Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

Navigating Global Supply Chains with Import Export Management Software

Globalization has been aided largely by advances in information technology and trends such as eCommerce, electronic banking, video conferencing, email and access to information over the internet.  For distribution businesses, globalization provides the opportunity to easily buy and sell products across multiples sales channels around the world – both B2B and B2C.  However, there are specific considerations to keep in mind for distribution businesses that import and export product which complicate the supply chain. Language barriers, time differences, exchange rates, cultural norms and government policies all impact the process of moving product around the world. Regulations across different industries – such as those put in place by the FDA with regards to pharmaceutical distribution – also impact doing business with different countries. These types of nuances can frequently be found in domestic supply chains as well, but tend to be magnified for businesses that import and export product. Proper import export management software helps navigate some of the specific requirements associated with businesses that operate globally and addresses complexities in the supply chain for better business management.

Multiple Suppliers

It is common for distribution businesses to import the same product from multiple suppliers.  This is due to a variety of reasons, including differences in product quality, costs and lead times. Customers also frequently request product from a specific vendor or country of origin, depending on the industry.  In this situation, proper import export management software enables a business to set default/preferred vendors for each inventory item, with the option to override these settings each time an order is placed.  This reduces the amount of time spent selecting a vendor each time a customer places an order.

In-Transit Inventory

For businesses that import product, certain items have long lead times, especially when dealing with container loads shipping via water from overseas.  In this situation, the ability to associate lead times with re-order levels is beneficial to ensure a business orders inventory early enough so as to not stock-out before product arrives into the warehouse. Another important software feature is the ability to track inventory “in-transit” or “on the water”.  This functionality allows a user to see inventory as it’s on its way to the warehouse in order to get insight into what product will be available and when.

Multi-Currency and Multi-Language

Multi-currency and multi-language functionality is another important feature of import and export software. With multi-currency functionality users can set exchange rates within the system in order to track expected costs and set margins according to actual data.  When it comes to multi-language requirements, certain businesses that import and export product have partners in other countries who require access to the software and therefore need the system to handle multiple languages.  Even if this is not the case, it is still beneficial to be able to send information and documents to customers and vendors in another language such as invoices and packing slips.

Other Considerations

The above pieces of functionality are just some examples of features specific to businesses in the import and export industry, however, other features such as landed cost tracking and automated customs documents are just as important.  Landed cost tracking allows a business to track the true cost of inventory by accounting for costs associated with receiving inventory into its warehouse and shipping product to its customers.  This helps a business set margins and track expenses.  Functionality for automatically generating and sending customs documents helps easily track information required for moving product across international borders.

 

By |

How Apparel Inventory Software Can Optimize Your Warehouse

You receive an order for 50 red shirts from one of your best customers hoping for delivery within 24 hours. You rush to the warehouse and dive into a sea of haphazardly stored boxes. Some time has passed and you finally surface with only 30 red shirts…but, where are the rest? You’re sure you have them in stock.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Whether you sell jeans or sporting equipment, chaotic warehouses are not uncommon for a growing apparel business and are the source of great frustration. Besides being a nightmare to manage, disorganized warehouses cause errors, inventory loss, delays to the fulfilment process and ultimately damages the customer experience.

Simply cleaning the space will not improve and speed up the fulfilment process; you need to be able to see the status of your items and access inventory information while speaking with customers. It’s crucial to have the right integrated software solution in place for this type of control— this is where apparel inventory software comes into play.

Imagine being able to track and monitor every single piece of inventory in real-time and easily locate them in your warehouse, resulting in less wasted time, fewer errors, and getting more sales out the door!

Use Bin and Shelf Locations

Most apparel inventory software utilizes bin and shelf locations to track inventory in the system and warehouse. Each piece/SKU in the software receives a specific bin and shelf location that correlate to its assigned location in the warehouse.

If using barcodes, labels are created and printed directly from the software for either putting on individual items, on your warehouse shelves, or both. You can also integrate existing barcodes.

Pick and Pack Smarter

Let’s look at the same scenario as discussed at the start of this post, now with the use of apparel inventory software. If that same customer places an order for 50 red shirts, with the right apparel software, your steps are now as follows:

Create new Sales Order (SO)– search and select the customer which will populate all saved customer information and default ship-to location
Add red shirts to the SO and enter the required quantity (50) – users can easily lookup additional information by searching the product’s unique code
Depending on the system, the software will populate an image of the red shirt, how many are left in stock, projected availability, and a list of SO associated with the product
It will also provide bin and shelf numbers to locate the product easier in the warehouse

When it comes time to pick the product, you simply print the pick ticket and then walk over to the bin and shelf location to pick the items. But, what happens if only 30 red shirts in stock?

You can then decide in the software to (1) partially fulfil the order and create a backorder for the remaining 20 red shirts, or (2) wait and fulfil the whole order when all backordered product has arrived at your warehouse.  You also have the option of prioritizing which Sales Orders get fulfilled first when the backordered items arrive at the warehouse.

Quick Tip:

Do not place too many SKUs per single bin location as this increases picking time. For example, if you have a bin location on a specific shelf that contains 10+ SKUs, the picker will have to search through all the different SKUs to find the item to be picked.

You can also use the software to review sales data and place your most frequently picked items closest to your shipping docks to reduce picking time.

Let’s take it a step further…

Barcode Scanning

Gone are the days of dealing with traditional barcode scanners that have to either be plugged into a computer or if wireless, be in the vicinity of the computer.  Depending on the vendor, you can now implement wireless barcode scanning that’s compatible with a variety of devices and platforms (such as iOS), which are less costly than traditional, Motorola scanners.

Other benefits include:

Ability to locate product for picking based on the most efficient route in your warehouse (according to bin and shelf locations)
Quick lookup of inventory items from the device (such as product in stock and on backorder, product available at other locations, and product descriptions, categories, pricing, and images)
Eliminates the need for paper in the warehouse – less paper equals less mess/fewer errors (you no longer have to decipher messy/unclear handwriting) and there’s less chance of losing an order/picking sheet
Resolve picking errors faster – when a picking error happens, you will receive a notification on the scanner identifying it as an error. You can address the error right at the source whereas with traditional scanners, you would have to bring the product back to a packing station, scan the item with verification barcode scanning, and once you realize you’ve made an error, you would have to walk back to the shelves to find the correct item.

Easier Inventory Management

Not only can you manage product by monitoring what’s coming in and out of the warehouse but depending on the vendor, you can add-on ‘Transformational Purchase Order’ functionality – often a key feature for apparel companies.

What does this mean? Let’s say our customer wants 50 red shirts and wants their logo embedded on them. Many apparel businesses will outsource embroidery and screen printing processes to a third-party vendor.

With true apparel inventory software, you will be able to track the 50 red shirts from its original state in your warehouse all the way to receiving it back into your warehouse from the third-party vendor as a transformed product. Here’s how it works:

The software will record the 50 shirts in the original state in your warehouse
When you send the shirts to the third-party vendor to be ‘transformed’ (turned into red shirts with logos), the system will record the cost of both the original root product (red shirt) as well as the added processing/labor cost of the third-party vendor
A Purchase Order for the processing/labor costs of the third-party vendor is also automatically created
In addition, if the work requires multiple third-party vendors, the system creates new purchase orders for each

When the finished product (red shirts with logos embedded) comes back into the warehouse as a transactional order, the software will identify it as a new item. These items get assigned a new SKU or product number and warehouse location for picking. You also have the option of creating a drop ship directly from the third-party vendor to your customer to eliminate the extra step of receiving and shipping from your warehouse.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to apparel inventory software. Some other features include:

Color/Size Apparel Matrix – Organize multiple product SKUs that differ by size, color or style.

