Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

The Business Reasons for Using a VPN for Remote Access to Cloud-based Software

Cloud-based software (sometimes referred to as hosted or SaaS), is a software deployment method whereby users access the system through the internet. With cloud-based ERP, this means that the software lives on hardware and servers managed by the software vendor, and you, the customer, access the system using the internet (for example through an RDP connection or web browser). There are many benefits to using cloud-based software, including the fact that your business does not need to manage any of the physical hardware or servers that the software is installed on. Instead, you get access to software that resides on powerful equipment with a whole team of IT people responsible for managing the equipment including data back-ups, IT maintenance and upgrades. This saves you money from having to purchase equipment and the cost of hiring people to maintain it. When connecting to Blue Link ERP, users do this through RDP – as explained in this article: RDP and Cloud-based Software. However, we require an additional security step to further protect your data and systems for remote access when not in the office – connecting through VPN.  

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for virtual private network and is a way to access the internet that differs from accessing via Wi-Fi or a hardwired connection. VPNs provide an additional layer of security by masking your IP address when you are connecting to the internet, to prevent outside people from getting your information. When hackers have access to your IP address it is easier for them to retrieve personal information which can then be used to hack into your computer and so masking your IP makes your online actions virtually untraceable.

In summary, using a VPN protects the data you send and receive on your computer, laptop, tablet and phone so that hackers aren’t able to watch your every move.

Before we continue discussing VPNs, let’s first define IP.  

What is an IP Address?

In technical terms, an Internet Protocol (or IP) is a numerical label assigned to each device connected to a computer network that uses the internet for communication. The point of an IP is for device identification and location tracking and any device that connects to the internet and works wirelessly will have an IP address – including your phone, computer, thermostat and baby monitor. Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) such as Rogers and AT&T automatically assign your devices different IPs which update every time you reboot. This allows ISPs to reuse IP addresses when customers change providers. Essentially, IP addresses help to locate and differentiate the billions of devices that are connected to the internet from one another. 

Unlike home and personal internet plans, business internet plans offer the option to include a static or fixed IP address, meaning that your office IP will always remain the same. This makes it easy to whitelist the IP address for access to specific applications (as further discussed below).

Now, back to VPNs.

How Does a VPN Work?

VPNs essentially create a data tunnel between your local network and an exit node in another location, which could be thousands of miles away, making it seem as if you’re in another place. To simplify it even further, a VPN connects your device to another computer, called a server, somewhere on the internet and allows you to access specific information, file folders, applications, and tools made available by the other computer. When you send data over a Wi-Fi network or hardwired connection, the VPN uses encryption to scramble the data which makes it unreadable and allows you to securely access the information you need. A great example of this is using a VPN to access your company’s secure, private file folders and documents when you are not in the office. Setting up a VPN for remote access allows employees to securely connect to a business network and access local network resources and software systems from anywhere in the world.

The Importance of Using a VPN for Remote Access to Blue Link ERP/Cloud-based Software

For most businesses, using a VPN provides an additional layer of security, anonymity and encryption for employees working remotely. As part of Blue Link’s security features, all our customers must use a VPN to connect to our cloud-based ERP software when they are not at their office. This allows our team to control who has access to your hosted environment and the associated software, systems and files stored in that environment, based on the list of users you provide. While in the office, your employees are protected by using your company’s private Wi-Fi or direct connection (which involves entering a password). Our team is then able to whitelist your company’s IP address since it won’t ever change, giving employees access to your hosted environment. Whitelisting is the process of choosing select IP addresses that are permitted to access the Blue Link hosted environment. Therefore, the only time employees need to use a VPN to access Blue Link is when they are not at the office. This allows employees to safely access sensitive, private data when working from anywhere in the world. Instead of having to continuously update and whitelist your employees changing IPs, instead, we set-up access through a VPN. This security feature prevents malware and unknown sources from trying to access your hosted environment.

To connect to a VPN, our IT team will provide a VPN client to your employees who will then need to enter their credentials to access the secure environment. Your credentials are unique to you as the user and the environment you are trying to access. 

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Exploring File Management Programs like DocuWare

Filing cabinets and printers worldwide sit unused and collecting dust. Gone are the days of needing binders full of documents, organized by color tabs and date. Physical files are a thing of the past, especially now as a large percentage of the workforce has transitioned to working from home. One thing that becomes immediately apparent when you no longer work in an office, is that printing and signing a document to hand to someone really doesn’t work. So, what is the solution to that? Well, good thing it is the year 2020, and there is a long list of file management programs that are worth taking a look at, with some that are more worthwhile than others – ahem, DocuWare.

