Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

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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Software Deployment – On-Premises and Cloud

There are several different software deployment options when implementing ERP software. About a decade ago, on-premises was the only option, but nowadays, cloud software is the more popular choice – especially for SMBs. But what about the difference between single-tenant and multi-tenant architecture? What about SaaS and hosted software? Unfortunately, since many software vendors tend to use deployment terminology differently, it’s important that you fully understand each option to make sure you’re making the right choice for your business. We’ve outlined some general descriptions below. 

On-Premises

On-premises refers to software that you manage on your equipment. This means that your business is responsible for purchasing the necessary server equipment and hardware, configuring the server environment to run the appropriate software and programs, installing those systems and programs and then managing it all going forward. This includes the management of security, back-ups and data privacy. If you run on-premises software, you will need to have either an internal team of dedicated IT staff to manage the system or you will have to hire an outside firm to do so. Another requirement of on-premises based software deployments is having the physical space to store the hardware and servers and to protect this equipment with the proper cooling systems, alarms and fire suppression systems.

Cloud Software

Cloud software encompasses a variety of different options, however, all cloud software is designed so that users connect over the internet and pay an ongoing fee to use the system (referred to as license fees). With cloud software, the software vendor is responsible for managing the physical hardware and servers.  

SaaS

SaaS or “software as a service” is a part of cloud software in that it refers to a software solution that is managed on a vendor’s equipment and then you, the customer, pay for access. SaaS models typically charge a monthly or annual fee for access to the software (the software licenses). Unlike on-premises, running a SaaS solution means that the software vendor is responsible for managing the physical hardware and servers that the software resides on. However, depending on the software vendor, they may own the equipment themselves, they might lease equipment from another company, or the software vendor may be using an existing cloud-infrastructure (such as Azure or Amazon). The benefit of SaaS-based solutions is that you don’t need to worry about internally managing any of the physical hardware or servers. This also means you don’t have to worry about having the right people in-house to manage the IT side of things as it relates to the server and its applications.

Hosted

Hosted is another way to describe a SaaS-based solution, where the software is hosted on the vendor’s servers.

Within cloud software, you can have either a multi-tenant architecture or single-tenant architecture.

Muti-Tenant

Multi-tenant architecture is what many software vendors refer to as “the true cloud”, but as we just learnt, there are many different versions of cloud-based software. Multi-tenant architecture allows one instance of the software to serve multiple customers at the same time. A good example of a multi-tenant architecture system is Facebook. One version of Facebook is available to all customers and each customer gets upgraded at the same time when Facebook releases a new version of the software. Multi-tenant architecture tends to bring down the cost of software license fees, however, it limits your ability to customize the system.

Single-Tenant

Single-tenant architecture, therefore, is the opposite and each customer gets a different instance of the software. Although for the most part, each instance will provide much of the same functionality, this allows the customer to have control over when they upgrade the system and allows them the option to customize their version of the system. Blue Link ERP is an example of a single-tenant cloud-based solution.

IaaS

IaaS or “infrastructure as a service” refers to companies that lease out hardware and server equipment for cloud-based applications. This means that the software vendor simply pays another company to manage the physical hardware and all the associated security. The software vendor then manages the software and applications they install on this equipment. While the software vendor in this situation will take care of any IT maintenance, back-ups and security of the software, the IaaS company provides the physical space to store the equipment and covers the cost of protecting it with proper alarm systems, cooling systems, fire suppression, back-up generators, etc.

Open Source is another software deployment option where anyone has access to the source code for developing a custom system at no charge.

To further complicate matters, some software vendors offer hybrid versions of their software. This might mean that the software is managed in the cloud, but data is stored locally, or certain components of the software and data are stored locally.

As you can see, there are many different versions of cloud-based software and terminology to support different deployment options. Make sure you ask the appropriate questions when vetting software vendors to fully understand their product offering. 