Landed Cost Tracking – This function is especially useful for apparel companies that import product being manufactured overseas.  It helps to calculate duty, brokerage, freight, insurance, storage, etc. in order to determine the true cost of inventory items.

That’s not all! You can also manage all of your core business operations, including financials, sales management, customer relationship management, and much more from a single software solution.

Ready to optimize your warehouse?

By |

Software Search Process – Save the Demo for Last

When speaking with potential customers, frequently the first question we are asked is “can I see a demo?” The need to see a demo right off the bat can be for a number of reasons, including wanting to get an idea of the look and feel of the software, not understanding the thought process that should go into a software search, or because that is the process another software vendor followed.  While a demo is definitely a key and required part of any software search, you can save time and effort, and get information to make a more informed decision, if the demo is later in the process.

When starting the software search process with a demo, vendors highlight what they feel are the most sell-able points, or bells and whistles of the system.  This process ignores the actual needs of the prospective customer, their reasons for shopping, and does not factor in whether or not there is a fit between the business requirements and software functionality.  The result is time wasted for both parties and trying to remember how any given system looks will be difficult when evaluating multiple vendors.

If the look and feel of a system is key to the potential buyer (as it should be – although not necessarily over functionality), their time is better spent perusing the software vendor’s website or YouTube channel watching product tours and looking at screen shots. Following this approach means that within a short time frame the prospective customer can see what the software looks like without wasting an hour or longer watching a demo based on functionality that does not apply to their business.

The ideal starting point in a software search is for the vendor to have exploratory discussions with the prospective customer.  Such discussions will cover information such as:

Reasons for shopping for new software and existing pain points
Existing business processes
Volume of transactions being processed
Number of required users and
Desired improvements as a result of implementing new software

By finding out this information, a software provider is able to assess areas where the software can improve processes, address pain points and whether or not the software is a good fit for the interested party in terms of their business size, existing business processes, and industry needs. Additionally, a knowledgeable software vendor will use the information gathered to make recommendations for more efficient methods.

After going through this process and determining that indeed a potential fit does exist, the software provider will now have enough information to prepare a demo, tailored to the prospective customer’s business and its needs. Ideally, this demo will focus on specific areas important to the customer instead of highlighting features that may never be used.  Saving the demo until later in the process means neither party has wasted any time if the system is not a good fit, and both have been able to obtain enough information to make an informed decision about which software system is best.

To learn more about the software search process, download our free guide.

By |Tags: |

7 Ways to Save Costs When Replacing QuickBooks

The acquisition of new software is a huge undertaking, especially when you replace QuickBooks or other introductory software for a Tier 2 or ERP solution. However, as a business grows there will come a time when this transition is necessary as existing systems struggle to keep up and new business complexities arise.  ERP software is important for growing businesses as it provides advanced functionality, can handle a higher volume of data and frequently replaces the need for hiring additional employees. The decision to replace QuickBooks and implement ERP will likely be one of the biggest business decisions you make in any given time period, and the right solution will require a large investment of money, time and human resources.  To make the right decision, make sure you set a realistic budget for the project and focus on evaluating vendors and systems on more than just cost and functionality – including on-going dependability, after-sale support, customer satisfaction and company size. This does not mean that costs are not important and with more sophisticated functionality comes a higher price tag. However, there are various ways in which you can save costs throughout the entire software upgrade process – from search through implementation to Go-Live. Take the time to do your research and educate yourself on each part of the search, implementation and Go-Live process. Find a vendor you can work with as a trusted advisor to help you find the right solution, at the right price.

To start the process, we have compiled some information below on specific areas in which you can save money when replacing QuickBooks.

Deployment Method

The deployment method you chose will have a significant impact on costs – both upfront and long-term.  Although there is no right answer as to which method is better, there are certain situations where one will be more economical than the other.  The easiest way to determine this is to accurately compare the costs of both, taking into consideration frequently overlooked costs such as hardware/equipment upgrades, additional software licences and the cost of on-going IT maintenance. Cloud-based solutions are built around a subscription-based model where a user pays on-going monthly fees to access the software and it does not require the purchase of in-house servers. On the other hand, on-premises solutions require a large, one-time upfront investment and the purchase/maintenance of internal hardware and servers. Based on this information, cloud-based solutions are often a better option for small and start-up businesses, whereas on-premises solutions are typically implemented in much larger organizations.  In order to accurately compare costs and learn about the differences, download our Free eBook: Cloud vs. On-Premises Cost Comparison.

Number of Users

How a vendor charges for users will vary on the company and may include different models based on user settings and concurrent vs. named users. Before you start speaking with vendors, determine which employees need to use the system and how they plan on using it. Certain systems have functionality for specific user groups at a lower cost than if they had access to the full system.  For example, mobile sales apps for use at tradeshows and by sales reps on the road, allow users to enter orders without needing to access the full system.

Implementation Plan

A well-thought-out implementation plan can help reduce costs in terms of training, data migration and set-up. As part of the implementation process, make sure to discuss with the vendor the plan in terms of how many days are allocated to each activity and which users/employees will be involved.  During the training process, stick with your plan and don’t get sidetracked with other issues/requests.  It is often these small “side projects” that end up delaying the process and increasing costs. Instead, follow the Wish List approach to ensure your team receives adequate training for the most important processes during the time allocated. It is also beneficial to work with a vendor who has experience in your industry and therefore already understands your specific implementation needs.

Although there are a lot of ways to make sure you keep costs down during the implementation process, employee training is definitely one where you do not want to skimp. The software you implement will only be as good as the people who use it, and so detailed training and prepared users will ultimately save you money in the long run.

Data Migration

A proper data migration process involves mapping information from existing systems to the new software according to labels, titles, and structures, and involves additional “massaging” or “cleaning up” to ensure bad is not brought into the new system. At a minimum, consider migrating data pertaining to vendors, customers, and products, as well as historical sales data, A/P and A/R outstanding, open sales orders, GL account numbers and balances and inventory quantities. One option available to decrease data migration costs is to perform your own data migration by manually keying data from your existing system into the new ERP solution. However, although this process will decrease the amount you’re billed by the vendor, it involves a lot of manual input and therefore time and labour costs. In addition, this method is heavily error-prone and does not account for the technical know-how to update information in the system prior to Go-Live. A better option is to only migrate necessary data and continue to maintain your existing database on its own computer as a reference to look up historical information as needed.

Bells and Whistles

Although it can be tempting to get all the system bells and whistles from new ERP right off the bat, these additional pieces of functionality are not always needed and can add to the project’s cost. With the right system, you will gain a lot of efficiency right from the start as part of the base package before you begin adding optional components. Work with a vendor who offers guidance on what components you require, as opposed to a vendor whose focus is on up-selling their product. Find a vendor who provides the option to add additional components in the future as this will save your company money upfront and provide flexibility for changing processes down the road.

Minimize Customizations

Like additional components, software customization is a requirement that adds costs and may not be truly necessary. Consider whether the customizations you have are a result of carefully thought out workflows, or processes that have always been around. Perhaps there is a different/better way to perform an existing task and this is where a vendor with industry experience will become an asset. Don’t be afraid to consider alternative methods to performing tasks and question existing processes.

Internal Software Expert

The implementation process is not the end to your software costs. Once you Go-Live, additional maintenance fees and support fees will continue over the lifespan of the system. However, over this time period you will begin to benefit from automated processes and improved workflows – reducing costs in other areas. When receiving initial training on software, it’s a good idea to assign an internal employee the role of software expert. This person should be familiar with the different roles and processes of the company and have a strong understanding of how technology can improve workflows and how software works. The idea with an internal expert is that they can help reduce costs by providing support to other employees (where applicable), and training to new hires.

