Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

Don’t Let These ERP Software Misconceptions Fool You

There is a lot of confusion around ERP software. Firstly, what does ERP stand for? What makes a system considered ERP? What’s the difference between QuickBooks and ERP? How do I know if ERP is right for my business? This uncertainty makes it difficult when searching for new business software, especially as many software vendors tend to define and use ERP differently. In its simplest terms, ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning and is a business software system designed to manage all aspects of your company’s operations – accounting, inventory management, contact management, sales, warehouse management, purchasing, order entry and more. It is the combination of all these features within one system that truly defines software as ERP, and this is also what makes it different from systems like QuickBooks – which are designed to manage one specific aspect of a company’s operations (such as accounting). Below we demystify some of the other common misconceptions associated with ERP software to help you figure out if ERP is right for your business.

“I’ve heard that ERP is only for very large organizations.”

ERP systems are designed to automate processes across an organization and facilitate the flow of information from one department to another.  Although this may lead some companies to believe that their processes aren’t extensive enough to warrant such software, there are varying types of ERP software systems with the ability to coordinate a few and many processes.  And, while there are different types of ERP systems available in the market, ERP software is generally designed for businesses that have outgrown introductory software such as QuickBooks and are looking for more robust functionality.

“I’ve heard that ERP software is very expensive.”

ERP software systems can vary significantly in price depending on the complexity of the business requirements. Introductory software can start at as little as a couple of hundred dollars a year while the cost for a top of the tier ERP system can be in the millions.  In addition, the more complex your business processes the more expensive ERP software will be as you begin to add users, features, locations etc. However, when trying to determine a budget and compare pricing, it is important to look at not only all the costs involved with purchasing ERP but also all the cost savings involved – and not just in dollar value. For example, ERP software will automate processes across your organization which can lead to a decrease in order entry errors, lower management costs and reduce the time needed to handle specific processes. ERP also allows your company to grow and increase sales volume without the need to hire additional staff. Businesses should focus on their company objectives and the value received from an ERP system instead of just the price tag.

“I’ve heard that ERP implementations can take years.”

Yes, ERP implementations are time-consuming but they don’t have to take years to implement. For SMBs, most implementations will take weeks or months to complete and include employee training, some form of data migration as well as system set-up and configuration.  Depending on your business processes, requirements and resources, it is easy to predict how long the implementation process will take. For example, when it comes to employee training, the more people to train the more work will be involved.  And, if employees have several different responsibilities across departments, this can also add to the necessary training time, as well as how “technical” and familiar your employees are with software in general.  With data migration, if your data requires a lot of “clean-up” (for example, deleting duplicate records), and if you need to move data from multiple sources, this can also affect the time required for implementation.  In general, the better prepared your company is before the implementation begins, the faster the implementation will be, allowing companies to begin using new software sooner. Lastly, the vendor’s schedule plays a large role in how long implementations take.  If you want to Go-Live on a specific date, make sure you start the search well in advance to account for other implementations on the vendor’s schedule.  While ERP software implementations definitely require significant time and resources, the more time dedicated to the initial implementation, the sooner you will be able to see a return on your software investment and start reaping the rewards of an all-in-one solution.

“I’ve heard that when you customize ERP, you can’t upgrade it.”

With customization, many businesses fear their software will never be upgraded when new versions are released.  This can be true depending on the vendor, and so keep this in mind when speaking with sales representatives and consultants.  If you anticipate having a lot of custom work done, find a vendor that will upgrade this work alongside the version of the software at no additional charge.

“I’ve heard that a high percentages of ERP implementations fail.”

While you may have heard that many ERP implementations fail, this is not a stat that can be applied across the board. It can be scary when you hear that an ERP implementation that took many years and cost millions of dollars ultimately failed, however, these types of situations apply to very large and complex operations. Many of which the implementation failure is due to a combination of very complex requirements, and a lack of communication between the customer and the software vendor. With SMB ERP implementations, the failure rate is quite low, and there are various ways to protect your business from the worst-case scenario. Make sure you spend the time vetting different software applications AND the software vendor you will be working with. You want to be able to trust the vendor and build a meaningful partnership. Just like any relationship both parties must take responsibility for their actions and accountability for their part in the implementation for it to be successful. 

“I’ve heard that implementing ERP software leads to layoffs.”

Although ERP systems can better perform a lot of the tasks that employees do manually, it does not automatically replace the need for people in a company.  ERP systems only compliment employees’ jobs by allowing them to spend more time on important tasks and less on menial ones by automating processes, reducing manual work and eliminating errors. However, because ERP streamlines and automates processes, it provides the benefit of reducing the number of people that need to be hired in the future when dealing with company growth.

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Canadians Selling into the United States: Sales Tax Compliance

Canada and the United States are often referred to as brothers or even besties. Sharing a border means it’s easy enough for businesses to sell to customers on the other side but in reality, it can be quite complex. For one, tax laws are very different between the two countries; if you have an upcoming audit and your finances aren’t in check, you could be facing a real-life nightmare. Using a software system such as Blue Link ERP to manage your sales, accounting and finance, means you have access to our partners at Avalara who provide a solution that can help you ensure you’re up to date on tax changes and compliance. Taxes, while not the glamorous side of any business, is necessary to understand.

