Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

The Importance of ERP User Adoption

When it comes to wholesale software and any technology, there is a financial impact to user adoption. The more employees make use of the different features available in wholesale software, the more benefits to your company and the bigger the impact on your bottom line. It can be hard to justify the cost of a wholesale software system, especially when you’re currently using introductory software to manage your business. But you’ll be surprised by how much investing in technology can aid and automate your processes and save you money. According to an analysis of 250 organizations, companies that invest in employee experience are four times as profitable than those that don’t. One of the main reasons any company implements ERP Software is to streamline and automate processes, but it must be done correctly. Users of all levels should have access to training that allows them to know the software inside out, but they also have to want to learn it. We’ve written before about demonstrating the value of enterprise software to employees during your search process, so now let’s focus long term once a solution has been chosen.
What is User Adoption?
When implementing new software such as Blue Link ERP which affects all areas of the business, training employees on how to use the system is only the beginning, user adoption, on the other hand, is the desired training outcome where new software users start working with the system and commit to using it long term. Learning a new system is not easy and it’s best to support your team wherever possible. Open the floor to discussion about any issues or concerns they may have about the new software. Remember that many of the employees are seeing the new system in action for the first time and will have questions about processes changing. Below we outline a few strategies that can help with coaching your employees to commit long term.
Get To the Heart of Why the Change Is Happening
Change can make people feel uncomfortable because it disrupts their daily processes, and we all know how hard it is to break habits. A new system will look different, work differently, and will require in-depth training so it’s easy to make mistakes if employees are not engaged. The best way to get your employees on board with change is to be honest and transparent with them about why the change is happening and how it can help them. According to the Diffusion of Innovations Theory, everyone reacts to change differently, and you should know where your staff lies within the model. Understanding who The Innovators and Early Adopters are will help you better prepare for and react to any push-back from employees. When 5% of the people in the group adopt a change, the change is embedded. When 20% adopt it, the change is unstoppable. Statistically, the Innovators, Early Adopters tend to make up almost 20% of people in an organization so you can focus your efforts on these people who can then help you influence the remaining groups.

 

Download our Change Management Guide to learn more about adapting your business and staff to change.
Adoption Creates Value
Building out an ERP Software Training plan that is tailored to your staff and provides ongoing and flexible training will save you money in the long term. User adoption is not a one-and-done type of situation – it’s an ongoing journey. Once initial training with your vendor is over, your team will likely still have questions or you may hire more staff that require training. Speak with your vendor about Help Desk opportunities to see where resources are located for your staff. The better trained your employees are on a software system, the more productive they will be.  This also means checking in with your employees to obtain feedback on how the system is working and allowing them to voice their concerns and questions. Communicate to employees that their opinions matter and you will work with them on any issues that arise.
Make Learning Fun
Training of any kind can be dreadful even when you know the advantages of what you will be learning. Not all employees are going to be receptive to the new system and not all employees learn the same way. Consider having a lunch and learn for each training session and breaking teams up into smaller groups. Another great way to make learning fun is to focus on an X-Factor – something that will wow your staff. A great example is when businesses implement barcode scanning for warehouse management. Make it exciting that the tool can benefit their daily tasks and make work a little easier! Make the new processes fun and exciting!

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How to Efficiently Manage Online and Offline Sales with eCommerce ERP

eCommerce fulfillment can make or break your online store and is one of the key reasons a business succeeds in the eCommerce space. However, fulfilment is just one part of managing a successful business and eCommerce is frequently only one sales channel of many. As more and more businesses take an omnichannel approach by selling through multiple sales channels, it requires that you streamline sales, fulfilment, and customer service across your entire business. This means you need to have the resources and strategies in place to not only efficiently sell and ship online orders but also orders from traditional sales methods like phone and email. The best way to do this is to integrate your eCommerce processes into your entire business – taking advantage of eCommerce ERP software to help you do so.
Treat eCommerce Like a Separate Business
First and foremost, it’s important that if you’re selling online, you treat your eCommerce business as separate company. This does not mean that you need to manage your eCommerce business without taking into consideration your other sales channels, but rather, it means that you need to dedicate enough resources to manage the different areas of the business. Selling through eCommerce to consumers involves a very different skillset and set of processes than selling directly to B2B customers through phone and email. Therefore, as a starting point, you want to make sure that you have the appropriate people dedicated to each part of the business. Hiring staff to focus on your eCommerce store means that your team won’t get stuck having to prioritize one sales channel over the other when order volume increases. This includes hiring a team to help with website design and management, SEO, customer service and shipping.
Consolidate eCommerce Orders into One System
While it’s important that you dedicate enough resources to managing eCommerce orders, this doesn’t mean that you should have separate systems for managing the different areas of the business. Instead, look for back-end eCommerce ERP to manage your entire business and integrate that with your front-end website. There are many benefits to using only one system to manage everything such as…

