Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

Tracking Inventory with Pharmaceutical Distribution Software

The pharmaceutical distribution industry is characterized by strict regulations, sophisticated product tracking and advanced reporting to a variety of governing bodies. Regulations laid out by the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA), FDA, DEA and other associations such as VAWD, are constantly updating in order to meet the complex demand of the industry, changing consumer habits and adhere to new scientific research while still working under the main goal of keeping consumers safe. If it sounds like a complicated supply chain, that’s because it is. To reduce the stress of trying to stay on top of this complex industry, it’s important to find a software vendor that provides the right functionality for managing pharmaceutical inventory and distribution, can help automate processes, manage financials and adhere to compliance standards. In addition to functionality and expertise for the distribution of pharmaceutical inventory items, the ideal software vendor is one that has relationships with other industry experts, is a member of pharmaceutical trade associations, has partnerships with other solutions and regularly participates in pharmaceutical industry conferences and seminars to always be up-to-date on what is happening in the market.

One of the reasons why the pharmaceutical industry is so complex, is because of the various properties associated with pharmaceutical inventory. For example, instead of simply managing a product code, description, unit of measure (UOM) and pricing, distributors are also required to track lot numbers, dosages, product families, NDC#, GTIN, strength, schedules, limits and more. Below we explore some of the important pharmaceutical inventory properties that you need to manage and how you can track them in Blue Link’s pharmaceutical distribution software.

Product Code

Just like with any product, you need to create product codes for the pharmaceutical inventory items maintained in your inventory management system. Among other things, you can use this information for looking up product details and when associating products on a purchase order, sales order or quote. Since products codes are for internal purposes only, your business can choose whichever format you want, but for pharmaceutical wholesale distributors, a good idea is to use the NDC number as your product codes.

NDC Number

A product’s NDC number (or National Drug Code) is the unique number given to a product by the FDA. This number is unique to a specific product – no matter what UOMs you’re selling the product in.

Brand, Strength and Dosage

Tracking a product’s brand, brand description, strength and dosage is all important information used in Transaction Reporting (T3). The DSCSA requires that all trading partners in the supply chain not accept pharmaceutical products unless the trading partner they receive the product from can provide specific information about the product’s history. To meet these needs, Blue Link includes transaction history (product/lot tracing/ownership information) of each specific product/lot and automatic tracking of information stored to one level back and one level forward.

UOMs

Units of measure or UOMs, are the different package sizes inventory is available in. For most wholesale distribution businesses, inventory items will be available in multiple UOMs. For example, you may sell by case, by bottle, by each or by pallet. It’s important to set-up default units of measure which are the smallest unit of measure you will be inventorying any given product. You can then easily choose a different UOM category depending on the customer and order.

Product Family

Product family is important for managing the quantities of groups of products (known as product families) that you sell to your customers. Association of a product family to a product is important for Suspicious Order Monitoring (SOM). Monitoring the quantities of specific families that are sold to an individual customer is a requirement of SOM.

Dosage for Ratio

In Blue Link, the Dosage for Ratio information is important to help manage the ratio of pharmaceutical vs. non-pharmaceutical products on a sales order. This allows distributors selling non-pharmaceutical items (such as bandages, gauze, etc.) to companies such as pharmacies, to manage the pharmaceutical vs. non-pharmaceutical sales to that customer.

Pricing and Pricing Contracts

A product’s pricing dictates how much any given customer will pay for an item. Price contracts in Blue Link allow you to set-up different levels of pricing at the customer or product level. Price contracts may be based on specific customer terms, special discounts, limited time offers or other factors. If you have multiple price contracts for one product, you can decide whether to pull pricing information based on the “Best Price” or “First Price” found in the list of potential prices for the product and customer. There is always the option to override the price if you have the right user permission levels.

UPC Code

In many instances when selling to pharmacies, distributors will also sell non-pharmaceutical products. These products will often have a UPC code or Universal Product Code attached. A UPC code is a barcode made up of 12 numeric digits that are uniquely assigned to each item for easy identification using barcode scanners. For pharmaceutical distribution businesses, the use of barcode scanning helps to improve warehouse management operations and reduces the human error associated with manually receiving, picking, packing and shipping products.

GTIN

A pharmaceutical product’s GTIN number comes from the manufacturer and contains the manufacturer’s identifier and NDC number. Each UOM for a particular inventory item will have its own GTIN number.

2D Datamatrix

Just as the UPC code for non-pharmaceutical products is used to generate a barcode for scanning purposes, pharmaceutical products are now required to have a 2D Datamatrix barcode that includes important information about the specific item. The requirements dictate that each product’s smallest unit for sale must contain a 2D Datamatrix barcode containing four elements;

GTIN
Lot Number
Serial Number
Lot Expiry Date

Pharmaceutical software like Blue Link has scanning functionality that allows the user to scan the barcode and depending on the specific function being performed, “parses” the information so it can be used. This scanning functionality prevents the need for manually keying in important information such as lot and lot expiry information, improving efficiency while reducing data entry errors. The barcode is also used in saleable returns verification (another DSCSA requirement).

Lot Number and Lot Costing

A product’s lot number comes from the manufacturer and is used to track specific lots/batches of products. The lot number is assigned to a batch of manufactured product and used throughout the supply chain to  track which customers received which product/lot and when they were received. The date these specific items were received and supplier they came from are also tracked, allowing you to monitor products from the supplier to your own warehouse and ultimately to the customer. The cost (COG) associated to the lot is dependent on the price paid at the time of receipt. In the case of a product recall, businesses can identify pharmaceutical inventory items by their lot number. The lot number of a product is also used in managing the transaction history of each product (another requirement of the DSCSA).