As a quick overview, the difference between the Canadian and the United States Sales Tax systems is that Canada uses a Value Added Tax system separated into three categories as opposed to the Sales and Use system in place in the U.S. You may notice that there is no federal sales tax imposed in the United States because every state governs their own tax laws.

 

So, yes, United States tax compliance is a tricky beast – and it’s not just a problem for your retail counterparts. Whether you’re selling B2B or B2C, you need to understand and consider the different tax implications for your business. Here are a few key compliance issues to be mindful of if you’re a wholesaler or distributor selling to our southern neighbour.

Consumer use tax
When people say “sales and use tax” this is the “use” part of that term. Use tax can be triggered in several ways:

Operating a central purchasing department with inventory transfers to multiple locations
Offering promotional items or free samples
Using goods in-house originally intended for resale

Physical presence
Sales tax obligations aren’t just determined by your factory or warehouse location. If you sell online, attend tradeshows and expos, or have sales reps or affiliates in the United States, you may have to register and file returns in those states.

Remote sales
Each state has its own laws for sales tax. Most have economic nexus rules, so regardless of physical presence, sales activity that reaches a designated threshold creates a compliance obligation.

Tax-exempt sales
A lot of U.S. sales tax law includes provisions for exemptions. In some cases, certain items aren’t taxable, but in others, specific organizations or businesses are tax-exempt when making qualified purchases. In those cases, you’re required to collect a valid exemption certificate to support each untaxed sale. To complicate things further, both the rules and forms are different for each jurisdiction.

To simplify sales and use tax compliance, consider automating time-consuming tasks like rate calculation and updates, preparing sales tax returns, and managing exemption certificates. Avalara, a leading provider of cloud-based tax compliance automation solutions is a Blue Link partner with a SaaS-based solution that connects directly with Blue Link ERP, so you can handle sales and use tax compliance within your existing system.

 

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Blue Link Pharmaceutical ERP Software Partners with Five Rivers RX

With a focus on SMBs in the wholesale and distribution industry, we at Blue Link ERP understand the complexities of buying and selling inventory. It is this understanding that originally helped our team identify a market lacking an affordable, robust wholesale and distribution software solution – the pharmaceutical market. As with any company needing to manage distribution processes, pharmaceutical wholesalers and distributors require sophisticated tools for managing inventory, warehouse operations, selling and shipping product and tracking customer accounts. However, unique to this industry is the need for additional, complex features to help pharmaceutical wholesale distributors adhere to industry regulations and compliance standards set out by the FDA and other governing bodies. It was this understanding that led Blue Link ERP to develop a custom solution for the very sensitive pharmaceutical market back in 2013. As part of our ongoing commitment to our customers, we are continuously upgrading the software to meet changing compliance requirements and are always looking for new opportunities to partner with other leaders in the industry. It is this commitment that led to our official partnership with Five Rivers RX as our outsourced compliance team. To share with you more about how Blue Link ERP and Five Rivers RX are working together, I recently got in touch with Jessica Dunkin, Director of Client Relations at Five Rivers RX and you can read our conversation below.

Samantha: Why don’t you start off by telling us more about yourself and Five Rivers RX.

Jessica: My name is Jessica Dunkin, and I am the Director of Client Relations at Five Rivers RX. At Five Rivers RX, our mission is to support the pharmaceutical supply chain by providing actionable guidance and excellent administrative services with a focus on client care across compliance, commercial, and quality solutions.

Samantha: How does Five Rivers RX help companies in the pharmaceutical industry?

Jessica: Since its inception in 2015, we have been providing a comprehensive suite of solutions for any business along the pharmaceutical supply chain. To name some examples, we conduct state licensing assessments, help companies obtain licenses and manage their renewals, provide quality and compliance support, and help our clients in all aspects of their businesses through working with one of our senior consultants.

Samantha: What would you say are some of the biggest challenges facing the industry today?

Jessica: The continuing consolidation of the drug supply chain. Additionally, misguided legislative action which can have ripple effects throughout the supply chain. We have seen states pass legislation in attempts to control the manufacturing or sale of opioids, for example. This legislation tends to allot the licensing boards the ability to draft new regulations surrounding the sale and or distribution of opioids into their state. This then brings on exuberant fee increases in permits for multiple business models as well as additional taxes for manufacturers. All these things together have caused many entities to stop doing business in certain states thereby creating a situation where both generic and branded products are no longer being sold there.

Samantha: What makes the partnership between Blue Link ERP and Five Rivers RX so great?

Jessica: I am excited about the partnership because of our parallel focus on the pharmaceutical supply chain. In Blue Link ERP, customers get an ERP system with a distinguished customer base. Knowing businesses small and large have trusted Blue Link to handle their inventory management for over 20 years shows Blue Link’s dedication to not only supporting the supply chain but also in supplying great service; two things we strive to do.

Samantha: If you were to offer small businesses in the pharmaceutical industry one piece of advice, what would it be?

Jessica: My advice to small businesses in the pharmaceutical industry would be to speak with a knowledgeable consultant regarding state licensing, reporting, and DSCSA requirements as early on in their set up as possible. Something as simple as setting up shop in a state that might exempt their business model could potentially add months to their licensing timeline and thousands of dollars to their budget due to the need to obtain accreditation in lieu of a home state license. This could absolutely affect launch times or even push them into a title model with a wholesaler again costing more money upfront. Knowing basic requirements and timelines around state licensing and other prerequisites could be the difference between a successful launch and an incredibly delayed one.   

