Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

SMART Project Management to Achieve Your Business Goals

The SMART format for goals is one of the most well-known goal setting techniques. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely and provides a format and process for setting goals of any size and type, including personal, professional or business-related. SMART project management takes the format for developing goals and applies it to the project management process. This is a great way for businesses to outline project objectives and plans in a meaningful way that employees and stakeholders can easily understand. Let’s explore this in more detail.

What is SMART Project Management?

The SMART format for goals dictates that the best way to achieve your goals is to design them based on the following criteria: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Therefore, SMART project management uses the same criteria for designing and implementing successful projects.

Specific

When starting a project, it’s important to be as specific as possible. You want to make sure that the objectives and steps are easy to understand and follow. A simple way to do this is to provide information about the 5 W’s – who, what, where, why and when. 

Who needs to be involved to complete the project? Who are the main players and stakeholders? 
What exactly are you trying to accomplish?
Where does this project take place?
Why is the project important? Why does it matter to the company/employees/customers? 
When do you hope to complete this project? The “Timely” component of SMART project management further outlines timeframes, but it’s a good idea to identify a general timeframe as soon as possible. 

Although it’s important to include a lot of information, the more concise you can be, the better.

Measurable

How will you measure whether the project was successful? Without metrics in place, it’s impossible to track the success of the project. Metrics can include both tangible and intangible results such as money earned, time saved and impact on employee morale. If your project is set to take place over several weeks or months, you can also set milestones to help measure progress along the way. 

Achievable

There is no point in starting a project that is not achievable. It’s important to evaluate what steps and resources are required to complete the project. Do you have the right people onboard? Is there anything you need to prepare in advance? Consider factors such as setting a budget, allocating resources, training employees, researching options and more.  

Relevant 

Make sure that the project is relevant to those involved and the business. Is it realistic? Does it align with future growth strategies and available resources? 

Timely

They say that a goal without a timeline is just a dream. To make sure you accomplish your goals and complete your project, it’s important to set a deadline and restrict the project and activities to within a certain timeframe. Pick a target date and if necessary, also pick check-in points throughout the project. 

Let’s look at an example of using SMART project management in real life.

Example: I want to replace QuickBooks with all-in-one inventory accounting software. 

Specific

Our team of 30 employees relies on QuickBooks to manage our entire wholesale distribution business, but the system lacks advanced functionality and inventory management is a manual process using Excel spreadsheets. We want to start selling product online and need a system that can integrate with online channels. I want to find and implement a new solution before the holiday season next year.

Measurable 

Implementing all-in-one inventory accounting software at our business will require a lot of resources but has the potential to provide major future benefits. A system that integrates with eCommerce channels eliminates the need to hire additional staff to process the expected increase in orders. Right now, we waste a lot of time manually updating data in our accounting system and spreadsheets, fixing mistakes and trying to reconcile inventory information between Excel and our warehouse. In addition to other benefits, our goal with this project is to increase sales 20% through the implementation of eCommerce channels by the end of next year without the need to hire additional employees.

Achievable

I have notified all employees of this project. I have also identified a project manager to keep the project on track, answer any questions employees may have and to help with change management across the organization. We have the right people in place to start selling online and our warehouse is large enough to handle more inventory.

Relevant

Implementing new all-in-one inventory accounting software will free up employee time to focus on more meaningful tasks, eliminate the errors associated with manual data entry, and allow us to start selling through online channels. These objectives align with our business strategy to grow the business and reach new customers. 

Timely 

This project must be completed by the end of Q3 before the holiday season starts. This means that we will need to evaluate vendors, find a solution and make a decision by the middle of Q2 to keep the project on track with typical implementation timeframes. We have created a full breakdown of project milestones to meet this deadline. 

Once you have identified all the criteria for SMART project management, you can consolidate the information into one project description. 

SMART Project Description:  

As part of our company growth strategy, we need to automate more processes, eliminate manual work, and start selling through eCommerce channels to reach more customers. Our existing accounting software cannot handle these requirements and is not able to scale with our company, so we have decided to upgrade to all-in-one inventory accounting software. Our goal with this project is to implement software by the middle of Q2 so that by the end of the year we see an increase in sales by 20% through eCommerce channels.
Ready to start your software upgrade SMART project? Learn more with our Software Buying Guide. 

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Why QuickBooks is Not ERP Software

A massive percentage of small businesses and startups use QuickBooks for accounting processes. However, QuickBooks is not an ERP system and therefore you may be missing out on more advanced functionality only available in ERP that can help run your business. While QuickBooks is great as an introductory piece of software to get your business up and running, it’s primary focus in on accounting and financial processes and lacks functionality for other areas of the business – such as inventory management. Here are some of the reasons why QuickBooks is not ERP.

QuickBooks is primarily an accounting solution. ERP includes functionality across all business operations.

Any reputable ERP software will include all the same accounting functionality found in QuickBooks, plus more. Unlike QuickBooks, ERP software also includes functionality across other business areas such as inventory management, warehouse management, sales, invoicing, order entry and processing, reporting and eCommerce. This is one of the main reasons why QuickBooks is not ERP software – ERP is an all-in-one solution with integrated functionality across departments. For example, when you process a payment from a customer in ERP, it will update their credit status so that the information is immediately available on the order entry screen.