For more information on replacing QuickBooks, download our Free Guide:

 

By |

Can you delay hiring employees with Wholesale Distribution Software?

Your wholesale distribution business is growing. It is a chaotic time and your employees are stretched to their limits. But, before you act on your instinct to hire additional staff (or run for the woods), consider investing in wholesale distribution software instead.

Fully integrated wholesale distribution software provides automation capabilities, greater visibility of data, and increased communication making it a transformative and cost-saving investment to manage business growth and alleviate workload pressure for drowning employees. This enables a business to delay or even replace the need for additional staff.

Now, if you’re a smaller wholesale business, your employees are few and job titles/roles are frequently not clearly defined. Many employees wear several different hats – your Warehouse Manager may also take on the hands-on responsibilities of receiving, picking, packing and shipping or your Accountant may also be your Financial Controller.  Wholesale distribution software gives these employees new functionality to handle multiple responsibilities without added effort.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the functionality available in wholesale distribution software and the benefits it has on these merged roles:
Learn more about wholesale distribution software features and functionality.
Role: Warehouse Manager

In a large-scale wholesale distribution business, there are numerous employees and job roles in the warehouse department. However, in a smaller setting, you may only have one or two resources available to fulfil warehouse operations resulting in them taking on additional roles and responsibilities in the areas of shipping, receiving and inventory management. With a rapidly growing business, you run the risk of exhausting these over-tasked personnel. Distribution software improves speed and accuracy by automating workflows which frees up time for employees to take on more value-adding tasks.

Functionality:

Warehouse Management 

Provides real-time data to show inventory quantities available, allocated and valuation.
Uses real-time information to control costs across the entire supply chain.

Barcode Scanning

Wireless barcode scanning automates picking, packing, shipping and receiving.
Eliminates the need for paper, reduces manual entry and errors and saves time by locating product according to bin and shelf location.

 Inventory Management 

Improve inventory management with replenishment capabilities according to minimum inventory levels for efficient order fulfilment.
Easily create and send purchase orders.
Ability to display future quantity availability based on items on backorder.

Purchasing Management

Default pricing from vendor records or last purchase.
Print, fax or email purchase orders.
Linked sales orders with backorders are automatically updated by received POs.
Vendor payment history – provides detailed history of payments made against invoices and discounts taken.
Alternate vendor payments – for credit cards, and for transferring liabilities from one vendor to another.

Picking/Packing

Consolidated picking enables warehouse workers to create consolidated pick sheets based on released orders.
Picking is managed from a separate user interface when shipping items in an order-by-order environment.

Role: Accountant

This is another key role in your wholesale distribution business. In a small to medium-size business environment, this individual is responsible for more than basic accounting – he or she may also take on the role of CFO and Financial Controller etc.

Functionality:

Accounting

Streamline and automate day-to-day accounting and financial operations eliminating slow, error-prone manual processes.
Collections screen – reduces collection period, eliminates paper and includes ability to email PDF invoice copies and statements.
Detailed or summary aging – current or retroactive.
Payment history report – shows how payments previously received were applied to outstanding invoices.
Customer groups – facilitates head office / branch scenarios where head office pays branch invoices.
Automates recurring transactions.
Sales tax remittance screen for reconciling and paying sales taxes.

Financials

Ability to gain a holistic view of expenditure to set realistic budgets.
Easily oversee and provide guidance on complex tax issues.
Flexible and automated reporting tools with the ability to live link data to Excel to gain quick insight into financial data.
Integrated and comprehensive business intelligence capabilities.
Prepare and record a sales budget and advise purchasing and logistics.

Role: CEO

As the CEO or owner of your wholesale business, you know that on any given day you could just as easily take on any of the above-stated roles. You are sales, CFO, operations, shipping and receiving and more. With a rapidly growing business, it can be difficult to focus on cultivating internal processes. With wholesale distribution software, there is better alignment between departments/job functions which allows executives and employees more time to focus on revenue and customers. As an all-in-one system, it is easier to delegate tasks to the appropriate employees and develop a collaborative work environment to improve efficiency.

Functionality:

Sales

Keep track of contact information for customers, vendors and prospects through a single point of entry.
Track an unlimited number of contacts associated with an unlimited number of companies.
Customer Relationship Management – quick search contacts by company code, company name, contact name, phone number etc.
View centralized quotes, open orders and posted invoices.
Lead Opportunity Management – track leads/prospects through a comprehensive sales cycle, set statuses, next action dates, appointments and more.
Track all detailed communications.

The dizzying pace of your growing wholesale business can overwhelm even the most capable person in your organization.  Prematurely increasing your headcount can cost you more money in the long run when compared to the benefits of investing in wholesale distribution software.  However, additional skillsets may be required for the advanced functionality of the software such as integrated accounting capabilities. However, adopting new software will still reduce the need for hiring additional employees and creating new roles for your current processes.

By |Tags: |

Google Sprint Pro Tips – What I Learnt from Doing a Google Sprint

If you’ve never heard of a Google Design Sprint, it’s worth checking out.  The idea comes from the people at Google Ventures and is based on a methodology for making big decisions quickly.  As employees from Google Ventures have learnt, a lot of resources, money and time can be wasted designing, testing and prototyping ideas that do not translate well when released in the market.  The idea with a Google Sprint is to reduce the amount of time and resources it takes to make these decisions and to start the process based on well-defined motives and real-life consumer feedback.

According to the Google Sprint website:

“The sprint is a five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. Developed at GV, it’s a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more—packaged into a battle-tested process that any team can use.”

Sprints take place over the course of one work week – 10am to 5pm every day.  This decision was made after a series of tests in which shorter and longer time periods were used, and still allows employees to check email and perform tasks in the morning.  Each day of the week is broken down into timed activities in order to get results and make decisions that will affect the rest of the week’s plans.  The people at Google Ventures have also made a recommendation that no more than 7 people be included in the Sprint.  Within the group of 7, 1 participant is deemed the “Facilitator” and is in charge of keeping the week’s activities on track. They do not participate in every activity, but rather lead the others according to the timeline and activities identified in the Sprint guide. Another participant is given the “Decision Maker” role in order to make the final decision around certain ideas.  This eliminates any issues with the team not being able to come to mutual agreement and for the best results, this person should be directly impacted by the final outcome as they ultimately have veto power.  Google Ventures recommends that the remaining participants include: a finance expert, a marketing expert, a customer expert, a design expert and a tech/logistics expert.

The Sprint process is fully outlined in the New York Times bestseller, Sprint, and includes information on what material is needed and what snacks to feed the team throughout the week in order to get the best results. Below I have summarized Blue Link ERP’s Sprint experience, but for more information and full details on how you can run a Sprint, be sure to find the book or visit their website: http://www.gv.com/sprint/.

Monday: Map out the problem and pick an area to focus. 

Day 1 starts out by setting a long-term goal that dictates the purpose of the Sprint. With this goal in mind, the next step is to create a list of questions that need to be answered in order to achieve said goal.  These steps are important as the entire Sprint process needs to align with the goal and questions.

The second part of Monday involves sketching out a map.  The map starts with a list of customers and key players and ends with the final objective of each key player.  For Blue Link the map started with users and ended with their final objective: Get Job Done.  A flowchart in-between connected users with the final objective by mapping out how users interact with our ERP system. Initially, this mapping activity seemed like an overwhelming task – how do you encompass all areas of the system in a map outlining the user experience? However, once we started working on this process it turned out to be a relatively simple task. Essentially we determined that each user of Blue Link has different reasons for using the software and then different requirements once logged in, however, the workflow for each user is the same:  find information and access screens in order to complete their tasks and get their jobs done.  This thinking led us to two simple questions:

(1) Why would a user need to open Blue Link ERP?