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WMS for Small Warehouses – Cost Considerations

As with any major business purchase, when it comes to WMS for your small warehouse it’s important to set a budget based on a realistic understanding of your requirements and what is available in the market. Firstly, you need to determine what WMS functionality you need, and therefore which type of system will be best for your operations. Typically, you have three options and each has a significantly different price tag. The first option is to make do with any existing warehouse management functionality available in your ERP solution. These tools will include basic functionality for picking, packing and shipping, but will have limited options when it comes to managing more complex needs. The second option is to buy a standalone WMS system that you can integrate with your existing ERP software, however, these types of standalone solutions are usually designed for very large and complex warehouses – and have the price tag to reflect this. A better option for small warehouses is to find an ERP solution with advanced WMS capabilities. Something in between basic warehouse management tools and an all-out WMS system. This is where Blue Link works great. Not only do you get robust ERP functionality with built-in warehouse management tools, but you also have the option to turn-on more sophisticated WMS capabilities (such as the ability to set-up multiple stocking locations for the same SKU).  For the sake of this post, we are going to take a closer look at option number three, and some of the cost considerations to keep in mind when budgeting for a WMS for your small warehouse.

Software Costs

When you buy ERP with WMS capabilities, you will need to take into account the cost of the ERP plus the cost of the WMS features. Many software vendors base pricing off the number of user licenses and any additional functionality that’s required outside of the basic inventory management and accounting features. This allows your business to pick and choose which advanced features you need – for example, WMS, eCommerce, lot tracking, point of sale and more. The cost to turn on additional features is significantly less than having to purchase a sophisticated standalone WMS software which can cost as much if not more than the cost of your ERP system.  And having an all-in-one solution can save you time and money down the road as well. It’s much easier to deal with one software vendor and support team than having to manage and integrate multiple solutions from different vendors.

Other costs associated with implementing WMS functionality include:

Hardware Costs

One of the major benefits of WMS for small warehouses is the inclusion of sophisticated barcode scanning functionality. Part of setting a budget will involve determining how many devices you will need in the warehouse and what sort of accessories or other barcode scanning equipment is necessary. When planning for hardware purchases, keep in mind the following:

What sort of devices do you want to use and what devices are available? 
How many employees will need to use a device?
How will you use the devices – will they be mounted on carts or forklifts? Will employees be holding them in their hand?
Do you have adequate WiFi for the warehouse and are there any dead spots that need equipment?
How many charging stations or lock cabinets do you need for storing barcode scanners?
Will you be printing barcode labels for product without them? Will you need to print barcodes for your shelving? If yes, what size will the labels be and do you have an adequate printer to make your own labels?

Consulting Costs

When implementing WMS functionality in your small warehouse, you will want to schedule consulting time with the software vendor to review your current warehouse processes, discuss opportunities and changes, get help setting up your warehouse design and any other pre-go-live activities. The more prepared you are before you start using new software, the easier the transition will be.

Training Costs

Training employees on a new WMS will be a significant cost, especially if your team has never used a WMS system before. However, proper training from the beginning can have one of the biggest impacts on how quickly your team will be productive on the new system. Training will include not only how to use both the ERP software and WMS but also training on certain new job responsibilities such as:

Who will be responsible for replenishment?

How frequently? Every morning? Twice per day? Night shift?

Who will be responsible for cycle-counting shorted locations?

Do employees know how to perform cycle counts?

Will you lock up your devices every night?

If so, who will be responsible for ensuring that every device is accounted for and is plugged in/charging every night?

As you can see, there are a lot of things to take into consideration when setting a budget for a new WMS system. However, once you’ve made some initial decisions and have proper processes in place, you will quickly start to realize the many benefits of advanced WMS for your small warehouse. And this is why finding the right software vendor is so important. You want to work with a company who will take the time to understand your business needs to help identify opportunities for improvements – and work with you and your team to create the most efficient processes.