Warehouse Locations

Managing warehouse locations from within your pharmaceutical distribution software stores information on which warehouse you want to receive pharmaceutical inventory. Once you receive product into a specific warehouse, you can then transfer it to another location at a later date. In the pharmaceutical industry, many wholesale distributors receive all product into a “quarantine” location for quality control purposes, preventing the products from being allocated/shipped without proper QC. Once the items have been cleared, they are then sent to various other warehouse locations.

Drug Schedule and Limits

A drug’s schedule dictates how the product is classified at the Federal and State level. The DEA designates a product schedule when the product is first developed. Each schedule is based off a drugs medical value and potential for abuse – therefore, drugs which have a higher potential for abuse will have a higher schedule. The schedules range from I to V with I having the highest potential for abuse and addiction. Although the DEA has designated products as “Schedule I”, no legal pharmaceutical distributor will ever sell these products, as they are normally illegal (i.e. heroin, LSD, ecstasy). Many states set their own drug schedules, however, this schedule cannot be set lower than the Federal schedule. A pharmaceutical product’s schedule is important because a business requires different licenses for the sale and purchase of different drug schedules. This is in addition to other State specific regulations such as VAWD which is a specific certification sometimes required by a state to buy/sell scheduled drugs. Some distributors set limits on the volume of products that their customer can buy. Within Blue Link, user’s set-up a product’s schedules and limits based on customer ship-to locations. The system will then automatically prevent users from selling a quantity of products over the customer’s limit.

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Benefits of ERP: Improved Customer Satisfaction

One of my favorite posts on this blog is from 2015 – 5 Benefits – ERP Software. Even though it’s been a few years, the benefits of ERP outlined in that post still stand and include some great ideas on how to help your business succeed. In today’s post, I want to dive a little deeper into the first benefit, Improved Customer Service. After we examine how ERP can help you improve customer satisfaction, I hope you’ll have new insights to share with your team and new ideas on how to serve your customers at the highest level possible.

When you deliver a positive customer experience, you’re contributing to the growth of your company by creating happy customers. As you move forward and increase customer satisfaction, you’ll see increased customer loyalty, positive word-of-mouth referrals, and more 5-star reviews for your company – all contributing to an increase in your bottom line. With the right implementation and usage, ERP software can help your company deliver a positive customer service experience and improve customer satisfaction. For wholesale and distribution companies specifically, ERP can provide a competitive advantage by developing a deeper understanding of a customer’s business, and delivering a more tailored experience to customers.

Let’s look at some of the benefits of ERP and ERP tools that can help you improve your customer satisfaction:

Better Inventory and Order Management

On a personal level, we all know how disappointing and frustrating it can be to find out that the item we want is out of stock. When your customers are ordering inventory for their business, an unexpected out-of-stock item could mean delays or unscheduled downtime that could hurt their bottom line. ERP software can help you spare your customers from this experience by keeping stock in check with re-order levels and automated notifications and by helping to predict customer demand.

Another disappointing and frustrating customer experience is the delayed delivery of shipments. Even though delivery is the final stage in the supply chain cycle, it is sometimes the most critical. Making sure that deliveries arrive on time is crucial when it comes to customer satisfaction. By using information about the products, available inventory, and information about the customer, your ERP system can help you avoid delivery delays. You’ll also be able to better manage expectations by providing more accurate delivery estimates.

With better ordering processes and faster delivery, customer confidence and satisfaction will begin to rise, and customer churn will fall. For more information on how ERP can help you better manage inventory, download our free Top Inventory Techniques.

Access to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Tools

In addition to accounting, inventory management, order entry, and other features, an all-in-one ERP system like Blue Link will provide contact management and CRM functionality. These tools are essential when it comes to retaining customers and increasing customer satisfaction.

Retaining customers not only fosters growth, but it also helps save money. Studies show acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. It’s also interesting to note that increasing your customer retention rate by 5 percent increases profits by 25 percent to 95 percent.

A CRM tool will allow your sales staff to track customer interactions, store addresses, order history, and more. This information is then available to other departments, such as customer service. Usually, CRM is customizable and can store any other information you would like to keep for future reference. Having access to this information can help your employees understand the customer. By logging and monitoring the behavior of your customers, your company will have a better understanding and better insight into their needs, buying behaviors, and other essential statistics. For more information on CRM and other software tools for your sales team, check out our guide.
More Efficient and Accurate Customer Service
It’s no surprise that 84 percent of customers get frustrated when service agents can’t provide the information needed. Common obstacles to quality customer service include long wait times to retrieve necessary information, or even worse, ending the customer call and then using a follow-up call to answer your customer’s question.
When you have an ERP system in place, your staff is better prepared to provide faster, more accurate, and more impactful customer service. An ERP system takes many streams of data and makes everything accessible from one place. Your team can access important information in real-time – no outdated details being passed to clients, no searching through different systems or sources of information. In Blue Link, it takes just a few clicks to access information about shipments, inventory, order history, payments, pricing, and more.

Did you know? According to a recent study, satisfied customers tell 11 people how happy they are, while dissatisfied customers tell 15 people about their bad experiences.

For small-medium sized businesses, making customer satisfaction a priority can be a way to get a competitive edge. Research shows that 55 percent of customers are willing to pay more for a guaranteed good experience. When it comes to receiving premium services and experiences, 86 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for an upgraded experience. Offering different levels of service can help your customers feel more in control of their experience. It can also boost customer loyalty and can help you generate incremental revenue.

