Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

Serialized Numerical Identifier (SNI) and the Drug Supply Chain Security Act

This post is Part 4 of the Series: Understanding The DSCSA and What it Means for Pharmaceutical Distribution Companies.  Click here for Part 1, Click here for Part 2 and Click here for Part 3.

One of the key requirements as part of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act is the addition of a Serialized Numerical Identifier (SNI) to be included on certain products at the individual package level. This information will provide additional identification of products in order to help keep illegitimate products from entering the supply chain. This requirement is key for product verification and the ultimate goal of a unified database which records all product information and movement along the supply chain.  The plan is to have this database be fully operable by 2023.

According to the FDA Final Guidance on “Serialized Numerical Identifier” (SNI), a product’s SNI will include the item’s National Drug Code (NDC) and unique Serial Number (SN).  SNI is also referred to as sNDC or Serialized National Drug Code.  This information will be required along with the already existing lot number and lot expiry date. These sets of information combined, make up a product’s Unique Product Identifier.
In summary, the Unique Product Identifier will consist of four pieces of information about the product; a product’s National Drug Code (NDC), and serial number (SN) – which makes up the SNI – plus the product’s lot number and lot expiry date.
The DSCSA requires that a product’s SNI be available in both human and computer readable format. It is expected that the SNI, lot number and lot expiration date will be provided on a 2D bar code. However, at this point in time, there does not seem to be a standard on the numbering or presentation of the code and readable information.

In an FDA public meeting on the “Progress Towards Implementing the Product Identification Requirements of the DCSCA” held on October 14, 2016, confirmation of the DSCSA timeline for affixing the SNI by manufacturers and re-packagers and the required use of the SNI by the entire supply chain were presented.  As such, the SNI must be placed on certain drug products by manufacturers no later than November 27, 2017.  Re-packagers have an additional year to comply with the requirement as the deadline for them is November 27, 2018.

Once the new SNI is added to the packaging of products, trading partners will be required to only buy and sell products encoded with product identifiers (unless grandfathered under section 582(a)(5)) of the DSCSA. The table below shows the timeframes required for each phase of the implementation.

As per the deadlines above, a Readiness Survey released by the HDA Research Foundation Manufacturer Serialization Readiness Survey Executive Summary concludes that 89% of manufacturers surveyed will meet the November 2017 deadline with at least some of their products. However, the survey continues to say that only 66% of manufacturers surveyed will have 100% of their branded and generic products serialized by the deadline.

One of the most significant questions posed by the survey, “when do you anticipate being able to provide serialized data to your wholesale distributor customers upon shipment?” shows that less than 50% will be ready for the November 2017 deadline. One-third indicated between November 2017 and 2023. Another 20% were unsure when the data would be available.

Although manufacturers may not meet the required deadlines, it is important for pharmaceutical wholesale distribution companies to be ready with processes and have systems in place to buy and sell product with SNI information. The implementation of software to manage these new requirements is not mandatory, however, the addition of the SNI adds another layer of complexity that will make it virtually impossible to manage without proper ERP software with pharmaceutical functionality in place.

Stay tuned for installment 5 of the Series in which we will discuss the requirements for trading partners to maintain accurate information about those they buy from and sell to.

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DSCSA: Suspect and Illegitimate Product Handling and Notification

This post is Part 3 of the Series: Understanding The Drug Supply Chain Security Act and What it Means for Pharmaceutical Distribution Companies. Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2. 

As discussed previously, one of the main reasons for the “Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA)” is to prevent the insertion of illegitimate products into the drug supply chain. In this third installment of the Series, we will discuss what pharmaceutical distribution businesses need to know to identify, handle and notify the FDA in the event they come across a suspect/illegitimate product in the supply chain.

The DSCSA references a document, revised in December, 2016 titled Drug Supply Chain Security Act Implementation: Identification of Suspect Product and Notification. This document explores scenarios for product entering the supply chain and then provides recommendations on how trading partners can identify and determine if product is suspect, how to notify the FDA in the event of identifying product as suspect and how to terminate a notification if a suspicious product is “cleared” and no longer suspicious.