Many people that are making the leap from physical files to online file management programs probably don’t know exactly where to look. There are so many different file management programs that it really makes the search difficult, especially when most of them are marketed the exact same way. You may end up taking a look at Google Drive, a powerful and useful tool. Or maybe, you’ll end up taking a look at Dropbox, a great file hosting service. After a long while of searching, you will most likely have compiled a nice little list of different options, all that will be viable solutions. You wouldn’t be wrong to use any of them.

At Blue Link, we’ve partnered with DocuWare for our customer’s file management needs. After careful research, we found that DocuWare provided the best value for our customers based on their workflow and file management requirements. Many of our customers use DocuWare for managing files associated with inventory items, employee expense tracking and automated workflows for specific processes such as Accounts Payable. With DocuWare, you are given extreme flexibility when it comes to finding your uploaded files, eliminating any errors that can potentially come with having a manual filing system, and giving you instant access to whatever files you need. One way that we use DocuWare at Blue Link is for handling expenses, and DocuWare has a very intuitive feature when uploading files, as DocuWare uses machine learning to detect the taxes and company name, and is able to file accordingly based on relevant data. The best part is it is all done automatically, the system just works.

Recently, Blue Link was approached by one of our customers, Nuovo Parts, to assist them with an audit, so of course, we pointed them to DocuWare. They required a place to store all their documents digitally, with the ability to drill down into specific details, rather than having everything all over the place. In the past, doing an audit was time consuming as manually tracking documents is prone to human error and using local computer files can be time-consuming with limited search capabilities. DocuWare made the audit extremely smooth, as they provided the auditor with access to DocuWare, and he was able to have a complete run down of all invoices and required files. It made his audit easier, and it let the team at Nuovo Parts keep calm, as DocuWare handled all the stressful work for them. Tom from Nuovo even stated, “Personally, I see more benefits from DocuWare. Especially from an accounting perspective, it is much easier and handier.” So after a successful audit, they are happy with the choice to use DocuWare, and will gladly continue using it.

Blue Link’s all-in-one business management software includes complete two-way integration with DocuWare.  The integration between Blue Link and DocuWare allows users to quickly store, index, search, display, download, retrieve, edit and integrate documents and create automated workflows to help your business operate in a paperless environment. Contact us today to learn more.

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Holiday Shopping 2020 – Tips for eCommerce Order Management

It seems strange to be discussing the holiday shopping season at the end of August, but if your business depends on holiday shopping sales, you have already started preparing. This has been the case since the rise of online shopping holidays like Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) and the ever-extending Boxing Week sales (in reality, it is more like Boxing Month). In anticipation of the holiday shopping season, smart businesses start preparing their organization months in advance for an increase in online and in-store demand, and wholesale distributors make sure their shelves are stocked and product is ready to go. However, this year things will be a little different with a significant increase in online shopping. And by different, I mean virtually the entire holiday season shopping season will be done online. For the first time, Walmart and other big-box retailers have announced store closures on Thanksgiving, a shopping holiday that typically sees huge crowds lining up at these locations. With a global pandemic, an online presence has become the catalyst for whether many businesses have been able to keep their doors open. And, according to some predictions, 75% of US holiday shoppers will shop online more this year than they ever have in previous years. So what can you do as an SMB to prepare for this year’s holiday shopping season? There are many tips for SMBs when it comes to your online presence, but it’s important to also have processes and systems in place for proper eCommerce order management. Below we discuss two key areas of automation to help you survive (and thrive) this pandemic holiday shopping season.

Automate Inbound Web Orders

As an online business buying and selling inventory, it’s important that you automate the order entry process as much as possible. This is especially true if you’re dealing with orders from multiple sales channels. Without integration between your business management system and online channels (including your eCommerce site, marketplaces such as Amazon and vendor portals), you’re left hiring people for order entry – a very manual and time-consuming process. Instead, with the proper ERP system in place and right integration for eCommerce order management, you can automate this process saving your business time and money.

Any good ERP system (ahem, like Blue Link ERP) provides functionality for eCommerce integration, which allows the software to communicate directly with all your existing online sales channels. This means that when an order is placed online and payment made, it shows up in Blue Link’s Sales Order Review screen for further processing, or gets automatically sent to the warehouse for pick, pack and ship depending on how you have the system set-up. This, in turn, updates inventory quantities and the order status in Blue Link and on the website and notifies the customer of the order. Integration between Blue Link and your different online channels can be done by your team of developers, or if you don’t have employees available with this level of expertise, with the help of one of our integration partners.