QuickBooks allows you to manage negative inventory, ERP does not.

Negative inventory implies that you can have less than zero of your inventory – however, in reality, this is not possible. While it may seem that allowing inventory to go into a negative position is the only way to perform certain processes, this is likely not the case and it can cause issues within other areas of the business.

For example, some businesses insist on tracking negative inventory for items that they receive and ship to customers before recording the receipt of inventory in the system. This is sometimes done as part of a business practice where shipments are not received in the system until all of the related invoices have been received to get accurate costs. However, with ERP software, landed cost tracking features allow users to properly cost the product and receive it into inventory before receiving all the related invoices.
Learn more about how to manage your business without using negative inventory.
QuickBooks has restrictions on users and features, ERP software is for growing businesses.

If you’re using QuickBooks it is likely that you’re also using manual processes for tracking inventory and duplicating data entry across multiple solutions. Because QuickBooks targets small businesses, it has limitations on the number of users, amount of data that can be maintained, and functionality. ERP however, is specifically designed for companies looking to scale – and provides various features that can be activated from the beginning or as your business and processes change. Instead of purchasing a separate inventory software, tools for order entry and processing, and a CRM system to integrate with QuickBooks, you can purchase all-in-one ERP software. This helps to cut costs, streamline operations and means you’re only dealing with one team of experts for support, training and other requests. Trying to integrate with QuickBooks also means you have to rely on duplicate entry across multiple solutions. Not only is this time-consuming and prone to human error, it also prevents you from accessing advanced functionality only found in ERP – such as better financial reporting, automated email functions, and automated reports.

The bottom line: QuickBooks is not ERP. Therefore, when you decide to replace QuickBooks, remember to keep in mind the following:

When setting a budget for new software, do so based on the cost of ERP and not based on the cost of QuickBooks.
Keep an open mind to changing processes instead of trying to do everything you’ve been doing with QuickBooks, but just with ERP instead. Ultimately the right ERP software will save you time and money.
If you’re nervous about making the switch, keep this in mind when speaking to different software vendors. Find a vendor that takes the time to learn about your needs and who will dedicate the time and resources to help you make the change.

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User Acceptance Testing and Quality Assurance

When most people think about quality assurance, they think about manufacturing. Testing finished goods to ensure it adheres to a certain quality, design and regulatory standards. But the quality assurance process applies to many other industries as well, including software design. Quality assurance (QA) testing is an imperative part of finding software bugs, testing usability and designing a product that is intuitive and easy to use. At Blue Link ERP, our QA team works closely with the development team as part of our R&D department to test Blue Link’s ERP software and other systems before release. This process also includes user acceptance testing in which the customer works with our team to jointly test the product. Even with QA testing and user acceptance testing, it’s impossible to test every possible use-case scenario and so the monthly fee for Blue Link’s cloud-based solution includes the cost of maintenance to cover product warranty and upgrades. This means that if a user does find a bug in the system that was not caught during the testing phase, our in-house team of dedicated support reps will fix the issue or provide a workaround free of charge. Below, we take a closer look at the Blue Link QA department.

What does the Blue Link QA team do?

In addition to other tasks, the Blue Link QA team handles:

Testing of all custom projects, upgrades, micro-projects and support issues
Documenting and updating version release notes
Working with the development team to fix any bugs and then documenting test cases for R&D to be used in the future
Working with customers to do user acceptance testing of Blue Link products (more on this below)
Learning new apps and getting familiar with new features and software versions

Essentially, the main purpose of the quality assurance department is to come up with innovative ways to find software bugs.

User Acceptance Testing

User acceptance testing (or UAT), is described as the process of involving the customer and end-user in testing the software to determine if it meets the business’ needs. Also referred to as beta testing, end-user testing or joint testing, user acceptance testing gives the customer the authority to sign-off on the finished product. It’s impossible for any software company to understand the nuances of any given business, which means we would never be able to create all the possible test cases. It is also impossible to navigate through the system in the same way that any given customer or user would – although most pieces of technology today are intuitive to use, what might be intuitive to one person, may not to another. Therefore, UAT is the last test performed on the software after having been internally tested by the quality assurance team. Involving customers directly in the testing process helps to validate the software and functionality against the customer’s business processes and requirements.

Want to learn more about Blue Link’s Quality Assurance Department? Watch this video from the QA Manager, Monique Taza.

 

 

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The Scary Truth about Credit Card Fraud

As the industry moves to accept more and more types of payments – online, instore, mobile, or via wearable device – the risk of data theft and credit card fraud inevitably increases too. Even with provisions in place such as chip protection and two-factor authentication, fraudsters are still able to compromise credit cards at an alarming rate. According to the most recent study from Federal Reserves Payments, “card-not-present” credit, debit and prepaid card fraud has significantly increased over the past couple of years, up 34% in 2016 reaching $4.67 billion from the year prior. Credit card fraud especially is a growing concern among small businesses and the end consumer and can have a devastating impact on its victims.