Identification of Suspect Product

A “Suspect Product” as defined in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act FD&C is a product for which there is reason to believe is counterfeit, stolen, adulterated such that the product would result in serious adverse health consequences, is potentially a subject of fraudulent transaction, or appears unfit for distribution. In general, trading partners need to be more vigilant when receiving products and maintain awareness about suspicious activity or potential threats to the supply chain. The DSCSA document dictates that trading partners be more vigilant in a variety of scenarios, including:

When purchasing from a new trading partner
When receiving unsolicited sales offers from unknown sources
When purchasing from the internet from unknown sources
When purchasing from a source that a trading partner knows has been involved with suspect products
When product is in high demand and was previously in short demand
When products have suspicious packaging/labeling (ie. misspelling, different drug identification, missing lot or expiration date information)
When product has a finished dosage or imprint different from what the FDA has approved
When prices are too good to be true
When packaging appears to have been tampered with

Handling of Suspect Product and Notification

As of January 1st, 2015 the DSCSA requires trading partners, upon determining that a product in their possession or control is illegitimate, to notify the FDA and all immediate trading partners (that they have reason to believe may have received the illegitimate product) no later than 24 hours after making the determination. Once this is complete, the trading partner must “quarantine” and remove the product from the supply chain until the suspect product is cleared.

The next step involves immediately launching an investigation in coordination with applicable trading partners, validating the product using Transaction History and Transaction Information. It is the responsibility of the trading partner who launched the investigation to maintain all records pertaining to the investigation for no less than 6 years, and as part of the process, submit and record a form – FDA 3911 Drug Notification – to the FDA. Note that starting 6 years from the date of the DSCSA enactment, trading partners will also have to verify the product packaging including the standardized numerical identifier (SNI). This will be discussed in the next part of this Series.

Termination of Notification of Illegitimate

Upon determination that the concerns around a product being suspect are not valid, the FDA and all trading partners must receive notification. The trading partner who originally identified the product as being suspicious and as a result submitted an FDA 3911 form, must complete and submit a new FDA 3911 form to the FDA, indicating that they have evidence that the product in question is not suspect. This submission for termination of the original suspect notification is known as a “request for consultation with FDA” and is required by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).

Managing Requests and Submitting Information

Under the DSCSA, trading partners are required to have a system in place to (1) quickly respond to a request from the FDA for verification of a product, (2) quarantine a suspect product and (3) promptly start an investigation. There is no requirement currently that a trading partner manage any of these processes electronically, however, certain systems provide functionality for managing the processes and requirements outlined as part of the DSCSA.  For example, the right system allows trading partners to:

Store detailed information on lot controlled products, sales and purchase history (Pedigree and Transaction Reporting)
Manage information and images pertaining to the shape, size and description of product
Quarantine and remove product from the supply chain that is considered suspect

Keep your eyes open for the next post in this Series around the requirements and timing of “Product Serialization” (SNI) management.

Information in this post was taken from the DSCSA, Draft Guidance for Industry DSCSA Implementation: Identification of Suspect Product and Notification and other various presentations provided by the FDA. The information contained herein is provided as a summary and guidance only. For specific requirements go to “Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA)” and associated FDA Guidance Documents.

 

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Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) Transaction Report (T3)

This post is Part 2 of the Series: Understanding The Drug Supply Chain Security Act and What it Means for Pharmaceutical Distribution Companies. Click here for Part 1. 