Automate Shipping with Your 3PL

If you work with 3PLs for managing your picking, packing and shipping, automation and communication between your two companies is a must. For many SMBs, working with 3PLs means manually emailing new sales orders to the company for fulfillment and receiving back emails with shipping information which then needs to be communicated to the customer. However, when dealing with a large number of orders (especially during the busy holiday season), this quickly becomes unmanageable. Instead, consider finding an ERP vendor who can help automatically transmit eCommerce orders to the 3PL and automatically receive shipment notifications back. Once again, this type of integration can be done with the help of your team and their expertise, or by working with your ERP vendor and its integration partner.

Transmit to 3PL

With Blue Link’s Web Services API and integration capabilities, once an order is marked in Blue Link as “Ready to Pick” (or your own custom status) that order is then automatically:

Picked up by the integration partner 
Transmitted to the 3PL
This changes the Sales Order Status in Blue Link to “Sent to 3PL” (or some other status)
The 3PL now has the information to start picking the order

Shipment from 3PL

On the reverse side, once the 3PL picks the order and is ready to ship, integration allows Blue Link to:  

Retrieve shipment details from the 3PL including the quantities actually shipped by SKU
Update the quantities on the order to the quantities shipped (setting any non-shipped item quantities to units-on-backorder)
Set the Blue Link Sales Order status to “Shipped by 3PL” (or some other status)
Update the shipping carrier details and tracking number (if available) in Blue Link
Notify the customer of the order status

The great thing about having proper systems in place is that the integration options are endless. Working with an ERP vendor and integration partner with experience in the industry means that it is easy to set-up and automate basic eCommerce order management and shipping workflows between the different supply chain partners. This then opens the door to other integration possibilities to further automate your other sales channels and internal processes. Once you have automated the sales order entry process, you can then focus efforts and resources on achieving additional productivity improvements – such as organizing your warehouse to make the shipping process easier, and making sure you have enough inventory to meet the demands of the upcoming holiday season.

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Working from Home and the Canadian Tax Season

2020, so far, has been a year like no other. A year that has put us through a few ups, and many downs.  A year that has seen billions of people forced to adapt to a new way of living – and a new way of working. Early estimates from April say that at a minimum 5 million Canadians are working from home, and in the US, and around the world, there are reports of millions and millions more doing the same. We are currently seeing an unprecedented amount of people working from home, something that has not been possible until recently. There have been many companies and politicians who have advocated for a Work from Home shift, and our current situation allows for a global trial of that. So, as more and more of us are working from home and getting accustomed to that, what do we need to know about the future?

One thing that many people may not know about is how this Work from Home situation will affect you during tax season. The Canadian Revenue Agency has released some very useful information about how you can write off a portion of your expenses if they apply to your at-home office. “You can deduct expenses you paid in 2019 for the employment use of a workspace in your home, as long as you meet one of the following conditions:

The workspace is where you mainly (more than 50% of the time) do your work.
You use the workspace only to earn your employment income.
You also have to use it on a regular and continuous basis for meeting clients, customers, or other people in the course of your employment duties.”

Currently, there is a bit of confusion around how the Canadian Revenue Agency will handle this large influx of people filing for these deductions, and there are rumors that the CRA will be releasing more updated guidelines and a much more streamlined way to take advantage of this process. The main issue is that in order to file these work from home expenses, you need to request a very specific form from your employer, a T-2200 form, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal if it was only a handful of employees doing this, but we are now talking about every employee with every employer. That’s a lot of paperwork. This leads directly to the CRA potentially reworking this process, with new guidelines coming in the fall, and ensuring less work for the employer, and an easier-to-navigate system for employees.

As Canadians, this shift is something we will have to consider for the foreseeable future. We have now grown used to Working from Home, and there are estimates that even when people start returning to their offices, we will see around 64% of Canadians remaining at home for work, while the 36% that returns to the office will most likely only spend a couple of days a week there, and the rest at home. This fast and major change has forced the CRA to take a long look at what is possible and what will be possible for workers as they continue to work in this new era.

At Blue Link, we are taking the safe approach. We have established guidelines for working from home, and are seeing fantastic results. With the help of Microsoft tools, communication across teams and departments is easy with regular meetings, , and our team has continued to develop new features, serve customers and generate new sales. Even though we may not all be under the same roof, we’re all working together to do our best.