The Costs of Credit Card Fraud

The true cost of credit card fraud is more than just a dollar figure and it impacts a wide range of victims using cards in-person and online. When card information has been compromised, businesses are left spending money on fraud protection services and software, banks have to replace stolen cards on a regular basis, and consumers and businesses alike must spend the time and energy to report issues, change account details, and get a new card. Not to mention that many legitimate online orders get declined when confused as fraudulent, resulting in unhappy customers and lost sales for retailers.  In addition, many fraudulent interactions are not reported to law enforcement and therefore leave the perpetrator free to strike again. Consumers spend their energy on working with their bank to void illegitimate charges instead of reporting incidents to the police and some businesses decide against reporting to maintain their reputation. To address the concerns around credit card fraud, credit card companies have started to charge fees that help cover the costs of fraud investigations – for example, charging a business a small percentage every time the company does a pre-authorization. As a best practice, most well-known credit card companies flag and investigate any transaction identified as fraud, even if the situation is completely innocent. Many companies don’t realize that they may be performing activities as part of their business processes that raise red flags at credit card companies. For example, trying to pre-authorize a card multiple times from a customer of good standing if the card gets declined.

How to Protect Your Business

To protect your business and customers from credit card fraud, and as a consumer yourself, consider the following.

Be vigilant. Always review credit card transactions in your account on a regular basis for any suspicious charges.
Have the right contact information on hand. As soon as you suspect an issue or fraudulent activity, make sure you know who to contact to cancel the card and void any charges.
Change online passwords and pin information if you suspect your information has been compromised. Never send sensitive data like credit card information through email, encrypt data where possible and make sure you use complex passwords and update them regularly.
Work with a software solution that has provisions in place for meeting PCI compliance and for keeping data safe. When using software to process and store credit card information, make sure it provides an encrypted data vault for doing so. It’s also important to educate your team on proper business practices – managers must implement proper processes for accepting credit card information and employees must be trained on meeting PCI Compliance.
Review all the charges and fees associated with processing credit cards at your business – make sure you know which types of activities can flag cards as fraudulent.
Never access banking or credit card information over an unsecured network – such as free, public WiFi.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and your business from other common scams.

The Benefits of Barcode Scanning

A Conversation with Noel McKeon of Barcoding, Inc.

Despite being around for nearly 50 years, there are still some common misconceptions around barcoding systems in warehouse and distribution environments and many companies have yet to take advantage of the many benefits of barcode scanning. There is a lot of power in barcodes – tracking inventory with barcodes helps to reduce human error, improve data collection, validation and management, and eliminate manual tasks, ultimately lowering costs and making your company more profitable and efficient. To discuss some of the benefits of barcode scanning, we spoke with Noel McKeon, Business Development Manager at Barcoding, Inc. Barcoding, Inc. is a certified hardware partner for Blue Link’s Barcode Scanning and Mobile Picking iOS app. As a supply chain automation and innovation company, Barcoding, Inc. helps warehouse operations be more efficient, accurate and connected. Blue Link’s barcode scanning app, combined with hardware from Barcoding, Inc., will allow your warehouse staff to scan and pick barcodes from the warehouse floor, simplifying the receiving, put-away, picking, packing and shipping of inventory.

We spoke with Noel the other day and put together a list of some of the benefits of barcode scanning.

Barcoding systems work with any budget. Although this was not always the case when barcode scanning systems were first introduced into warehouse management, it is definitely the case today. No business is too small for the use of barcodes as part of their inventory control strategy. Where it used to be that barcode scanning meant the purchase of sophisticated WMS software with ruggedized barcode scanning hardware, barcode scanning functionality is now built-into many ERP solutions and can be used with more economical mobile handheld devices such as Android or iOS. “Many of today’s leading business systems (ERP, accounting software, CRM, etc.) offer native support for barcode scanning,” says Noel McKeon. “It’s often simply a matter of selecting the right equipment to support the operating environment and some minor configuration tweaks to existing software and a company can be leveraging barcode scanning.” He further recommends that “investing in barcode equipment should be a thoughtful process and not something done through an eCommerce website. Research what capabilities you might need now versus in the future. It’s often best to walk before running and you may want to structure the implementation of such technology with a phased roll-out that can support your initial needs, as well as future needs”.

Barcoding systems reduce overall costs. Sure, there will be some upfront costs if you don’t have a barcoding system in place, and there are some time and labour costs when it comes to training staff and maintaining barcodes, but in the long run, a barcoding system will save you money.

First, barcode scanning increases your accuracy, reducing manual errors. No longer does your team have to rely on manual counts, and deciphering handwritten notes. Instead, by electronically tracking inventory, you cut down on picking and packing errors, thus reducing the expenses that arise when an order is picked, packed and shipped incorrectly.

Second, when paired with an ERP system, barcoding can help you lower the cost of capital associated with carrying excess inventory. Together, these systems make it possible to track inventory levels precisely. When you track inventory (what’s coming in, what’s going out and what is currently on shelves) you can avoid over-ordering and the costs associated with holding excess stock.