The requirement to track products is not new to the pharmaceutical industry. For years there have been various requirements around tracking lot numbers (batches) of products and their expiry dates and Pedigree management (tracking of supply chain members involved with the purchase and sale of product). For the most part, it has always been the responsibility of the manufacturer, repackager and primary distributor to keep track of specific information. This, combined with information in the previous legislation, made it difficult or near impossible to track back through other trading partners that took ownership of the product throughout the supply chain in order to easily manage a recall. Furthermore, there was little ability to determine if a product was legally or illegally injected into the pharmaceutical marketplace. With the advent of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act and more specific regulations, traceability has improved.  In the second installment of this Series around the DSCSA, we will provide information on the specific traceability requirements small-medium size pharmaceutical distribution businesses must comply with in order to run their business.

As of July 1st, 2015 the “Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA)”, Section 582 requires that all “Trading Partners” including manufacturers, repackagers, wholesale distributors, and dispensers not accept pharmaceutical products unless the trading partner they receive the product from can provide specific information about the product. This specific requirement dictates that every shipment moving through the supply chain include a Transaction Report or T3. Essentially, where Pedigree tracks historical information about a specific lot and the trading partners involved, a T3 or Transaction Report includes the same information in addition to more details about the product and a statement of  legitimacy.  Pedigree details are part of the Transaction Report which passes from the existing owner to trading partners downstream. Every time product changes ownership, the new owner gets added to the Transaction Report and there is only one Transaction Report required per product/lot number. This allows each trading partner to verify that the movement of product is legitimate and legal.

The Transaction Report breaks into 3 distinct pieces:

Transaction Information

The T3 Report requires the following transaction information:

Name of the product
Strength and dosage
Specific NDC#
Number of containers
Lot number of the specific product
Date of transaction and shipment
Business name and address of the trading partner sending/receiving the product

Transaction History

The T3 Report requires the recording of the product’s entire transaction history (Pedigree) starting with the manufacturer. Details in the DSCSA and associated FDA generated documents, provide guidance on when a product’s ownership is transferred and when the corresponding T3 needs to be updated to include the transaction.

Transaction Statement

The transaction statement records the following information and requires that the trading partner transferring ownership of the specific product adhere to the following information.

Is authorized under the DSCSA
Received the product from a trading partner that is also authorized under the DSCSA
Received the transaction information and statement from the trading partner
Did not knowingly ship a suspect or illegitimate product
Has systems in place to comply with verification requirements
Did not provide false transaction information or knowingly alter the transaction history

For the most part, the industry has combined the above information into one document. When a product has a change of ownership, the trading partner must provide all applicable information for each lot of the product to the new owner of the product. The DSCSA dictates that a product shall not be received into the receiving trading partner’s inventory until a complete and accurate Transaction Report is provided by the trading partner shipping the product.

Currently, there no requirements around a business managing this information electronically, however, the time it takes to manually enter and record the data and keep accurate records makes this task very time-consuming and error-prone.  The best way to manage this information is to find a full inventory and accounting system that also has specific pharmaceutical industry functionality such as the above.  This is especially important as regulatory parties add new information to the list for tracking and recording. For example, starting in 2017 for manufacturers and 2019 for distributors, serialization per unit will need to be recorded and trading partners should expect more enhanced product tracking in 2023.

Keep your eyes open for next week’s installment of the Series where we will discuss the requirements for how trading partners handle “suspect products”.

Information in this post was taken from DSCSA Implementation: Product Tracing Requirements — Compliance Policy and other various presentations provided by the FDA. The information contained herein is provided as a summary and guidance only. For specific requirements go to “Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA)” and associated FDA Guidance Documents.

 

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Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) and Pharmaceutical Distribution

This post is Part 1 of the Series: Understanding The Drug Supply Chain Security Act and What it Means for Pharmaceutical Distribution Companies.  

If you’ve had any association with the pharmaceutical industry over the past 2-3 years, it would be a safe bet to say that you are probably “aware” of the FDA requirements “Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA)”, signed into law by President Obama in November 2013.

The DSCSA was written in an attempt to provide guidance to the pharmaceutical industry relating to the traceability of pharmaceutical products in the supply chain. The idea is to provide all trading partners the ability to easily identify and determine if product(s) in the supply chain are legitimate or have been injected into the system for illegitimate reasons. The DSCSA also provides requirements to help businesses in the distribution supply chain ensure all trading partners are legitimate, with active and non-revoked licenses.

