Inventory & Accounting ERP Software Blog

Using Business Management Software to Become a Process Driven Organization

You may have heard the term “Turn-Key Revolution” made popular by the bestselling book The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, essentially it refers to setting up your business to be process dependent as opposed to people dependent. This means implementing specific systems and processes that allow for a consistent, effective and orderly day-to-day operation without having to rely solely on human resources. According to the book, the goal of the turn-key revolution is to turn your business into a franchise, but even if you operate a standalone business, the principle is still the same. The idea is to implement processes and systems within your organization that allow you to run efficiently no matter who you hire. Realistically, the role of well-trained, competent employees is still very important within every company – especially when it comes to the management team, customer service roles, warehouse staff and more. The benefits of executing this concept are not to diminish the importance of hiring the right people, but rather it aims to help businesses streamline operations through automated processes and system integrations. Let’s explore this idea further.

Traditionally, for most businesses the go-to on how to manage an increase in order volume is to increase resources and hire more people. However, as technology continues to evolve to support historically manual processes, this is not always the best option. True, there are some businesses that require additional human-capital to physically complete the work, but even in these businesses, there are usually specific processes that can be streamlined through the use of business management systems and automation. This does not mean that technology is replacing the need for human capital – it just aims to make a case for automating as many processes as possible. This allows the people you do hire to focus on meaningful work – such as finding new customers – as opposed to having to deal with tedious data entry and administrative tasks. Human resource costs are significantly higher than those of business management software – even when implementing robust inventory and accounting ERP software. Consider the costs associated with finding, hiring and training new staff, salary and benefit costs and then the related costs to your business when that employee is sick, away on holidays or the costs associated with that person leaving, requiring you to hire a replacement. In contrast, the costs of implementing business management software will be significantly less, especially when you compare the costs year over year. In addition, most software solutions provide access to annual upgrades which means you’re always operating on the latest and greatest technology enabling your business to grow into the future.

Automating Processes with Blue Link ERP

There are countless ways your business can automate processes with the right software to increase efficiencies. Incorporating technology into different departments of your business helps to eliminate the errors associated with manual work and makes it easy to train new employees when you do have to hire people. The opportunities available will depend on the software in place and existing processes and infrastructure. Below we examine a couple of examples.

Warehouse Operations

Picking – increase pick times with the help of inventory bin and shelf locations and pick lists that itemize products according to the most efficient route within your warehouse. A properly organized warehouse and barcode scanning technology mean inventory information is available and accurate in real-time – this helps warehouse staff find product quickly when picking orders. With tools such as Blue Link’s mobile picking application, employees can quickly identify and rectify pick issues at the source. Mobile picking also reduces the errors associated with handwritten pick tickets and notes.
Receiving – quickly receive inventory into your business management system with barcode scanning so that inventory is updated in real-time. This allows employees and salespeople to know exactly what product is available and where it’s located in the warehouse when picking orders and speaking to customers.
Packing – use verification scanning to double check items against the sales order while packing product into containers. Track items per container to easily look-up information for the customer and quickly identify missing items if the customer does not receive the entire shipment.

Accounting/Finance

Accounts Receivable – automate the accounts receivable process by configuring the system to automatically email account details to customers or internal staff when A/R amounts are above a certain threshold or timeframe. This removes the need for employees to manually check each customer’s account and instead notifies the appropriate people automatically.
Reporting – generate reports using data within Blue Link that can then be rendered into a PDF and automatically emailed to the appropriate stakeholders. Automatically write back to Blue Link ERP to modify data like adding a new record, updating a field or changing a status based on specific criteria being met within the system. This allows employees to create automated workflows around specific processes and eliminates the need to spend hours creating detailed reports every reporting period. Furthermore, exception reporting means information is only updated and sent to the appropriate people when it is inconsistent with specific thresholds or KPIs.
Landed Cost Tracking – define expected landed costs on a purchase order and factor these into inventory costs. Employees also have the ability to specify default landed cost factors by product and then apply each landed cost factor to each line on a purchase order using one of several pro-rated methods – or enter individually. This eliminates the need to manually update spreadsheets with pricing information and the associated errors that can result from manual data input.