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Blue Link ERP Customer Service & Support

It may seem like an obvious question when evaluating software vendors, but asking about ERP customer service, technical support, and Help Desk activities is not as simple as it seems. With technology today, customer service and support activities can come in many different forms – phone support, online chat, email, in-person, webinars and training videos, user conferences etc. How vendors charge for support and customer service, what they consider billable and non-billable time, what the vendor covers as part of product warranty, how each vendor offers support services and even who provides support can vary greatly from one vendor to the next. It is an important question to ask during the evaluation process and can have an impact on your final decision. Below we take a closer look at Blue Link’s customer service approach.

Personalized, In-House Team

At Blue Link, our goal is to become our customer’s trusted technology partner, and for good reason too. When our customers succeed, we succeed. This is why we take a personalized approach to ERP customer service and support. We employ a dedicated in-house team of experts – Developers, Consultants, Help Desk Agents, Customer Service people – who get to know you and your business on a personal level. This means we do not waste any time trying to get up-to-speed on each customer account and instead, allows our team to help you grow your business and automate processes – which is one of the main benefits of moving to all-in-one ERP software in the first place.

Although each department at Blue Link is closely aligned and all services are provided by our in-house team, we still make a point to keep ongoing customer service and support activities separate from initial implementation activities. For example, initial training prior to go-live is scheduled differently than on-going training activities. This ensures that we dedicate the right people and resources to helping new customers and existing customers.

Help Desk Activities

True software technical support usually relates to troubleshooting or similar help desk activities. These are simple requests that can be addressed within 24-48 hours and include questions around error messages, editing data and fixing mistakes, help with understanding reports etc. At Blue Link, Help Desk tickets are managed through our Help Center providing customers with self-serve options for creating, editing, and reviewing all open and closed tickets. This makes it easy for you to quickly get a response to your questions. The Help Center also includes a library of Knowledge Base articles to help answer your questions without needing to create a ticket. To submit a ticket, each Blue Link customer needs a Help Desk contract, which is a pre-paid block of time that we deplete according to the time it takes to resolve each ticket. When it comes to bug fixes, Blue Link’s maintenance and warranty program covers these types of issues and they are not treated as billable time.

Other Consulting Services

Outside of Help Desk Activities, our team provides other consulting services including:

IT Set-up and Activities
Report Creation
Post Go-Live Training
Custom Specification Requests

These types of activities require significantly more time than Help Desk issues and may also require a specific resource or skillset. Therefore, we schedule all non-Help Desk Activities based on availability and these are billed separately. However, we also have dozens of training videos and resources available for free to our customers on our Academy site to help address some of the requests listed above.

Cloud-based Support

While more and more small-medium size businesses are choosing cloud-based software, some companies insist on going on-premises. When it comes to providing support services for on-premises implementations, the costs are typically higher than cloud-based to account for the unknown variables. For example, your team may have installed additional software on your internal servers that is affecting the performance of Blue Link ERP – which requires investigation into these different applications. Additionally, if you work with an outside IT team to manage your servers, there can sometimes be delays in getting the correct credentials and access to your servers for Blue Link to address the issue – increasing the time it takes to solve a problem and adding to the cost of support.

Differences in ERP Customer Service 

Although each software vendor will have a different process for managing customer service and support, there are 3 areas where the differences can be significant, making it important for you to address these concerns before deciding on a software vendor.

Upgrades: Some vendors include the cost of annual upgrades in their monthly maintenance fees. However, it is important to make sure that the cost of these upgrades also includes the actual deployment of the upgrade. Some vendors charge an hourly fee/set cost for their team to deploy the upgrade for you. At Blue Link, the cost of the new version for our hosted software and the work involved to deploy the version for our customers is all included.
Customization: Customization involves any database/structural changes to the software. Many vendors will quote and charge a set fee for custom work which your team can then approve or not. Where there can be differences in service level is when it comes time to upgrade, as not all vendors will include customizations in your upgrade. Therefore, it is important to find out if this will be an additional cost and service.
Reporting: True ERP software will include robust reports out-of-the-box. But what happens if you want a report that doesn’t currently exist? While it might be worthwhile to pay your software vendor to create it for you, consider also working with a vendor that provides training and access to multiple report creation tools. This way you can train yourself or your staff on how to use some of the available tools to create reports – saving you money and time.

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How to Use Job Costing to Track Trade Show Expenses (and Determine Profit)

The ability to track costs, revenues, and profits is an important aspect of any business – but what about tracking that information for specific jobs or projects? As a wholesale distribution business, you may not realize how many unique jobs/projects you have in any given year where you could benefit from tracking the associated costs, revenues, and profits. A great example of this is trade shows. Many wholesale distributors sell through a variety of sales channels including industry trade shows. Even if trade shows only account for a small percentage of your annual sales, it is still a good idea to track each trade show as its own project, allowing you to determine costs, revenues, and overall profits. This level of tracking will help you make decisions about trade shows in the future.