(2) How does a user get the information they need once they have launched the system?

We determined that the answer to the first question would depend on the user.  Someone responsible for data entry would open Blue Link in order to process a transaction, or due to a specific alert. Someone in a management position with decision making power would open Blue Link in order to respond to an inquiry or alert, or in order to perform a workflow event.  Lastly, we determined that a business owner would open Blue Link in response to an inquiry or alert. This process of mapping each interaction with the software included more detailed insights from each expert in the group.  As a team, we interviewed each participant with regards to the map we had drawn and wrote notes about additional questions and concerns we had.  The notes were imperative as we would later vote on which ones we thought were most important to address throughout the week.

The answer to the second question took a bit more thought as we determined that there are currently several ways in which a Blue Link user can get the information they need and that this specific part of the user experience could be improved upon.  Ultimately it was this specific process – how users get the information they need and access the relevant screen(s) – that we decided to focus our Sprint on.  However, in order to get the best results we also needed to choose a group of users to focus on and so taking into consideration the notes we had written, we chose to focus on the group of key players we identified as decision makers.

Pro Tip #1: Mapping out your process and the problem can seem like a daunting task, and so it is important to keep it simple.  For Blue Link, the map involved a decision maker, responding to an inquiry, alert or workflow event, navigating to the relevant screen and/or information and then taking action to get the job done. Instead of going into the details of each possible inquiry or workflow event, we kept it generic. This allowed us to focus on the actual problem without getting caught up in the details.

Tuesday: Sketch ideas and possible solutions on paper. 

For those who enjoyed arts and crafts as a kid, Tuesday is the best day.  The morning starts out by each Sprint participant quickly showcasing examples of existing products or systems they like in order to get ideas for the final prototype.   In the afternoon, each participant is then responsible for sketching out ideas based the information gathered in the morning, and always keeping in mind the goal and questions identified on Monday. Each person draws their own sketch without any collaboration with other members of the group.  The idea is to be as detailed as possible and keep each final sketch anonymous so each one can be objectively evaluated the following morning.

Pro Tip #2: When searching for examples of existing products or systems to showcase, make sure you think outside the box. The examples you show do not have to be from a similar industry or even targeted towards the same market. Remember, at this point in time, you’re trying to find big ideas so as to not limit your prototype design.

Pro Tip #3: More detailed sketches are better.  It was easy for our team members to assume certain pieces of functionality and therefore not fully illustrate them in the sketch, however, it was ultimately the more detailed sketches that became a part of the prototype. If you are not able to draw some of your ideas, include text anywhere possible in order to clearly outline the information. More detailed sketches also reduce the amount of work required Wednesday when turning sketches into a storyboard.

Wednesday: Narrow down options and make difficult decisions in order to transform ideas into a testable prototype. 

Wednesday was by far the most tiresome day as it required a lot of decision making.  First thing in the morning we evaluated each sketch, and then voted on which sketches and parts of sketches we liked best, as well as which ones we thought would best answer our Sprint questions and goal. This was also the day in which we put the facilitator to the test in order to ensure we followed the time frame set out for each activity.  We had a lot of decisions to make in only a short period of time.  In the afternoon we took our favorite parts from each sketch and expanded on the information to actually create a storyboard for what would ultimately become our prototype. This is where detailed sketches helped because we did not have to re-draw certain parts of the storyboard.

Pro Tip #4: Make sure to always focus on the specific problem and goal you have identified on Monday. It was easy to get sidetracked thinking about how other key players would prefer to get information from Blue Link and how that might differ from decision makers, but that was not the point of the Sprint.

Thursday: Design a prototype and prepare for live interviews.  

On Thursday the point is to design a workable prototype to showcase in front of customers/potential customers on Friday.  The motto of the day is “fake it until you make it” – the idea being that simple tools such as PowerPoint can be used as a quick and easy prototype tool. For Blue Link, designing the prototype in Access was just as easy as it is one of our standard development tools. Thursday is also the day set aside for designing the interview questions and setting up the interview room.

Pro Tip #5: Do not get caught up in the details of the prototype.  Not everything needs to work perfectly and not showing specific information can be just as useful as showing specific information.

Friday: Test prototype with a live audience.

Finally, Day 5 of the Sprint is designed to get real-world feedback from a live audience. Interviews are conducted in a private room by one member of the Sprint team, while the remaining members watch live from another room. The idea is that the interviewer’s focus is strictly on going through the prototype, while the remaining participants can listen, watch and take notes.

Pro Tip #6: Make sure you accurately explain the prototype and interview process to your live audience before inviting them to participate.  This ensures your audience does not have any preconceived notions about the Sprint process and their involvement.

Pro Tip #7: If necessary, make sure your audience understands that the information as part of the prototype is just an example of the information that they could be seeing.  Although the wording is important, it is also important that your audience does not get caught up over specific information being displayed if that information is a placeholder. Use generic examples wherever possible.

Final Result

When all is said and done, you are left with a working prototype and feedback from 5 people.  What now? The book states that no Sprint is a waste, even if the ultimate result is that none of your ideas will be used. Ultimately a Sprint provides you with enough information to learn, in a week, whether or not you’re on the right track with your ideas. The important part is to decide what to do next. Based on the feedback provided by your interviewees, look for patterns and key ideas.  Decide which parts worked and which didn’t.  If the Sprint has answered your questions from Monday and aligns with your goal, maybe you have enough information to begin full development, or maybe you decide to run another Sprint, or parts of a Sprint, with a different focus. Whatever you decide, make sure you take action soon – keep the momentum of the Sprint and don’t let the results go to waste. For Blue Link, we decided that the next step would be to run another sketching session based on the

By |

How Secure is Your Wholesale Inventory Software?

If you’re in the wholesale business, it’s not ghosts and ghouls that are spooking you this Halloween but something much more frightening — unsecure wholesale inventory software.

From confidential customer and employee information to real-time inventory data, orders, accounting and banking information— your entire warehouse and business operations data lives in your software. So, it’s not surprising that one of the most common concerns when evaluating wholesale software is if company data is safe and secure.

When many think of the safety of wholesale inventory solutions, they primarily worry about system failures, malware, and hackers. However, it’s also important to think about your day-to-day activity in the software and the potential risks to your internal operations.

If confidential data gets into the wrong or unqualified hands, it could turn out to be a horror show for your business with scares such as missing inventory and supplies, fraud, warehouse management errors, unrecoverable loss of data and damage to your reputation.

But, before you write-off wholesale inventory software entirely, there’s good news! There are numerous security features that you can implement in wholesale software to prevent these nightmares and it’s important to not let the lack of knowledge of these features deter you from buying the right system. An even scarier situation is your business missing out on opportunities to save time and money due to improper systems.

Instead, educate yourself and make sure to ask vendors to go over specific security features with you, and teach you how to get the most use out of them.

User Permissions

Depending on the vendor, you will easily be able to conduct the important administrative task of setting role-based permissions or restrictions of activities in the system.

Taking the time to evaluate who is qualified to perform certain tasks in the software based on their roles and skill set can save you a lot of trouble in the long-run. For example, you can set user permissions to only allow access to specific areas/screens of the software, or you can restrict what employees can do in each area of the software, such as setting permissions to “read –only”.

By creating these internal controls of data, users only see what’s relevant to their individual role, minimizing the risk of data exploitation that could be detrimental to your business.

Some other benefits include:

Limiting unnecessary exposure to sensitive data in order to reduce accidental or malicious activity.
The ability to monitor user activity in the system.
The ability to track suspicious activity such as incorrect inventory counts and pricing changes.
Preventing incorrect management of warehouses and order entry by restricting unqualified users from making changes to management screens.
Helps you build and maintain trust with customers and vendors by adhering to customer/vendor privacy guidelines.
Avoid employees creating their own tracking and reporting systems outside of the software that can’t be monitored.