With one system, you can manage all orders from the same screen while still easily identifying which orders are eCommerce and which are from another sales channel. This helps with inventory replenishment and allows you to track min and max levels.
Having one system means you don’t have to worry about duplicate and manual data entry which saves time and reduces the instance of human error.
eCommerce ERP software allows you to report on all aspects of the business either separately or together – helping to give you a true picture of revenue and costs and identify threats and opportunities.

Maintain eCommerce-Specific Inventory
When selling online, you can choose to keep your eCommerce inventory separate in your system and warehouse or combine it with total inventory across all sales channels. Keeping inventory separate makes it easier for replenishment and reporting purposes as B2C eCommerce usually means a high volume of low quantity orders, whereas B2B sales tend to include a smaller volume of orders with more line items. Even if you only have one physical warehouse to store inventory, consider setting up a virtual warehouse in your ERP to track eCommerce inventory volumes separately. It’s also important to set up your warehouse to accommodate order patterns. For example, consider dedicating an entire section of your warehouse to eCommerce inventory or have fast-moving items closest to packing stations for those smaller, B2C orders.
Shipping Integration
When shipping orders integration with common shipping carriers is important for both online and offline sales. Integration means that information such as address, contact details and company is automatically populated between your ERP or online store to the shipping carrier site, saving you time from having to manually enter information. Order tracking information and confirmations then get automatically stored in the ERP for future reference and sent directly to eCommerce customers. The idea is that your ERP software maintains a complete record of all sales transactions – with information important to the customer being sent through the eCommerce store.

While your eCommerce store will be different from your back-end system, eCommerce ERP allows for the seamless integration of the two systems to effectively manage your online and offline sales. Customers can place orders by visiting your eCommerce site or through traditional sales channels with information being managed from the ERP. This helps to streamline processes and eliminates the need for manual data entry.

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How to Generate Sales Using Wholesale Software

At the top of every business owners’ mind is…. sales. And when it comes to generating more sales you’re probably thinking about increasing your Marketing budget or hiring a new employee. We have reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of hiring before and an even better investment will be into technology – wholesale software to be specific. It can be hard to justify the cost of a Wholesale Software system, especially when you’re currently using introductory software and manual processes to manage your business. But, an investment in technology may surprise you. We’re going to explore a few ways in which wholesale software can actually benefit your employee’s day-to-day processes, help you generate more sales and give you better insight into your business operations. Topics will include:

Simplifying the Ordering Process

eCommerce Integration
B2B Online Order Portal

Using Technology to Your Advantage

Reporting
Minimizing manual processes

Simplify Ordering with Wholesale Software
eCommerce Integration

As your business continues to grow and you decide to explore an omnichannel approach, you’ll want to make sure all systems are integrated and work seamlessly together. Investing in wholesale software will allow for automating the process of website orders by integrating the back-end of your website to your wholesale distribution software. When a customer places an order online, it automatically creates a sales order in your wholesale distribution solution for picking, packing and shipping and will automatically update inventory levels across all systems. When all systems speak seamlessly, your customers and sales reps will have access to the most up to date and accurate information.

B2B Online Order Portal

49% of customers say salespeople talk way too much. But how do you sell to other businesses without a salesperson? An online order portal allows your customers to create their own purchase orders without ever having to speak with a salesperson. This order will also auto-populate your wholesale distribution solution and automatically update inventory levels. Not only does the integration of eCommerce and a B2B online order portal save time for your employees but it also minimizes human error by automating processes that were once manual. Customers are more likely to come back to you if the sales process was efficient and cohesive amongst all selling channels.

Download our Change Management Guide to prepare yourself and your team for implementing new software. 
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Reporting

With wholesale software, you can expect to have an abundance of data at your fingertips through reporting. You have the ability to set up report automation that reduces the number of times you need to manually re-key information and re-generate reports. Once a report is created using live-linked data, the user simply has to open the existing report and hit refresh to get real-time insight into that information. With Blue Link’s Wholesale Software, another great reporting feature is the Automated Routines Manager (ARM) which allows you to create rule-based automated reports using real-time information stored within the system. This will create an email and send it to all appropriate stakeholders based on a set timeframe.