One of the features that is included in Blue Link ERP is the Job Costing Module. Job costing is something that, historically, is used to keep track of a project like building a house, but for Blue Link users in the wholesale and distribution industry, we have seen them maximize the usefulness of the level of tracking that job costing can offer, and apply it to something like trade shows. When attending a trade show, there are many costs that may not be immediately clear, but if properly tracked, will allow you to get a real understanding of the cost and benefits of attending. For example, at a trade show you might have purchased food or advertising materials for the show, or just general miscellaneous items, then later on you get some leads from the show that turned into sales and now you’re left wondering if the cost of going outweighed the benefits. Job Costing will let you solve that mystery, and you will be able to find out if you made or lost money by attending that trade show. This allows a business owner to make smarter decisions, and avoid frivolous spending.

When analyzing this data and the job costing reports, there are some questions that you should be asking yourself, like – was it worth going to that show? Was this a profitable business venture? Were our estimates vs actual costs accurate? After you ask yourself these questions with your data in front of you, you should be able to come to better and more informed conclusions, and appropriately budget for next time There might be alternative paths that can introduce your business to potential customers – less costly options, for example. Or, potentially you will find out that the cost is heavily outweighed by the benefits of having that face to face interaction with clients, and you add more trade shows to the calendar. By being able to really look at this data and not just try to come up with something off the top of your head, there won’t be any guessing or wondering if you made the right gut choice – you will have the numbers to back it up.

For a more in-depth look at Job Costing, and how easy it is to do in Blue Link, take a look at the video below. If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We’re always happy to help!

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Automated CTLS Reporting with Blue Link ERP

As a relatively new industry, the Canadian Cannabis industry has seen several changes over the past couple of years regarding access, licensing, regulations and reporting. However, the importance of inventory management and full seed-to-sale product tracking is still at the forefront of maintaining compliance with Health Canada regulations. Like all regulated industries, proper inventory management and traceability is key to keeping consumers safe and maintaining a reliable and lawful supply chain. To manage all business operations – accounting, inventory management, lot tracking and batch control, order entry and processing and warehouse shipping – Blue Link ERP took our experience from the pharmaceutical industry and applied it to the Canadian Cannabis space. In developing features specific to this industry, Blue Link also needed to come up with a solution for managing Health Canada’s Cannabis Tracking and Licensing System (CTLS), requirements.

CTLS Reporting Requirements

Under regulations set forth by Health Canada, CTLS reporting refers to a web application that enables the submission of data required monthly by businesses with a Cannabis license. This reporting requirement helps to track the movement (the increase and decrease) in quantities of all the different categories of cannabis from seeds through to finished product. This helps to ensure that no product has left the legal supply chain to fuel the black market and is similar to requirements outlined in the pharmaceutical industry.

With CTLS reporting, your business must track every unit of cannabis product as it moves throughout the supply chain, no matter if you are dealing with unpackaged flower, edibles, solids, non-solids, packaged edibles, packaged dried cannabis etc. This includes tracking product that is damaged during transportation or processing, product that is siphoned off for testing, and product that is destroyed, lost or stolen, shipped overseas or shipped domestic. For larger organizations that deal with a variety of cannabis products, this involves filling out thousands of columns of information on the same report. For smaller businesses, with fewer products and less movement, the number of required fields drastically decreases, however, it can still be a very manual and time-consuming process.

CTLS Report Format

Both large operations and small micro-cultivators typically have a few people on staff designated for compliance management and it is these people who are usually responsible for CTLS reporting. They must fill out information either directly on the CTLS website or in an Excel spreadsheet based on formulas and following a specific format set out by Health Canada. Even with the Excel formulas created by Health Canada to help reduce some of the manual work required, entering this information is a very time-consuming process and prone to human errors – especially since at the time of this writing, the current CTLS report template has over 2000 columns of required information. Therefore, even if you only work with a small amount of Cannabis product, this becomes almost a full-time job. Once you have filled in the correct information in Excel, you can then upload the file to the CTLS web application. Other important requirements set out by Health Canada include:

Information must be recorded on a monthly basis before the deadline
You have to reconcile the information from the previous month – compare quantities from the end of the previous month with the beginning of the new month (how many seeds you bought, transferred, planted, wasted, etc.)
There are standard conversions from plants to concentrates and other products – so if you have x amount of flower at the end of the month, that should equal x amount of extracts for the start of the next month
You have to report product values for each license – if you have more than one license, you have to record information for each license

Learn more about Health Canada CTLS Reporting

CTLS Reporting with Blue Link ERP

Blue Link’s seed-to-sale ERP software helps to automate and simplify CTLS reporting. With Blue Link, information from the ERP gets automatically populated in the Excel file. This enables you to automatically generate a version of the CTLS report/file with all the correct information by simply clicking a button. Once the report has been created, you can then save it as CSV file to upload into the CTLS web application. Based on integration between Blue Link and Excel, we can easily map the Excel CTLS file columns with fields in Blue Link to populate the correct information. This significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to create and submit the CTLS report every month. 

