Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

Do You Need Production Control Functionality in Your ERP Software?

As a wholesale distributor, you may be selling both Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) which means you hold a lot of inventory. In some cases, it’s not just products that you buy and sell that are in your inventory but items that are used to create a finished good. While you’re not manufacturing any particular product, you might be creating a “finished good” by taking items from your shelf and assembling them into a saleable product. This is where production control comes into play. Once your business starts to expand and you’re receiving hundreds of orders for your finished goods and working with thousands of items, you will need functionality in your software that can assist with the management of making the finished goods.

Let’s break this down and look at the Gift Basket industry for example. A gift shop is selling complete baskets (full of awesome goodies) but they don’t sell the individual ‘goodies’ alone. In this case, each goodie is not considered a finished good but the basket as a whole with all the goodies is what is considered a finished good.
A finished good is an item made from other items. It is sold as a single unit and its component parts, which may include packaging and labor for assembly. The component parts are not displayed in a sales order. For example, you would sell a basket of fruit but not sell its component parts (apples, oranges, bananas, etc.)
So, let’s say someone has placed an order for a gift basket filled with all sorts of stuff from food to hairstyling products. In the warehouse someone (or a team) has to assemble the basket by pulling the products from the shelves (which are likely in different sections of the warehouse), putting them together in the basket and wrapping it all nicely to be sent to the customer. It sounds like a simple enough process but as mentioned earlier, as soon as your business starts to expand, you’ll soon realize that the production control functionality is exactly what you need to assist with the production of the baskets.

Production Control

Production control functionality determines what products can be assembled given a defined Bill Of Materials (BOM) and available inventory. In ERP systems like Blue Link, this functionality will allow you to allocate items to be used to assemble products, assign costs to the labor components of the assembly process and calculate the finished good cost by using the Cost of Goods “COGs” for each component of the completed basket.

As you can see in the screenshot below, there are options to perform a “Quick” production run when you are sure that the finished good is ready and available to ship. Or when you need time to perform specific production processes you can choose “Firm” to reserve the inventory, “Open” when pulling the inventory and “Close” when the assembly is ready, which adds the finished good back to your inventory to be sold.

This functionality doesn’t just help you with the picking of the items, but it assists with many aspects of the assembly process such as telling you if you don’t have enough product to create the finished good and showing you the cost of all the components and price. The function tracks “soft costs” such as labor and overhead so you can see exactly how much the finished good is going to cost you.

Production control is a simple function that is greatly beneficial for distributors who create finished goods from individual products by helping to automate manual tasks, managing items used in finished goods, and ensuring the items being assembled reflect the “real cost” of the item.

If you’re a growing wholesale distributor there is a lot you should know about software to help with managing your business. Download our guide Managing Business Growth with Software to learn more.

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ERP Vendor Selection: Support

So after months of research, phone calls and emails you’ve finally settled on an ERP solution for your growing business. ERP vendor selection can be a cumbersome task but you found one that seems to have all the functionality you were looking for and is within the approved budget. Let’s say implementation went well, training was simple and everyone is happy with how the system is working. A couple of months has gone by and all of a sudden, your sales team has run into an issue and although training was simple, no one on your team recalls this issue being a topic of discussion and no training documents were provided. Now, it’s time to make that phone call for support.

You may have thought that support was important but not so important to spend some extra money on it. This is a common mistake businesses make when conducting their ERP vendor selection and eventually hurts them in the long run.  So, we all know how these support phone calls usually go. You’re likely waiting a long time for someone to answer the phone, the employee who does answer has no idea who you or your business are and ultimately it takes forever to get your issue resolved. But, it doesn’t always have to be this way. There are ERP vendors out there that do provide the kind of service that makes you feel like you’re a priority. When conducting your selection keep in mind these few areas of support that you will eventually need.
Support starts with how well your ERP vendor trains your staff on the new system and processes. A lot of people don’t like change so it can take some convincing to get an entire team on board. Depending on the size of the implementation and migration you could be dealing with 1-2 consultants, and this is your chance to learn anything and everything about the system. It would, however, be impossible to remember absolutely everything so check to see if your consultants can be contacted after the initial implementation. Your consultant should have your implementation as their main task for a set amount of time and will eventually know your business inside out just like they know the software.
Help Desk
Technology is not perfect so sometimes there will be a need to reach out to the Help Desk for technical assistance, help in diagnosing software issues, or asking questions related to the software (ex. Troubleshooting). Help Desk should be able to resolve your issue in 24-48 hours but you may also be able to find your answers through an online help desk website that is only accessible to the vendors’ customers.
Customer Service
In some cases, if you’re a company in a large industry you may be using the chosen software as it comes without the need for any customizations or additional features. For businesses in industries like these, it is easy to work with the big goliaths of the ERP world because you won’t require that one-on-one relationship. On the flip side, if you’re a business in a niche industry you may need additional functionality that is otherwise not necessary for other industries. This can likely be done with big and small ERP vendors but what you will want to evaluate is the time and effort put into your customization. You’ll want to ensure it is done correctly and works with your processes. A small company will understand the importance of the customization and will focus on ensuring it works seamlessly for you, while a large vendor may not see it worthwhile to spend so much time on one customers’ customization.