According to Noel, “There are still many companies today who are operating with manual processes throughout their business. They have employees using pen and paper to record data or dedicated to data entry, keying data into systems, and many times duplicating efforts across multiple systems. The business is working and for the most part, operations are getting the job done, so why change? Why explore the impact of incorporating barcodes into their day-to-day business? The benefits gained from leveraging barcode scanning are numerous and should be examined by each company. Barcode data collection is inherently faster and more accurate. Greater accuracy means better data to drive operational decisions. Barcode scanning can reduce the labour involved with data collection saving your company considerable money. When barcode scanning is combined with existing business systems, data validation can occur. Data validation can ensure that the data a barcode represents drives appropriate behaviours – for example, the correct product is shipped to a customer, or suppliers have sent you exactly what you ordered, etc.”.  

Barcoding systems automate processes and increase efficiencies. When you implement wireless barcode scanning as part of an all-in-one ERP system, you simplify and streamline processes in your warehouse. For example, since ERP systems store information in a central database, anyone with proper access can get instant and accurate inventory visibility and availability, making tasks like purchasing or answering customer questions easier and faster. Without barcode scanning, businesses are left with often complicated, multi-step processes that rely on humans to complete each step without error. With a barcoding system and ERP software, scanning a barcode is usually a one-step process that instantly transports information from the scanner to your ERP system. With an automated system, you save time by not re-keying inventory information, searching for items in the warehouse, and correcting errors. This, in turn, can eliminate the need for more warehouse employees to pick, pack and ship orders, thus reducing staff count. If you do need to hire new employees, barcode scanning tools make it easier to onboard staff and increase their productivity.

As Noel added, “as outlined above, barcode scanning offers speed, accuracy, and data validation which helps a warehouse environment to ensure greater control and accuracy over the inventory data that the warehouse is operating against. Warehouse operators can be held to a greater level of accountability and prevented from making certain mistakes. When combined with the right software system, barcode scanning can help ensure that the warehouse is picking orders faster and more accurately, which increases customer satisfaction.”

As you can see, there are many benefits of barcode scanning and every company can take advantage of the functionality offered. No matter how big or small your warehouse operations, barcode scanning is a cost-effective way to become more efficient – with more sophisticated functionality available as your business continues to grow.
Noel McKeon, Barcoding, Inc.
With over 15 years of experience in the AIDC industry, Noel McKeon is an accomplished Business Development professional with extensive experience assisting companies understand, evaluate, and select barcode and RFID focused software solutions that improve and elevate their operations.

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A List of Common Technology Abbreviations

As with many industries, the software industry has its fair share of terminology and acronyms that can sound like gibberish to those outside of the know. To further complicate matters, many software and technology companies use these acronyms in different ways. Therefore, it is always a good idea to get extra clarification when speaking with software vendors about their solutions and the functionality available. It’s important not to make assumptions about what a given system can or cannot do based on previous conversations with other vendors and how they used specific terminology themselves. To help you better understand some of the more common acronyms, we’ve put together a cheat sheet for future reference and you can read more about each below.

Download Technology Abbreviations Cheat Sheet

ERP Software – Enterprise Resource Planning Software

ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning and is a business software solution designed to manage all aspects of a company’s operations including; accounting, order entry and processing, inventory, contact management, warehouse management and more. ERP software replaces the need for purchasing and integrating multiple standalone inventory, accounting and CRM systems and works best for growing businesses looking to automate processes, increase efficiencies and reduce manual work. 

API – Application Program Interface

API stands for Application Program Interface and is a set of routines, protocols and tools for building software applications. Essentially, an API dictates how software components should interact and allows two separate systems built on different operating systems to communicate and share information with one another. In the world of ERP software, an API connection is frequently used when you want your ERP system to communicate with your eCommerce store.

Example: An API allows you to pull order information from your eCommerce store into your ERP software and subsequently updates inventory information on the website and in your ERP system.

BI – Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence or BI, is the ability to extract actionable insight from the internal and external data available to an organization, to support decision making and improve corporate performance. The ability to collect, gather and organize data from within your organization can help you identify trends, patterns, threats and opportunities to make strategic business decisions. The same applies to data collected from outside of your organization. Most ERP solutions provide some functionality for BI in the form of reporting features.

BOM – Bill of Materials

A Bill of Materials (BOM) is a list of components necessary to assemble a particular item used when manufacturing goods. The BOM helps you determine what you can make from the available components. Sophisticated manufacturing processes require a BOM to track turning raw ingredients into finished goods. Simple manufacturing processes such as putting together a kit also requires a BOM to keep track of the parts of the kit.

CRM – Customer Relationship Management

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software helps you manage and track your customer and sales lead information. These systems are more advanced than basic contact management features found in many ERP solutions and provide tools to help fully manage relationships with customers, vendors and prospects from initial contact, to close and post-sale. CRM software includes tools for scheduling upcoming actions such as follow-ups and meetings, it allows you to track and move prospects through your sales funnel and enables you to maintain information on the customer or prospect that other departments can access. You can purchase CRM software as a standalone solution, or some ERP solutions include built-in CRM functionality so that you don’t need to purchase and integrate multiple systems.