 

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How to Save Money When Shipping with 2Ship and Blue Link

Everyone knows that when it comes to importing and exporting products or even selling through an eCommerce store, one of the biggest factors to consider is the cost of shipping. Shipping can make or break a deal, can cost you a sale, or can lose you a customer for good. By not having a good handle on your shipping processes or having the capability to properly manage your shipping costs, you are losing money. Customers love to see free shipping when they order something online, but being able to offer free shipping isn’t always easy to do – how do you offer this as company and still pay your suppliers? Did you know that almost 56% of online shoppers will abandon their cart based on a large shipping cost? As a company, what are the options? How can you handle your shipping and find the right rates that suit your business, and your customers? Well, 2Ship is your answer.

2Ship integrates directly with Blue Link’s inventory management and accounting ERP software to give you real-time shipping rates, meaning you get a live view of what the best carrier would be for each shipment, and you know how much it will cost. For example, once your employees have finished packing orders into boxes specifying size and weight, 2Ship will automatically populate a list of available carrier companies and their respective services and rates, where employees can then choose the best  option which then generates shipping labels and any associated paperwork – and just like that the product is ready to ship. All the information is available to you in an easy to understand way, which removes any time wasted trying to do manual calculations or formulas. 2Ship makes the process simple and quick.
 
Another way that companies can save money with 2Ship is the power of consolidated shipments. 2Ship’s Consolidation feature allows you to ship in the most efficient way possible, combining different shipments into one, and then assisting you in making sure those shipments go out in the easiest and cheapest way. For example, instead of shipping multiple orders from your warehouse to various locations in another city one at a time, 2Ship can help you identify if it’s more efficient (and cheaper) to first consolidate and ship all those items together to the city and then use local carriers to ship the product to customers from there. 2Ship is great at taking away a lot of stress brought on by trying to decipher optimal shipping methods, and simplifies the process, saving you time, money, and most importantly, headaches.

When it comes to shipping and rates, it is sometimes difficult to get a true understanding of what everything looks like when a company uses multiple shipping companies, but with 2Ship, all of that information is given to you on a dashboard that is really all you need to stay informed. You are able to view several different stats, like freight costs, performance, activity, and even view information broken down by service, location, or user. The information is easy to view, and easy to understand, making the decision-making process simple, and stress-free.
 
Plenty of businesses have their processes set in stone when it comes to shipping. Many have deals with existing distributors and feel that their rates are golden, with no need to even consider using another method. With 2Ship, your options are endless, and because of the ease of use, there’s an immediate understanding of where you can be saving money, and saving time, by potentially using a different company for certain shipments, and another for different products. Some people are happy with what they are using simply because it works, why change what isn’t broken? That is fine, but we live in an everchanging world, and every day there are new options to explore, and new opportunities to take advantage of, and 2Ship will make finding those options a whole lot easier.
 
For any questions about 2Ship and how it integrates with Blue Link, and how it can save you and your business money, don’t hesitate to contact us!

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The Real Cost of On-Premises Software

There was a time when on-premises software was the only option. Starting with the first iterations of the computer and computer software, every business was required to have its own servers, and a mini-army of tech specialists to manage the complicated process of translating 1’s and 0’s. At the time, this was considered state-of-the-art technology and those companies lucky enough to be able to afford computers and software, were able to save significant amounts of time and money with automated processes. Since then, not only have computers and technology evolved, but also the way in which we do business, moving classic on-premises to the brink of extinction for small-medium size businesses. As with most pieces of technology, this is inevitable, and in its place, cloud-based solutions have moved in as an easier, more flexible and advanced option. However, it is not just modernized technology that is causing more and more businesses to look at cloud-based solutions. The real cost of on-premises, a lack of access to expertise, environmental considerations and more, are all pushing organizations to take advantage of all that the cloud has to offer.