External vs Internal Support

Large organizations may have the means to offer 24/7 support but may vary in their ability to provide personalized support. This is because sometimes they outsource to an international office in order to accommodate the all-day access. On the other hand small-medium sized organizations have all their support in-house and can offer personalized conversations by actually matching the same consultant who assisted with the company’s initial implementation. This way, the consultant is already familiar with your company and processes and you won’t have to explain to a new person who your company is and the issue at hand. Another great thing about small-medium sized vendors is that they will take the time to follow up with your company every couple of months to see how you’re doing and check-in.

You may have noticed a common theme amongst the three types of support listed above and it’s the importance of B2B relationship building. Whether you’ve decided to select an ERP vendor who is big or small, you want the kind of support that helps you fix the issue instead of adding more stress to your plate. During your ERP vendor selection process, It’s a smart idea to question them about their support services and it’s likely going to help you in the long run to spend the extra cash.

Change is scary for a lot of employees and getting them on board can be a difficult task. Our Change Management Guide walks you through the phases of change and provides tips for you and your staff.

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Save Time and Money with these 4 Pharmaceutical Distribution System Features

One of the main benefits of implementing business management software is to automate processes, save time and reduce costs. This is true for all business types, including pharmaceutical distribution businesses. However, unlike wholesale distributors that sell widgets, pharmaceutical distributors must deal with the added complexity of detailed reporting, sophisticated product tracking and adhering to the different governing bodies and regulations. Without the right system, employees waste significant time manually tracking data, creating reports, and managing inventory. Blue Link’s Pharmaceutical Distribution System offers functionality to small and medium pharmaceutical distributors that eliminate the need to manually track products, automatically generates and sends reports to the appropriate systems for meeting regulatory compliance and helps your business catch suspicious orders. These tools, in conjunction with our inventory, accounting and financial features, help your company save time and money.  Below are some examples of specific pharmaceutical features to help your business become more efficient.
ARCOS/CSOS Reporting
Automation of the creation and upload of ARCOS/CSOS reports ensures you are submitting the appropriate information at the appropriate time. Without automation, your business is stuck remembering to create and submit reports, manually generating the report(s) and then manually “uploading” the report accordingly. With CSOS reporting specifically, you may have to create and submit reports multiple times each week, and if the task does not get completed when required, your business is in breach of compliance. Automating the reporting process with the right software like Blue Link ensures the information is accurate as the report pulls details directly from Blue Link’s secure database to help you stay in compliance with the DEA with no added effort. And, because reports are automatically generated and submitted, this ensures you never miss a deadline and eliminates the need to hire someone to manage reports when order volume increases.
Verification Router Service/Saleable Returns Verification
To comply with the saleable returns verification requirements, Blue Link created an official partnership with LSPediA (a verification router service) for verifying information scanned, and also added support for other standardized “Router Verification Services” such as Rfxcel, Adents and any others that comply with the VRS standards. This allows our customers to validate products using their preferred VRS. These partnerships and integrations save your company from having to manually communicate with the manufacturer and means the manufacturer does not need to manage the potentially thousands of verification requests from different partners in the supply chain. This also helps your business deal with product returned for resale as the system will immediately verify the items and once determined as “legitimate”, allocate them for re-sale. Returned products do not need to accumulate while waiting on a response from the manufacturer which helps to free up space and keep your warehouse organized, and it helps to reduce the number of illegitimate products that enter the supply chain.

Blue Link’s Pharmaceutical Distribution system functionality and integration to VRS allows pharmaceutical distributors to comply with DSCSA requirements while efficiently verifying a returned product. Without this capability, small and mid-sized distributors may decide that receiving returned products is not cost-effective. This in turn will have an impact on the supply chain, and the relationship between trading partners.

Note: The FDA has delayed the enforcement for Saleable Returns Verification until November 2023. In the meantime, added security is expected to be added to VRS.
Suspicious Order Monitoring (SOM)
Blue Link’s SOM functionality gives you confidence that when you’re processing sales orders, they fall within the configurable guidelines set by your company. Unfortunately, it is all too common for an employee to make a mistake by allowing a customer to order product that is not acceptable or enter the wrong quantity of products. SOM features have helped Blue Link clients achieve NABP (formerly VAWD) accreditation and comply with the FDA requirement and shows visiting inspectors that your business is serious about its responsibilities. Employees can quickly enter orders without having to double-check restrictions as the system monitors quantities and variations of products. This also prevents orders from getting shipped with the wrong/mistaken quantity and keeps suspicious orders from being processed through the supply chain. Blue Link also stores information about why an order was “held” and/or ”released” for future reference.

Financially, the SOM is almost like insurance in that it helps prevent the processing of orders that may be considered in violation of the FDA requirement. The automation that SOM brings significantly reduces the manpower it would take if each order shipped was double-checked for suspicious quantities or specific variations of products being ordered together.

