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. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Two Signs ERP Changes are Needed

Most know that manufacturers, distributors and other midmarket organizations depend on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions to increase productivity and deliver great customer support via an integrated information repository.  You know the analogy, the left hand knows what the right hand is doing, less errors, better performance, and faster access to business metrics.


There are many signs that you may have outgrown your ERP solution.  Every organization struggles at some point in time.  The struggles are equal during periods of growth and decline.  The economy is cyclical and so are business operations.


Below are two signs.  How many more affect you personally? 


Sign-One:  You increase your labor force and you do not get an equivalent increase in productivity.  The extra personnel just seem to be less productive. 


When your business grows it makes sense that you may need more people to interact with customers, process orders, handle procurement and finances.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?  Perhaps it does, but how many are necessary and how many are too much?  How many actually just increase overhead?  How many more do you need to manage the workforce?  Are you creating the need for an extra level of management?


If you double your warehouse work force, should you be able to pick, pack and ship twice the number of orders?  Should you be able to triple the number of orders?  What is the ratio of people to orders processed in your organization? 


If you actually ship twice the number of orders, how many customer service people does that translate to?  How many people do you need to add to the Finance department to handle billing and reporting needs?  How many more supervisors and managers are needed to address the increase in workforce. 


It might make sense to take a look at how your business is physically organized before you add people.  Not that you do not need more people, the real question is how many and where? 


For example, would arranging your inventory locations in a more efficient way for stocking and picking make more sense?  Would conveyors or barcoding or other form of automation increase productivity enough so that you can minimize hiring? 


In contrast suppose business has shrunk, how many roles can be consolidated?  How can you empower the remaining personnel with the right tools so that their productivity increases and you can maintain business operations and then prepare for the next growth cycle?


How efficient is the software you use to process information?  How many separate systems do you use?  How many steps does it take to enter an order?  How much time does it take?



Sign-Two:  You increase your inventory level and still have troubles meeting customer demand.


How much is too much inventory?  What are your customer’s expectations?  What does on-time delivery mean?  What delivery does your competition actually deliver?  Is there anything real about Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory?  Who do you know personally that can make that type of system work?


Manufacturers have lead-times for the products they produce.  Distributors need systems that build that lead time into their procurement process so that customer demand and sales history can be balanced to ensure that you have enough inventory on hand to meet expected levels with a reasonable amount of safety stock.  In other words, you can meet customer demand without overstocking your warehouse.


A purchase “deal” is not a deal if that inventory sits in your warehouse too long.  A special price so one business can basically dump their inventory is not a deal for anyone, if that inventory sits and takes up space.  Physical space, overhead, taxes all add up and can easily out-cost any purchase savings.  A deal is not a deal unless you have a customer ready and willing (and has the monetary resources) to buy the product.


Can you find your inventory?  Do you purchase more, because you cannot find what you thought you had?  How accurate is your current system?  What tools and processes does your current system have that helps to keep your inventory accurate?  How often do you have to count your inventory to know what you have on hand?  Is the only time you feel confident on your inventory levels is immediately after the counts have been posted?


There are numerous indicators of inventory inefficiency and tools and software to address the challenges and problems.  Most businesses struggle in determining just where the bottleneck is occurring.  Otherwise, they would have fixed it already.  The problem often lies deeper than the observable symptoms.  The alternative is equally pressing.  A business knows where the problem is, but lacks the resources to properly address the problem. 


Either way short term patches and fixes designed to address the problem will inevitably make the situation worse when a decision is made to make these fixes permanent without addressing the underlying issues.  Until you get to and address the heart of the problem, the problems will repeat.



So many questions and too few answers.



These two signs are just the tip of the iceberg.  What keeps you up at night?  You have questions and we have answers.  You may agree with some of these statements and disagree with others.  Why not share those thoughts here for your fellow readers.  I would love to hear what you think.


Dolvin Consulting works with industry experts to help your business identify and remediate the obstacles that are holding you back today.  Contact us to see how we can help.  Only you know how great the pain is and the impact it has on your operations.  We understand and can help.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Technology for Growth

First things first, the obvious, smaller companies have smaller budgets and less resources to implement technology changes.   Even changes that increase efficiencies and throughput.   The challenges are similar for large and small organizations, it is just larger organizations generally have more resources available.  The relative impact is generally equal though.

