vendor integrated solutions potentially have the greatest Return on Investment (ROI).  Sometimes the upfront costs seem higher, but when you look at the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) fully integrated solutions, that you did not have to integrate, are the best buy.

Your organization needs the tools and applications that empower them.  Solutions that give them access to the information that your customers need, like how long until I receive my order, or being confident when you tell them what they want is in stock and doubly sure they will actually receive what they ordered.

Your customers have questions.  They want to know you care. 

Your suppliers need information.  They want to serve you better.

Your employees need to bridge the gap between the internal and external worlds.

What is your organization doing to empower your employees?  Our readers would like to know.  Please share your ideas and what changes you have or are in the process of implementing.  Are you considering a new or upgrade to your ERP solution?  What new modules are you considering?  What third party solutions would you like to integrate and why?  Are you planning on small incremental steps or a major overhaul?

At Dolvin Consulting we work with industry experts to find the right solutions that will fulfill your goals to drive your efficiency in your operations.  Share your ideas here with our readers and then contact us to see how we can help you serve your customers better.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#AHA - A time to help

Help me help others by donating just $2 (you can always contribute more if you like). 
A donation is the right thing to do if you or your loved ones have been impacted by Heart Disease like my family.  It is even more important if you want to prevent Heart Disease from affecting those you love.

Thank you in advance for your support.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Future of Enterprise Solutions

Clearly the Internet is the future of Enterprise Computing.  And by this I mean the Internet is and will continue to change the way solutions are delivered and accessed.  Further, by delivering software through a browser with a flexible nonproprietary web interface, developers can provide the user with a single sign on and user experience of all web applications.  This simplifies the user experience, increases productivity and minimizes training costs. In addition, web based software provides mobile access enabling every user in the organization immediate anytime, anywhere access. 

Solution providers can concentrate on developing more robust solutions that solve real world business issues that drive bottom-line results.  Organizations can now compete at a very high level by leveraging the flexibly and mobility of web services.  Growth potential is unrestrained due to the scalability that web services provide.

Nearly every modern device provides some sort of web interface.  Some compatibility issues exist, but even those issues continue to fade away with more standardization.  The standardization occurs as more and more vendors require consistent tools and interfaces.  These requirements are not specific to any one solution provider. 

Standards based technologies are the modernization and automation trend for technology, just like the assembly line was to the automotive industry.

Benefits of this evolution are a more responsive design, resizable display to match the devices used, and anytime anywhere access.  The benefits facilitate the transition to Cloud or hosted solutions.  If you remove proprietary emulation and terminal emulation, you open the door to adoption.

As more and more organizations adopt in part or more fully Cloud/Hosted solutions the greater the pressure on solution providers to embrace these solutions.  It becomes a win-win situation.  More adoption, more providers, more choices. 

While not everyone is ready to completely convert today, we see the trend well underway.  Small changes lead to bigger and bigger adoption.  Many businesses are one or two generations away from complete conversion.    

The capability to scale to seasonal or continued growth without adding to internal infrastructure is a big cost benefit.  While there are still some critical business operations that need to remain in-house, hybrid solutions are helping to bridge the gap.

Consumer adoption is aiding the transition.  Younger generations are wondering what the delay is all about.  Years ago, adopting a new technology required significant education and training for internal users and external customers.  Today, both have an expectation that your organization should already be utilizing these technologies.    

New solutions are allowing customers multiple options for their infrastructure including on premise servers, platform as a service, or software as a service.  Increased productivity and automation are driving factors to better customer service.

Automation that drives customer service starts with internal collaboration and communication.  Web enable solutions allow employees to stay connected and serve customer needs whenever and wherever the occasion demands, in house or on location.

Operationally monitoring daily tasks and alerts from any module or application helps efficiency.  Assignment of user tasks and workflow alerts keep employees engaged with production and customer needs.  These capabilities help create role based responsibilities that bridge the traditional module interface. 

In the past Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions were primarily departmental based.  Today they have been transitioning more and more towards functional role based solutions.  The collaboration of hosted based solutions helps to facilitate this transition.  For example, Procurement is a combination of inventory management, customer service and buying trends, vendor purchasing, receiving, production monitoring and control.  An overall overview of Inventory processing in and out and the ability to filter the information to meet individual user needs.

Companies thrive when they empower their employees to drive results.

By providing new role based solutions employee productivity is increased allowing them to react more quickly to business demands. 

Dolvin Consulting works with industry leaders to help businesses like yours deliver comprehensive solutions to your customers by empowering your employees.  Contact us today to see how we can help your team drive greater efficiency in your operations.

Monday, July 7, 2014

More Efficient Operational Processes

More efficient warehouse operations.  If only.  Is it possible?  If it were, there would likely be less labor costs relative to increased production.  Less costs and less production is clearly a down cycle in the business as is more costs and less production.  Ideally you want less costs and more production. 

Automation is the key.  But, automate what, how?

For most manufacturers and wholesale distributors the key often revolves around inventory levels, processing and handling.  Inventory tends to have the greatest Return On Investment (ROI).  Inventory management is somewhat like upgrading your kitchen in your house remodel.  The kitchen remodel generally returns the most on investment.  Other upgrades make living more comfortable, but Kitchens have one of the better paybacks.

Increased accuracy in order and pick/pack/ship processing due to warehouse layout optimization, receiving efficiencies including barcoding and scanning, automated put-aways and cycle counting are just a few examples that can contribute to more efficient operations.

Most businesses that have survived the economic fluctuations are running fairly well and have probably automated at least some and likely much of their facilities.  Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are the key to the automation.  Unfortunately these systems are not always fully implemented.  Sometimes the implementation plan was a phased approach, but never completed.  Sometimes the organization had a loss of faith in the promised return.  The causes are many, a bad match between sales and purchasing, lack of education, or lack of funds to fully implement the solution. 