Working with Five River RX allows us to combine the sophisticated software functionality offered by Blue Link ERP with the in-depth compliance knowledge offered by Five Rivers RX. This allows our team the opportunity to continue to develop important functionality for the pharmaceutical industry while relying on Five Rivers RX to provide insider knowledge of the ever-changing regulations side of the industry.

Learn More About Blue Link Pharmaceutical ERP Software 

Learn More About Five Rivers RX

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Keep Your Books in Balance with Accounting ERP Software

Not too long ago – in the closing years of the last century – computerized accounting software seemed to be the solution to the problem of the rising cost of hiring and retaining a staff of full-time accountants and bookkeepers. After all, computerized systems can automatically process all entries to ledgers, track debits and credits, and provide balanced “books” at the end of the year. Therefore, it seemed logical for businesses to take advantage of this new automation and decrease manual accounting expenses by using cheaper – but less accounting-educated – data entry staff.

While manual accounting processes usually entailed the careful monthly balancing of the general ledger to ensure that debit balances equal credit balances, and the preparation of financial statements using the trial balance amounts, computerized accounting systems automate these processes. Accounting ERP software provides trial balance as a built-in report and most packages will not allow posting of an entry to the general ledger until the debit and credit balances are equal – all actions which are intended to ensure the integrity of the accounting structures. But not all accounting systems are created equal and so even with computerized accounting software, you can still run into issues with balancing your books. Therefore, it’s important to understand the limitations (and opportunities) of the different systems on the market.

A History of Computerized Accounting Software

Back in the 1980s, when computer use was still rare – at least in most SMBs – well-trained bookkeepers would keep meticulous books, doing the regular monthly balancing. Even where computer software was being used, there was still the same level of discipline, with errors caught right away or by the end of the month at the latest.

By the 1990s and into the 2000s, a new staffing trend followed the introduction of second-generation automation. Employers spent large amounts of money on new computer accounting systems and then tried to recoup some of that expense by hiring people with reasonable keyboard skills as opposed to expensive bookkeeping abilities. Often, these new employees would lack a full understanding of the necessary controls in accounting. Data would be entered without any regard to its accuracy in relation to ledger balancing. The result? Bad accounting data and an increase in manual work.

Today, many small businesses don’t have dedicated Chief Financial Officers or Controllers on staff, and instead, they rely on contract accounting at year-end. This makes it difficult to catch and rectify errors when they happen and when such data errors are not caught and corrected within a short period (days or weeks), you end up having to deal with detailed backtracking to unearth the mistakes. This wastes expensive hours paid out by your business to the contract specialist hired to sort out where and when the incorrect entries were made. In some extreme cases, this might mean tracking back through 12 – 14 months’ worth of data entry. This can lead to mounting financial accounting expenses, and possible legal or taxation problems. However, even when using accounting software as part of your daily routine, you can still face issues if you aren’t using the RIGHT system as not all accounting systems provide the same checks and balances. Entry-level accounting software such as QuickBooks provides many benefits such as ease of use and minimal training, but because of the software’s simplicity it is easy to make mistakes or delete transactions without creating an audit trail and the system will not automatically check to ensure everything balances.

Accounting ERP Software

The preferred approach is to find an all-in-one accounting ERP software in conjunction with hiring people who understand how accounting processes work. Accounting ERP software not only provides functionality for accounting and financials but also inventory management, contact management, order entry and processing, purchasing, warehouse management and more. Proper accounting ERP software will identify inaccurately integrated data as it occurs, or at the next possible occasion. For transactions posted within the system, a warning (of inaccurate data input) happens automatically; if the situation is caused by external, third-party software, the system will still identify the problem, and give the user a timely warning.  This eliminates the need to integrate, multiple standalone solutions, and means that integrity and reliability are already built into the entire system, considering commonly encountered third-party input.

Let’s look at an example.

Pretend you have a manufacturing division at your business, and you use Excel (a third-party software) to record information. Now, if someone enters incorrect data into the spreadsheet, without the right system, the erroneous data will not be caught before entry nor realized afterwards. This may go unnoticed for months. However, with an all-in-one accounting ERP system like Blue Link, the software will catch the incorrect entry by making its check of all entries, including those incoming from third party sources, and alerting you to incorrect data. It will not allow further entries until all accounts are correctly balanced and it will alert the next user and identify the incorrect entry or entries.

Although having accounting ERP software in place is a great start to making sure your books are always balanced, you still want to have people on staff who understand accounting processes, especially as your business grows. This ensures that your team is using the system appropriately and taking advantage of all the opportunities for automation that accounting software provides.

 

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5 Mistakes to Avoid as an eCommerce Business

Did you know that global eCommerce sales amounted to more than $3.5 trillion dollars worldwide in 2019 and is expected to hit more than $6.5 trillion by 2023? The eCommerce industry is skyrocketing and becoming an advantageous option for businesses. Covid-19 has made a direct impact on the global retail market and business owners are relying on eCommerce platforms to overcome the lack of foot-traffic in their brick-and-mortar stores. If you are looking to become or grow as an eCommerce business, read below for 5 mistakes to avoid and why they are important.

