Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

5 Mistakes to Avoid as an eCommerce Business

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

Mistake #1: Looking at eCommerce in isolation

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

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

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

Mistake #3: Poor Search Engine Optimization

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

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

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

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

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

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

By |

How to Learn New Software

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

How to Learn New Software

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

Dedicate time and resources.

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

Believe in what you’re learning.

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

Be open to changing processes.

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

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

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

Realize that there will be frustrations.

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

Commit to additional and ongoing training.

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

Practice, practice, practice.

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

Review reference material.

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

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

By |

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.

By |

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.

By |

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.

By |

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.

By |

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.

Multi-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.

By |

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.

By |

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.

By |

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.

By |