It’s easy to see that the benefits of ERP software are essential to the success of your SMB. If you’d like to hear more about how Blue Link can help you improve customer satisfaction, please schedule a free demo or book a free consultation today.

 

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Competing with Yourself When Evaluating Software

Analysis paralysis, inability to make a decision, over analyzing, fear of potential error…sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Many people suffer from analysis paralysis every day when it comes to making purchase decisions, travel plans, and simple choices in their lives. But when it comes to business decisions such as buying enterprise software, analysis paralysis can have significant negative consequences and hinder company growth. So why do we feel the need to speak to so many potential software vendors when searching for a solution? Why are we constantly involving more experts in our decision-making process? Why do we sit through presentations and meetings and waste countless hours on Google…only to make no decision at all?

It’s hard to say why we have trouble making decisions aside from the fact that it’s in our nature to avoid the pain we associate with failure and mistakes. This pain comes from the fear of making the wrong decision. No matter how much time and energy you spend during the software search, there is never any guarantee that you are making the right decision, and its detrimental to the decision-making process to assume that always performing more research, analyzing more data, and talking to more people will completely mitigate the risk of making the wrong decision. Although all these things can help you make the BEST decision, there comes a point where there is nothing to be gained from further analysis and it’s time to make a final decision – risk and all. Ultimately, the worst decision you can make for your business is no decision at all.

Deciding is the only way to move forward.

Successful business leaders know that to move forward means to make decisions, and they are confident in their ability to do so. They give direction and are willing to assume the risk and take responsibility for success or failure of any decision made.  They take calculated risks and are comfortable with uncertainty. They understand that making a decision, even if it’s the wrong one, is a step forward.

According to the article A Bad Decision is Better Than No Decision At All by Katherine Keller…“A person who makes a thousand wrong decisions is better off than a person who makes no decisions at all. Why? Because a person who has made a thousand wrong decisions has ruled out a thousand things that do not work for them. They are much better prepared to move forward towards success than the person who is in day four of watching PowerPoint presentations on Plan A vs. Plan B.” Too many options and too much analysis can actually have the reverse effect on decision-making. Instead of empowering business owners to confidently make decisions, it adds to the stress and anxiety already experienced when making a big purchasing decision. The buying process today is saturated with too much data, too many people involved in the sales process and too many options.

Don’t make decisions on price alone.  

To help with decision making, many businesses rely on comparing product pricing alone. However, price is only important if it’s not aligned with the market. If you’re finding that price is significantly different between the software vendors that you’re evaluating, perhaps you’re trying to compare solutions across different tiers – or you need to adjust your budget to fit the real-world. A solution that saves you time and money, has the right features and can scale with your business – all at a fair price – is more important than getting a solution at the lowest price.

How to Make the Best Decision: 

Implementing new enterprise software within your organization is likely one (if not the) biggest decision your company will ever make. Therefore, it’s important to dedicate time and resources to the search to ensure a decision is actually made in the end. No decision is still a decision – and frequently the worst decision your company can make. Try to remember why you started searching for a new solution in the first place and to help you avoid analysis paralysis during the search and evaluation process, consider the following:

Only evaluate a small number of software vendors.

Trying to evaluate too many software vendors can result in wasted resources, overwhelmed employees, and ultimately the wrong decision (or more likely, no decision at all).  It’s better to have more in-depth discussions with a few vendors than to skim the surface with a whole bunch. According to Columbia Business School Professor Sheena Iyengar, “Overall, choice overload reduces engagement, decision quality, and satisfaction”.

Involve the right people in the decision-making process at the right time.

It’s important to involve final decision makers as early in the sales process as possible. Once you have completed initial discussions and have a short-list of potential vendors, it’s time to involve decision makers in more in-depth discussions and demos. This prevents the situation where decision makers get brought in late and stall the decision-making process by asking questions that have already been answered. It’s also important that the people who have the authority to influence the decision are empowered to do so. To ensure buy-in from other team members and employees they need to believe in the person making the decision.

Stick to a plan.

Having a plan and then sticking to it is imperative in the decision-making process. This includes having specific timeframes for moving through the process and ultimately a final decision deadline. Break decisions into smaller steps such as compiling a list of business processes and requirements, initial conversations with vendors, in-depth evaluations and product demos. Any deviations from the plan should only happen for valid reasons – remember to focus on long-term business objectives and priorities, without getting caught-up in the day-to-day.

Focus on your objective and final outcomes.

It’s important to focus on the initial goals of your software search and not get caught up in all the bells and whistles. The right ERP software vendor will have advanced functionality that you can turn on later. Although it’s important to evaluate these types of features for future company growth, spending too much time reviewing features for future use will stall the decision-making process.

Remember, no matter how much information you gather during your search and evaluation process, there will always be more. And it’s very unlikely that you will find a solution that can meet 100% of your needs. This is where configuration and customization come into play. If you find a solution that can handle 80% of your business needs with a little configuration set-up, make sure you jump on the opportunity to help avoid the continuous loop of analysis paralysis.

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How to use the 80/20 Rule to Cut Costs in Your Warehouse

In the late 19th century, an Italian economist named Vifredo Pareto noted that approximately 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the population. The core of the idea is this: the majority of results come from a minority of causes. 80 percent of our output comes from 20 percent of our input. This observation from Pareto, published in his first work Cours d’économie politique while at the University of Lausanne, is the foundation of the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule – a powerful concept now widely used by leaders and businesses around the world. By maximizing the power of the 20 percent providing the greatest gains, and by reducing the 80 percent that is problematic, leaders and businesses who adopt this concept are more efficient, effective and successfully increase the profitability of their organization.