Mistake #1: Looking at eCommerce in isolation

Deciding to expand your business to the global market can be daunting but is worth investigating. Setting up your eCommerce is easy enough but it’s a competitive space and you have to take a look at how it will impact the rest of your business. Consider if you have the right resources to manage all aspects of the sales, ordering and shipping processes by analyzing your financial, physical and human resources. Online shopping is available 24/7 and as technology advances so will your eCommerce platform. You’ll want to be responsive, quick and accurate with your products, stay up to date on digital marketing and social media trends, all while managing the back-end of your business.

Mistake #2: Choosing the cheapest eCommerce platform and vendor that you can find 

Cost is only one factor when it comes to choosing the right platform for your business. Take into consideration reliability, relevance, and user experience. Shoppers are looking for convenience and want the experience of purchasing your product to be effortless. The design of your website should be simple to navigate and enjoyable to the customer. Options are endless and people are quick to move on to the next vendor selling whatever they are looking for. Ensure the platform you decide to go with has all the tools to get your customers their order efficiently and provides options for your growth.

Mistake #3: Poor Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short is crucial in helping customers find you. A good SEO ranking means more traffic and opportunities to convert prospects into customers. Since the eCommerce marketplace is a competitive space, remain relevant and attractive to your target audience by creating SEO-friendly content. On-page SEO strategies (high-quality keywords) and off-page SEO strategies (backlinks) are both great, but technical SEO strategies are equally important. 
“Focusing on your website architecture and ensuring that Google can properly crawl your website goes a long way in allowing your website to rise in the search rankings.”
– Forbes 
Make sure your website is optimized for mobile devices and look into increasing website speed. Not only do you want prospective customers to find your website, but you also want them to stay. 

Mistake #4: Not linking your eCommerce site to a back-end inventory system

Many companies fail to realize that having a strong front-end eCommerce site is useless without integration with a strong back-end ERP system. With Covid-19 establishing an escalation of online ordering, your inventory must be correctly displayed to your customers. Think of it this way; if a customer places an order on Friday night and spends the weekend feeling excited about their shipment, just to get an email Monday morning that it’s out of stock, they would be pretty disappointed and likely won’t be visiting your site again any time soon. Your inventory management needs to speak with your eCommerce site to avoid unanticipated situations such as this. To be successful in an online marketplace and to keep up with increased demand, take a look at eCommerce ERP integration. The best approach is to put in place an integrated eCommerce and ERP System as a joint project. Download the guide below to help you determine the level of integration that is right for you.

Mistake #5: Not having a coherent and well-funded strategy to succeed online

While encompassing all the above, writing out a business plan for your eCommerce business defines your goals and pinpoints problems in advance. A great way to start your business plan is to create a SWOT analysis of your current organizational strategies. This analysis includes strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and will assist in viewing your competitive advantage. Take notes where there are areas for improvement so you can boost your online identity.

The guide below has a ton of great information about starting your eCommerce business including cost considerations and platform options. Whatever stage you’re in with your eCommerce, keep in mind the above tips and don’t make the same mistakes other small businesses make. Learn from them, grow your business, and get selling! 

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How to Learn New Software

Congratulations! You’ve found a new software system and you’re partway through the implementation. The long process of researching systems, evaluating different vendors, watching demos and finally signing a proposal is done. However, you have now started the very important implementation stage. How well the implementation goes will have a direct impact on how quickly you are productive on the new system, and how soon you start to realize a return on investment. One important aspect of the implementation is user training. Each vendor will have its own process for training users such as classroom-style training with practice modules and supplementary documentation and resources. But, if it’s been a while since you’ve learned something new or have been in a more formal training program/school, you may have forgotten some of the good learning habits you used to know. We’ve put together 8 tips and tricks to help you learn new software to get you and your business operating as efficiently as possible, as soon as possible.

How to Learn New Software

Dedicate time and resources.
Believe in what you’re learning.
Be open to changing processes.
Start by learning an overview of the system.
Realize that there will be frustrations.
Commit to additional and ongoing training. 
Practice, practice, practice. 
Review reference material. 

Dedicate time and resources.

This one might seem obvious, but it can be easy to get distracted with more pressing projects and tasks when trying to learn new software. When you embark on learning something new, set aside specific times on your calendar and throughout your day when you will be able to completely focus on learning. Shut your office door, close your email and even mute your phone to remove any distractions. Just like you would schedule an important meeting, schedule the time to learn a new system.

Believe in what you’re learning.

It’s a lot easier to feel motivated to learn something new when you know how it can benefit you specifically. This is why it’s important to involve end-users in the software search process – you want to get everyone involved in finding a new system to help improve each person’s job role. When you begin training, instead of just learning how to use the system, make sure that you also focus on how the new software can help achieve your end goals – such as the ability to reduce manual work and human error.

Be open to changing processes.

Just because you have always done something a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. Be open to completing tasks differently, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense from the beginning. There is often a learning curve with new software and sometimes it’s hard to see how you can benefit from new processes until you’re fully utilizing the different areas of the new system.

Start by learning an overview of the system and the general navigation/process flow.

Trying to learn step-by-step instructions for each task or screen can be exhausting. Instead, start by learning the system’s basic process flow and navigation. Once you feel comfortable with this part of the system, it will make it easier to navigate between different areas of the software and help you feel confident that you know why the system works the way it does. This will help you as you begin to learn more detailed processes.