EDI – Electronic Data Interchange

Electronic Data Interchange represents a set of standards, outlining formats for information that can be electronically exchanged between two parties. Essentially, EDI allows trading partners in the supply chain to exchange documents and provides a format for translating data from one system into a format that is readable by another system. With EDI, your customer can send an order from their software solution, no matter which technology it’s built on, and then your ERP system will be able to translate the information into a readable format.

Example: Your customer (a large retail business) sends you a purchase order via EDI, which gets translated into an EDI file type known as an 850. Next, your ERP solution picks up this EDI 850 file (using one of several methods) and translates the information into a format that is readable in your ERP system. This allows the information to automatically populate into your system for processing.

FIFO – First In, First Out

FIFO which stands for First In, First Out is one of the most commonly used inventory costing methods. As the name suggests, the FIFO costing method is set up so that you sell the oldest inventory items in your warehouse first which corresponds to the actual physical flow of goods in your warehouse and helps to avoid inventory items becoming obsolete. This means that you track and account for the COGS based on the purchase price of each inventory item at the time you receive it into your warehouse.

P&L – Profit & Loss

A P&L is a type of financial statement known as a Profit and Loss statement. You may also have heard the term P&L before with a different name – Income Statement. A P&L statement covers a specific period of time, frequently a month, quarter or year and includes information on a company’s revenues and expenses for that time period. Your revenue is the income earned from the sale of product or delivery of a service and your expenses are the cost to provide that product or service. Once you subtract the expenses from your revenue, you can determine if your business made a profit or loss for that period.

PCI Compliance – Payment Card Industry Compliance

Payment Card Industry (PCI) Compliance refers to a set of standards designed to protect credit cardholder information. These standards apply to any business that stores, processes, or transmits payment cardholder data both online and offline. It includes manual processes for safely recording, storing and accessing card data and can apply to ERP software with credit card processing functionality.

RMA – Return Merchandise Authorization

Return Merchandise Authorization is the process for dealing with customer returns. Software with RMA functionality allows you to track and manage the RMA process, providing better insight into what products are being returned the most and why, and if the return process is easy and intuitive for customers. Efficient RMA processes improve customer satisfaction and retention by helping businesses pay more attention to faulty goods and repairs of merchandise. RMA software functionality needs to be paired with internal RMA processes for physically accepting and tracking returned merchandise.

RDP – Remote Desktop Protocol

RDP stands for “Remote Desktop Protocol” and is a Microsoft licensed technology available for a large range of computers, tablets and other devices. A device that has an “RDP Client” and a connection to the internet or local area network can be used to run software that physically resides on one or more servers somewhere else – and not on your computer or device.

Example: To access Blue Link’s cloud-based ERP solution, you must do so via an RDP connection. Blue Link is then responsible for maintaining the hardware and servers that the software lives on, as well as managing upgrades and backups. Therefore, using RDP, you can access the software and processing power of the servers and hardware, without having to purchase or maintain any of the equipment yourself.

RDP and the Cloud

SAAS – Software as a Service

Software as a Service describes software that is licensed on a subscription basis. Instead of purchasing software as a one-time upfront license fee, SaaS allows you to pay a monthly fee for access to software that is hosted on the software provider’s servers and not on your own equipment. SaaS is frequently used interchangeably with the term cloud-based or hosted solutions.

WMS – Warehouse Management System

WMS stands for Warehouse Management System which controls the movement and storage of inventory within a warehouse and helps to process the associated transactions, including receiving, put-away, picking, packing and shipping. WMS systems log every single movement of product in your warehouse, show available locations in the warehouse to add product based on empty space, allow you to receive and ship product before putting it away and more. True WMS software is designed for large warehouse operations with a high volume of orders and complex requirements. Many ERP systems provide some built-in WMS features that are perfect for smaller distribution operations.

 

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Benefits of ERP: Increased Automation

One of the many benefits of ERP software is increased automation; the ability to complete a task with minimal human intervention – for example, the ability to email a document, update a status, insert a field value, change a record etc. Finding opportunities for automation within your business can have huge implications on your bottom line, growth potential and customer satisfaction. And automation does not necessarily mean the need to replace employees. Instead, it reduces the amount of manual work, allows employees to focus on more meaningful tasks and eliminates the need to hire additional staff to support small growth spurts in your business (such as an increase in demand). Unlike introductory or standalone systems, ERP software provides functionality across all operational areas of your business, providing ample opportunities for automation across departments. This is why it’s also important to schedule regular reviews of your existing processes to help find new opportunities for automation in the future. Below we examine some specific benefits of ERP when it comes to automating processes at your wholesale distribution business.

Reporting

Robust reporting is one of the main benefits of ERP and automated reports can take on many different forms. One example is the ability to automatically update report information to include the most up-to-date data. Instead of having to re-key and re-generate a report every time, you can automatically update the information based on specific criteria, or as a result of refreshing the data or changing time frames. With live-linked data (such as linking data between Blue Link ERP and Excel), once you create a report based on live data from the system, anytime you want to update that data you can open the report, hit fresh or change the criteria. For example, with Blue Link’s Financial Report Writer, you can create a Profit and Loss statement in Excel using live data which easily allows you to update the information every time you open it.