So, how can we use the Pareto Principle to help reduce costs?

When using this principle to analyze business costs, most likely you will see that 20 percent of your cost categories are adding to 80 percent of your costs. If you can determine what’s in that 20 percent, you know what to target. Your next steps are to take action on those areas.

For example, let’s say you use the 80/20 rule and identify mistakes in your warehouse as being one of your top cost areas. You see that cost and think, “Ok, I’m going to reduce costs by minimizing mistakes in the warehouse.” But, to use this principle effectively, don’t stop there. Use another Pareto analysis to examine the different types of mistakes and calculate how much each type costs. Are the mistakes related to picking the wrong product? Are the mistakes related to improper put-away processes and lost inventory? Are the mistakes related to manual processes and lack of automation? Most likely, you will again find that 80 percent of your mistakes are being caused by 20 percent of the problems, so the problems in that 20 percent are the ones to target.

The good news is that there won’t be many to tackle before you start to see progress. Using the Pareto Principle, out of 10 different types of mistakes identified in your warehouse, you’ll only need to focus on 2 types, the other 8 being all the small mistakes that only add up to 20 percent. Using this rule, it’s easy to see that there are a few underlying causes that are causing most of your problems.

How powerful is the 20 percent?

Let’s look further into these top 2 causes of mistakes in the warehouse. If you think about it, these 2 causes are not just 4 times as costly as the other 8. They are actually 16 times as costly. As they are only 20 percent, there are a quarter as many of them. Since they are worth 80 percent, they are actually 4 times as expensive in total, a factor of 16. In other words, if 2 of them cost $80 and the remaining 8 of them cost the remaining $20, then the first 2 are costing $40 each and the other eight are costing only $2.50 each. Clearly, it’s very important to focus on those 2 causes.

Where to use the Pareto Principle to cut costs

To help use the 80/20 rule for cost savings, let’s look at 3 examples where you may be able to identify problems and reduce costs in your warehouse:

Warehouse Layout. When you analyze your warehouse layout using the Pareto Principle, you might see that 20 percent of your warehouse gets utilized 80 percent of the time. Is this 20 percent optimized for the most efficient, picking, packing and shipping? Why is this area of the warehouse used more? Is it because it holds the most high-volume inventory? Is it where picking takes place? Packing? Consider options to make even more use of this space or expanding it to include more product and operational processes.
Stock. This is another easy to identify area where Pareto applies. So, 80 percent of your stock costs (your money that’s tied up in stock), probably comes from 20 percent of the items. What are those high-value items and are you selling enough volume to offset the costs? Ask yourself questions such as, can inventory management software help improve inventory turnover?
Sales. 20 percent of your customers generate 80 percent of your revenue. Are you wasting time on customers that aren’t worth it? How can you keep the 20 percent of your customers happy? What types of products are these customers purchasing and how often? Although its never a good idea to only rely on a small number of customers for continued revenue growth, this type of information can help you direct resources and determine which customers to spend the most time with.

When trying to cut costs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of areas to consider and get distracted by fixing problems that won’t yield the best results. The Pareto Principle helps put cost savings in perspective and highlights effective areas of focus. Use the insights you gain to make the greatest impact on your business and then get ready to reap the rewards.

If you’re interested in other ways of cutting costs and finding ways to save money in your warehouse, take a look at our resource Top Inventory Techniques That Will Save You Money.

 

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Updates on the Global Cannabis Industry from the MJ Biz Conference

With conferences around the world, MJBizConINT’L is where business, research, and policy intersect to advance the global cannabis industry. Each business conference welcomes global cannabis executives from mature and emerging markets to network and learn through educational sessions with discussions on conditions, market trends, future opportunities, regulatory considerations, research, science and more. This past week was the Toronto edition of the MJBiz Conference held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from September 4th to the 6th. The Toronto conference included keynote speaker Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister and other noteworthy speakers including Mark Zekulin, CEO of Canopy Growth Corp., Kevin Murphy, CEO of Acreage Holdings in the US, Alfredo Pascual, International Analyst at Marijuana Biz Daily, Kay Tamillow, Director of Research, Brightfield Group, Trina Fraser, Partner at Brazeau Seller Law and more. The conference included more than 40 sessions covering topics ranging from opportunities in hemp and CBD, to Cannabis 2.0 regulations, to different global market outlooks and future predictions. As an international conference, the show provides opportunities to learn more about opportunities and regulations in areas outside of North America, and provides ample examples of countries and cities that have done it right, as well as cautionary tales. With so many great sessions and speakers, there was a lot of information to take in, but I’ve compiled a list of some of the most important learning points from the show.

International Market Opportunities

Outside of North America, the Germany market is one of the biggest in terms of future opportunities in medical Cannabis sales due to it’s aging population and regulations. Germany is currently depending explicitly on imports for flower product.
There has been minimal activity on the recreational side in Europe, however, as smaller countries start to legalize, this may have a positive impact on larger, neighboring areas.
Within Latin America, there are huge opportunities with countries such as Mexico which is on track to become the 3rd largest country in the world to Federally legalize Cannabis.
The biggest issues for some international markets are not legalization, but supply chain. Many international markets have a legalization framework, but no infrastructure for supporting consumer demand.
If Asian countries such as China decide to legalize, this will have huge impacts on the market due to the population size – even if 1% of the China market purchases Cannabis product, this presents a significant revenue stream.

