Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

5 Telltale Signs it’s Time to Upgrade Your Business Software

Last month, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of one of Blue Link’s oldest, active customers. While 25 years might seem like a long time to be using the same ERP software, if you can find a trusted technology partner that can grow with your business, this is the ideal situation. Replacing your business software every couple of years is a very time-consuming and costly project, and while certain situations warrant a change, this is why it’s important to take the time to find the right software solution from the beginning. So how long is the right amount of time to stay with your software vendor? When does it make sense to change business systems? We’ve gone ahead and included information about both.

1. The software is no longer supported.

This one is a bit of a no brainer. As soon as you learn that your software solution is losing support, it is time to start looking for a replacement. Even if you don’t tend to use support very often, all it takes is one time where you can’t connect, you have an issue with your data, or you need help….for your business to fall apart. Some software vendors may also decide to “sunset” their software, which means that they decide to stop developing the system and fixing bugs. While this is different from losing support, it means that the product is approaching its end of life and will soon lose support. This is another good reason to start looking for a replacement – you want to make sure your system always has the latest and greatest in technology and features.

2. Your business has outgrown the system.

Congratulations! Your business is growing. While some businesses tend to grow and evolve faster than others, this is not necessarily an immediate cause to upgrade your system and there are certain situations where upgrading may not be the best approach.

When to Upgrade

If you’re using introductory business software, such as QuickBooks, business growth is definitely a reason to start shopping elsewhere. Although QuickBooks is a great accounting solution, it has a lot of limitations on the functionality it can provide for growing businesses in need of inventory management, robust reporting and other capabilities. And since QuickBooks is an introductory software solution, it is designed for exactly that. To be the starting system for small companies until they start to grow. Even if you’re able to bolt on a few different software solutions to provide functionality QuickBooks lacks, it’s important to evaluate how long before your company outgrows this functionality too. Introductory systems also tend to have limits on the number of users, companies, and the transaction volume it can handle.

When Not to Upgrade

If you’re using a more robust ERP software, make sure you talk to your software vendor before you decide to start looking elsewhere. ERP solutions are designed to scale with your business and so many vendors will provide optional features to help meet the changing needs of your company. For example, if your business is ready to start selling online or has a customer interested in using EDI, or you want to add more users. With ERP software, you can “turn on” additional features to help your growing business without needing to replace the entire solution. This is a lot easier and less costly than trying to find something new. When you first implement an ERP solution at your business, make sure you figure out your options for adding on other features down the road.

3. You want to move your business to the cloud.

Moving to a cloud-based solution is a great reason to upgrade your software. Maybe you’re tired of dealing with IT issues, or maybe your hardware and servers need upgrading. Whatever the situation, upgrading to the cloud allows you to focus your attention on running your business, and not on maintaining software. With a cloud-based solution, IT maintenance, upgrades, backups, security etc. are all the responsibility of the software vendor and not your team.

4. Poor technical support.

Your ERP software runs your entire operations – so you want to make sure you have access to expert support to make sure the systems are running smoothly, and to get answers to your questions quickly. You want to work with a software vendor who takes the time to understand your business to help you succeed in the market. If you feel like you’re “just another number” to your software vendor, it’s time to find a company who will work with you to help you achieve your goals.

5. An increase in software license costs.

Ever hear the term bait and switch? It describes a situation where a customer is “baited” into purchasing something due to certain promises or low prices, only to have that promise or price “switched” at a later date. This is why it’s important to always read the fine print when evaluating different software solutions, the functionality offered and the price. You want to make sure that the price you agree to today, will not all of a sudden increase. While increasing prices is a natural part of doing business, you want to make sure that you understand any price increase implications from the beginning. Some vendors may charge you a certain “discount” rate for the first year, only to increase that rate for the years following.

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ERP and MRP Systems – What’s the Difference?

The biggest difference between ERP and MRP is that MRP software is designed to manage inventory and manufacturing processes, whereas ERP software includes functionality designed to manage all aspects of your business operation. MRP is best for manufacturing-type businesses, whereas ERP will work for wholesalers, distributors, retailers, eCommerce businesses and a variety of other industries. Both ERP and MRP are software systems for business management, but each one is designed to handle different processes and is best suited for different business types.

ERP

ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning and is a business software solution designed to manage all aspects of a company’s operations along the supply chain. While ERP features will vary depending on the industry, the software acts as an all-in-one system, eliminating the need to have multiple, standalone solutions. For example, ERP for a wholesale and distribution business will include functionality for accounting, finance, inventory management, warehouse management, purchase orders, sales orders, contact management, reporting and more. The main benefits of implementing an ERP solution include:

Having one solution to manage all business operations. This means you don’t need to worry about trying to integrate systems or deal with the cost of buying and supporting multiple solutions.
Eliminate manual and duplicate data entry. Since all information flows between the different parts of the software, it eliminates the need to manually track data in spreadsheets, or across other systems.
Automate processes. Because the system works across departments, you can easily automate processes such as sending customer’s A/R notices when their accounts reach a certain threshold.
Robust reporting on all areas of the business. With ERP software, you’re able to pull information from the different areas of the software to generate reports. For example, a report on Sales by Customer by Product.