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The Biggest Difference Between Blue Link Accounting and QuickBooks

There are many differences between Blue Link ERP and QuickBooks. For starters, while QuickBooks is designed as an accounting solution, Blue Link includes not only accounting functionality, but also inventory management, order entry and processing, purchase orders, eCommerce, warehouse management, contact management and more. Therefore, trying to compare Blue Link with QuickBooks doesn’t actually make sense. Instead, many Blue Link customers decide to move from QuickBooks to our software when they start to grow and require additional features and want to automate processes. Since Blue Link is designed to replace QuickBooks, our system includes all the same basic accounting features and more – such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger and bank management. However, there is one huge difference between Blue Link’s accounting functionality and QuickBooks – and that is transactional integrity.

Transactional Integrity

Entry-level systems like QuickBooks are very end-user friendly and are forgiving to users who make mistakes. One such example of this is how QuickBooks allows almost any transaction to be retroactively “corrected” as if the error were never made. This makes the system easy-to-use for people without any bookkeeping or accounting experience but is not good for auditing purposes.

With Blue Link, transactions are purposely not editable after the fact. This is a very good thing to support audit requirements, and any good ERP system like ours will not allow retroactive changes to posted transactions.  Instead, to “undo” a mistake, you have to make the proper correcting entries. This ensures there is always a complete audit trail of what happened in the system.

Since Blue Link includes functionality to support proper accounting processes, it is important that you hire and train the right people to perform these tasks.

Hiring

As a growing distribution company, you need to consider hiring candidates that are from larger companies running Enterprise ERP packages for certain positions. While there may be roles within your business that are appropriate for people with fewer qualifications, you will want to make sure you have at least a couple of people on staff who have a background or experience in accounting/bookkeeping. These people will be expecting software features like those we have in Blue Link and will have the accounting knowledge to support proper accounting processes.

Training

Even if you have hired the right people, to fully optimize the features available in Blue Link’s software, proper training is a must. Most Blue Link customers receive a full 4-5 days of training as part of our implementation process. The good news though is that if you have hired the right people, you will only need to train them on how to use Blue Link to complete their tasks – instead of having to train them on actual business processes such as accounting processes. Then, as your business grows and you add more people in the future, you can continue to schedule additional training.

As you can see, while QuickBooks is great for small businesses for managing simple processes, it lacks the transactional integrity necessary for growing businesses that need to follow proper accounting rules. As your business continues to grow, the need for proper accounting knowledge and procedures will only increase until you find the right solution and hire the right people to support this.

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Advanced ERP Warehouse Management – What to Expect

For wholesale and distribution businesses, warehouse management is a crucial part of business success. Proper warehouse management has an impact on all aspects of business operations – including your bottom line when it comes to planning inventory levels and purchasing to meet demand, on customer service by helping you get the right product to the right customer on time and on meeting regulations by your ability to properly track and record the movement of product from your supplier to your customer. ERP warehouse management is just one of the many features found in ERP software to help run your business and will include functionality for managing multiple warehouse locations, receiving, picking, packing and shipping product, and tracking bin and shelf locations (to name a few). However, for larger, growing businesses with more complex warehouse operations, ERP warehouse management features may not be enough. Instead, many large businesses will either (1) purchase a standalone WMS system to integrate with their ERP, or (2) consider finding a solution like Blue Link, which includes advanced ERP warehouse management functionality. Blue Link’s advanced warehouse management functionality (which we call “WMS Lite” – Warehouse Management Software Lite) is a great option for those businesses that are too small for an expensive standalone WMS but still need more functionality than is what is included in most ERP solutions. 

Features of WMS Lite

To better understand the difference between Blue Link’s WMS Lite component and the software’s built-in ERP warehouse management features, we’ve included a list of some of the advanced functionality available in WMS Lite. 

Put Away/Move Inventory – Blue Link logs every single movement of product in the warehouse. This includes from different shelfing units, to carts and forklifts, to loading docks and put-away stations, and the system differentiates between what is physically available but already allocated to a specific order, to what is available to add to a new order.
Pick Review – this includes a list of sales orders that are ready to be picked based on their status.
Pick – users can pick products as they walk the warehouse floor using sophisticated barcode scanning with mobile pick functionality.
Count – users can perform inventory counts using barcode scanners.
Show All Warehouse Stocking Locations – this allows users to see a master list of all stocking locations and optionally filter for empty locations to help determine where to place inbound items.
Multiple Stocking Locations – this is the ability to manage and track multiple storage locations for the same SKU. 
Receive – this allows a user to receive a Purchase Order direct to WMS Shelving, then pass that data to the Purchase Order screen in Blue Link ERP for the “real” receipt.