Realize that there will be frustrations.

When learning anything new, it will take time and there will inevitably be some frustration. However, don’t let any of these things stop you from continuing the learning process and always try to focus on the end goal and how the system will eventually make your life easier.

Commit to additional and ongoing training.

It will be impossible to learn new software in its entirety the first time around. This is especially apparent when you’re moving from manual processes and introductory software to an all-in-one system. But, this is also one of the benefits of a more robust solution, as you have the option to add on more features as your business grows and changes. Schedule regular training every year to help you learn about new features (and to refresh your memory on existing ones). This will also help to ensure that you’re correctly using the system to get the most benefit for your business.

Practice, practice, practice.

If possible, talk to your software vendor about setting up a test server, or find out if they have practice modules as part of their training process. Learning a new system is easier when you can immediately practice some of the new tools that you will be using regularly.

Review reference material.

Everyone learns differently, which is why most software vendors will provide different training resources (such as in-person, classroom style, videos, and documentation). However, it’s also a good idea to take notes during initial training in case there is any particular workflow or process you don’t understand. It can be easy to forget everything once you first learn it, and while there is no need to duplicate the training resources that the vendor has already created, if you do get stuck, you can easily compare notes with your colleagues to work together on figuring it out.

Learning something new can be scary, but if you did your due diligence, the rewards and benefits of using a new software system will very quickly outweigh any frustrations during the training process. Also, learning new technology and processes makes it easier to continue to learn in the future – an inevitable part of business operations with how quickly technology changes in the 21st century.

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Top 7 Reasons Businesses Outgrow Sage Small Business Software

Change can be scary, especially when making the switch from Sage Small Business Software (or any introductory accounting system) to a more modern, feature-rich solution. However, delaying the project can also mean missed opportunities. Implement a new system too soon, and you will be stuck paying for a solution that you barely use. Wait too long, and you will be missing out on sales trying to manually manage processes and keep up with demand. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to know your options and start looking into robust ERP software once you have a realistic idea of your growth projections. This way, when the time comes, you will have already done most of your research. However, keep in mind that many vendors schedule implementations months in advance, so you won’t be able to switch to ERP overnight. If your business can identify with the 7 reasons outlined below, you know you’ve outgrown Sage Small Business and it’s time to start your research for ERP today.

Top 7 Reasons Businesses Outgrow Sage Small Business Software

You waste time with manual processes across the organization.
You are reaching file size, user and/or data limits. 
You want to start working with vendors and customers around the world.
You are not able to create custom reports.
You lack important functionality for a growing business.
You are frustrated with Help Desk services.
You require strict controls for regulatory compliance and product tracking. 

1. You waste time with manual processes across the organization.

This is one of the most obvious reasons that a company starts looking for new software – they are wasting precious resources on manual processes and the associated human errors.  If your team is performing a lot of manual processes, such as data entry, calculations, or updates, consider how those resources can be better allocated with a proper system.

Without an automated system for dealing with everyday processes, employees will have to resort to using manual workarounds for calculating commissions, dealing with credit card transactions, tracking inventory, entering sales orders from multiple sales channels, recording online payments, tracking expiry dates and more. Lack of an automated system can also lead to keying errors and can turn order processing and invoicing into a slow and cumbersome process, upsetting customers, employees and members of the supply chain.

2. Your system has limitations around file size, users and data.

Introductory software systems (including Sage Small Business) often have limitations on the number of users, file size and transaction volumes – which makes sense given that they are designed as the first system implemented at an organization. If you’re starting to approach any of these limits, it’s time to start looking at ERP software. Not only will the right ERP system not have any significant limits on the above, but they will also be able to add additional resources when necessary as your company grows.

3. You want to start working with vendors and customers around the world.

If you want to expand your business to deal with customers and vendors around the world, you will require additional functionality for doing so, such as the ability to manage multiple currencies, exchange rates and track landed costs.

Manually calculating exchange rates is a time-consuming and error-prone process that can hurt your business and relationship with partners. Instead, robust ERP software allows users to automatically specify different prices for each item depending on the customer’s and/or vendor’s currency and accounts for differences in exchange rates between transaction and settlement dates as necessary.  You can also automatically update exchange rate values daily to make sure you always have the most up-to-date data in the system.

The ability to factor landed costs into inventory values and costs of goods sold is imperative to ensure that the gross margin your company receives on product matches your calculations. Proper landed costs will also directly affect things such as pricing decisions and commission payments.

4. You are not able to create custom reports.

If you’re not able to generate and create meaningful management and financial reports on a regular basis it is impossible to analyze the success and growth of your company.  Sure, you can manually re-key information into Excel each month, but this is very time consuming and creates a large margin of error. Your software system should instead be capable of automatically generating reports for you that can be printed, emailed and shared to assess the health of your company to help improve processes and reduce costs.

5. You lack important functionality for a growing business.

Maybe when you first started your business, you didn’t need eCommerce. Or maybe you didn’t have enough orders to warrant barcode scanning. But, as your business grows, these types of feature requirements will start to hurt your business if you aren’t able to manage them. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of eCommerce for businesses of all types. If your current system doesn’t have options for eCommerce and can’t integrate with popular platforms such as Shopify, it means manually tracking orders and inventory. Barcode scanning minimizes the number of picking mistakes in the warehouse and helps with inventory management. If you’re still manually performing tasks that another system can handle, it’s time to start looking elsewhere.