Track User Activity

Have you ever wondered who updated contact information for a vendor, or who deleted a stock item in your software? Robust wholesale software allows you to set specific internal controls to track user activity.

It’s important to monitor and track user activities in your wholesale business so you can have a chronological view of the sequence of events taking place for an operation and detect any red flags before it’s too late. If errors do arise, you can track what went wrong and the users involved. It’s vital that you assign users an individual login and encourage them not to share their logins so you can accurately track who did what in the system.

Maintenance and Monitoring

It is tempting to set these security guidelines and forget them, however, continuous monitoring and maintenance are vital to the effectiveness of these features. You should be evaluating your security on a quarterly basis at the least.

Employees come and go. Make sure you retire their logins to ensure that they no longer have access to company data. You should also change passwords in the event of a security breach.
Employees may also change their roles within the company. When this happens, it’s important to get in the habit of adjusting permissions to suit their new job responsibilities.
Keep on top of security compliance regulations and update your system accordingly. If you choose to go with a cloud-based solution, your vendor will typically offer system updates. They may raise any potential red flags that you or your IT team may not be aware of. Take these suggestions seriously. Operating on outdated software can open your company to extra risks.

Implementing security permissions will not only help you increase the level of safety but it will also improve the accuracy and quality of your warehouse and business data since only qualified individuals are conducting specified activities, resulting in fewer errors.

 

By |Tags: |

5 Tools for Wholesale Inventory Management

As a wholesale company, inventory is your livelihood. What inventory to buy, where to source product from and how to sell product to customers are all important factors to consider in managing your business for growth.  In order to sell inventory, you must also properly track and manage inventory. Streamlined picking, packing and shipping processes, and multiple warehouse locations and sales channels are just a few factors that can help make sure you provide customers with the product they want when they want it.

The best way to manage your wholesale business? Use the right inventory management tools. If you’re not sure what tools are available and which ones are appropriate for your business, look no further than this blog post. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most important tools for wholesale inventory management.

(1) ERP Software

Let’s start with the basics. Inventory management software provides functionality for managing inventory from purchase through to sale.  Although solutions will vary in the functionality they provide, watch for features to handle multiple units of measure, serialized items, re-order points based on lead times, inventory counts, barcode scanning, warehouse transfers and bin and shelf locations.  Consider inventory management software with built-in accounting functionality such as an ERP system so that you can also create purchase orders for new product, manage backorders, process RMAs and create sales orders.  ERP software also allows you to report on information stored in the system across departments, such as sales by customer by product or sales by product by date. As you will see from the functionality below, ERP software is the backbone of inventory management in which all other functionality can integrate for complete control over your inventory and business.

(2) Wireless Barcode Scanning

With a large warehouse space, it is important to organize product by bin and shelf location for easier picking.  To further simplify the picking, packing and shipping process, wireless barcode scanning enables users to scan items at the source.  Barcodes get scanned during the picking process so that users can identify and correct inventory shortages or picking errors immediately. In certain cases, users can pick substitute product or flag items for backorder.  Since you can integrate wireless barcode scanning with your ERP system, the order gets updated in real-time.  An added bonus? Wireless barcode scanning works on iOS devices such an iPod touch or iPad – often cheaper alternatives to traditional handheld scanning devices.

To learn more about inventory management, download our eBook on Inventory Management Techniques.

(3) Mobile Sales App – RepZio

Inventory management is an important aspect of the sales process, especially when selling through multiple sales channels. For companies that employ outside sales reps or frequently attend tradeshows, it is important to use a system that has the ability to manage inventory in the field.  For example, mobile sales applications such as RepZio can help you take orders and scan inventory in the field.  Inventory information is live linked between this system and your back-end ERP solution so that inventory information is available in real-time.  This means orders placed in the field do not have to be re-entered when back in the office and product gets shipped quicker.  This also means that you’re able to sell inventory from multiple sales channels at the same time – no need to worry about inaccurate inventory levels when away from the office and warehouse.

(4) Lot Tracking

Although not required in every industry, in those that it is, lot tracking is an integral part of inventory management.  Lot tracking or batch tracking allows a business to track specific lots (or batches) or product from the supplier through to the customer.  Lot tracking records which customers received specific lots of product, and when they were received.  Lot tracking also records the date and supplier in which the items were purchased, and manages product expiry dates. As you can tell, this type of wholesale inventory management functionality is very important in specific industries and when dealing with products such as food and pharmaceutical. Lot tracking also helps reduce the impact of a product recall in that only affected product – identified by lot number – gets recalled.

(5) Document Management

Document management is an important part of wholesale inventory management in order to easily record, store and retrieve documents related to specific inventory items.  This includes spec sheets, warranties or maintenance documents. Essentially document management allows users to scan documents and gathers information in order to fill fields within your system and generate specific workflows. Users can easily retrieve documents from the system while in the field or in-house while speaking with customers and suppliers.  This eliminates the hassle of managing paper documents and ensures all information relating to an inventory item is available at your fingertips with the simple click of a button.  The idea is that users process and store documents through a document management system and then access the information within the ERP.

As you can see, ERP software is a great starting point for wholesale inventory management.  As an all-in-one system, it allows businesses to manage their processes from beginning to end, streamlining operations and automating workflows. Other specific functionality for inventory management will vary by company and industry, but look for ERP that includes these additional features in order to implement a complete solution.

By |

Does ERP software play a role in boosting employee engagement?

As a business frontrunner, you spend a lot of time thinking about ways to improve your profitability. Advancing services, improving customer satisfaction and reducing costs all take the head table when it comes to strategic business planning. But have you considered the state of your employees? How committed are they to company objectives? Do they value your customers? And, why should you care?

For those of you who are also wondering what ERP software has to do with any of this, we’ll get to that shortly…

But first, consider this quote from Former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, Doug Conant:

“To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.”

These words hold true for many businesses today that are discovering a direct correlation between customer satisfaction, profitability and employees’ satisfaction in their work. Simply put, when employees are engaged, they are more productive and willing to go the extra mile resulting in increased customer satisfaction and profitability.

So, how can you create a sustainable foundation for employee engagement for your business?

It is crucial to provide your employees with the right tools, resources and training needed to do their job well and in turn, provide customers with the services they expect.  When employees are confident in their tasks, the more enthusiastic and inspired they are to put in the extra effort that will help set your business apart from the competition.

This is where Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software comes into play. With the right ERP software, you are able to take a more employee-centric view of your workforce taking into consideration the entire ecosystem of your business from your accounting and sales teams to warehouse managers and operation teams.  A sophisticated ERP system will improve processes and workflows throughout a variety of departments. Employees will feel empowered and confident with the capability to:

Streamline inventory management, accounting, customer management, warehouse management and order entry and processing with an all-in-one solution.
Have easy access to information stored in a single database for quick information retrieval and lookup.
Share real-time data that is essential to their job functions with the right stakeholders.

However, it is also important to keep in mind that the key to achieving employee engagement is in selecting the right ERP package for your business and then successful implementation and training.

Some steps to consider:

(1) The buy-in. 

Before you invest in ERP software, it’s important to sell the value of a sophisticated ERP system to your team. At the end of the day, it is your employees that will be using the software so you need to get them excited and help them understand the impact on their roles.

Paint a picture of the benefits of ERP at a granular level. Illustrate how the software will impact day-to-day tasks— sales teams interact more effectively with clients, warehouse employees can easily track down product, accounting personnel can automate reporting etc. Clearly defining how their roles and functions will be enhanced with software will build confidence and encourage employees to adopt a new way of completing tasks.

(2) Breaking habits. 