Mobile Barcode Scanning
Blue Link’s mobile barcode scanning allows you to efficiently and accurately scan a product’s 2D Datamatrix barcode verifying that the product received or picked is the correct/expected product. When you receive product using mobile scanning, Blue Link verifies the GTIN of the unit with that assigned in its database. Once verified, Blue Link reads the lot number and expiration date of the product and automatically populates the information in the system. This eliminates the need for the receiver of the product to manually enter the lot number or expiration date of each product and confirms that the product being received is accurate as there is no potential for human error. This is in direct contrast to the very time consuming and error-prone process of manually entering lot and expiration dates.

As with any ERP system, Blue Link’s Pharmaceutical Distribution Software is designed to save your company time and money – especially when moving from manual processes and introductory software. While maintaining compliance with governing bodies is imperative, so too is finding a system that can help your business become more efficient to enable growth in the future.

As the industry moves closer to November 2023 and the requirement for “interoperability”, Blue Link will ensure our customers have a solution that will allow them to comply with all requirements set out by the FDA/DSCSA and DEA.

Learn More About Blue Link’s Pharmaceutical Distribution System 

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RFQ vs. RFP: What Are They and Do You Really Need Them?

When searching for ERP software there is a lot of information you need to know when discussing options and requirements. An RFQ (Request for Quote) and an RFP (Request for Proposal) are a part of a trio of documents that are sent to software vendors by a company looking for information regarding the system functionality, implementation, price etc. Each document requests different information but are sometimes used interchangeably or are all compiled into one “modified” RFQ if the company knows exactly what they are looking for and don’t require additional information. When sending out RFQs or RFPs, you will need to know how your company runs and operates from all aspects of the business.  For large companies, having one person who knows all this information and has the time to do the research can be hard to find. This is where it becomes easier to send out RFQs and RFPs to multiple vendors and use this process to support your search. While this may be a good idea to some, to others it is a lengthy and cumbersome task for two reasons. 1: Someone in your company has to spend the time drafting these documents and for accuracy, it often has to go through multiple department heads for approval. 2: Vendors receive leads from multiple channels and it is time-consuming to fill out multi-page documents for every single lead they receive so they may decline to fill them out.
RFQ stands for Request for Quote and RFP stands for Request for Proposal. As mentioned above, both are used for requesting information but the purpose of each is different. Usually, an RFQ is sent when a company has determined that the selected software vendor has all the required functionality and all they want to know is price. On the other hand, an RFP is used when a company is still filtering through potential software vendors and wants to consider multiple factors other than price before making a decision.

In some cases, companies will also send an RFI (Request for Information). These three documents usually lack obtaining information about the vendors’ company which is important when making any B2B transaction and developing a relationship. In some circumstances, RFIs, RFQs and RFPs make sense – especially for company’s that have very unique requirements and specific processes – but for many businesses, they result in extra admin work and can be very time-consuming. Let’s discuss each document and why they may not be ideal for everyone.

RFQ (Request for Quote)
An RFQ is a document you send to each vendor who you believe is a great fit. By this point, you’ve outlined the required functionality, project timeline, company background and more. Now it’s time to talk price and we all know that software is not cheap. Some large companies have the money to invest and spend a good chunk of their budget on new software but small and medium-sized businesses have to stay within the budget for good reason. If you’re following the RFQ process and find out the chosen software is way over budget, then you’ll find yourself in a bit of a pickle. You’ve spent all this time searching for the right ERP just to realize you may not be able to afford it. Having an initial discovery call with each of your chosen vendors can help you speed up the process of narrowing down your list by identifying ball pricing at the start.
RFP (Request for Proposal)
The RFP is normally sent out to the shortlisted vendors and will include project requirements and evaluation criteria. This could include project timeline and demo dates and length for example. To some, this is an easy way to evaluate vendors but to others, finding out some of the information this late in the process may stall your search.

Let’s say you have 5 vendors at this stage that you send an RFP to, but they all come back with one thing that just isn’t quite “right”:

Vendor A – Cannot implement within your required timeframe
Vendor B – Has to integrate a functionality as opposed to it being their own software e.g. Barcode Scanning
Vendor C – Outsources support
Vendor D – You don’t like the interface
Vendor E – Simply did not respond within the deadline

Now that you’ve sent your RFP and received your responses, what do you do with this information? Are you willing to delay your implementation or sacrifice a required function? Receiving “yes or no” type answers via a document does not help you build a relationship with any of the vendors – which can help you narrow down your options when there isn’t a clear winner.
RFI (Request for Information)
An RFI is a document that your company creates to send to vendors asking for details regarding the software at the very beginning of your software search. A typical RFI document will include a checklist of features and functionality that will be used to help the company compare different software options. While this might seem great for determining if a software system can meet your feature requirements, when you issue an RFI, you miss out on a knowledgeable conversation with sales reps where you can learn a lot more about the company and how important of a customer you will be to them. Most true ERP systems will have the same functionality you are looking for but how long are you willing to wait for a helpdesk ticket to be resolved? Or better yet, how many times are you willing to explain to a customer service rep who your company is and why you are looking for help?