MRP

MRP stands for Material Requirements Planning and provides specific functionality to estimate quantities of raw materials and schedule their delivery and use in finished goods processing. MRP is a manufacturing solution and does not necessarily provide features for managing a company’s entire operations.

Since the features of MRP software can be limited to manufacturing type processes, there may be certain situations where a company requires both an ERP system and an MRP system – or, there are some large-scale ERP solutions with built-in MRP functionality.

How do you determine which system is right for your business?

Before you start searching for software, it is important to determine if your company requires an MRP system, an ERP system or both. Many businesses that identify as a manufacturing company do not actually do any of the manufacturing in-house, and instead, act as more of a wholesale distribution business with manufacturing partners. Before you start looking for MRP software, consider the following questions:

Do you deal with raw materials, work-in-progress items and finished goods?
Do you need to track non-inventory items such as labor?
Do you need to schedule production?
Do you have multiple BOMs for the same one product?
Is the product you create “custom” each time?
Do you need to track waste or yield?

If you answered yes to most of the questions above, you likely need a true MRP solution. If not, you may be able to benefit from an ERP solution that has “light-manufacturing” functionality. Some ERP systems will include light manufacturing functionality for kitting, assembly and managing a simple BOM. The need to create kits and assemble products is significantly different from turning raw materials into finished goods. With kitting and assembly functionality, you can create kits of items and track the associated labor to do so. This allows you to then sell and track items as part of a kit, or individually.

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Cloud-Based Software for Beginners

It seems like every day there is a new technological advancement that replaces some form of legacy software or hardware, and we must adapt to the new way of doing things. Constant updates, constant patches, and frequent hardware launches can leave you feeling uncertain and kind of lost. There’s a whole world of new technology out there, and while having a system that works for you is great, you can end up limiting yourself to what is out there and what is possible with newer tech. For example, there was a time when everything was on disc, and installed directly onto your computer, and you essentially had full control of the software. Today, things are different, with more and more software and services going fully cloud-based – like Microsoft xCloud, allowing you to stream games in a Netflix-like service across any device with an active subscription, or, Netflix, allowing you to view any film or show in it’s library from any device or browser. Plenty of tech companies and software companies have adopted this as well, with Adobe Creative Cloud and Office 365. Cloud is the future, and the present, so it’s time to get you up to speed.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all software and tech is moving to the cloud, just that many are moving in that direction. For example, Discord allows you to download and use the software as a program on your computer, or you can access the fully-functioning interface through a browser. Others, and usually for more powerful applications like Adobe Creative Cloud, you must download the program (such as Photoshop) to your computer, though being cloud-based means you can install on any device using your username and password. This is also typical with games, as you may be pulling game files and your save file from the cloud, while still having everything else on your machine.

Some cloud-based software and applications allow you to have a locally installed program to access the software faster, usually depending on which device you are using, as it streamlines the process for the user. This is typically seen on phones or gaming systems. For example, to access Netflix, you would use the dedicated Netflix app on your phone or on your console, even though you can access with ease through your browser. As is the typical way, the dedicated apps allow a smooth experience and are easier for the end-user to navigate. The simpler the process is for the user, the better. This is also one of the main bonuses of cloud-based software, updates and fixes are automatic, and in most cases the required technical skill for managing the software is completely taken away, ensuring that you never have to worry about that. There are also much more powerful systems that are cloud-based, like Blue Link ERP. Blue Link is an all-in-one inventory management and accounting system that accommodates a variety of industries and unique business needs – something a lot more intensive than Netflix and with many more features, yet it is a completely cloud-based solution. Even though Blue Link is not browser-based, the software is still accessed via the cloud (or internet), just through RDP instead. This is the power of the cloud. It allows you to access sophisticated software solutions, without the need to have your own resource-laden, powerful computers. There are no limits on what is possible, and what different types of cloud-based software are out there.

Even still, there are many types of software that do not use the cloud at all, and these are usually reserved for large, multi-national companies, and something that most people won’t ever use or see. This is usually referred to as on-premises software, where everything is stored locally at your location on a server or associated hardware and is then managed by an in-house team of experts. This isn’t recommended for small-medium size companies, as it requires a larger cost and constant upkeep with the help of highly qualified professionals. Examples of on-premises solutions are JD Edwards, or Oracle’s E-Business Suite, applications designed for very complex processes, and a large userbase (hundreds to thousands of users). Overall, this is less user friendly, and harder to manage, which is why more and more small and medium-size companies are making the leap to the cloud.