A Brief Overview of On-Premises

On-premises relates to managing servers, infrastructure, and software onsite. This requires that your business purchase server equipment and hardware, configure the server environment to run the appropriate software and programs, install these systems and programs and then manage it all going forward. If your team does not include people with the expertise to do this, it requires that you hire an outside IT company. Historically, this type of implementation was only accessible to large organizations with deep pockets and big teams. Smaller businesses were left to purchase software that they could install on their local desktops – with the tradeoff being less functionality and power. However, in today’s sharing economy, this is no longer the case. In a world where you subscribe to Netflix instead of renting and buying DVDs, where your photos and emails are managed in the cloud, ensuring you forever have a copy of important information and where your music is a click of a button or a voice command away, cloud-based, SaaS and hosted solutions are the new norm. Now, organizations of all sizes can benefit from advanced software solutions without the need for expensive and sophisticated equipment onsite. Cloud-based solutions do not restrict access based on the number of physical “workstations” and employees can access data, process orders, review inventory information and easily create a report by simply logging into the system on any device with an internet connection.

The Real Cost of On-Premises

In addition to the convenience and accessibility of cloud-based solutions, the cost of on-premises is another reason why the option is declining in popularity for small-medium size businesses. While there used to be a strong case for comparing the cost of an on-premises software solution with cloud-based, the numbers are starting to show otherwise.

When you first implement an on-premises software solution at your company, the software vendor will likely help with the initial configuration of the server and would have configured things like a maintenance plan to perform daily backups of your database and basic database maintenance tasks. However, after this initial implementation, the responsibility for ongoing maintenance and management of the server falls to your team (or your outside IT team). Even if you have your own IT department to help with internal tasks, they may not be equipped with the right knowledge or qualifications. For example, for servers running Microsoft applications, do you have Microsoft SQL Server Database Administrators (DBAs) on staff? Without support from qualified professionals, your business is at risk of a variety of issues including:

Performance issues which can slowly accumulate over time or suddenly escalate, until the system becomes intolerable
Database corruption, system crashes or other disasters with no one who has the expertise to help
Disruptions to your business if your live/production database goes down

With cloud-based solutions, server management is the responsibility of the software vendor. Therefore, it is up to the vendor and not your team, to perform the following:  

Monitor backups
Manage physical hardware and severs
Provide regular database integrity checks
Proactively manage server security and threats
Proactively monitor performance, space utilization and optimization 

Performance

Servers and databases need to be properly and regularly maintained by a team of experts. When they are not, performance suffers, database consistency is at risk and cleanup of ancillary processes (for example, growth of the database log) does not occur. Over time, small things can fill up disk subsystems and cause database management systems to halt. Before this happens, does your team have the expertise to proactively monitor and identify issues with your on-premises servers?

Security

Does your company have a disaster recovery plan? If so, when was the last time you tested the restoration procedure? Do you know that the restore will work? What about data loss? If your physical equipment is compromised because of a natural disaster, or as the result of a crime, how quickly can you be back up and running? How much data will you lose?

Cloud-based vendors such as Blue Link ERP have sophisticated disaster recovery plans in place – much more advanced than what most small businesses can achieve on their own.

Upgrades

How often do you need to buy more disk? CPU? Upgrade your hardware? If you are not measuring/monitoring database growth and a dozen other factors, while managing performance, you are not able to plan accordingly. When it does come time to upgrade your hardware, how will this affect the systems currently running on your servers? Aside from upgrading infrastructure, you also need to consider the impacts when upgrading software from 3rd party vendors such as Blue Link ERP. When it comes time to upgrade any system, it is much easier in a controlled environment. For example, when our team doesn’t know what other applications you may have installed on your server, it can cause delays in the software upgrade process and “break” other pieces of technology.

Help Desk Activities

Another factor that can increase the cost of on-premises systems is when it comes to troubleshooting and Help Desk activities. Just like with upgrades, providing support to customers with a lot of unknown variables can add a layer of complexity when trying to address and fix the issue. Troubleshooting a problem and writing custom code is easier when dealing with a server in a controlled environment.
For a real-life example of the different costs, download our Cost Comparison: Cloud vs. On-Premises Guide. 

Cloud-based Costs

With cloud-based solutions, the software vendor is responsible for maintaining the hardware and servers, and therefore all the associated back-up, database monitoring and protection, security and disaster recovery costs. These fees are typically built into monthly license fees; however, the numbers are significantly lower than what you would pay if you had the servers onsite, due to economies of scale. Because Blue Link (and other cloud-based companies) provide services and equipment for a variety of customers, the costs are more spread out.

When Does On-Premises Make Sense?