WMS systems are great, but they do have to match the business model.  Typically the greatest efficiency in WMS comes from a fully integrated solution that is part of the native Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution.  However, if the ERP solution is not a good match, the WMS module will tend to exacerbate the problems.

A thorough review of business operations makes sense before purchasing or upgrading your WMS solution. 

Are there plans and budget available to outfit workers with wireless equipment, barcode scanners, printers, and other tools?  The benefits of WMS will be limited without the corresponding equipment.  Automating labor collection and reporting is another benefit of WMS systems.  A phased-in approach is a valid model as long as the implementation is completed.

How much paper is involved with the current processing of orders, receiving and counting?  How will a WMS system reduce this overhead?  Will your people be convinced?  What is the baseline and what metrics are needed to gauge the project success?  Without an electronic system how can workloads be optimized?  How much time and effort is needed to check orders? 

How much does the administrative overhead affect your profitability?

Achievable goals include year over year decreases in labor costs relative to production, order, pick and shipment rates of 99% accuracy.  To enable these accuracy levels organizations will typically need to implement bin management in their WMS system, real-time paperless receiving and put-aways, automated picking and cycle counting.  Manual systems require a significant amount of administrative overhead and paperwork which contributes to inaccuracies. These inaccuracies increase if batch, lot or serial number processing is involved. 

High accuracy rates are not the end goal, efficiency is.  High accuracy rates are what enables business to concentrate on real operational efficiency improvements. 

To get started, businesses need to conduct a business process review including evaluation of the incumbent and competitive ERP software including WMS systems, including any upgrades to their current systems.  This is only a start, but it is an important an unavoidable step in the right direction.

Buy-in at all levels in the organization is an important component to not be forgotten

Owners and/or management cannot just decide one day to push out a whole new way of doing business without proper training and education.  From the shop floor, warehouse, to the back office, management and top level personnel, everyone needs to understand that the change will help them to do what they do more efficiently and productively.  Set the expectations and gain consensus on the outcome. 

This is a real test for the leadership in the organization.  

How is your organization dealing with change, leadership and inventory challenges? 

Dolvin Consulting works with your team to identify and remediate the causes of inefficiency in your organization.  Contact us today to see how we can help. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

ERP Mobility

Your customers are mobile, your sales people are mobile, everyone is talking about the cloud, it must be heaven.  The reality is we are on the ground and there are times when we are connected and when we are not.  Is your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution running reliable like a sports car on the freeway or is it like an old farm truck with rust, bolted-on additions and constant repairs?

“If it ain't broke, don't fix it” – Bert Lance.

Not broke is not the same thing as fixed.  It means you are getting by.  Simply working is not the same as efficient.  There is a difference when you drive a new car versus a slightly used or old bucket of bolts.  ERP solutions start out shiny and new.  They get a little wear and the physical equipment gets a little older.  You keep up on the maintenance, at least initially when it was bundled in the purchase, and now it is just another line item in your overhead that you wish was not so big.  There are more and more mechanics.  There is more confusion as to where the actual problems exist as the symptoms are misleading.  There are too many aftermarket or third party add-ons and no one source is responsible for the entire solution, except you.

Add to all this mass of confusion the need to mobilize your salesforce.  What?  They have smart phones and we send them out on the road, aren’t they already mobile?  They call us to find out where to go next, what the customer owes, and inventory availability.  We just wish they would actually go where and when they are scheduled.


Mobility software solutions have the ability to work while connected and while disconnected from your systems and synchronize after being disconnected.  Mobility software can exist as a bolt-on to what you are already using and is where many organizations start.  Somebody, somewhere created something that your people will somehow, after too much time and expense, finally figure out how to integrate with your system and then invest a lot of time keeping it integrated.

In contrast your solution provider may have or is developing a fully integrated solution.  This solution is typically clean and simple and has the same interface and conventions as the main ERP solution.  The mobile solution is typically fast and effective for everyday use.  Users can easily search for customer or inventory information, pricing and availability, create and send orders.  In some cases the mobile applications can be utilized by both internal personnel as well as customers. 

Once you are mobile enabled it opens the door to more effective connections with your customers, it is an enhancement to your relationship.  Trade shows, onsite customer visits, on the street.  You are conducting business where and when it needs to happen, not just in your back office.

So what should you look for in your solution?

  • Work well online as well as offline.
  • Minimal need for additional equipment.
  • Minimized data usage on cellular networks.
  • Intuitive searching and selecting.
  • The ability to take advantage of mobile bar code and image capture applications.
  • Connectivity to Bluetooth devices such as scanners, printers, and credit card devices.
  • Signature capture.
  • Payment collection.
  • Geo location and navigation.
  • DSD route sales.
  • Immediate sales and delivery.

How would your organization compete better with a fully integrated and supported set of applications by your ERP solution provider?

This might all sound futuristic, but these solutions exist now and your customers are expecting these types of solutions.  Why?  Because your customers have their own demands and your products are needed when they need them, on their schedule. 

Mobility or not, you do not need the solution just to have the solution.  You need the solution to service your customers the way you would expect to be serviced.  Remember always that everything you invest in your company should have your end customers in mind.  You could have the best of everything, but if you do not have anyone to purchase your product or if it takes too much effort to do business with you, then they will go somewhere else even if it costs more.

What are your thoughts?  Share them here to benefit your fellow readers.  I am sure they would appreciate it as much as we do.

Navigating your way through the constant flux in technology and how it specifically impacts your business needs takes effort.  A trusted advisor like Dolvin Consulting helps in many ways including helping you to recognized and narrow your focus on critical impact areas.  Contact us today to see how we can help your team drive more efficiency in your operations.