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Order Management Software for Multiple Sales Channels

As a business buying and selling inventory, you likely receive orders from a variety of sales channels. This could include online orders, orders from your retail brick and mortar locations, orders from sales reps in the field and B2B orders from other retailers and distributors. To manage orders from multiple sales channels, many SMBs have employees dedicated to order entry – the manual process of entering orders into your order management software. However, if your order management system is not integrated with your different sales channels and other business departments – including inventory, accounting, financials and shipping, you’re wasting valuable time and money. Instead, consider implementing an all-in-one ERP solution with proper integration between your different sales channels, to help you automate the order entry process. After all, automation is one of the main benefits of ERP software.

ERP for Order Management

With ERP software, instead of having to manually enter information into multiple solutions, you have one system to streamline your entire operations. This means that you no longer have to reconcile data between your order entry, inventory management and accounting systems, or manually check inventory in your warehouse or in a spreadsheet when trying to create a new sales order. ERP software allows you to create a sales order based on real-time inventory information stored in the system. This makes it easy to quickly create an order while on the phone with your customers – without having to double-check inventory availability. But what about when creating orders from different sales channels? For example, orders that come from your website, outside sales reps or walk-in customers? This is where integration is necessary to succeed. To automate the order management process, you first need to make sure that all your different sales channels and systems are properly integrated.

 eCommerce Integration

Any good ERP system provides functionality for eCommerce integration, which allows the software to communicate directly with your existing online sales channels (including your eCommerce store, marketplaces such as Amazon and vendor portals).  If your website is built on one of the popular platforms available in the market today, such as Shopify, this means you will need separate teams to help with the integration. You might already have multiple teams working on your Shopify site – one team who deals with the development and design of your eCommerce store and another team that helps with marketing, your rank in Google and SEO. If you have a development team available, you can engage them to write the integration to your ERP, or you can work with an integration partner with experience in the industry. When you do integrate your existing website with a system like Blue Link, information on your website and ERP system will flow back and forth. For example, when an order is placed online and payment made, it shows up in Blue Link’s Sales Order Review screen for further processing or gets automatically sent to the warehouse for pick, pack and ship depending on how you have the system set-up. This, in turn, updates inventory quantities and the order status in Blue Link and on the website and notifies the customer of the order.

Point of Sale

If you operate a storefront, cash and carry type business or deal with walk-in customers, point-of-sale software makes it easy to quickly ring up customers just like you would at any retail location. You can scan barcodes, add product from an inventory search, or pull up the customer’s history to create a new order. To reduce the added complexity of integrating your ERP solution with a front-end POS system, look for ERP with built-in POS functionality such as Blue Link. Blue Link’s point-of-sale features are fully integrated so that orders placed in-store are reflected in Blue Link for proper inventory management and processing. Instead of reconciling inventory at the end of each day, the system updates in real-time to help with inventory replenishment and warehouse management to help keep track of all orders.

B2B Online Order Portal

For B2B customers, a typical eCommerce site might not be good enough. Unlike selling directly to the end-consumer, selling business-to-business comes with its own set of unique requirements. For example, when trying to sell B2B online it’ important to keep in mind the following:

Do you only want customers with an existing account to be able to place an order online?
Do you have different customer pricing that you want to be reflected online?
Do you want to restrict customers from seeing pricing information until they are logged into their account?
Do you want to restrict your customers from seeing total available inventory, and instead, show product either as available or not?

With these differences, you must distinguish any online B2C orders from B2B. And unlike your B2C website, you don’t necessarily need your B2B site to have all the same bells and whistles from a marketing standpoint. Therefore, if you can find a software vendor that includes a built-in B2B online order portal, this will save you the hassle of having to integrate with yet another 3rd party application. When the portal is already a part of the software, orders and inventory information can automatically and seamlessly flow between both systems.

An added benefit? Online order portals are a great tool for sales reps in the field. Using a laptop or tablet, sales reps can quickly lookup inventory and create an order for customers while onsite.

EDI & Electronic Orders

To set-up and automate EDI and electronic orders, you will first want to survey your customers to determine which of them are able to send you an EDI 850 purchase order or, if not, send you a structured electronic file such as an XML file or CSV file. Once you have a list of customers and file types, you will need to enlist the help of your developers or an integration partner to set-up the different connectors between each source – with each connector being a different client/interface that has to be connected to. When the integration is set-up properly, with Blue Link, it will automatically retrieve any inbound orders from your customers and push them into the system, creating a sales order. From your perspective, new orders from your customers just “appear” in Blue Link’s Sales Order Review screen with the status you specify (i.e. “New”), alongside orders from other sales channels such as those listed above.