The US Market

The USA is by far the largest market and this is anticipated to continue to grow, especially if Cannabis becomes Federally legalized.
Overall, a lack of good data makes sales estimates tricky, but many states are starting to provide monthly updates on the number of medical Cannabis patients and recreational sales numbers which will continue to aid in future market predictions.
There are more medical Cannabis markets in the US, but they are smaller in size than recreational markets.
Recreational markets are more valuable, but also more competitive.
In the US, we have started to see more and more Eastern states legalize which is helping to grow the whole market.
Industry experts from other markets such as CPG are helping to grow the industry through consolidation and supply chain expertise.
Continued US market growth will come from both recreational and medical sales, however, this leaves the question of where certain CBD-type products fall (think beverages, skin care products, etc.)
In the US, the mass market demand is not coming from flower products but instead from edibles, vapes, oils etc.
For both medical and recreational Cannabis users, it’s less about traditional smoking methods and more about alternative ways to consume. This is a lesson for all LPs to have a plan in place for focusing on product development outside of just flower product in order to survive in the future.
For those interested in flower products, it will be for premium flower grown in top-notch facilities. Right now, there is a lack of supply of high-quality flower.

The Canadian Market

There were several issues with the original Cannabis legalization in Canada including lack of supply.
Due to the initial and on-going shortage of Cannabis products, brands have been unable to develop the full consumer experience and instead consumers are forced to buy only what is available.
This issue is amplified by strict regulations around marketing and the ultimate goal in the recreational Cannabis space is to develop the market for different types of consumer groups – for example, budget consumers vs. those who want a more premium product experience.
Canadian companies like Canopy, are leading the industry in terms of investment and intellectual property (IP). IP for products such as pre-roll machines and processes such as extraction is helping to shape the global market.

Cannabis 2.0 in Canada

Cannabis 2.0 in Canada refers to the upcoming October 2019 regulations and legalization around the extraction market, topicals and edibles.
Many industry experts believe that the long-term profitability of Cannabis product will come from either vape sales or beverage sales.
Cannabis beverages provide a social consumption opportunity with additional benefits including low calories and no hangover.
Companies can start to take advantage of this opportunity by developing IP that goes into delivering an enjoyable social experience.
Regulations around edibles and topicals leave a lot of room for interpretation – right now Health Canada has set out guidelines that make it very clear what businesses can’t do, but not what they can do. There is no closed list of the specific types of products a business is allowed to create.
One of the biggest surprises around the October 2019 date is the requirement that organizations manufacturing Cannabis products must have a separate manufacturing facility for infused products and non-infused products. This will potentially reduce the number of “ready” licensed manufacturers and begs the question of what constitutes two separate facilities?
Currently there is no requirement for the automatic transfer of testing data from labs to back-end business management seed-to-sale software, which means it is up to each company to determine what information they input manually and report on. This raises concerns around testing standards, product specs and which data sets to include from multiple labs and testing facilities.
Some Cannabis companies are trying to vertically integrate and “do-it-all” – cultivation, extraction, manufacturing etc., but this is not a sustainable business model – especially in the start-up space and instead Canadian companies should focus efforts on one area of the market and doing it well.
All edible products will have to be “shelf-stable” which makes chocolate products a risky choice.
The Quebec market is trying to impose its own extremely restrictive regulations.
In general, its hard to know what types of products will get approved by Health Canada the quickest, and although there are a lot of general rules guiding the industry (such as restrictions on adding sweeteners to extracted products) there is no clear definition as to what makes something a sweetener vs. a flavor and these types of questions will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

Attending these types of conferences is important for keeping up-to-date and getting a head start on industry best practices and future regulations and market predictions. However, its important to note that the industry as a whole is constantly changing and there are still a lot of unknowns and contradictory information being presented. As a representative of Blue Link ERP, I attended the show to learn more about what’s happening in the industry to continue to build out our Cannabis software solution.

About Blue Link Cannabis ERP

With over 20 years’ experience as an all-in-one inventory management and accounting ERP solution, Blue Link has been helping businesses streamline and automate processes for decades. Blue Link’s robust lot tracking and reporting functionality for pharmaceutical distribution companies has helped us develop specific features and reports to aid in meeting Cannabis regulatory requirements set out by Health Canada and other regulatory bodies. In addition to Cannabis-specific functionality, Blue Link provides tools for warehouse management, CRM, financials, inventory, order entry and processing, pick, pack and ship and works with industry partners for your pre-harvest and post-harvest cultivation needs, and eCommerce requirements.

 

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What is the Internet of Things (IoT) and how does it relate to smart devices?

Would you like to understand what the Internet of Things (IoT) is and what it means for business owners? Or maybe you’re already familiar and just need a refresher. How does the internet of things relate to smart devices?

In this post, we’ll look at the definition of IoT, along with an explanation and an example of what it is. Then, we’ll move on to the differences between connected, smart and IoT devices and how they all relate to each other. To wrap things up, we’ll take a quick look at what this means for business owners.

What is IoT?

Daniel Burrus, one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and innovation experts, defines the Internet of Things as:
“…a combination of networked sensors and machines that enable machine-to-machine communications. Enabling technologies to include the Internet, advanced cloud services, wired and wireless networks, and data-gathering sensors, making the system instantaneous anywhere, anytime.”
In other words, the Internet of Things is simply an extension of the current Internet, expanding into our physical world, and more specifically, physical objects.