For most small-medium size businesses, cloud-based software is the best option. Not only economically, but from a management and resource standpoint as well. You are not in the business of IT or maintaining hardware and servers, and therefore there is no reason to implement an on-premises software solution. In this situation, the only time on-premises makes sense is if your business is located in a rural area where a reliable internet connection is not an option. Unfortunately, if that is the case, you will need on-premises. Where on-premises does make sense is for larger corporations that have an in-house IT department and already have onsite servers in place to manage other internal systems.

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Importance of eCommerce Accounting Software In An Online World

eCommerce makes the world go round, so running an online store with the proper eCommerce accounting software or an even more powerful ERP system with built-in eCommerce functionality – like Blue Link – is essential. To prove that point, over this past week, one of our favorite Blue Linker’s shared a story of how his wife went online to one of the Big Box Stores (as this is the new norm) to order a new canopy for the deck in their backyard – a process that millions of people do daily. She found one she wanted and the quantity available for the item showed that there were 2 remaining in stock for pick up. His wife ordered the new canopy, received confirmation of her order and payment, and as a result of new COVID requirements was informed in the same confirmation email that she would receive a notification once again via email when the product would be ready for pick-up at the local store. I’m sure everyone reading is nodding in agreement that they have also gone through a very similar situation, a situation that isn’t always as simple as it seems.

 

Let’s jump ahead to five days later where she has still not received a second email. It is at this time that our Blue Linker’s wife has now begun to grow a little impatient as she really really wants the canopy. So, fed up with waiting, it is now officially time to make a phone call to the Big Box Store. After a half dozen or so rings, the customer service department answers her call and informs her that the order fulfillment pushed back 2-3 days due to COVID, and on top of that they no longer have the product in stock and therefore they will be canceling the order. “Oops, sorry.” Not quite what you want to hear when you’re wondering where your order is. I can hear the sighs of disappointed shoppers from here – we’ve all been through it.

 

Our Blue Linker’s first reaction to hearing what the Big Box Store had to say and the reaction of his dear wife was, “Never stand between a woman and her canopy.” After going through three different so-called “sales associates”, and then the store manager, his wife came out victorious. Not only did she secure a better canopy at the same price as the initially ordered canopy, but they also scored same day pick up of the item. Not only that, but the store manager was waiting for her at the front of the store with a smile on his face.  With a strong core system in place, like Blue Link ERP with its long list of amazing features, like eCommerce accounting software and eCommerce integration, the tools are there to ensure the customer is always satisfied.

So, why is this story pertinent? In today’s world where online ordering is a way of life, it is really important to make sure that the inventory quantity that is present on your website is accurate and not 2-3 days behind. People, especially people ready to spend their hard-earned money, don’t want to wait and they don’t want their order delayed. If you want your customer to use your website or online order portal to purchase products from you, they want to know accurate availability, and they want their stuff now. Blue Link ERP – with its built-in eCommerce and eCommerce accounting software features – allocates available inventory as a sales order formulates, with the ability to integrate directly into your eCommerce website or by using our own B2B Online Order Portal – this provides accurate inventory availability to your customers, ensuring their immediate satisfaction. The more smooth the process for them, and the faster they receive the product, the more likely they are to return and shop again.

 

We are currently in a time where eCommerce is skyrocketing. It is already an insanely fast-growing space, but with the lockdown orders and most stores closed – only now being slowly reopened – your only option to shop for several weeks was online. During lockdown, according to information quoted from Forbes, “U.S. retailers’ online year-over-year (YoY) revenue growth is up 68% as of mid-April, surpassing an earlier peak of 49% in early January. There’s also been a 129% year-over-year growth in U.S. & Canadian e-commerce orders as of April 21 and an impressive 146% growth in all online retail orders.” Online shopping is just going up and up, with no end in sight, so having the software and the processes to ensure that online transactions arrive without issue is a must. Customers want ease of use, they want items in stock, and they want reliable service, with items shipped right to their door. If your business begins to fail in any of those areas, you will see a loss of sales and a loss of customers, something that you must avoid at all costs. There are plenty of places to shop, and they’re only a click away.

Percentage of eCommerce Consumer Sales Growth (Source)

 

If your eCommerce website or B2B online order portal does not communicate with your ERP software or eCommerce accounting software, there are a number of issues you should have concern about:

Accurate inventory – does your website reflect what is actually in your warehouse?

Accurate prices – do you have different pricing for different B2B customers? Our built-in eCommerce accounting software can help with that.

Time it takes to update website – having to update multiple systems and websites that are not integrated is a very time-consuming and error prone process

Customer satisfaction – with so many options, customers can easily find the product they need from another website

Lost revenue – especially if online is your only available sales channel

 

Ready to learn more about how Blue Link can help you and your business? Please let us know – we’re always happy to talk.

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