When researching vendors, you should be able to find enough information on the company’s website to determine if it is going to be a good fit functionality-wise as a means to narrow down your options. Then, consider scheduling an in-depth personal conversation with your short list of vendors where you will be able to discover enough about both companies to determine if the fit is going to be right. You can then schedule further conversations to review features and functionality in more detail. This allows you to shortlist vendors without waiting days or weeks to receive answers from the RFI let alone the amount of time you will wait to receive answers to the RFQ and RFP.

Now that you know what each document is and the benefits and downsides to each, it’s time to really evaluate if it’s necessary to go ahead with sending that first RFI. Does it make sense for your business and requirements? Is there a better way to find and vet software vendors? Always remember why you are looking for a new system in the first place and be open to changing your processes. Most small-medium sized software vendors are just as knowledgeable as the big guys but can provide personalized services to get to know your industry and company but also you as an individual. You’ll be working with your vendor for years to come so a relationship with good communication should be at the top of your requirements list.

If you need help evaluating software vendors check out our guide: 6 Factors for Evaluating ERP Vendors


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Reduce Your Business’ Environmental Impact with ERP Software

We all know the benefits of an all-in-one ERP solution – automation, streamlined processes, better reporting… but did you know that the right ERP software can also help your business become more environmentally friendly? Not only does ERP help eliminate paper use, but it also helps reduce product spoilage and waste, and better manage your inventory. Paper use in the office is one of the biggest drains on efficiency with employees wasting time looking for information kept in filing cabinets, deciphering handwritten notes and manually correcting human errors. Not to mention that 45% of the paper that does get printed in an office ends up trashed by the end of the day. We’ve compiled a list of ways in which ERP software can help your business become more environmentally friendly, along with some other tips to help you go green at the office (or at home).
Reduce Paper Use in the Office and in the Warehouse
With the introduction of tools like barcode scanning and electronic document management, and software to help manage lot numbers and inventory, it is now easier than ever for businesses to operate in a paperless environment.
Barcode Scanning
Instead of printing pick tickets and handwriting notes when picking orders, barcode scanning allows your employees to electronically pull up pick lists on the barcode scanner and then scan barcodes as items are picked from the shelf. This reduces the use of paper in the warehouse and eliminates errors from trying to decipher handwritten notes when changes need to be made. In addition, barcode scanning saves time by allowing employees to select new orders ready to be picked directly from the device and then identify and correct any picking errors at the source. Barcode scanning tools can also be used when receiving products, for inventory counts and when moving items in the warehouse.


Electronic Document Storage
Electronically storing documents is a much more efficient method for keeping track of important information such as invoices, quotes and spec sheets. With document management software, when you electronically receive a document (for example, an invoice in an email from one of your suppliers), the system will automatically scan the document, parse out the important information such as date, amount and vendor and then populate that information into your ERP software for further processing and payment. Alternatively, if you receive paper copies of documents, you can simply scan the document and have the system automatically populate the appropriate information into your ERP or store the information for future reference. This saves you from having to manage piles of paper on your desk and in file cabinets.

Bonus Tip: If you do have to print paper at your office, consider setting all your printers to print in black and white and double-sided as a means to save resources. 
Lot Tracking
Tracking product lot numbers allows you to monitor and track information about a specific group of products including expiry date. This ensures you’re always picking the product with the closest expiry date for each order and eliminates unnecessary spoilage and waste in the warehouse. It also allows you to easily identify which products have been sold to which customer to electronically manage any recalls.
Inventory Management
Just like lot tracking helps eliminate product spoilage, proper inventory management tools in your ERP system also help you manage inventory shrinkage and waste. By properly tracking products in your warehouse, you never have to worry about losing inventory and always have up-to-date inventory information for purchasing decisions. This saves you money by ensuring you only ever order enough products to meet demand.
Other Ways to Go Green
Reduce Electricity Use
To help reduce your electricity use, replace all light bulbs with LED lights as they wear out. LED lights last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting and use at least 75% less energy. Another trick is to turn off all lights and monitors when away from your desk and set computers and monitors to automatically go into sleep mode after a scheduled amount of time.
Reduce Plastic Packaging
Running late for work? Have a long commute? Didn’t sleep well last night? While these factors may lead you to stop and grab a takeout coffee on your way to the office, you might want to think twice before you purchase something in a non-reusable container. While COVID has certainly had an impact on drive-through coffee consumption, the use of drive-throughs for coffee purchases has slightly increased over the past five years. Grabbing a coffee every morning contributes to the amount of waste added to landfills and can be an expensive habit. Instead, try to make coffee at home, consider offering coffee in the office with proper coffee mugs or opt to use a reusable mug when you do buy coffee out. Make sure that you have appropriate recycle bins set up at your office and educate your staff on what is recyclable or not by checking with your local municipality.