As you can see, there are many different options for automating the order management process. Whether you sell online, through retail channels or through a team of sales reps, proper integration between your ERP and these different channels is necessary for automation. When trying to find an ERP software solution to manage your business, find a partner that can provide as much functionality for managing the sales order process out of the box. While it’s likely that with any ERP solution there will still be some integration required from a 3rd party, if you can eliminate this as much as possible by working with a vendor who provides an all-in-one solution, it will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Once you have your different sales channels and integrations set-up properly, you will be able to automate the sales process and continuously receive orders from customers without manual intervention. For those customers who are not able to place orders electronically, or still prefer to communicate by phone or email, you will have to have employees key the order in manually.  However, with all the other automation that you have set up, there is no reason why your employees can’t easily keep up with demand, while still focusing on their other tasks.

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3 Mistakes to Avoid When Designing Your Online Portal for Ordering

Did you know that in 2020 alone, it is estimated there are over 2 billion people that use online shopping? This massive amount of people should generate approximately 4.2 trillion dollars in sales by the end of the year. It is clear that online shopping is where the people are spending their money, and especially with COVID bringing about so many unfortunate closures, it looks like online shopping is the main road ahead. Though closures are always sad to see, there is a bright future – online shopping and creating an online portal for ordering has never been easier. So, let Blue Link walk you through some important things to avoid, and what you should be doing instead.
Mistake 1: Poorly Designed and Optimized Website
So you’ve just created your first website and your first online portal for ordering. You’ve taken the first step in becoming an online business. Congratulations. Now, let’s say someone visits your website and it’s slow, clunky, items don’t load in their cart, and in general it’s a mess to use. They’re gone, and most likely for good. You have to treat your website the same way you would treat customer service, it has to be golden. When a customer has a bad experience in a store, they may leave and there is a good chance they won’t come back depending on how bad that experience was. For some, that store might be their only option in the area so they must continue being a patron as they have nowhere else to shop. With online shopping, this is never the case. You have millions and millions of options. If your online store isn’t cutting it, well, guess what, Amazon is, so bye. It’s that simple. One-click away and I’ve found everything I need with no hassle and no issues. So, make sure your website can handle the traffic.
Mistake 2: All Manual Processes
Another mistake that is common when creating an online portal for ordering, is the separation of the online portal and your business software. For example, Blue Link provides a fully integrated B2B eCommerce Platform (Online Order Portal) for use by both your wholesale distribution B2B customers and sales reps. When fully integrated, the whole system works as one to get the job done. There are no errors between the information on your online store and your ERP software that you use for tracking customers, inventory, and purchases. This makes the process of handling transactions and accounting reports and any sort of business processes much smoother, as you don’t get lost fiddling with manual processes halfway through. Orders placed online instantly are in your ERP for picking, packing, shipping, and inventory quantities get automatically updated accordingly. By separating these two, you leave yourself open to potential problems that aren’t always easy to fix, like incorrect inventory quantities, or having your pricing online instead of in your ERP. Stay one step ahead, and make sure you have a system that can handle both.
Mistake 3: Hidden Fees
Lastly, and potentially the most important thing, is no hidden fees. Meaning no surprise shipping costs that are double the cost of the product. No service fees that add fifteen dollars on top of the tax, and nothing that can scare the customer away. This is a big separator with normal retail and online shopping. When going into a store, the price marked is the price you pay. Online,  there are times you get charged with additional fees that no one wants or is asking for. The more costs you throw at the customer, the less likely they are to spend money at your store. This leads to cart abandonment and never returning. There are too many options on the internet when it comes to online shopping. Many trusted, and many are cheap and reliable. So, if you have the only store that’s difficult to use and charges way too much for shipping, well, you’re not going to last. Make sure your online portal for ordering is easy to use, is part of your business software, and does not push hidden fees. If you can do that, you should be fine. Good luck.

For any additional questions about Blue Link or Blue Link’s fully integrated B2B eCommerce Platform, contact us today and we’ll be happy to answer any questions.

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

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

What is a VPN?

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

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

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

What is an IP Address?

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

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

Now, back to VPNs.

How Does a VPN Work?

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

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

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

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

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Exploring File Management Programs like DocuWare

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

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

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

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

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

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Holiday Shopping 2020 – Tips for eCommerce Order Management

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

Automate Inbound Web Orders

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

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

Automate Shipping with Your 3PL

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

Transmit to 3PL

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

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

Shipment from 3PL

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

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

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

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Working from Home and the Canadian Tax Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blue Link ERP Customer Service & Support

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

Personalized, In-House Team

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

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

Help Desk Activities

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

Other Consulting Services

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

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

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

Cloud-based Support

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

Differences in ERP Customer Service 

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

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

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