6. You are frustrated with Help Desk services.

Personalized Help Desk services, where the software vendor gets to know you and your business on a first-name basis, provides many benefits to help you grow your business. Someone who knows your requirements, and those of the industry, can offer suggestions and opportunities to gain efficiencies and improve processes. Having a Help Desk team that is localized and the ability to speak with the same contact person each time is an added bonus and will allow your company to realize huge time-saving benefits and decrease frustration levels when things go wrong.

7. You require strict controls for regulatory compliance and product tracking.

If your company operates in an industry that moves potentially harmful or perishable products, having a software system with lot tracking capabilities is not only beneficial but also the law.  This type of software allows your company to deal with product recalls immediately and efficiently – eliminating the risk to consumer health and customer perceptions.  Instead of having to recall all shipped products – lot tracking allows you to determine which products have been compromised, where they are and how you can get them back. Proper lot tracking also builds trust among your vendors and customers. Other industries, such as Pharmaceutical Distribution, must follow even stricter regulations which require an industry-specific solution with all the right controls.

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Small Business WMS Implementation

Just like any implementation project, a small business WMS implementation takes a lot of planning and careful thought. Not only do employees need to learn how to use the software to do their job, but you may also have to set-up new processes in your warehouse (especially if you don’t currently have WMS software in place). This includes proper set-up of receiving, put-away, picking, packing and shipping and how you currently manage and store inventory. Essentially, WMS software creates a very fool-proof warehouse workflow by directing employees exactly where to go and what to do. There is no room for error as inventory is tracked at EVERY location. Dedicating adequate resources to the WMS implementation process will mean your warehouse is set-up as efficiently as possible from day one. Below we explore what a proper implementation looks like.

Creating a Master List of Locations

One of the main priorities of implementing WMS is to optimize your warehouse – in terms of bin and shelf locations, decoration, and processes. Therefore, at a very high-level, one of the first decisions you will need to make is around creating a Master List of Locations and properly organizing your warehouse. You will need to set-up each area of the warehouse as a designated location, keeping in mind the following:

Is the location a stocking location or non-stocking location?
Is the location human pickable?
What is the Aisle, Bin and Shelf number?
Is the location a cart, packing station, staging station or some other option?
What are the dimensions of the location?

Once you have mapped out your warehouse, you will want to manage this information in a Master List of Locations (such as the example below).

 

Setting up Aisle, Bin and Shelf Labels

Labelling shelves (sometimes referred to as warehouse decorating) is an important step to a WMS implementation. Every location within your warehouse needs to have an Aisle-Bin-Shelf label with a barcode for scanning. This includes not only labels for the physical shelving, but you may also need barcodes for “Floor” locations (that you physically tape off with floor tape), “Wall” locations, “End-of-Aisle” locations, “Between Aisle” locations if you ever load product between aisles, etc. Lastly, you will also need non-stocking locations for mobile carts and forklifts and “Packing” location barcodes.

Pro Tip: Make sure BEFORE you print all your labels and barcodes, that you print and test a sample. This eliminates the risk of any issues with the barcodes not scanning and can save your company time and money. This is also a good opportunity to apply a barcode to one of your shelves to test the range of your scanners.

Barcode Product

Once you have determined that your labels and barcodes will scan, it is now time to barcode all of the product currently in your warehouse. This step is critical to the success of using WMS, because when you go live on the system, every time you interact with an inventory item, you will need to “move” the product into the appropriate WMS location, and this can only be done efficiently if you can scan the product to “move” it. Depending on the type of products you carry, you can choose to either have a barcode on the product itself or the shelf or bin that stores the product.

Pro Tip: During this stage, we recommend using a laptop and a portable printer on a cart to print product labels while you walk around the warehouse, moving from shelf to shelf.  This task can take several weeks if not all products are already barcoded.

Prepare Hardware

At this point, you will need to start preparing all of your barcode scanning and Bluetooth devices. Part of this process involves making sure that you have full WiFi coverage in your warehouse.  If there are any dead spots, you will want to investigate enterprise-grade WiFi devices. Part of this step includes:

Pairing any Bluetooth scanners with the devices (assuming this is the type of scanning solution you decide on)
Getting the devices on the WiFi network
Loading the software (for example, Blue Link) onto the devices and configuring them to the right connections and network
Training your warehouse managers on how to charge the device, how to login, how to establish the connection, how to scan, etc.
If you will be locking up the devices every night, you will need to purchase a locking cabinet or find a room and set-up charging stations

Pro Tip: Make sure you have assigned one employee per shift who will be responsible for ensuring that every device is accounted for and is plugged in/charging every night. If you let all your devices run out of power, you will be completely down.

Training

Training is a very important aspect of the implementation process and involves separate scheduling and planning. Make sure that you ask about the training process when engaging with vendors to find out (a) if it’s included in the implementation process and costs and (b) who will be doing the training. At Blue Link, while the costs of training are always included as part of our implementation costs, we also work very closely with each customer to design a training plan that caters to their needs. When it comes to training, keep in mind the following:

Is training done by the software vendor (and the same people involved with the other aspects of the implementation), or by a 3rd party?
How tech-savvy are your users? Do they have experience using software, or will there be a big learning curve?
What happens if you want more training after Go-Live?