Bonus Tip: Want to go even one step further to reduce your environmental impact? Consider banning all single-use plastic at your office and encourage employees to bring food and drinks in reusable containers instead. 
Safely Dispose of E-Waste and Hazardous Material
It seems that every office has a closet full of old computers, mice, keyboards and monitors just taking up space. So what can you do with all that old equipment? There are now several ways in which you can safely dispose of all e-waste and hazardous material. Check with your local waste centre to see what materials they accept and designate a couple of days a year to dropping stuff off. Consider donating items that are still in good shape to local schools, non-profits and other charitable organizations. There are also several companies around that will come and pick up your used equipment and dispose of it safely for a small fee.


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RECAP: 2021 HDA Distribution Management Virtual Conference

Disclaimer: The information and opinions expressed in this blog are based on the author’s best understanding of the updates from HDA’s 2021 Distribution Management Virtual Conference and Expo and do not necessarily reflect the official policies or opinions of the industry in whole.

Blue Link was excited to attend and be a sponsor for the 2021 HDA Distribution Management Virtual Conference. As we all know, COVID-19 affected business operations and meetings around the world and while we all move safely back to a new normality, the HDA put on an amazing interactive virtual conference. Attendees were able to join live sessions, browse sponsor booths and network from the comfort and safety of their homes.

Blue Link’s booth showcased our Pharmaceutical Distribution Software highlighting the functions which include robust accounting and inventory management features and advanced functionality for traceability, lot tracking, regulatory compliance with the DEA, FDA and DSCSA, EDI integration, barcode scanning and warehouse management. Attendees were able to meet with us directly or simply email our materials to themselves for later consideration.

The conference was attended by key industry players and the HDA held numerous informative sessions and roundtable discussions where attendees from all areas of the supply chain (distributors, software providers, 3PLs, manufacturers and dispensers) could discuss their plans and concerns regarding the 2023 DSCSCA deadline for interoperability amongst other topics. Below we discuss a few key takeaways from this year’s conference.

Use of EPCIS for Interoperability

GS1 standards are the most widely used system of standards in the world and one in particular (EPC Information Services EPCIS Standard Version 1.2) is driving the pharmaceutical industry to help manage interoperability within the supply chain. Interoperability is the ability to securely exchange and make use of information between computer systems. Implementing the use of EPCIS (Electronic Product Code Information Service) files will successfully allow for interoperable data tracing of products at the package level which is outlined in the 2023 DSCSA requirements. These files will include Transaction Information (TI) and allow for easy traceability in electronic format. All companies in the supply chain should be aware of this requirement and be ready with software that can manage and understand EPCIS files.

Good to know: Key players in the industry are indicating that connectivity between systems for interoperability using EPCIS files can take anywhere from 4 weeks to a couple months.

Authorized Trading Partner (ATP) Pilot

When moving products from manufacturers to distributors to pharmacies, it’s important to know exactly where the product has come from and if they are coming from legitimate companies. Authorized Trading Partners (ATP) are those players in the industry who are legitimate and are who they say they are. With that being said, the due diligence that goes into establishing whether a partner is legit or not could take days or weeks and the DSCSA wanted to find a way to minimize this latency and establish ATP identification immediately. In 2020 a few members of the industry participated in The DSCSA ATP Pilot Project to discover the best way to go about ATP credentialing. The pilot provided encouraging insight and leaves leaders of the pilot hopeful that the industry will be able to determine legitimacy of ATP partners immediately.

Overview of Guidance’s Released

Over the past few months, a number of FDA Guidance’s have been released that were discussed. We recommend that you and your team review these as there have been some changes.

Revised Draft Guidance – Definitions of Suspect Product and Illegitimate Product for Verification Obligations Under the DSCSA
Final Draft – Product Identifiers under the DSCSA – Questions and Answers
Draft Guidance – Enhanced Drug Distribution Security at the Package Level Under the DSCSA
Final Draft – DSCSA Identification of Suspect Product and Notification

Looking ahead, Blue Link plans on attending the 2022 Distribution Management Conference and Expo, March 6-9 in Austin, Texas. Be sure to stop by and say hello as we look forward to safely meeting in person!

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How to Recommend the Right Software to Your Boss

If you’ve been tasked by your manager to start researching new software systems, you know that this can be a difficult project. This is especially true if your boss has not given you a lot of information or direction. Are you working with a budget? What functions do you want the software to manage? Will a new system replace existing software? Trying to find and recommend solutions without a lot of information from your boss can be tough, and once you do find a couple of options, which one do you recommend? The system with all the bells and whistles? Or the one that is the best price?  We’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help you recommend the right software to your boss.