In addition, Blue Link’s WMS Lite allows you to set up stocking and non-stocking locations, set stocking location priorities and ratings and it allows for cross-docking which is the ability to receive and ship product without putting it away. 

Benefits of WMS Lite

One of the main benefits of using Blue Link’s advanced ERP warehouse management functionality is that it creates an extremely easy to understand pick workflow that is as error-proof as it can be. Essentially, with Blue Link’s WMS Lite, it tells employees: 

Go to this location in the warehouse
Identify that you’re at the location by scanning the barcode on the shelf/floor/cart etc.  
Physically pick the first item according to the electronic pick slip
Scan the item as you pick it to ensure that you’ve picked the correct item 
Scan the cart that you’re putting the item on
Move to the next item on the list and repeat

With WMS functionality, you can optimize the pick, pack and ship process to help you get the right product to your customers more quickly. With a properly organized and decorated warehouse, you significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to pick product and put-away items and with barcode scanning you essentially eliminate picking errors. 

 



Hardware Requirements

Since WMS is designed for picking, packing, shipping and receiving in the warehouse, special consideration needs to go to help decide which type of hardware will run the software. Since the WMS screens are part of the main Blue Link ERP application, any physical device that can establish an RDP connection can run the WMS features, however, Blue Link has a couple of recommendations when it comes to choosing which hardware to purchase:

Rugged Tablet Devices – these types of devices are great for using the software if you want to be able to hold the device in your hand, and scan barcodes directly from the tablet
Mounted Tablet with Bluetooth Scanner – another option is to mount a tablet to a cart, and then use a smaller, handheld Bluetooth scanner to scan products  
Mounted Tablet with Long Range Scanner – long-range scanners allow you to easily scan hard-to-reach products or items that are higher-up on shelves, and require forklifts or other equipment to reach

Employee Training 

To truly reap the benefits of Blue Link’s WMS functionality (and our ERP software in general), employees must be properly trained on how to use the system and on best practices and proper warehouse processes. If you’re new to warehouse management functionality than there will likely be a bit of a learning curve as employees get used to a new way of thinking when it comes to managing inventory and picking, packing and shipping orders. With WMS Lite, first and foremost, you need to train employees to never mover product in the warehouse without a scanner. Using a WMS system requires discipline by all employees who set foot in your warehouse, and it is critical that no one ever places product into a location or takes product from a location without using a scanner to scan it into/out of that location. This is one of the key differentiators between warehouse management and advanced WMS functionality. Failure to do this will result in bad data in the system that will prevent users from being able to pick and ship orders. On the flip side, following procedures will result in a dramatic reduction in the amount of time required to pick orders and will also dramatically increase the accuracy of inventory.

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How to Improve Order Fulfilment to Succeed Post Pandemic

According to a recent report from Shopify, order fulfilment is emerging as a competitive differentiator for 2021 and beyond as consumers demand fast and free shipping with sustainable and branded packaging. This emerging trend is one of several identified in the recently released Future of eCommerce report based on data collected from online sales in 2020. While we can all agree that COVID helped to expedite the popularity of eCommerce, according to the report, the actual numbers show 10 years’ worth of eCommerce growth in just 3 months! With this type of growth, it’s going to take a lot more than just a well-designed website to thrive in the future, and it’s no surprise that fulfilment is one of the biggest trends identified by Shopify.  Other trends identified in the report include:

Record online competition

New consumer behaviour is helping to reshape the future of eCommerce
Consumers started purchasing items rarely bought online before the pandemic and the desire for convenience and immediacy when shopping online significantly increased

Marketplace domination (think Amazon) is challenging companies’ brand-building efforts

With half of all global purchases happening on marketplaces, consumers are using these types of websites as new search platforms to find solutions rather than brands

Customer acquisition costs are increasing worldwide across channels

Businesses need to prioritize retention and come up with ways to incentivize and reward repeat and loyal customers

You can find the full Shopify Future of eCommerce report here to read more about each trend above, but today we are going to focus on how wholesalers and distributors that also sell online can use fulfilment to their advantage to win more customers and thrive in the future.