Evaluate processes of roles during the ERP software search to address any pain points or concerns employees may have adapting to a new way of tackling tasks. For many, a multi-purpose system will be a welcomed implementation, however, others who are used to doing things a certain way may need a bit more convincing.  Challenge them to think about why they’re performing tasks in a certain manner. Is it because it’s the best way, or because that is the way it has always been done? For example, you may ask employees if they’d rather spend hours manually entering data into Excel sheets, or if they want to automate data exports.  Let them know you’re there to meet their needs, make their lives easier, and improve their satisfaction in their work.

And lastly, one of the most important steps…

(3) Training, training and more training!

ERP software training is vital for the success of the implementation and overall satisfaction of employees using the software. The better trained and confident your employees are with the system, the more use they’ll get out of it.  Proper training reduces costs, saves time and decreases human error resulting in employees having time to concentrate on skill acquisition which improves job satisfaction.

By |Tags: |

How ERP Software Helps Streamline Processes

When a business first starts to evaluate software as a tool to help manage its processes, it makes sense to look at introductory solutions.  Introductory software is designed to be the first system implemented in a business as an alternative to entirely manual processes. For most businesses, the first software purchase made is in order to manage the company’s accounting and financials, and in general, introductory software provides functionality to manage one specific aspect of a company’s operations. Introductory accounting software is frequently used in conjunction with manual processes or other simple business tools like Excel in order to manage inventory. Introductory software and manual processes work best when order volume is low.

As a business grows, and order volume increases, it becomes more and more difficult to manage processes with introductory software. Although each business will differ, there are a couple of good indicators that it’s time to start looking for more robust software:

The business has reached transaction and data volume limits within its existing system. Many introductory software solutions have limitations on the number of transactions it can process, the volume of data that it can store and even the number of user licenses available.  When a business operates above these limits it can result in system crashes, corrupt databases, slow run times and messy workarounds.
The business requires additional functionality. Introductory software provides functionality to manage specific processes within one department as opposed to across departments.  As a business grows, it will require additional functionality to handle previously manual tasks. Examples include functionality to manage inventory, customers and multiple sales channels such as eCommerce.
Employees are performing a lot of manual tasks. When a business only has a small number of orders it can be fine to manage processes manually.  However as the business grows, automating these tasks can save hours of manual work, even if it’s just a few seconds at a time.
The business lacks tools for robust reporting. Although introductory software will provide access to some reports, it can be difficult to extract the information and see data in real-time.  In addition, it does not allow a business to easily amalgamate information across functional areas to understand how the company is performing across departments.

If a business experiences any of the above, it is time to start looking for more advanced software.  For many wholesale and distribution businesses specifically, a need for better inventory management as additional functionality is what prompts the search for a more robust system.  Although in this situation a business can purchase additional inventory software to integrate with its current accounting solution, taking a piece-meal approach to software can lead to manual processes re-keying data between systems, resulting in extra work and more room for error.  This, in turn, can lead to incorrect business information and data loss, which impacts customer satisfaction and hurts a company’s bottom line.

Instead, a true ERP solution will provide functionality for managing inventory, accounting, contact management, warehouse management and order entry and processing as an all-in-one solution. ERP streamlines processes across departments from beginning to end and will include additional functionality to meet the specific needs of each individual business.  With ERP software, a company has the ability to:

Receive inventory into its warehouse with barcode scanners
Convert a quote into a sales order without having to go into multiple systems
Create a purchase order for inventory items not available from within the sales order screen
Automatically email customers invoices
Automatically generate reports based on specific pre-determined criteria – these reports then get emailed automatically to the appropriate team members
Create a sales order in which inventory is automatically allocated to that order
Use verification scanning at packing stations to scan items picked and check against the sales order
Track and monitor receivables with the ability to have automatic notices and updates sent out in order to shorten receivable cycle and increase cash flow
Generate reports based on information pulled from different departments – for example, users can set up a report detailing information on product sold by sales rep by territory
See notes kept on customers and suppliers from multiple screens and areas of the software
Review sales orders from various sales channels in one screen

The above functionality is just a sampling of how ERP can help streamline operations.  With an all-in-one solution, data is stored in a single database which makes it easy to quickly lookup and enter information in one system from a variety of departments.  Training employees is simplified as users only need to learn one system interface and support done through the same vendor.

By |

Managing Multiple Companies with Wholesale ERP Software

There are many factors to consider when you evaluate wholesale ERP software for your company, such as functionality, on-going support, industry experience, costs and deployment method.  If you have an ownership stake in more than one company, another important consideration is whether or not you need the system to help manage each business and whether or not you deal with inter-company transactions. If you do require multi-company functionality, there are other factors to take into consideration, such as:

What information do you need to see for each company?
How do you need to see this information? Do you need to access information from multiple companies within the same screen? Through specific reports?
Are the companies in the same industry and does it make sense to use one system to manage them all?

The answer to the above questions will help dictate what software solution you implement, and whether or not you need a solution with inter-company functionality.  For the most part, your business will benefit from inter-company functionality when you complete a significant volume of transactions between companies.  There are a number of different transactions that will flow between companies, including the following:

1. Expenses

Expenses are a common type of transaction when dealing with multiple companies.  The idea here is that there are certain expenses that get paid on behalf of each company, but instead of dividing these expenses between companies and writing separate checks, one check is used to pay for all the expenses.  A great example of this type of expense would be rent.  One building may house 3 separate companies, each taking up different amounts of space.  Instead of each company writing a check for their percentage of rent, one company will write the check on behalf of all the others.  From an accounting standpoint, each company still needs to record their proportion of the rent expense.   Wholesale ERP software and inter-company functionality will streamline this process so information is automatically populated across companies.  This eliminates the need for entering data multiple times and reduces the errors associated with doing so.

2. Inventory

Inventory is another common inter-company transaction in which one company either sells or transfers inventory to another. In this situation, you record a transaction for the movement of inventory, but you also have to update inventory quantities.  With inter-company functionality, the system allows you to update inventory quantities on behalf of multiple companies and then recognizes that a corresponding accounting transaction needs to take place.  Proper functionality also accounts for the landed costs associated with actually moving inventory between companies when they are in different locations.

3. Transfer Pricing with Certain Inventory Transactions

Another aspect to consider is the possible need for transfer pricing when dealing with certain inventory transactions.  Transfer pricing refers to the price set for goods and services sold between two related companies, when for any reason the goods cannot be transferred at cost price. The transfer price is then the price paid for by the company buying the product.  The actual transfer pricing rules would depend on several factors, such as laws and regulations and ownership breakdown. There are different ways in which software can address this type of transaction, depending on which company records the transaction and when it gets recorded. For example, does one company create a purchase order, or does another company create a sales order? Do you record the transaction upon shipment of the goods or upon receipt of the goods?

It is obvious how inter-company transactions complicate business processes.  Proper wholesale ERP software and inter-company functionality helps you save time entering transactions across multiple companies and reduces the instance of human error when doing so. Depending on the group of businesses, there are several other factors to consider when evaluating software. Before you start speaking with vendors, consider the following:

Ease-of-Use: How easy is it to switch between companies within the software? Do you have to log out of the application each time and then log back in as a different company?

Inventory Availability: Are you able to see inventory availability for each company easily from within the screen? What if a customer wants to order product that is out of stock at one company and in stock at another – are you able to see this information?

Customer Information: If you have a customer with bad credit history, do you want them to be able to purchase product from one of the other companies? Will you need to look up customer information in the system for each company? Do you need the ability to copy contact details across companies?

Financial Information: Do we need to consolidate financial information across each company? Do you want to pull information from each company into one Profit and Loss statement? Will you have the same chart of accounts structure for each company?