Test Software and Go-Live

It is now time to start testing the software in preparation for your Go-Live date. Part of testing will also involve training staff on how to use the system and setting up different settings specific to your business – for example, configuring what order status will make orders show in the WMS as ready to pick. Now is when the software vendor will finalize that all the data is ready to go in the new WMS – including any open sales orders and active inventory items and pricing information, etc.

While the above gives a good snapshot of what a WMS implementation will look like, there are a lot of other detailed steps involved in implementing new ERP software with WMS capabilities. You will want to make sure that you spend the time properly vetting each software vendor about their specific implementation process before you sign any contracts.

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How to Use RPA Tools to Help Your Business Become More Efficient

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is a form of Business Process Automation (BPA) technology and refers to software that can be programmed to easily complete tasks and update data across a variety of applications. Today, there are many RPA tools on the marketplace available at different price levels and functionality, with the majority operating cross-platform with pre-built integrations and automations (referred to as bots). RPA tools allow you to automate processing and data flows between multiple different systems and gives you the ability to manipulate data based on pre-set criteria. RPA helps your business automate administrative and time-consuming tasks, freeing up employees to focus more on growing the business. While there are a variety of RPA tools on the market, many ERP systems will have built-in RPA tools to help automate processes across all areas of the business. Let’s take a closer look at some examples.

Blue Link’s RPA Tool – Automated Routines Manager (ARM)

Blue Link ERP has a variety of internal automation tools, including our Automated Routines Manager (or ARM). ARM automates a variety of processes including the modification of data and automatic sending of emails. Some common examples include the ability to:

Automatically email shipping notifications, order confirmations and invoices to the appropriate people or even purchase orders to suppliers
Set rules that will manipulate the data to streamline your picking, packing and shipping operations – for example, by automatically sending orders that meet certain criteria directly to the warehouse for picking
Automate your receivables collections by automatically sending emails for overdue accounts
Automate the cleaning up of backorders for products where you realize that you are no longer going to be receiving any more inventory, so you are never going to be able to fulfil those backorders

RPA & eCommerce

Another area where automation has the potential to help your business become more efficient is when it comes to eCommerce. Blue Link’s sales order review screen allows you to review all orders that are ready for action (including those tagged as a web order such as from your Shopify site). Without automation, what would typically happen is one of your employees would have to look at the sales order review screen and review each order to make some sort of decision, either by expanding each item or by double-clicking each order to get more details. This same employee would then need to determine if the order is ready, if it can be released for picking or if it need some other special handling or treatment, and then manually change the status and release the order for next steps. This type of manual process is not a big deal if you only have a handful of orders each day. But if you have 30 orders or 300 orders, manual processes become impossible, leaving you to hire more employees or consider new software.

Instead, with Blue Link’s internal RPA tool, ARM, you can set the system to automatically review each order as it comes in from a website or 3rd party and based on rules that you have established as part of your automation, automatically modify the status which effectively routes the order to the next step. For example, sending it to the warehouse for picking and packing, or maybe to a credit manager for review or put it on hold for another reason, or if there is a backorder issue, it can alert someone from the purchasing team that there is an inventory issue.

Using RPA Tools Instead of Customization

In some cases, automation can help avoid the need for customization when your business rules change – especially when these changes are temporary. A good example is if your company wants to change its backorder policy due to the pandemic and supply chain shortages. Let’s pretend that previously your company would routinely accept backorders and fill them, but you have decided to amend this policy and no longer accept backorders until the supply chain issues have been resolved. In this situation, your customers are still placing orders for the product that they want, but not every order can be fulfilled. Once again, with only a couple of orders, this would not be an issue, but if the majority of your customers place an order for a product you don’t have, you will want to modify your processes. In this example, you can simply set up an ARM that automatically gets rid of the backorder quantity and sends an email to the customer, explaining the new policy and gives them the option to either cancel the order or just ship the quantity of product that is currently available. Then, when the supply chain issues are resolved, you simply turn off that ARM.

Other RPA Tools

While ARM is a great example of a Blue Link internal RPA tool, we also use other external RPA tools such as the HelpSystems Automate tool for a variety of automation tasks. For example, we use this tool internally and our customers also use this tool to automatically pull-down exchange rates daily to update data in the system.

The above are just a couple of examples of how RPA tools and automation can help your business become more efficient. There are many, many other areas in which automation can help you manage your processes – and as technology continues to change, these opportunities will only increase.

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How to Save Time & Money Searching for ERP Software

Upgrading or replacing ERP software is a continuous and necessary component of today’s business budget. However, the goal is to find a solution that can also grow with your business – so that you can easily upgrade your system to the latest version instead of needing to replace it every 3-5 years.  Nowadays, it is not unheard of for a business to be using the same software for 15-25 years, as software vendors are continuously enhancing their product offerings to include the latest and greatest in technology. And, once you replace your introductory system or legacy software for an all-in-one ERP solution, you should be safe to continue to grow with that software for many years to come. To help those businesses that haven’t yet found the perfect technology partner to grow with their business, we’ve included a helpful list of how to save time and money when searching for software.  