Follow these steps to help you recommend the best software to your boss:

Gather Internal Information
Start Your Research
Present the Information
Involve Decision-Makers

Gather Internal Information
If your boss has not given you a lot direction on what to look for, you can easily perform your own internal research by speaking with your colleagues. It’s likely that you already know where each department experiences the most pain when it comes to existing processes and your colleagues may be more willing to share their true feelings with you as opposed to the boss. Ask your colleagues what causes them the most stress every day, on what tasks they spend the most time and if they have any concerns about existing processes. For example, do employees spend a lot of their time…

Manually entering data into multiple systems?
Correcting mistakes?
Looking for inventory items and keeping track of products?
Following up with customer accounts to collect payments for overdue invoices?
Pulling information from multiple systems for reporting?

Once you learn more about how employees spend their time, you will be able to prioritize what is most important in a new software system.
Start Your Research
Now that you know what is most important to your team, it’s time to start researching vendors that can help address some of the issues identified above. For example, if one of the biggest pain points is having to enter information into multiple systems, make sure you find an all-in-one inventory and accounting ERP solution to avoid duplicate data entry. When it comes to budget, if you don’t have a specific price range for the project, try to find a couple options on each end of the budget spectrum to be able to give an accurate comparison to your boss in terms of costs vs. benefits. While budget is important, so too is finding the right system that can help save time and money throughout other parts of the business. There is no point in making a change if it’s not going to provide any efficiencies.

Here are 6 more tips to help you find and research different software vendors.
Present the Information
Once you have gathered information on 4-5 vendors, turn the information into a presentable format to share with management. One of the best ways to present information is to turn software features and benefits into quantitative values. For example, how many hours will you save with automated reporting tools? How much faster will you be able to ship product with proper warehouse management and how will this impact sales? Will you be able to save on hiring more staff when order volume increases with an all-in-one system? It’s important to present the information in a way that translates into internal benefits for the company.
Involve Decision-Makers in Next Steps
Once you’ve presented the information to the management team and your boss, make sure to involve these decision-makers in the next steps. Narrow down your list to 2-3 vendors and continue through the sales process to learn more about each option. Be wary of jumping into a demo before the decision-maker is involved and all aspects of the business have been discussed. While most software systems in the same tier will be able to provide similar functionality for inventory and accounting, you want to find a software vendor that actually takes the time to learn about your specific business processes and how to help, instead of just trying to impress you with all the bells and whistles.
Read Now: Software Buying Guide
**Bonus Tip: Don’t Waste Your Time**

While everyone usually has good intentions when starting their search for new software, sometimes it’s a result of an immediate pain point or current issue, as opposed to a strategic investment. If you feel like this is the case, and that the decision-makers are not actually onboard to make a change, don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions to try to figure this out. Does the company have a timeline for implementing a new system? Who will be in charge of managing the implementation, training and go-live process? What will the result be if you don’t make a decision? Is the search a priority? Make sure you determine if your boss is actively looking for a system and engaged in the search process before wasting too much time researching vendors.

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How to Implement Business Intelligence Tools for your Business

As a small business, the hunt for ERP Software can be difficult if you don’t necessarily know what questions to ask. It goes without saying that you’ll want to know pricing, implementation timeline, and out-of-the-box features but what about specific business intelligence tools that can actually help your business grow? Many ERP systems including Blue Link ERP will offer important Business Intelligence functionality that is very useful to business owners.
What are Business Intelligence Tools?
Business Intelligence (BI) refers to any theory or technology that can turn raw information into something meaningful for business owners. The purpose of extracting the raw data and analyzing it is for the purpose of supporting decision-making and improving corporate performance. Some business intelligence tools that you might be familiar with are:

Excel spreadsheets
Report writers
Canned reports

One key part of BI is reporting. Having access to up-to-date reports that cover a broad range of information about your business is extremely valuable. Having these reports pulled automatically is an added bonus that can be accomplished if your ERP system creates them for you. If you are in the market for an ERP system, don’t glaze over the benefits of having some BI capabilities as a part of the software.









In order to overcome the barriers and reap the benefits of Business Intelligence, consider implementing an ERP system with BI functionality to manage all the data in your organization, and automatically provide you with insights and reports. Ultimately, businesses that install BI with robust reporting capabilities find they can compete more effectively in the marketplace, with additional insight into customer’s buying patterns and needs, and with more efficient financial management.