Key takeaways for wholesalers and distributors

As we learnt over this past year, eCommerce emerged as an opportunity for every type of business, including wholesalers and distributors. While many wholesale companies were already selling online, 2020 reiterated the importance of having proper systems to manage front-end sales and back-end operations when trying to reach customers, and according to Shopify, the following key trends emerged around order fulfilment:  

Consumers are favoring businesses that provide fast, free and sustainable shipping

67% of U.S. consumers expect same-day, next-day or two-day delivery times. Add to this the fact that 64% of global consumers want their orders shipped for free, and it’s obvious that successful companies need to put fulfilment at the forefront of their business priorities. If that wasn’t enough pressure for small businesses, 75% of consumers are also more likely to buy a product that has been packaged sustainably.

Carrier and shipping costs are increasing

As more and more consumers looked to purchase online in 2020, shipping companies were operating at peak season levels for most of the year, resulting in higher service rates and FedEx announced that customers worldwide can expect an average 9% rate increase for 2021.

Consumer expectations are becoming more complex

More and more consumers expect free returns with the worldwide total cost of returns topping $1 trillion in recent years.

How to improve order fulfilment to succeed in 2021 and beyond

While it may seem daunting to move forward after hearing stats like the above, the good news is that there are lots of ways your business can automate processes, streamline operations and increase efficiencies to remain competitive and thrive in the future.

eCommerce ERP Integration

First and foremost, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that eCommerce ERP integration is a must. Proper integration means that there is minimal (if any), human intervention between customers placing an order online, and warehouse staff being able to pick, pack and ship the order. Proper integration pushes and pulls data between your ERP and eCommerce site in real-time and provides one system to manage sales from all channels.  

Improve Shipping Processes

Getting a handle on your shipping processes will help to reduce costs, keep customers happy and improve order fulfilment. Rate shopping functionality allows you to quickly compare carriers to find the best price and shipping method for each order. Even if you have a good relationship with a local carrier company, it is always a good idea to sanity check the prices they are charging and have a back-up if they become too busy. Consolidating shipments that are going to the same region can also help to cut down on costs and shipping times.

Warehouse Organization

Proper warehouse management and organization helps you improve your picking, packing, shipping and receiving processes. With bin and shelf labelling and an optimized warehouse layout, you ensure that you have easy access to fast-moving items and can quickly find the right product for each order. Virtual warehouses allow you to maintain separate inventory for eCommerce sales in the same physical location as inventory for wholesale orders to better manage stock levels.

Mobile Barcode Scanning

Mobile barcode scanning allows you to scan product as you pick items, helping to cut down on the number of picking errors and speeding up the order picking process. Employees can scan items into boxes as they walk the warehouse floor or bring items to a packing station for a double-check. Barcode scanning makes it easy to find products when you don’t know where they are in the warehouse and helps improve the picking process when dealing with different inventory items that look similar. Because barcode scanning helps to reduce the number of picking errors, this also helps decrease the number of returns due to shipping the wrong product.

Automate Inventory Management

Automating the inventory management process allows you to accurately forecast demand by making use of min and max levels for purchasing and replenishment. Tracking inventory from one system allows you to fulfil orders from multiple sales channels, and if you have multiple warehouse locations, look for a system that automatically fulfils orders based on whichever location is closest to the customer. This helps reduce shipping costs and shipping times.

How Blue Link can help

With a focus on wholesale and distribution, Blue Link ERP has been helping businesses automate the order fulfilment process and streamline operations for over 25 years. We understand that wholesale and distribution is changing, and have advanced functionality for managing online sales through integration with existing eCommerce sites and marketplaces such as Shopify and Amazon, plus our own B2B Online Ordering Portal. Learn more about how the right software can help your business grow and succeed today and into the future. 