For example, let’s pretend you own a factory and it’s your job to oversee a building full of machines and equipment that create products or perform services. If one machine goes down, your supply chain and business will suffer. Maintenance and regular checks are key for making sure that your operation goes on seamlessly.

But it takes time and money to look at every machine individually. Even if you’re performing regular, daily checks on all your equipment, you’re working from old and possibly outdated data. Unlike manual maintenance and checks, IoT capability gives you access to real-time information on the status of your operation and can predict and alert you to potential issues. Instead of working from a day-old or week-old report, you know exactly what is happening in real-time, giving you the opportunity to stop interruptions before they start.

IoT is the process of giving a physical device or object the ability to connect to the digital world in a real way. In this example, your machines now report as devices, and these devices connect to a centralized hub. Your machines now share information like battery level, operating efficiency and even give reports on any jams or specific operating issues that you may need to know about, and would have previously missed with manual checks.

As you can imagine, this will significantly reduce the response time needed on business-critical actions. In addition, you can now schedule maintenance repairs when you know you need them. This example uses a factory, but it doesn’t stop there. Eventually, IoT will be the solution to monitoring and maintaining distributed machines everywhere from assembly lines, airports, drone deployments, buses, within your home and so on.

How are IoT devices different than connected or smart devices?

Back in 2014, Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann assessed the difference between smart and connected technology in the Harvard Business Review this way:
Smart things are products that incorporate sensors, microprocessors, data storage, controls, software, an embedded operating system with enhanced user interface, and the capability of running autonomously (e.g., following a programmed schedule). Smart devices are often connected to a network of some kind, but it’s not required.

Connected things are products with sensors, microprocessors, and controls that communicate with networks in order to serve two purposes. On one hand, it exchanges data over the network to allow monitoring and data collection. On the other, it’s designed to allow some of its functions to be controlled remotely by one of those smart things over a communications network.
In other words, smart devices provide some level of automation, gather data and can be programmed for specific uses, while connected devices are limited to being remotely controlled and monitored.

For example, a connected clothes dryer can tell you when your cycle has finished. A smart clothes dryer, on the other hand, may have sensors to detect if the clothes are dry before the full cycle is complete, and can be programmed to shut off and conserve energy instead of continuing to dry already dry clothes.

IoT devices are a step up from connected and smart devices and create more value because they are more scalable, upgradeable, automated and future-ready. In the example used above, an IoT clothes dryer goes beyond sensing when the clothes are dry and can determine the most cost-effective way to dry the clothes. For example, the device can collect data such as the humidity level of the geographic area of the device, the most efficient fan speed, heater temperature, local electricity rates and so on to predict when the load will be ready and how much it will cost to dry the clothes.

What does this mean for businesses?

Eventually, all companies will have IoT solutions and systems in place. By using IoT products, businesses will have access to better business insights and consumer experiences, can further reduce costs and equipment downtime and easily identify more ways to boost efficiency and productivity. Changes will also be seen when it comes to asset tracking, eliminating waste and reducing inefficiencies.

But, we’re not quite there yet. Implementing IoT solutions is still costly and convoluted. In the meantime, business owners have access to a wide range of other information sources to help streamline operations, drive business decisions and help increase their bottom line, such as advanced real-time reporting and business intelligence (BI). Like IoT, business intelligence can help business owners improve efficiency and increase productivity.

To learn more about what BI encompasses, and how it adds value when incorporated into an ERP system, look at our whitepaper “Using Business Intelligence Tools to Drive Decision Making.”

 

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Blue Link ERP Launches Financial Report Writer

Financial statements – love them or hate them, they are a necessary component to business management and provide you with a quick snapshot of your financial business health. Without proper financial reporting tools, creating standard financial reports such as income statements (profit and loss statements), balance sheets and cash-flow statements can be a tedious and time-consuming process. However, with the right financial report writing tools, the process of creating, editing, updating and sharing financial reports turns into a quick and easy task – one that yields huge results in helping you see problem areas and opportunities in your business. To better help our customers with their financial reporting requirements, Blue Link ERP is excited to announce the launch of our Financial Report Writer! Provided as part of our accounting ERP solution, Blue Link’s Financial Report Writer is a cost effective tool built into Excel that allows our customers to link general ledger data from one or more Blue Link database to easily create financial reports. Before we tell you more about this awesome tool, let’s start from the beginning with some basic information on financial reports in general.

Reporting 101

There are 3 main financial reports important to every business – the income statement (also referred to as a Profit and Loss or P&L statement), balance sheet and cash-flow statement. These reports provide insight into business financial health, include important information necessary for auditing purposes, and provide shareholders and management a way to quickly see how the company is performing financially.

Income Statement

An income statement is a financial report that looks at your company’s revenues and expenses over a specific time period and then uses that information to determine if your company made a profit or loss. Your company can then compare the information from multiple income statements across a variety of timeframes. This gives you a better understanding of your company’s overall financial health, cyclical changes and patterns, and it helps aid in decision making. Understanding your company’s financials allows you to identify and prepare for any profit increase and losses.

Balance Sheet

Your company’s balance sheet provides insight into how much equity you have in your business. In other words, the balance sheet refers to the total company value for a specific time period after assets and liabilities have been reported. After calculating all your business assets (what you own) and all your business liabilities (what you owe), you are then able to determine your company’s total equity.