 

By |Tags: |

What is an API and How Does it Apply to Business Management?

API is a term frequently used when discussing integration between software applications. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you’ve certainly been affected by API technology in some capacity – such as when ordering product online from Amazon or accessing information on certain websites. But what exactly is an API and how does it apply to business management? To explain the answer, let’s start from the beginning.

API stands for application program interface and is used to describe a means for systems to interact with one another.  Specific protocols, routines and tools that make up APIs help programmers build software applications and dictate how multiple applications will talk to one another. APIs provide limited information about a system’s internal infrastructure so that outside developers can use the information to build new applications that work with the original system. By limiting outside programmers access to specific information, businesses can integrate with other solutions without providing access to their entire data set/code infrastructure. APIs are typically divided into two categories, public and private. Public facing APIs expose data to the outside world and are readily available to all programmers, whereas private APIs expose data only to applications where specific access has been granted and where there is a relationship between the companies. APIs save businesses resources and time and eliminate the chance of legal ramification when information is not properly shared.  APIs reduce the need to build applications from scratch where the specific functionality or information already exists in some capacity.

The way in which APIs work may sound similar to how EDI works, but the two are quite different.  EDI allows businesses to transact electronic data between members of the supply chain, whereas APIs allow systems to retrieve, change and submit data within applications. APIs provide access to system data and system logic.

With EDI, information is electronically exchanged between systems in a universally understood language. In this situation, information is simply being shared between applications. For example, Walmart can send a purchase order through EDI for an order of product from one of its suppliers.  Both Walmart and the supplier have different formats for reading, writing and storing information based on the specific back-end ERP software they use to manage their inventory and accounting.  With EDI, information sent from Walmart is generated according to EDI standards, and then the supplier can retrieve the information and translate it back into a format that works with their specific ERP system.  This type of workflow will typically will involve the help of middleware to automatically read and translate the information sent via EDI in a format that is readable by both Walmart and the supplier’s specific software. This eliminates the work involved for both companies to send information in different formats depending on the partners in the supply chain.

With APIs, information can be retrieved, stored, changed and submitted depending on the specific communication set-up. In the example above, once the supplier receives the purchase order through EDI and it has been translated accordingly, an API can then populate that information into the supplier’s software system, automatically creating a sales order and also allocating the inventory where possible. Without the help of an API, these steps would be a manual process. In this example, EDI allows the transfer of information whereas APIs take action with the information received.

An API specifies how software components interact and allows two separate systems to communicate and share information with one another. This helps facilitates seamless integration with 3rd party applications and means that once a specific integration has been built, it can be reused over and over again following the same format.

A quick Google search for API provides public API information from a variety of popular platforms such as Google Maps, Twitter, and Instagram.  The idea being that when a system provides developers with API information, those developers can then go and build applications off that technology.  A good example would be how Yelp will show you the location of restaurants using Google Maps.  Yelp developers used Google Maps’ API to integrate maps into their website so that the technology did not have to be developed from scratch. In this situation, Yelp is accessing data exposed by the API.

As discussed above, it is obvious how APIs can be beneficial in a business setting to help facilitate integration across a variety of applications and to share information. Another common business example is eCommerce integration.  Let’s pretend the distribution company mentioned above also sells product online through Amazon. In this situation, APIs are used to dictate how much information and how often that information is shared between the distributor’s back-end ERP solution and Amazon. The ERP solution provides access to its private APIs so that Amazon can call information from within the ERP and then share information back.  In this situation APIs help share information both ways and also manipulate the information being shared.  Information is passed and manipulated from the ERP system to Amazon in terms of inventory availability, pricing details and product descriptions, and then from Amazon to the ERP in terms of order information, shipping details and payment information. When information is shared in this way, and API logic is accessed, information from both the ERP and Amazon gets automatically updated and populated within each system, eliminating the need for manual data entry. An API can be set up so that changing the description of a product in the ERP system automatically triggers an event to change the description of that same product on Amazon. When dealing with eCommerce integration between an ERP system and online store, there is frequently involvement from a 3rd party integration company to set this up.  This allows both the ERP vendor and eCommerce company to focus on their core competencies, and leaves the integration to a company like Virtual Logistics that specializes in integration across platforms and applications.

By |Tags: |

Pharmaceutical Accounting Software for Start-Up Distribution Companies

If you want to start a pharmaceutical distribution business you must first purchase a license to sell product.  After you’ve acquired your licenses, you are then responsible for following specific guidelines in accordance with industry regulations around product traceability, supply chain management, and reporting. The licenses you acquire dictate what type (class) of product you can sell, and to what geographic location, and then the guidelines in place will vary depending on this information.  In general, regulations are based on specific types of products such as over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, and controlled substances.  Agencies such as the FDA are responsible for monitoring licenses and ensuring that each distribution company adheres to the proper regulations.

So, how does a company ensure they comply with regulations? The best solution for managing these requirements is to implement pharmaceutical accounting software as soon as possible.  Pharmaceutical accounting software not only helps your business comply with regulations but also provides tools for managing all other aspects of the business, including accounting, order entry and processing, customer relationship management, warehouse management, inventory and more. Given the nature of the industry, it is important that any system you implement is supported by a vendor who actively monitors changes to regulations in order to add new functionality as needed.

As a start-up business, finding the funds and resources necessary to implement software can be difficult, but the idea is that the right solution will help your business grow and reduce costs in the long term. It is important to compare any costs associated with the software against the costs of manual processes – in terms of the effort it takes to comply with regulatory requirements and the potential consequences in the event of human error.

Once you have applied for your licenses it can take a while before they are approved. However, this waiting period is the best time to start searching for appropriate software, so that you have a solution in place as soon as possible after you receive your licenses.  Ideally, you want a proper solution in place before you purchase product and receive items into your warehouse.  One of the biggest mistakes companies make purchasing pharmaceutical accounting software is underestimating the time it takes to evaluate, select, and then implement the software. Even as a start-up business, this process can take anywhere from 3-6 months which is why it is important to start extensive research and engage in discussions with vendors while waiting on your licenses to come through.

As soon as you receive inventory into your warehouse, regulations come into play. Once again these regulations will depend on the licenses you have, but requirements from a functionality standpoint center mostly around product pedigree, traceability, reporting and customer license management. At a minimum, you want functionality to track lot numbers and expiry dates of products, identify vendors along the supply chain to track the specific product back to the manufacturer, automatically generate and send reports to specific governing agencies and ensure that your customers have a valid license to purchase the product being sold.

Keep in mind that it is hard to coordinate the timing of receiving your licenses with implementing software and purchasing inventory.  This is especially true given that software implementations do not happen overnight.  However, even if you have to manually manage processes in the beginning, the sooner you get a new system in place the better.

By |

Hosted and On-Premises Software: Total Cost of Ownership

When your business decides to purchase inventory and accounting ERP software, the great debate remains: should you implement a hosted solution or on-premises?  For smaller organizations, the answer is obvious – when you compare the total cost of ownership per year, hosted software will almost always end up being the most economical choice (as shown in Graph #1).  Some software vendors do not even give you the option, but instead only offer hosted/cloud-based solutions. However, there are some instances where a cloud-based solution is just not feasible – for example, businesses in rural locations without a reliable internet connection, and for larger organizations, on-premises solutions can be the better option. Either way, it is important to fully understand both options and the implications they will have for your business. Hesitation regarding hosted software frequently stems from a lack of understanding and concerns regarding data security issues. However, even though data security will vary by the software vendor, the security and provisions put in place by vendors in general will be more than what you can provide in an on-premises environment.

Although “small business” is a relative term, it is often used to describe companies with a small number of employees, limited resources, low order volume and moderate revenues.  For these types of businesses, a simple comparison of costs will almost always show cloud-based solutions as the more economical choice, but let’s break down exactly why that is.