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How to Find Accounting and Inventory Software for Your Start-up Business

You’ve decided to open a new wholesale and distribution business. Maybe you’re going to start selling home goods, industrial machinery, furniture, food items, clothing, or pharmaceutical products…whatever the situation, one of the most important business decisions to make is what accounting and inventory software you need to run your business. This is an important consideration when first starting out and will depend on several different factors. Aside from required functionality and working within a budget, you will also want to take into consideration your growth projections and future needs. How quickly do you plan on growing your business and what do realistic growth projections look like? You don’t want to implement a new system only to have to replace it a year later, but you also don’t want to burden yourself with an expensive software solution if you do not grow as quickly as planned. We’ve put together some more information on how to help you find the right system for your start-up business.

Typically, as a start-up wholesale distribution company, there are a couple of different areas to focus on when looking for a solution – accounting, inventory management and possibly eCommerce.

Accounting

First, you will need something to manage the accounting side of the business. This includes invoicing, accounts payable, accounts receivable, bank management and more. Ideally, you will want a system that can also handle creating sales orders and purchase orders, and something that allows you to generate different business reports – such as Profit and Loss Statements, Balance Sheets and then additional reports to track sales, customer data and inventory information. A great solution for small businesses is QuickBooks. With a sole focus on accounting, QuickBooks is an inexpensive solution that can be implemented in a short time frame to help you manage your basic accounting requirements.  

Inventory Management

Your next order of business will be finding a solution to help manage inventory. You need to track how much product you have available for sale, inventory levels for purchasing, and the management of inventory in your warehouse for picking, packing and shipping. As a start-up company, you may be able to get away with using spreadsheets to manually track data. Although using spreadsheets is time-consuming and error-prone, with a small number of SKUs, transactions and orders, using spreadsheets is a great option to get your business up and running. Alternatively, as your business starts to grow, or if you would prefer something more advanced, there are many inventory solutions that will integrate with QuickBooks.

eCommerce

If you want to sell product online, you will need to get an eCommerce site. This involves finding and creating a website based on existing platforms in the marketplace such as Shopify, WordPress, BigCommerce, Magento, etc. Once again, when just starting out, you may be able to survive by manually updating information between your accounting/inventory system and on your website such as inventory, descriptions, pricing and more. Implementing a proper eCommerce store requires a significant investment, but manually updating information between your different systems can save you some money while order volumes are still low.

What About ERP Software?

You may have heard the term “ERP Software” and are wondering about using that as a potential system. ERP software is designed to automate processes and streamline operations by providing functionality across all business operations – including accounting, inventory management, warehouse management, order entry and processing, reporting, contact management and more. However, because ERP is essentially multiple systems in one, it comes at a higher price tag and with a longer and more complex implementation process than an accounting solution like QuickBooks. Therefore, it can be hard to justify purchasing ERP at the beginning, and realistically, most start-up companies are better off using QuickBooks and spreadsheets (or some integrated inventory solution) to start off with. It is only after your business starts to grow and transaction volumes start to increase that it’s time to look at ERP as an option. There are some situations where start-up companies can benefit from ERP software as the first system implemented – for example when companies want to automate as many processes as possible and expect significant growth within the first couple of years. Frequently, start-up companies who do choose to implement ERP software will do so instead of hiring more people to perform tasks.

Search Process Tips

Now that you have a better understanding of the different systems available to your start-up business, here are some tips to help you with the search process.

One of the biggest challenges as a start-up entrepreneur is time. Since you have limited staff, you have to wear a lot of hats and inevitably get stuck performing tasks across the different areas of the business. This makes it hard to find the time to dedicate towards finding a proper solution, however, this is a double-edged sword as once you do find a solution, it will help you free up time.
While systems like QuickBooks can be implemented very quickly, this is not the case with ERP software. If you decide you want to implement an all-in-one solution, start searching well in advance of needing a new system. Implementing ERP can take several months based on a vendor’s availability and resources so you will want to start your search ahead of time – when it’s still manageable to run your business using your existing systems.

 

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