Automated reporting also allows you to create reports in the system that automatically get emailed to the appropriate people based on certain criteria being met. For example, you can automatically email your warehouse manager an inventory movement exception report for products where unit sales per week are trending upwards beyond normal sales growth parameters (adjusted for seasonality if applicable). This will alert your team to investigate whether you need to re-think replenishment rules (like min / max levels, etc.) for these products.

Accounting

With accounting processes, there are many different opportunities for automation. One example is around automating accounts receivable collections which can cut down on the amount of administrative resources needed. Instead of manually tracking accounts that are overdue and notifying customers, the system will automatically generate a report with information on all overdue accounts (based on criteria that you have set) and then email these customers with their account information asking for payment. Another example is the ability to automatically update exchange rates in the system which will then update any open purchase orders.

Invoicing

There are several different ways you can automate the invoicing process. One involves automatically emailing PDF invoices to customers after the order passes an automated check routine. In this example, once an order is marked as “shipped”, before the status changes to invoiced, the system will first check to ensure that the shipping charges and tracking number fields were populated on the order. If they are, the PDF invoice gets automatically sent to the customer. If this information is missing, the status changes instead to something else (such as “Missing Fields”) alerting you to manually check the order and make the necessary changes. This replaces the need to manually check every order for the right information and instead only those where the information is incomplete.

Inventory

For wholesale distributors, there are some cases where the price of inventory will change. If this is the case, automation allows you to easily and quickly update pricing information on the fly. If prices change, Blue Link ERP allows you to export existing pricing information, quickly change it in Excel based on the new pricing received from the supplier, and then import the updated pricing information back into Blue Link automatically updating the pricing for each product in the system.

Picking, Packing and Shipping

Automating the picking, packing and shipping process can help you get orders to your customers faster. Automation features allow you to send orders from all sales channels directly to the warehouse for picking, packing and shipping if the order meets pre-determined criteria such as when the order status is “Payment Received”. In this case, the system will automatically generate the pick slip for the order for your warehouse staff to begin picking. Once the order is then fully picked and packed you can ship the order and change the status to “Shipped” which automatically sends the customer a confirmation notice.

3rd Party Applications

Automation can even be used when integrating with 3rd party applications. This eliminates the manual process of entering data into multiple solutions. For example, if you sell product on an eCommerce site like Shopify, you can integrate in real-time with a two-way connection. This allows you to automatically pull order information into your system for further processing and automatically updates inventory information both within your ERP and online, letting customers know what product is available in real-time.

As you can see, automation is a huge benefit to ERP and is one of the main differences between introductory type software and a more robust solution. By streamlining operations across multiple areas of the company, customers are always up-to-date on account information, anomalies are caught quickly and orders get shipped as soon as possible.

 

Using Barcode Scanning to Track Lot Numbers and Expiry Dates

When mistakes are made picking, packing and shipping products, the inconvenience to your customer is not the only consequence. When it comes to industries such as pharmaceutical distribution, these mistakes can put your customer’s safety at risk and increase the risk of product theft and tampering. Although there are many regulations put forth by the DEA, FDA and DSCSA to protect customers and the general public from these types of concerns, it still requires that your pharmaceutical distribution business take the necessary steps internally to ensure a secure supply chain. One option to better manage inventory is with the use of barcode scanning.

Barcode scanning allows you to track inventory as it moves through your warehouse – from receipt, to picking and packing. In its simplest form, barcodes exist to allow your business to track product movement internally and throughout the supply chain, however, in the pharmaceutical industry important information is also tracked via barcode. Unlike widgets, pharmaceutical products include various properties such as lot number, expiry date, dosage, product family, NDC#, GTIN, strength, schedule, limit and more. Recent regulations mandate that all pharmaceutical products have a 2D datamatrix barcode containing the following four data elements on each product’s smallest unit for sale.

GTIN
Lot Number
Serial Number
Expiry Date

This information can then be “parsed” using barcode scanners depending on the specific function being performed. With Blue Link’s pharmaceutical distribution software, the parsed information updates within the software’s database so that important information about each inventory item is easily accessible.

“Blue Link’s ability to populate the lot and expiry date by scanning pharma 2D barcodes is really great news for pharmaceutical distributors. It has huge implications for improving efficiency and reducing errors when receiving pharma products.”
– Michael Benedick, Pharmaceutical Software Expert
Benefits

There are many benefits to barcode scanning in general, and even more so when managing potentially harmful product such as pharmaceutical inventory.

By implementing barcode scanning within your warehouse operations, your processes are fully auditable and pharmaceutical products are traceable. This helps deter theft and reduce loss and liability.
Blue Link’s scanning functionality prevents the need for manually keying in important information such as lot and lot expiry. This not only allows product to be received more quickly into your warehouse and inventory system, it also reduces data entry errors from having to do this manually.
Pharmaceutical barcodes are also used for saleable returns verification (a DSCSA November 2019 requirement). This functionality allows employees to scan a product’s barcode and using “VRS” immediately check/verify the associated barcode to determine if it is safe to receive back into inventory for resale. Without verification of a product, the item cannot be resold.

Want to learn more about Pharmaceutical Distribution Software and compliance with DEA, FDA and DSCSA regulations? Visit Blue Link at this year’s HDA Traceability Seminar October 21-23 at the Marriott Wardman Park,  Washington, DC.