So, now that we know what BI is and why it’s important, let’s discuss four basic stages that a successful BI implementation will go through.
Information refers to the data available to the organization. The smaller the company, the less data available. As software sophistication increases, the amount of information that can be stored also increases. Many companies will manage supplementary key business data in spreadsheets, contact manager databases, payroll systems, and other home-grown databases. These can, potentially, be harnessed together to provide the BI backbone – provided the data is reliable and accurate. However, managing this supplementary data in different programs also leads to disorganization. If your company is looking to have all the information in one place, to avoid double-entry and unnecessary manual processes, consider investing in an ERP system that centralizes data.
Despite a perception in the IT industry that the cost of technology is no longer a barrier to business intelligence for small or medium-sized businesses, that view is not necessarily shared by end-users. For these companies, the goal is to find a cost-effective solution that is affordable currently but still provides flexibility to be useful as the business grows. That being said, several aggressively priced alternatives have brought comprehensive BI technology within reach. For example, some of the mid-range ERP systems are adding dashboards that are configurable, with drill-downs and, frequently, at little or no additional cost.
The single most important aspect of any BI project is the determination of what needs to be measured, and how to measure it. As a first step, companies should perform an internal audit to determine what needs to be analyzed and reported, and how the findings will add value. Although it might appear that identifying these key success factors, and the consequent metrics, would be easier for a small business owner because the entrepreneur “knows the business inside out”, this is often not the case. Most entrepreneurs are experts in only one aspect of the business, not all of them. The owner with sales acumen may indeed carry all pertinent sales and margin analysis data in his head but would not necessarily be able to factor in cash-flow considerations. Conversely, the engineer who started a successful business will understand what’s critical in the product design and production areas but may not know what the salespeople have to do to succeed.
Implementation & Communication
Once you have assessed what information you have currently, what extra insights you need, and what specific reports and analytics you would like software to pull for you, it is important to prepare an implementation and communication strategy for introducing sophisticated Business Intelligence to your company. If you choose an ERP package with BI functionality, be sure to work with your vendor during your ERP implementation to understand how reports and data can be automatically sent to you.

It is also very important to communicate to employees not just how to use the system, but why it is valuable. Take time to foster employee buy-in by presenting the benefits of automated reporting and BI, and explaining how it will help the company – and most likely make some of their jobs easier!

Implementing change can be scary for you and your employees. Download our Change Management Guide to learn how to prepare your team for business changes.

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Software Maintenance Programs: Blue Link ERP 

Software maintenance programs refer to regular software updates, modifications, bug fixes, patches and the addition of new features to existing software solutions to increase performance. Depending on the software vendor, these maintenance updates may need to be scheduled between the vendor and your business, or they may happen automatically. A good software maintenance program not only keeps the application in warranty, but it also provides you with peace of mind that you’re always using the latest and greatest technology and that you’re always covered for bug fixes without having to pay out of pocket.
Why is Software Maintenance Important?
It should be obvious from the description above, but software maintenance is an important part of managing your business and operational systems. Having software that is always up-to-date helps you to react quickly to new opportunities and threats. Software maintenance programs will include regular upgrades that address common issues reported by other software users, as well as feature requests from customers and changing industry trends. As technology and the business environment continue to change at unprecedented rates, it is important that your business is always taking advantage of the newest technology and software trends and that your software matches the requirements of the time.

Learn More About the Importance of Software Maintenance

When evaluating different software options for your business, keep in mind that each software vendor will include its own version of a software maintenance program which can significantly vary in terms of services and costs. Therefore, it’s important to always check with your software vendor to make sure you understand what you’re paying for and what their software maintenance program includes.
Blue Link ERP – Software Maintenance Program
Blue Link’s cloud-based ERP software includes a maintenance program that provides customers with annual upgrades and keeps the application in warranty. Below we answer some common questions around our maintenance program.
How Often Are Maintenance Upgrades?
Blue Link maintenance upgrades are scheduled for once a year; however, you have the option to skip 1 year in the case of extenuating circumstances. By upgrading our customers every year, this ensures we are able to provide you with the highest level of customer service as our support team and developers don’t have to try to support old versions of the software based on outdated technology and fix issues that have been addressed with a newer version. It also means that you’re always using the newest and best version of our software. Even though you receive an upgrade once a year, internally, we are constantly updating the software, and so customers may be on a different version of the software depending on when their upgrade is scheduled/delivered.
How Are Maintenance Upgrades Scheduled?
We work with your business to schedule your annual maintenance upgrade based on what works best for you. Usually, this means you will receive your upgrade around the same time each year, and even though upgrades cause minimal business disruptions, we work hard to avoid scheduling upgrades during your busy season. To further minimize business disruptions, upgrades happen after hours and not during business hours and then you become a priority for our Help Desk team the morning after as an added service.
What About Customization?
One of the benefits of Blue Link ERP is our ability to customize the software to meet the specific needs of each of our clients. When it comes time for your annual maintenance upgrade, all customizations are reapplied to the newest version at no additional cost. This is an important consideration when choosing a software vendor as some will not upgrade your custom work or they will charge an additional fee to do so.
Is Training Included?
Because we are providing our customers with regular maintenance upgrades, there is no additional training required when you receive the newest version of Blue Link. Instead, we provide detailed documentation on what has changed from one version to the next and will provide supplementary training videos and documentation where appropriate.
What is the Cost?
For Blue Link hosted (cloud-based) customers, the costs of our maintenance program is built directly into monthly license fees. This means maintenance upgrades are covered as part of your regular monthly fees giving you a predictable cash flow.

Want to learn more about Blue Link ERP software? Download our Blue Link Buying Guide.