Now, more than 3 years later, although most players in the pharmaceutical industry know about the Drug Supply Chain Security Act and general requirements, the specific details and timing of various phases are still a bit foggy.

As experts1 in the industry, the FDA have put together many reports, presentations, slide shows etc. available on the topic for review by anyone interested.  However, many small pharmaceutical distribution businesses do not have the time or bandwidth to stay current with constantly changing regulations. To help summarize the DSCSA requirements and what it means to the pharmaceutical distribution industry, we will be writing a series of posts that summarize the important details and current implementation times.

Throughout the series, we will dissect the Drug Supply Chain Security Act and applicable information available, into reasonable segments and provide information needed to allow distributors to get a better understanding of the act and how it will impact their operations now and in the future.

Topics in the Series include:

Product Traceability (Transaction Report) – Requirements for tracking products and recording information as part of Transaction Reports (T3).
Suspect and Illegitimate Product Handling and Notification – What to look for now and in the future as product packaging changes.
Product Identification (Serialization) – Understanding the implementation of the Standardized Numerical Identifier (SNI) and how and when trading partners are required to comply.
Report Licensure – Requirements as to what information to submit to the FDA. Ability to track information pertaining to trading partners within the supply chain to ensure they have an active (not expired or revoked) license, for a specific location.
Managing the Data – What’s needed to manage all the information.

Stay tuned for the next post in the Series about Transaction Reports (T3) and be sure to subscribe to our blog for more information!

1 The content of the FDA presentations is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. They are not intended to be comprehensive nor do they constitute legal advice.

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Replacing Manual Processes with eCommerce Integration

Picture This: You started an eCommerce site two years ago, and ever since have had a team of employees dedicated to managing all aspects of the sales, order and shipping process. New products are manually added to the website, and employees are responsible for updating inventory quantities and prices upon receipt of new inventory into the warehouse and when pricing changes. When a customer places an order online, employees pull this information down from the eCommerce site and then manually re-key the information into your order entry/accounting software. Once an employee enters this order into the system and reviews the information to check the customer’s credit status, it gets sent to the warehouse for picking. When an order is received into the warehouse, employees pick, pack and ship the items, and then send the appropriate shipping information back to sales staff so that they can update the customer.

To your delight, over the past couple of months, online sales have taken off and business is booming. Yet, employees are having a hard time keeping up with the increase in demand and the tasks outlined above, and as a result, orders are getting lost, data entry is messy and staff morale is in decline. It’s time for you to hire some new employees to manage the increase in order volume and reduce the strain on existing staff members…or is it?

While hiring new staff will likely ease the burden placed on your current employees, adding new salaries onto your payroll may not be the best way to go about managing company growth. Will these new salaries negate the increased profits you have from your increased web sales? What if online sales continue to grow? Will you need to hire even more staff?

Hiring additional employees when order volume increases is a natural reaction, however, finding a back-end inventory and accounting ERP solution to integrate with your eCommerce site is a better alternative. In fact, an inventory and accounting system combined with appropriate business processes will not only alleviate the need for hiring new staff but also reduce the amount of administrative work existing employees deal with, giving them more time to focus on sales and customers.

Benefits to eCommerce Integration

For starters, when receiving new items into the warehouse, product only needs to be entered into your inventory and accounting ERP software, which will then push product information including descriptions, pricing, and quantities, online. This eliminates the need to re-enter the same product into your back-end ERP system and then online to your eCommerce site. As product gets sold online, order information flows directly from the website into your inventory and accounting system, updating quantities available and allocating inventory for picking. This eliminates the need to manually enter a new sales order every time a customer places an online order.