 

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Must-Have Software Features for Foodservice Distribution

As a company that sells foodservice equipment, your business requires standard inventory management and accounting software to track sales, invoice customers, and manage inventory, purchasing and the pick, pack and ship process. These types of features are fairly standard in any ERP software – Enterprise Resource Planning software – which describes an all-in-one business management solution. However, there are also certain nuances within foodservice distribution that leads to additional software requirements. These include the need to track serialized equipment and inventory, manage service and repair work (most often for warranty items), the ability to track landed costs on imported goods, barcode scanning, backorder management and eCommerce. Therefore, basic inventory and accounting software will not provide all the features necessary. Instead, look for an industry-specific solution for foodservice distribution with the following functionality.

Serialized Inventory Management
Many big-ticket foodservice equipment items include a serial number. This makes it easy for the manufacturer to quickly identify a product for replacement purposes or as a means of finding compatible parts. Since serial numbers are unique, they also allow your customers to link their piece of equipment to their account in order to maintain a purchase history and for quality control and recall purposes. Inventory items can be traced from the customer to you the distributor and then back to the manufacturer.

Service and Repair (Warranty Coverage)

Foodservice distribution software with service and repair functionality is critical for your distribution business. Instead of finding a full-blown service and repair system, basic functionality such as the ability to track service orders, parts and labor, and the ability to automatically communicate maintenance reminders to customers will save you money and is all your business needs. It is important to have a system that maintains a history of work performed and can track inventory details associated with each customer. This way, customers can easily get status updates on equipment and it allows your business to accurately account for labor costs and the cost of parts.

Landed Cost Tracking

When it comes to importing large pieces of equipment, there can be a lot of fees associated with cross-border travel. Freight costs, import fees, duty, brokerage etc. can apply to individual pieces of equipment or be based on the weight of any given shipment (or both). It’s important to be able to accurately track these landed costs and assign them to the right inventory item. This helps to ensure your pricing is fair for both you and your customer and that you’re covering all the costs associated with getting inventory into your warehouse.

Barcode Scanning

Barcode scanning automates the receiving, picking, packing and shipping process to eliminate errors and increase efficiencies. The ability to scan barcodes while picking orders help to identify and fix any picking errors at the source and provides an extra layer of inspection to make sure the order is picked correctly. Scanning barcodes when receiving inventory allows you to quickly update inventory levels in your system instead of waiting for someone to manually update the information.

B2B Online Order Portal

An online order portal acts as a secure customer account and ordering system which provides information to your customers 24/7/365. Customers are able to login, see available inventory with customer-specific pricing, place an order for product and view account information such as existing orders, past orders etc. This provides another sales channel without the need to hire additional staff. Instead, once an order comes in online, it is pulled directly into your foodservice distribution software to be further processed.

Backorder Management

For large pieces of equipment, backorder management allows you to fulfill orders without having to stock large items in your warehouse that require a lot of space. Instead, if an item is not available, the system allows you to create a purchase order for the product from the sales order and then easily fulfil that sales order when the item arrives. This also allows you to track the status of any given inventory item – available in your warehouse, allocated to an order, on backorder, etc.

 

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Tracking Inventory with Pharmaceutical Distribution Software

The pharmaceutical distribution industry is characterized by strict regulations, sophisticated product tracking and advanced reporting to a variety of governing bodies. Regulations laid out by the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), FDA, DEA and other associations such as VAWD, are constantly updating in order to meet the complex demand of the industry, changing consumer habits and adhere to new scientific research while still working under the main goal of keeping consumers safe. If it sounds like a complicated supply chain, that’s because it is. To reduce the stress of trying to stay on top of this complex industry, it’s important to find a software vendor that provides the right functionality for managing pharmaceutical inventory and distribution, can help automate processes, manage financials and adhere to compliance standards. In addition to functionality and expertise for the distribution of pharmaceutical inventory items, the ideal software vendor is one that has relationships with other industry experts, is a member of pharmaceutical trade associations, has partnerships with other solutions and regularly participates in pharmaceutical industry conferences and seminars to always be up-to-date on what is happening in the market.

One of the reasons why the pharmaceutical industry is so complex, is because of the various properties associated with pharmaceutical inventory. For example, instead of simply managing a product code, description, unit of measure (UOM) and pricing, distributors are also required to track lot numbers, dosages, product families, NDC#, GTIN, strength, schedules, limits and more. Below we explore some of the important pharmaceutical inventory properties that you need to manage and how you can track them in Blue Link’s pharmaceutical distribution software.

Product Code

Just like with any product, you need to create product codes for the pharmaceutical inventory items maintained in your inventory management system. Among other things, you can use this information for looking up product details and when associating products on a purchase order, sales order or quote. Since products codes are for internal purposes only, your business can choose whichever format you want, but for pharmaceutical wholesale distributors, a good idea is to use the NDC number as your product codes.

NDC Number

A product’s NDC number (or National Drug Code) is the unique number given to a product by the FDA. This number is unique to a specific product – no matter what UOMs you’re selling the product in.