For smaller organizations the stakes are relatively greater and the margin for error much smaller.  For example, a budget overrun or deadline exception will have a negative impact on a budget for a larger organization, but it can be devastating for a smaller organization and effectively put them out of business.

Ironically technology itself can help.

When it comes to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, there are many different variations that are tailor made for many industries.  Often the variations came from home-grown solutions from companies that could not find the right solution and built their own and over time starting selling that to other companies in their industry.

With so many solutions and so much history now, you have to wonder why budget and time overruns occur.  The reality is it happens all the time.  Much too often.  Somewhere there was a breakdown in communication.

There are three basic categories to ERP solutions.  Each category has many components, but they all funnel into these three.  

The software or programs are module oriented where modules are based on departmental or functional roles in the organization. It is responsible for the collection and presentation of the information the solution stores.  ERP software typically has an initial license fee and annual maintenance.  I have had conversations where a prospect just could not justify why the software cost so much, after all it was already written.  I did my best to explain that the annual fee, perhaps more so than the initial fee was for future support and not so much for what was already written.  Business needs change and ERP software solutions need to change to match the business landscape.    

Remember that ERP solutions are designed to integrate the organization, the entire organization.  The more of your company that is included in the solution, the greater the efficiencies can be and therefore cost savings and increased profits.

The second component is the hardware or physical equipment the software is designed to run on.  This includes a central database of information that is shared by a server and distributed to clients.  The clients are everyone that accesses the information at one level or another including web delivery.

In some cases companies will choose a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution which is a subscription based solution where someone else manages the infrastructure.  This type of solution is talked about a lot lately and is referred to as Cloud solutions.  For many, if they are not already using a hosted solution, they are one or two generations of software or hardware away from this type of solution either in part or in whole. 

On premise or hosted in the Cloud is a personal choice that really is dependent on more details than can be discussed in an online column.  It is not the point of this writing and there is no one right answer.  Each challenge needs to be matched with an appropriate solution. 

Cloud is irrelevant.  The solution as a whole is the important part.

Here is the point.  With some careful planning and analysis the software and hardware costs can be estimated fairly well.  The solution usually falls into a range that is predictable and can be clearly documented as to why it is smaller or larger than estimated.  For example, the solution is now expanded to cover another division and there are more users, clients and the need for more robust database server solution.  This, by the way, is a particularly great benefit of Cloud solutions in that the vendor should be able to scale the solution resources easily (either up or down).

So where is the problem?  What is the third component?  Where do so many organizations lose control of their budget, their time, their patience?


Implementation which includes training, conversion and support.  In a rush to close deals or fear of limited budgets and losing a deal this component of the solution is often given too little analysis.  Granted some of the components are harder than others.  How much training do your users need?  Do you learn to swim by jumping in the water?  That is sink or swim.  Sinking is not a good option for most companies. 

Conversion, if it has been done before between the From-Solution to the To-Solution can be estimated fairly well.  If it is a new conversion, there is still historical averages that can be used.  Some solutions are programed, some are re-keyed, and some are a combination of both methods.  A big category is the decision on how much and which type of history should be converted.  Do you phase out one system and build history in the new solution or do you convert everything so everyone uses the new system.

Support is relative to everything else.  Too little training and planning means more support later.  More support up front usually means less hiccups later.  You cannot bypass support.  New ERP solutions are a series of complex interrelated components.  They are not off the shelf box or quick download solutions. 

Your organization is not simple and neither will your ERP solution be simple.

Technology can help collect and organize information.  Information you need to make decisions in deciding what solution to select and implement as well as manage the implementation project.  Information you collect and analyze to manage your business with the solution you select. 

Information is key and technology is a vehicle for collection and delivery.  The solution is the important part and the technology is the delivery mechanism.  There are no shortcuts in implementation and it is the most variable component in a solution and therefore needs the most attention to prevent unpredictable budget overruns.

Dolvin Consulting works with your team and brings together industry experts to help you manage the chaos associated with ERP solutions.  Contact us today to learn how we can help.