Once an order has made its way into your system, traditionally if the order has not been paid in full, or if the customer has credit with the company, someone needs to check that the customer is within their credit limit, prior to the warehouse picking the order. However, this functionality can be automatically defined in your inventory and accounting system. Users simply set up criteria for evaluating orders, such as product availability, customer credit limit, and total order amount, and if all criteria are met the order gets sent through to the warehouse for picking – without a human having to manually perform any tasks.

Although at this point in the process most companies will require human involvement to actually pick, pack and ship the order (we can’t all have Amazon picking robots after all), once those processes are completed and recorded in the software, the eCommerce store will now have access to the same updated inventory information, without someone manually updating the website.

As you can see, inventory and accounting software integrated with your eCommerce site alleviates the need for hiring new staff to manage the processes of an eCommerce business and frees up current staff from managing too many administrative tasks. In addition, ERP systems also include functionality to cover many other areas and processes within a business as well as provide opportunities for automation.

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Blue Link Food Distribution Software Makes Food Logistics’ FL100 List

We’re excited to announce that Blue Link Food Distribution Software has been included in Food Logistics’ Top 100 Software and Technology Providers list!

We’re honored to be included in the annual list (which is in its 13th year) for the fourth time as one of the top software and technology providers that play a critical role in the processes of food and beverage manufacturers, foodservice distributors, and grocery retailers.

The Rising Importance of Food Software

Do you or someone you know have a food allergy? The answer is most likely yes. With approximately 15 million Americans affected1, undeclared allergens in food supply such as peanut, tree nut, milk, egg etc., are the primary cause of food recalls. Others include several bacterial contaminations such as Salmonella and E. coli, and, what’s even more surprising is that every year, food recalls cause the US economy $7 billion2. What’s the financial damage to impacted businesses?  Quite a lot of bacon actually- around $10 million per company3! The costs associated with this figure include notifying trading partners and consumers in the supply chain, retrieving and destroying affected goods etc.

If you’re a food distributor or food manufacturer, these numbers are certainly alarming. If a recall happens to your business, you need to have exceptional processes in place to help you deal with the aftermath quickly and efficiently.  Food distribution software with product traceability increases the speed and accuracy of which you react to a food recall.

There are vast capabilities within the software such as tracking product along the distribution chain with lot numbers. You can also trace the history of a specific product prior to you purchasing it and have detailed records of where the product was shipped to from your location. You can quickly generate reports based on data on associated supplier, lot number, expiry date, and production date as well as customer information so you can notify all impacted parties and begin the recall process as quickly as possible.

Keep in mind, your ability to respond quickly and efficiently to product recalls can not only save your business money but can be the difference between maintaining your customers’ trust and loyalty in your brand and losing them to your competitors.

What makes Blue Link a top food distribution software vendor?

Blue Link’s extensive lot tracking/traceability features are key components in achieving and sustaining FDA/ISO/CFIA compliance for our food distribution customers. Additional features include:

Landed cost tracking – allows food distribution customers to account for all costs associated with getting product to their warehouse and customers such as duty, brokerage, freight, insurance, storage etc.
Multiple units of measure: unit conversions – buy and sell the same products by weight, multiple containers, volume etc.
Price matrices with automatic product mark-up, volume discounts and contract pricing (individual or group).

 

Full Press Release
Blue Link Named to Food Logistics’ 2016 FL100+ Top Software and Technology Providers List
Vaughan, Ontario—December 16, 2016 — Food Logistics, the only publication exclusively dedicated to covering the movement of product through the global food supply chain, has named Blue Link to its 2016 FL100+ Top Software and Technology Providers list.

The FL100+ Top Software and Technology Providers list serves as a resource guide of software and technology providers whose products and services are critical for companies in the global food and beverage supply chain.

“The software and technology sector continues to generate new and exciting opportunities for growers, food manufacturers, grocery retailers and the many logistics providers that support them,” notes Lara L. Sowinski, editorial director at Food Logistics. “Today’s cloud-based solutions and mobile connectivity are helping create tools that are more flexible, affordable and responsive, making software and technology even more valuable to those in the global food supply chain.”