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Advanced Excel Functions for Small Business Owners

Microsoft Excel is a very powerful tool – a simple workbook with many possibilities. It’s used in businesses, schools and is one of the original tools for entering and analyzing data. As a small business, it might seem like a good idea to track all your data in Excel because it’s simple to use and cost-effective. But, it is not the best tool to use for sales leads or even tracking inventory because the more your business grows, the more likely that data is prone to errors. Entering 50 lines of inventory items per day may not seem so bad and will even give you enough time to double-check all the entries, but can you imagine having to manually enter 500 lines of inventory? You definitely wouldn’t have time to double-check each one and the idea of 0 errors, is highly unlikely. But, don’t completely get rid of Excel. Instead, use it in conjunction with an ERP software such as Blue Link ERP and you’ll be amazed at how you can automate your data analysis processes and use the below advanced Excel functions that are going to assist with your analysis.

Below we will look at 7 formulas, 4 of which are part of the spill formulae which means that if you enter anything into a cell that needs to be used from one of those formulas, you will end up with a #SPILL error. Essentially, these formulas are entered into one cell and spill into the other cells to populate them – as opposed to each cell containing a separate formula. Spill formulae contain the Sort, SortBy, Filter, and Unique formulas. It is important to remember that these formulas in the example are being used with lived linked data from Blue Link ERP allowing you to look at all your original source data in one tab and narrow it down to reflect a slice of it in another tab for easier analysis.

Advanced Excel Functions:

Sort and SortBy
3D totals
Flash Fill


Sort and Sortby
As a basic excel skill, you may be familiar with the option of sorting data by clicking on the right sort button at the top of the chart and sorting by that column. This will sort the whole data set whether it be alphabetically or descending values – whatever you decide. However, using this technique affects your live linked data which is not always the best when you want to analyze different aspects of it.

The Sort formula allows you to take a set of data and sort it using multiple components. For example, you can sort a whole table specifically using one column ‘amount’ and then also sort it by ‘descending amount’. This will help you to visually see your data in descending amounts as opposed to limiting the sort by only one circumstance. Doing it this way does not affect the live linked data from your original data set because it is a new formula on a different tab and, whenever you refresh or update your original data set, your Sort formula will automatically update as well.

You can also use the Sortby function which allows you to sort your data using a column in the original source data that you do not want to show in the result set. For example, let’s say you want to get a list of your sales and see products and quantities that are sorted by vendor but you don’t want to see the vendor in your result set, then the Sortby function is your new best friend.

Find the tutorial at 6:20 in the video above.
This function filters your original source data and only returns some of the rows. This is used as opposed to filtering right in the original data set because all it will do is hide rows which can get messy if you don’t realize some information is not shown. The filter function is great for accounts payable analysis and when you only want to see certain values but consider others. For example, in the photo below we’ve used the cell F7 as a point of reference for Excel to look at when sorting the data. If that number is 100, the data will only show numbers equal to or greater than 100 and if changed to 2,500 then we only see data that amounts to equal to or greater than 2,500. Just like the Sort and Sortby functions, this formula keeps your original source data clean and gives you the ability to analyze a slice of it.

TIP: If you wrap the filter function with the sort function, you can actually sort that resulting data by additional criteria. For example, you can sort by items over 2500 with a descending date.

Find the tutorial at 16:46 in the video above.
The unique Excel function allows you to return only unique values of a set of data that has multiple copies of a value. For example, use this formula when you want to see which specific products you’ve sold over the last three months. It is likely that when you try to see this manually, there is just too much data. If you enter =UNIQUE and highlight the data you want to see, it will only return one instance of every product code no matter how many times it appears in the original data set. Watch the video below to see further examples of how you can use this function.

Find the tutorial at 25:30 in the video above.
The Xlookup formula allows you to look up an item in one column and return the data in another column. You tell it what you want to look up, where to look it up based on a column, then tell it which column contains the results. For example, let’s say you sell home equipment including electronics, furniture, and paint. You can use the Xlookup formula to return ‘electronics’ every time you type in ‘TV’ as that is the corresponding department. This formula is a great replacement for VLookup which can be finicky to deal with as you have to meet certain criteria when using the formula.

Find the tutorial at 34:12 in the video above.
If you’ve ever worked in a data set where you want to sum, multiple or divide values but some of the values are text values as opposed to numeric values, then you’re familiar with the #VALUE! error. The aggregate function allows you to sum your data and ignore error rows – treating them as if they don’t exist.

Find the tutorial at 43:08 in the video above.
3D Totals
Let’s say you have sets of values in three different tabs. All values are in the same column (column D) and you want to sum all the values in each tab for column D. In this scenario, you can use the 3D total function. The 3D total function will allow you to select a range in one tab and by holding down the shift key and highlighting the other tabs it is theoretically highlighting all values in column D for all tabs. This will sum those values for you much quicker than manually summing each tab.

Find the tutorial at 49:05 in the video above.
Flash Fill
The flash fill function is as simple as it sounds. It will fill your data when it senses a pattern.

Find the tutorial at 50:41 in the video above.

We at Blue Link Associates use these advanced Excel functions for our own books and accounting at year-end as well as working alongside Blue Link customers to analyze and make sense of their data.

To learn how to live link data from Blue Link, watch this video.

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