Brand, Strength and Dosage

Tracking a product’s brand, brand description, strength and dosage is all important information used in Transaction Reporting (T3). The DSCSA requires that all trading partners in the supply chain not accept pharmaceutical products unless the trading partner they receive the product from can provide specific information about the product’s history. To meet these needs, Blue Link includes transaction history (product/lot tracing/ownership information) of each specific product/lot and automatic tracking of information stored to one level back and one level forward.

UOMs

Units of measure or UOMs, are the different package sizes inventory is available in. For most wholesale distribution businesses, inventory items will be available in multiple UOMs. For example, you may sell by case, by bottle, by each or by pallet. It’s important to set-up default units of measure which are the smallest unit of measure you will be inventorying any given product. You can then easily choose a different UOM category depending on the customer and order.

Product Family

Product family is important for managing the quantities of groups of products (known as product families) that you sell to your customers. Association of a product family to a product is important for Suspicious Order Monitoring (SOM). Monitoring the quantities of specific families that are sold to an individual customer is a requirement of SOM.

Dosage for Ratio

In Blue Link, the Dosage for Ratio information is important to help manage the ratio of pharmaceutical vs. non-pharmaceutical products on a sales order. This allows distributors selling non-pharmaceutical items (such as bandages, gauze, etc.) to companies such as pharmacies, to manage the pharmaceutical vs. non-pharmaceutical sales to that customer.

Pricing and Pricing Contracts

A product’s pricing dictates how much any given customer will pay for an item. Price contracts in Blue Link allow you to set-up different levels of pricing at the customer or product level. Price contracts may be based on specific customer terms, special discounts, limited time offers or other factors. If you have multiple price contracts for one product, you can decide whether to pull pricing information based on the “Best Price” or “First Price” found in the list of potential prices for the product and customer. There is always the option to override the price if you have the right user permission levels.

UPC Code

In many instances when selling to pharmacies, distributors will also sell non-pharmaceutical products. These products will often have a UPC code or Universal Product Code attached. A UPC code is a barcode made up of 12 numeric digits that are uniquely assigned to each item for easy identification using barcode scanners. For pharmaceutical distribution businesses, the use of barcode scanning helps to improve warehouse management operations and reduces the human error associated with manually receiving, picking, packing and shipping products.

GTIN

A pharmaceutical product’s GTIN number comes from the manufacturer and contains the manufacturer’s identifier and NDC number. Each UOM for a particular inventory item will have its own GTIN number.

2D Datamatrix

Just as the UPC code for non-pharmaceutical products is used to generate a barcode for scanning purposes, pharmaceutical products are now required to have a 2D Datamatrix barcode that includes important information about the specific item. The requirements dictate that each product’s smallest unit for sale must contain a 2D Datamatrix barcode containing four elements;

GTIN
Lot Number
Serial Number
Lot Expiry Date

Pharmaceutical software like Blue Link has scanning functionality that allows the user to scan the barcode and depending on the specific function being performed, “parses” the information so it can be used. This scanning functionality prevents the need for manually keying in important information such as lot and lot expiry information, improving efficiency while reducing data entry errors. The barcode is also used in saleable returns verification (another DSCSA requirement).

Lot Number and Lot Costing

A product’s lot number comes from the manufacturer and is used to track specific lots/batches of products. The lot number is assigned to a batch of manufactured product and used throughout the supply chain to  track which customers received which product/lot and when they were received. The date these specific items were received and supplier they came from are also tracked, allowing you to monitor products from the supplier to your own warehouse and ultimately to the customer. The cost (COG) associated to the lot is dependent on the price paid at the time of receipt. In the case of a product recall, businesses can identify pharmaceutical inventory items by their lot number. The lot number of a product is also used in managing the transaction history of each product (another requirement of the DSCSA).

Warehouse Locations

Managing warehouse locations from within your pharmaceutical distribution software stores information on which warehouse you want to receive pharmaceutical inventory. Once you receive product into a specific warehouse, you can then transfer it to another location at a later date. In the pharmaceutical industry, many wholesale distributors receive all product into a “quarantine” location for quality control purposes, preventing the products from being allocated/shipped without proper QC. Once the items have been cleared, they are then sent to various other warehouse locations.

Drug Schedule and Limits

A drug’s schedule dictates how the product is classified at the Federal and State level. The DEA designates a product schedule when the product is first developed. Each schedule is based off a drugs medical value and potential for abuse – therefore, drugs which have a higher potential for abuse will have a higher schedule. The schedules range from I to V with I having the highest potential for abuse and addiction. Although the DEA has designated products as “Schedule I”, no legal pharmaceutical distributor will ever sell these products, as they are normally illegal (i.e. heroin, LSD, ecstasy). Many states set their own drug schedules, however, this schedule cannot be set lower than the Federal schedule. A pharmaceutical product’s schedule is important because a business requires different licenses for the sale and purchase of different drug schedules. This is in addition to other State specific regulations such as VAWD which is a specific certification sometimes required by a state to buy/sell scheduled drugs. Some distributors set limits on the volume of products that their customer can buy. Within Blue Link, user’s set-up a product’s schedules and limits based on customer ship-to locations. The system will then automatically prevent users from selling a quantity of products over the customer’s limit.

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