Companies on this year’s 2016 FL100+ Top Software and Technology Providers list will be profiled in the November/December 2016 issue of Food Logistics, as well as online at www.foodlogistics.com.

About Food Logistics

Food Logistics is published by AC Business Media, a business-to-business media company that provides targeted content and comprehensive, integrated advertising and promotion opportunities for some of the world’s most recognized B2B brands. Its diverse portfolio serves the construction, logistics, supply

1 http://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/enewsletter/a-look-back-at-2015-food-recalls/
2 http://www.foodqualityandsafety.com/article/the-business-of-recalls-from-booming-to-bankrupt/
3 http://www.foodmanufacturing.com/article/2015/10/preparing-recalls-they-happen

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Multi-Currency Accounting and Inventory Software

Think about the purchases you’ve made in the last few months. Have any of them been cross-border? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. With the emergence of the omnichannel shopping experience, consumers are experiencing seamless buying across borders and are increasingly purchasing from foreign websites and businesses for product that they either can’t find in their home country or are too expensive to buy locally. What does this mean for your own business? If your business operates globally or is preparing for cross-border expansion, it is critical to have an accounting and inventory software that will support multiple currencies so you can remain competitive in today’s buyer landscape.

Whether you’re a small retail business or an established importer and exporter, the challenges of buying and selling in different currencies are common – the fluctuating cost of inventory, tracking ever-changing exchange rates, and reporting currency profits and losses are just a few factors to consider.  And these challenges are even greater if you use spreadsheets to monitor this information since you’re more likely to make errors, resulting in inaccurate financial data – it’s enough to pull your hair out!

With the proper multi-currency accounting and inventory software, you can track and manage real-time exchange rates in order to have a clear perspective of the financial landscape – as it stands at present time. Other advantages include:

Creating Customer Invoices and Vendor Purchase Orders in Multiple Currencies

Setting default currencies for customers and vendors who operate in a different currency ensures that any transaction which you perform with them will be converted to your home currency without any additional manual calculations or entries. And, to sweeten the deal – customer quotes and purchase orders can be created in the customer or suppliers’ currency, and once converted to a sale or purchase, the system will record the transaction in the appropriate currencies (i.e. payable in the supplier’s currency with a foreign exchange difference and the inventory or expense in the home currency). This eliminates the manual process of having to remember to convert pricing for inventory or factor in exchange rates when posting the transaction.

Global Accounting Consolidation

If you handle accounting for your business, you know how complex reporting can be when dealing with multiple currencies. Imagine having the ability to convert transactions from the currency in which they took place to your home currency – how much time and effort do you think you’ll be able to save by having the converted amount automatically recorded into the G/L? This is just the tip of the iceberg – by eliminating the manual processes of factoring in various currencies, closing times are accelerated and transparency is maximized. And, you can monitor unrealized foreign exchange gains or losses by running appropriate reports at any point in time.

Bank Transfers

Other important functionality is the ability to perform bank transfers between accounts with different currencies.  Entering the amount in one currency which you transferred and the amount in the foreign currency which it was converted to will allow the system to determine the amount to record in the exchange difference account without the need for an additional entry.

Landed Cost Tracking

With accounting and inventory software that also includes robust landed cost features, there is the additional benefit of knowing the true cost of inventory with exchange rates included. The software will perform foreign exchange calculations on any landed costs associated with a purchase – costs such as freight, customs, brokerage etc.

Of course, global businesses need more than just multi-currency functionality in their accounting and inventory software to operate seamlessly. Other factors to consider when evaluating vendors for your global business include multiple languages which is especially beneficial to businesses with clients and vendors requiring information and documents in another language – an example of this would be sending invoices in your customer’s language. It is also important to keep in mind your unique industry-specific needs such as global compliance adherence, regulations and taxation.

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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.

 

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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?

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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.

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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:

 

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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.

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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

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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.

 

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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.

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