Cash-flow Statement

Similar to your income statement, your cash-flow statement includes information about revenues and expenses, but unlike the income statement, the cash-flow statement takes into account when revenues are collected and when expenses are paid. Simple calculations allow you to see whether or not your cash flow is positive. If you have more cash coming in than you do going out, you have a positive cash flow. The reverse scenario represents a negative cash flow – when you have more cash going out then you do coming in. A review of your cash flow statement allows your business to prepare and adjust operations to accommodate gaps, and to plan for any specific business projects, large purchases or other business decisions.

Blue Link’s Financial Report Writer

To help our customers easily create, edit and share financial statements, Blue Link ERP recently launched its own Financial Report Writer. As an Excel add-in, this tool is built into the Excel interface and links to live Blue Link general ledger data. This specific tool links to Blue Link general ledger data and facilitates segmenting reports by up to 4 distinct segments including GL account, GL department, job code and cost code. Since Blue Link ERP has the ability to link to other data sources in Excel, users of the Financial Report Writer tool are also able to combine ODBC-linked data from other sources or databases into the same workbook for more advanced reporting. The ability to live-link data turns Excel into a powerful reporting tool that allows businesses to report on various information – including sales, inventory, salespeople and more.
Learn more about Blue Link’s Financial Report Writer and accounting software functionality.

 

 

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Four ERP Sales Reports to Help You Make Better Business Decisions

ERP software gives you access to an endless amount of data about your business, but have you ever wondered if you’re using that information to its full potential? ERP Sales reports such as Sales by Month, Sales by Territory and a variety of others contain crucial company and customer data that could help you boost your business. But, if you aren’t generating and analyzing reports regularly, there’s no doubt that you’re missing out.

Some companies don’t realize the power they can unlock by using these reports, and others just aren’t aware of what types of reports are available. With the right ERP reporting and analytics, it’s easy to identify opportunities and make faster, smarter business decisions.

Blue Link ERP provides tightly integrated inventory management and accounting software tools, out-of-the-box report templates and the ability to generate immediate ERP sales reports tailored to your business. Check out these Blue Link ERP sales reports to see the type of data you have at your fingertips:

Sales by Month – Determine the progress of sales throughout the month, year or given time period. When you generate a sales-by-date report, you can also identify trends or patterns around high-sale or low-sale periods. Using those insights, you can plan targeted campaigns to leverage high peaks or improve low producing months using special discounts or promotions. These types of reports also help you make purchasing designs by identifying demand trends throughout the year.
Sales by Territory – Easily identify how each territory is performing and see the performance of individual reps. This report can help you identify which territories to focus on, where to add resources and other factors that influence sales in any given area.
Customer Ranking – Zero in on customers that are not buying the same quantities of products this year compared to previous years. By investigating increases or decreases in purchasing behavior by customer, you identify industry trends and see which customers need more support.
Weekly Top 10 Customers – Discover customer buying behavior and patterns and pinpoint which accounts customer service and sales teams should focus on. This report can also help you engage inactive customers or drive loyalty with top customers.

PDF Version: More Information on the Above Reports

Sales reports are only just one type of report important for business management. Financial reports such as Income Statements (Profit and Loss Statements) and Balances Sheets provide insight into the financial health of your business. Exception Reports provide information on anomalies and provide guidance as to which area of business processes to focus on. Inventory Reports such as Inventory Ranking Reports provide insight into profitability vs. holding costs for determining purchasing volumes and pricing. It is important to find a solution that allows your business the flexibility to report on all aspects of the business and includes features for customizing reports, reporting on live data and automatically generating and emailing reports to appropriate stakeholders.

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The Top 5 Warehouse Inventory Software Features Every Wholesale Distributor Needs

Do you buy and sell inventory? Do you operate at least one warehouse location? Are you picking, packing and shipping orders to customers every day? Do you purchase inventory from a variety of vendors? Do you take orders from customers over the phone, through email, via a sales team or through eCommerce or EDI? Congratulations! If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need proper warehouse inventory software. Every wholesale distribution business will require much of the same basic functionality for managing inventory, accounting, customer accounts and warehouse operations. And while each business will have its own unique processes, there are several features inherent in warehouse inventory software that can help your business automate processes, eliminate errors, reduce the time it takes to pick, pack and ship orders and keep your customers happy. Manually tracking inventory information in spreadsheets is prone to human error, time-consuming and frankly, frustrating. Although Excel can be a powerful tool, it is not appropriate for growing businesses who instead can benefit from proper warehouse inventory functionality. So, what does that include exactly? Let’s take a look at the top 5 warehouse inventory software features every wholesale distributor needs.

(1) Basic Inventory Control

Starting with the basics, inventory control functionality is an important part of warehouse operations. This includes the ability to set min and max levels, perform cycle counts, track serialized items, pick, pack and ship orders and manage bin and shelf locations. Proper inventory control means knowing what inventory you have available in your warehouse, in-transit, or on backorder at any given time. This allows your business to determine stock levels based on supply and demand and account for leads times and seasonal fluctuations. Holding too much or too little inventory can result in extra costs or lost customers, and without a properly organized warehouse, employees are left wasting time finding product when picking orders.

(2) Accounting

The best warehouse inventory software also includes functionality for accounting. Typically, this type of all-in-one solution is known as ERP software and includes functionality for inventory management, warehouse operations, AND accounting. This is because you can’t do one without the other. The right warehouse inventory system will also include tools for order entry and processing, purchasing, invoicing, tracking accounts receivables and payables and managing the financial processes of your wholesale distribution business. While you may have been able to manually track inventory information in a spreadsheet and then accounting information in a separate solution (like QuickBooks), as your business continues to grow and order volume increase, this will become unmanageable. A simple keying error or a delay in updating information across systems can all cost your business money – and can result in upset customers and employees.