You may be wondering how all these reports can generate sales. Well, the information in these reports and what you do with them will determine how you generate sales from them. You can have multiple sales reports that show you sales activity across the business and give you insight on where you need to improve. For example, let’s say you set up a Sales by Month report and you start noticing trends and patterns around high-sale periods. You can then plan campaigns leveraging those high-sale periods and plan discount events around the low-sale periods. This report not only helps with the sale of your products but also gives you insight into purchasing trends that will follow the same demand cycle as your sales.

Minimizing Manual Processes

A lot of people like to use the saying “time is money” and that’s especially true when employees make mistakes, and it takes time to correct them. Whether it be the need to rekey in data or a mistake with picking the wrong product in the warehouse, anything that disrupts the sale affects the customer. Consumers and other businesses who are buying your product are familiar with wholesale giants like Amazon and expect all their deliveries to be correct and on time. One of the big tools in automation is Barcode Scanning which leads to faster pick times and fewer picking and shipping error, reducing the risk for human error. This is just one example of how technology can be used by an employee to assist with their tasks and ultimately reduce manual processes and allow the employee to focus on tasks of higher value.

Example: Think about Accounts Receivable (A/R).  Instead of manually finding accounts that are overdue and then one-by-one contacting the customer to get them to pay, Blue Link will automatically create a report with this information and then automatically email customers that have an account overdue x amount of dollars. This uses available automatic reporting AND minimizes manual processes.

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Inventory Allocation: Seasonal Inventory

Halloween is fast approaching, soon after is Christmas then New Year, and we all know how hectic things get towards the holiday season. People are shopping, whether in person or online and most businesses see an increase in sales. But it’s not just at the end of the year that businesses see a pickup. Depending on the industry you belong to, you may see an increase during Mother’s and/or Father’s Day, at the beginning of the summer season or anytime during the year that reflects a “holiday”. As a wholesale distributor, you’ll need to be prepared for the influx of orders and your seasonal inventory must be controlled.
What is Seasonal Inventory?
Seasonal inventory refers to the product that is in high demand during certain times of the year. For example, an ice skate distributor and gardening tool distributor will receive seasonal ordering at different times of the year but they can both use an ERP software solution like Blue Link to assist with the allocation of their advanced sales orders. A lot of small distributors are using a starter solution such as QuickBooks and find that when they input a sales order, their current inventory automatically gets allocated, no matter when the order is to be processed and shipped. This is a hassle if you receive hundreds of pre-booked orders and you don’t want to automatically allocate inventory. With ERP Software, seasonal ordering and managing that inventory is a breeze!

Let’s look at an example and use the ice skate reference above. In North America, the public ice-skating season takes place in the winter months (November-February) but a distributor may attend a tradeshow in March in order to make some advanced sales for later in the year. Let’s say that you currently have 200 ice skates in your inventory. Then, you attend the trade show and receive a couple of sales orders that total 400 ice skates but, none of your customers want them delivered until mid-September so they can stock their shelves before people come in to purchase skates for the winter. Now that the tradeshow is over, you’ll want to input those orders into your system back at the office. Unfortunately, if you’re using a starter accounting solution like QuickBooks, the system will automatically allocate your current inventory to that sales order whether the processing and delivery of the order are set for next week or 6 months down the road.  ERP software on the other hand will allow you to create the sales order and instead of allocating the inventory, you can put the products on backorder. Then, you can create a purchase order for the product you have on backorder. This way, the sales orders from the tradeshow are inputted into your system, you’ll have the correct number of products on its way to you and your current inventory is untouched and ready to be sold to an order that will be processed earlier than the tradeshow orders. With Blue Link ERP, once you put a certain amount of product on backorder, the system will suggest to you how many to purchase as a result of how many are on backorder – so that you always have enough inventory on hand.
QuickBooks vs. ERP
We’ve compared QuickBooks to ERP before but if managing seasonal inventory is important to your business, you may want to rethink QuickBooks as your chosen solution. As mentioned above, when entering a sales order – no matter when it is to be delivered – QuickBooks will automatically allocate whatever inventory you currently have to that sales order. ERP software is an all-in-one solution that will not only assist with your seasonal inventory but it will also help with managing your accounting, track landed costs, contact management amongst other functionality.

Download our QuickBooks Replacement Guide to learn how switching to ERP software can help you streamline your processes and manage seasonal inventory.

 

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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.
Training
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 vs. RFP
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.

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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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