When you compare hosted and on-premises solutions, it is important to include all costs associated with maintaining the system year-over-year, and it is best to track the total cost of ownership over a 5 year period.  Evaluating the costs after year one is not a good assessment of which is more economical as it does not take into consideration all the costs associated with maintaining the system in the long run.  Given that software is designed to be a long-term investment, it is important that the costs are evaluated as such.

Hosted Costs

For hosted software, year 1 costs will typically include initial implementation and set-up, monthly license fees and support.  On-going costs are then made up of licenses fees and support, as maintenance fees for warranty issues and access to regular upgrades are built into the monthly fees. Under this model, IT maintenance and data backups become the responsibility of the software provider and powerful server hardware is not required. A subscription-based cost structure is beneficial for small businesses as it allows it to gain control over its software expenditure. Instead of a large initial investment, the costs of the system are broken down into a one-time implementation and set up fee and then on-going monthly fees. This allows businesses to plan and implement a predictable schedule of monthly payments.

On-Premises Costs

With on-premises software, year 1 costs will typically include initial implementation and set-up, license fees, support, and hardware and equipment purchases and management. On-going costs are then made up of managing the system infrastructure, support, and maintenance.  It is frequently these on-going costs that are not accounted for properly in the long run, but they have a huge impact on total cost of ownership.  One of the more costly aspects of on-premises implementations is server and equipment purchases and maintenance, especially for small businesses. Even if you don’t originally need to update your servers when you purchase new software, this equipment will need to be replaced give or take every 5 years and doing so can be very expensive. There are also costs associated with managing these servers, such as data backups, performance monitoring, patch installation and other software license purchases. Software maintenance is another on-going cost associated with on-premises solutions.  Implementing the right software system is a long term investment and maintaining an active warranty with regular access to upgrades will help to ensure that it is.

For those smaller organizations that choose to implement on-premises based software, the management of servers is frequently outsourced to a 3rd party IT company or someone is hired for the role.  This adds extra costs to an already expensive project and takes resources away from growing the business and managing existing customers, to managing IT.  For larger organizations, there is frequently already a team of in-house IT personnel who are able to dedicate their time to server and equipment management.

Technology and the business environment are two of the fastest changing aspects of our world and so it is increasingly important to make sure that your business is always taking advantage of the best that your software has to offer and that your software matches the business requirements of the time. Trying to save money by not upgrading your hardware or system on a regular basis can affect company performance and your bottom line.  When used and maintained properly, software becomes a strategic investment to help run and grow your business. As a small business it is especially important to invest in a system and software vendor that can become a trusted business partner, offering expert advice to help your business save costs, increase efficiency and take advantage of new opportunities.

By |

3 Types of People that Impede Accounting ERP Software Training

Software training is one of the most important aspects of the accounting ERP implementation process and is also one of the most costly and resource-intensive. This is especially true for businesses that transition from introductory software such as QuickBooks, or manual processes, as there is a significant learning curve when it comes to using true ERP software.  Unlike introductory systems, accounting ERP is designed to manage all aspects of a company’s operations from accounting, inventory management and order entry and processing to contact management and warehouse management.  As an all-in-one solution, accounting ERP is designed to automate processes and increase efficiency.  To best take advantage of the advanced functionality available, your team will be required to have a better understanding of accounting principles and good business practices.

The costs and resources required to properly train your team of employees will be worth the productivity gained from a successful implementation. When employees have received sufficient training and feel confident using software they will rely on it more to complete their tasks.  This will result in less time wasted learning how to use the system every time a new task needs to be performed, and can help automate previously manual processes, reducing the instance of human error. With all the benefits to be gained from properly training employees, it is important to identify and plan for issues during this process.  Every company is made up of employees with different personality traits, learning styles and attitudes, so it is important to develop the plan for training that will work best for everyone involved. Even when you have provisions in place to help make the training process as smooth as possible, you will still receive some negative push-back from employees.  Below we have outlined certain personality types to watch out for during training in order to make the process as successful as possible.

Negative Nancy

We all know a Negative Nancy who always sees the glass half-empty, seems to complain about everything and is never content.  This type of person can dramatically drag down company morale, stall projects and suck energy from a room.  If you’re dealing with a Negative Nancy during an ERP training session it can add to the stress of an already high-pressure situation, ultimately hurting the outcome.  However, Negative Nancy can also force you to remove any rose colored glasses and address issues head-on.

Although resistance from employees is a natural reaction to business change, when you have a Negative Nancy on your team the amount of resistance can become amplified. People with this mindset will not only strongly resist changing their processes, they will also complain about learning new technology and not make a conscious effort to learn the new system.

In order to avoid any issues when dealing with a Negative Nancy during training, it is important to first address all those involved with the accounting ERP project to review the plan for implementation. Make sure everyone on the team understands their responsibilities during the implementation and ensure that they have the resources in place to learn the new system while still keeping up with their regular responsibilities. Acknowledge the fact that there will be a significant learning curve involved with the new system, and come up with a plan that allows employees to voice their concerns in a constructive way.  Create a process for employees to document any issues they experience, but only if they also recommend a suggestion for dealing with these issues.  This ensures employees think of the solution and not just the problem, and will force them to think more critically about their comments.

Analytical Anne

Those we refer to as Analytical Anne are characterized by their attention to detail, analytical way of thinking and interest in technology.  These people are great to have on your team but can sometimes get too caught up in the details, which can ultimately delay and hurt the software training process.

Analytical Anne has very good focus in order to complete tasks and never misses a detail. This type of person understands complex processes and systems and can help train other employees from your company.  They have a very curious nature and will want to ask a lot of questions of the software vendor to make sure they fully understand the system.  However, their interest in every minor detail can lead to schedule delays and general irritation from other teammates.  Analytical Anne can get too caught up in the details and will want to know and understand every aspect of the software right away.

In order to keep implementation training on schedule, only involve Analytical Anne personality types when necessary, and make it clear that additional training can be provided at a later date as required. It is impossible to learn all the nuances to a new software solution in the short amount of time dedicated to initial training, and employees will only be able to take in so much information at once.  Set a specific schedule for the initial training process with the most critical tasks, and ensure you stick to it – even if this means not allowing Analytical Anne employees to ask all of their questions.  Most vendors will provide additional training resources in the form of video or written tutorials.  Have Analytical Anne review these resources after initial training, making note of any questions as they arise, to be answered after Go-Live.  Often these questions will be answered from reviewing the available material, or after employees have started to use the system on a regular basis.

Defensive Dave

Defensive Dave is the non-management employee who got assigned the task of managing the accounting ERP implementation project.  They have been at the company for a long time and know the ins and outs of each department.  They have a good relationship with everyone on the team, and will frequently volunteer to help with special projects. However, due to the magnitude of any ERP implementation, Defensive Dave will quickly become overwhelmed with the project assignment and the resulting defensive attitude can cause issues for the project as a whole.  This issue is magnified if the management team and owners have taken a hands-off approach to the implementation and Defensive Dave does not have anyone to turn to for help.  Because Defensive Daves do not want to look bad when the project starts to get off schedule, they will frequently place blame on the vendor and software system itself.  This will increase resistance to change from other staff members and give the new system an unwarranted bad rap.

To avoid creating a Defensive Dave, form a team of people responsible for the entire implementation process and involve as many owners and members of management as possible.  Have a team lead in place, but ensure the responsibilities of each team member are clearly outlined and accounted for.  Stick to the original implementation plan set out and agreed upon by the team and vendor, so that employees and Defensive Dave do not become overwhelmed with new information and processes.  Remember that additional training and consulting time can always be scheduled after Go-Live.

By |
Menu