(3) Barcode Scanning

Barcode scanning is an easy way to improve on existing warehouse and inventory management operations. Scanning product during the receipt and pack process reduces the amount of errors, decreases the time it takes to unload and ship product and helps to ensure you’re shipping the right items to the right customers. If you’re looking for more advanced barcode scanning, consider functionality for mobile handheld picking. This functionality works on mobile devices, allowing users to scan products at the source during the picking process.

(4) Reporting & Analytics

Reporting and analytics is a must-have for any business. Tracking information such as top inventory sales by unit, inventory slow moving items, sale by date, inventory movement exceptions, as well as financial reports such as profit and loss statements, allows your business to make informed decisions. The right information available at the right time aids in purchasing decisions, helps to negotiate rates with suppliers and customers and provides insight into opportunities for special promotions or discounts. Reporting provides a snapshot of company health and helps to identify patterns and trends.

(5) Lot Tracking

Lot tracking functionality (or traceability) is an important feature for companies that deal with perishable or potentially harmful products and includes tools for tracking expiration dates. Lot tracking allows your company to track the movement of inventory from supplier through to your customers. In the case of a recall, lot tracking and recall management functionality helps you quickly identify which products were affected and notify the appropriate customers. Lot tracking is also useful for businesses that need to track dye lots for specific color patterns.

Finding a software solution with the 5 features listed above is a great starting point for automating processes and growing your business. At a bare minimum, a solution should include basic tools for inventory and accounting. It is then important to find options that also include advanced functionality depending on your specific needs and industry requirements. The right software solution can be a huge asset for your business – if you take the time and dedicate the resources and money to finding a proper system.

 

 

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What is a SaaS ERP Software Implementation?

Software implementations cover a variety of activities performed by the vendor you’ve selected and its team of experts, internal employees and potential users, your management team, and occasionally any outside consulting or IT representatives. When you make the decision to implement a piece of software, you’re also agreeing to follow the implementation processes laid out by that vendor. This means it is important to ensure all employees are onboard for the change and available to help where needed, outside of their normal job responsibilities. The specific requirements of your team during the implementation process and that of the vendor are identified during initial implementation meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page, and to ensure that adequate resources have been provided to complete the implementation on time. With SaaS-based enterprise software, implementations do not happen overnight, but rather, over the course of several weeks and months depending on the vendor’s schedule and how complicated the implementation. For example, implementations usually take longer when there is a high number of employees that need to be trained, if there is more than one company implementing the software, when there are multiple warehouse locations, when you’re moving from a very old legacy piece of software, or when you’re moving data from multiple existing solutions and sources.

SaaS Applications

As previously discussed, SaaS applications (software-as-a-service) apply to software that is licensed on a subscription model where the software is hosted on the software provider’s servers (or servers leased by the software provider) and not on the customer’s own physical equipment. With SaaS ERP there are different means of accessing the software and data. One common method is through an internet browser where a user types in a URL and then enters login and password information to use software via a specific website. Another option is to connect to software via an RDP connection.  RDP stands for “remote desktop protocol” and is a Microsoft licensed technology that essentially allows a user at a remote computer to log into a server or a specific computer on a network over an internet connection.  Once logged in, the remote user has access to that server or computer as if they were sitting in front of it. In either case, there can be significant set-up required before your company starts using the software and even though not all businesses will require the same set-up, it is important to carefully review each implementation proposal from the different vendors to determine exactly what is included with the implementation, and what is expected by your team.

Initial SaaS Environment Set-Up

For Blue Link ERP, the initial environment set-up includes spinning up and provisioning a new server environment for each individual customer and installing Windows. This means each customer has access to their own server environment, complete with Blue Link’s ERP software and related technologies and systems (including Microsoft, SQL, Crystal Reports, etc.). Each environment is customized and provides resources applicable to the size and requirements of the company, in terms of storage space, number of dedicated servers, RAM, CPU and web services etc. The initial server set-up also includes adding users and setting user permissions – generating secure login details and providing access to applicable applications and services.

As a Microsoft Partner, Blue Link ERP provides additional Microsoft resources (such as Office 365 licenses) at a discounted rate to our customers, which is also included as part of the set-up for a customer’s server environment.

On-Going Server Maintenance

One of the main benefits of SaaS ERP solutions is that your team does not have to manage the physical hardware, infrastructure or software itself. Instead, your company pays a monthly fee to the software vendor, leaving them to manage the server, software data back-ups, IT maintenance and security, and allowing your team to focus on the core objectives of your business and getting more sales. Once a server has been configured for your company, and you’re actively using the software and hosting environment, there is still regular monitoring and maintenance that takes place behind the scenes. The cost to manage these tasks and additional licensing costs is built into any monthly fees and they commonly include:

Updating server and hardware infrastructure to the latest technology
Maintaining security of data and installation of appropriate firewalls etc.
Data back-ups
Microsoft and other software related updates
Managing users and user permission settings
Anti-Virus/Anti-Ransomware protection
Data security and vault protection

When searching for SaaS ERP, keep in mind the work involved as part of the implementation process and make sure you build this into your time frame. If there is a specific time of year that works best for your company to switch systems or a specific date you had in mind, remember to start discussions with potential software vendors well in advance as most vendors schedule implementations a couple of months in advance based on resource availability.

 

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