10 Tips to Save Time & Money Searching for ERP Software

Define Your Requirements in Detail
Establish Responsibility and Authority
Include All Appropriate Stakeholders in the Process
Don’t Shop on Price Alone
Look for Modern Technology and Open Architecture
Get the Right Fit
Find a Software Partner, Not a Solution
Do Not Make Assumptions
Consider Data Conversion
Check References

1. Define Your Requirements in Detail

This essential first step is usually neglected. Before you even begin to look for and evaluate software, you should document in significant detail what you want out of the software. Make sure you do your homework before looking for a new system and categorize items as “must-have”, “important”, and “wish-list”. Ideally, you should incorporate this process as part of a strategic plan that addresses overall organizational goals – for today and in the future.

2. Establish Responsibility and Authority

When you decide to start searching for software, you will want to task one person with the responsibility for managing the selection process and speaking with vendors. This Project Manager must be given the authority to work with other employees in defining needs and evaluating proposed solutions. However, you don’t want to wait too long to involve the final decision-makers in the search. By only presenting information to decision-makers at the very end of the sales process, you risk wasting time repeating steps to get everyone up-to-speed.

3. Include All Appropriate Stakeholders in the Process

When defining the requirements of a new system, be sure to get detailed input from all areas of the business, including key employees. For example, in a distribution company, the new solution has no chance of success if it does not address the critical needs of the warehouse staff – no matter how good the general ledger or accounts payable features. Not only will this help in making the right choice, but getting buy-in from the actual end-users will also greatly smooth the implementation process. However, to avoid personal objections stalling the process, it’s important that the Project Manager is empowered to say “no” where appropriate.

4. Don’t Shop on Price Alone

It’s important to get a “good deal”, and to minimize the amount of money you spend on an appropriate solution. But spending any amount on a poor solution is far worse than over-spending on a good solution. If you’re comparing ERP software vendors across the same tier, you will find that the license fees are very similar. Where there can sometimes be a significant difference in pricing is when it comes to estimates of service costs, such as implementation and training.

Vendors frequently like to low-ball the service costs, or some vendors will provide a fixed quote for the implementation.  This is a tactic used to keep down the overall cost on the proposal but charging a fixed price may lead to gaps in the implementation process, which will ultimately reduce the success of a new system. And keep in mind that trying to manually perform implementation tasks without the vendor’s help (such as data migration), may save you money initially, but it means you will have to assign an employee away from their regular responsibilities and can cause headaches if you run into issues.

5. Look for Modern Technology and Open Architecture

It’s a new system, so make sure it uses modern technology. Avoid systems that use old development languages such as COBOL, or don’t provide a true Windows interface. They should use a standard, widely used and open, database – such as Microsoft SQL-Server – to store information, not some proprietary file structure. You will also want to work with a vendor who is constantly updating and improving their system to keep up with the changing needs of your industry – such as wholesale and distribution. 

Be sure that you will be able to get at your key business data using industry-standard tools (like Excel). No matter how good a system is at processing transactions and storing information, a basic, non-customized ‘out-of-the-box’ solution is not going to give you all the reports and management information that you’ll need as your business grows.

6. Get the Right Fit

You may be in an industry where an inexpensive off-the-shelf package will meet most of your needs. If that solution addresses both current – and future – requirements, then that may be your right fit. If not, then you will need to consider an industry-specific solution – for example, one designed for pharmaceutical distribution companies – which may cost more but does meet all your requirements.  Sometimes, you can also achieve this fit with an off-the-shelf package configured to meet your individual needs with the addition of specific components. The final option for getting the right fit is a solution that you can customize.

If you determine that an off-the-shelf solution doesn’t fit look for a solution that facilitates either the easy addition of appropriate components or specific customization – rather than building a solution from the ground up. Make sure the system is upgradeable with all custom capabilities. Look for a vendor with a large user base and a successful track record of upgrading customized installations, and find out the upgrade costs – including your customized portion – upfront.

7. Find a Software Partner, Not a Solution

Successful salespeople are likeable and personable, but you want to make sure that you’re more than just a number on their list. You will want to find an ERP software vendor that can become your trusted technology partner – so that you can continue to work closely together long after the initial sale.  

8. Do Not Make Assumptions

If a feature is important, and it’s part of a proposed software package, it should be easy to see in action as part of a demonstration. If a salesperson tells you that your requirement is a standard feature but they aren’t able to provide a demo because the “demo data is not set up to show this”, ask them to return at a later date with appropriate data. Software demos are used to verify that the system can handle your needs – so make sure you spend the time with vendors before a demo, fully discussing your requirements.  

9. Consider Data Conversion

Even though you’re getting a new or upgraded system you’ll still need to access data originally stored and processed with your previous software. The old data must be incorporated correctly into the new software. This will be of varying degrees of importance to you. For example, you may need to access sales account information, where thousands of transactions provide your clients’ previous buying patterns. Make sure you find out from each software vendor if they can migrate your old data – and as a bonus, look for a vendor that can help you “clean-up” any bad data as part of this process.

10. Check References

Checking references is the best way to get a true feel for how a system works and how a vendor treats its customers.  Each software vendor should be able to provide you with multiple references in similar industries to do an accurate comparison.  Ideally, your software provider should be able to understand and appreciate your overall business requirements.

The 10 tips detailed above will help you make a successful strategic decision when searching for ERP software by helping to provide a structured and planned approach. It will simplify the selection process, shorten your decision cycle, and save you time and money.

 

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