Sales

eCommerce – automatically crawl webstore and integrated marketplaces (such as Amazon) for new orders which then get pulled into Blue Link ERP and sent directly to the warehouse for picking, packing and shipping or configure the system to have the orders appear in the Sales Order Review screen for further processing.
CRM – easily track communication with customers and prospects with the ability to add notes, schedule next actions, change a status and assign a sales rep to a specific account for review. Following a process for tracking customer and prospect information allows you to easily offload accounts to different salespeople, allows anyone with the correct permissions to look up customer data and allows you to easily generate reports from the information in the system.
B2B Online Order Portal – provide customers with the ability to easily log into their account through Blue Link’s online order portal to browse inventory online with their own customer-specific pricing, place orders 24/365, track order status in real-time, view or print online statements and drill down into order and invoice detail. This eliminates the need for additional staff to manually enter orders and empowers customers to review their own account information.

The above examples are just a few of the many ways a business can become more efficient and process-driven with the help of business management software such as Blue Link ERP.

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How to Manage B2B Webstore Shipping with eCommerce ERP Integration

If you can’t ship and deliver products to your customers in a timely fashion, you’re out of the competition…especially in the fast-paced world of eCommerce. Thanks to eCommerce giants like Amazon, customers expect better services and faster shipping times and these offerings aren’t slowing down anytime soon – as of June 2018, there were approximately 95 million Amazon Prime members in the United States alone.  While there are some key differences between B2B and B2C eCommerce, your customers still expect you to keep up with the offerings that they are accustomed to with B2C webstores. This is evident as we see more and more  B2B eCommerce stores offering  B2C functionality such as having high-quality images and videos, online search functionality, personalized recommendations, mobile optimization etc. With the growing number of Amazon Prime members, all customers, whether B2C or B2B have come to expect faster delivery times, flexible shipping options, and cheaper shipping costs.

B2B eCommerce sales tend to have higher than average dollar value and include fewer one-item orders compared with B2C, which helps to simplify the picking, packing and shipping process for wholesale distributors. However, selling online means increased order volume which leaves no room for an inadequate order fulfillment process. Order fulfillment is a critical element of a B2B eCommerce operation and customers expect that their orders are dispatched quickly and efficiently – this is a key factor in attaining repeat business and ensuring customer satisfaction. So, before diving head first into the exciting world of online selling, integrate your eCommerce webstore with proper ERP software first, to ensure you have a rock-solid process for the picking, packing and especially shipping of product. This will allow you to keep up with the demands of an increased order volume and remain competitive.

Blue Link ERP & eCommerce

With Blue Link ERP, once an order is placed online the information automatically generates a sales order in the system, updating quantities available both on the website and in the ERP system and allocating inventory for picking. Once the order is picked and packed, you can easily select the order to ship, enter shipment details, print the documents required to accompany the order, and mark the order as shipped. Once the order is shipped, Blue Link maintains a history of the shipment, the number of boxes shipped, and the items assigned to each box.

Other shipping functionality to consider in a new ERP system includes:

Pack-to-Container 

With Blue Link’s pack-to-container functionality, you can see picked orders from multiple sales channels (including eCommerce) that are going to the same ship-to address from the sales order review screen. The pack-to-container screen is used to verify the accuracy of the items picked in relation to the items ordered and to record which products are packed in which containers and which containers make up the entire shipment. Detailed sections in this screen allow you to see how many packing boxes or containers are part of the shipment and gives you the ability to add more as required. You can see which products are packed and which items are remaining to pack into the boxes.

If a user tries to include any product not on the list, the system will generate an error message that the product is not a part of the order thereby preventing the incorrect product from being shipped to the customer. An ERP system that integrates with shipping courier sites populates the overall tracking number for each shipment as well as the sub-tracking number for each shipping container which is populated back into the ERP. This eliminates the time required entering information into multiple systems and the associated keying errors with doing so. Once all items are packed into the boxes and the order is ready to go, the ship button triggers the system to do many different things such as emailing shipping confirmations and printing and/or emailing and posting the sales invoice.

When the order is shipped, Blue Link maintains a history of the shipment, the number of boxes shipped, and the items assigned to each box. Container history information is especially useful in determining which products the customer did not receive in the event of a specific shipping box not arriving at its destination. By tracking shipping containers within your ERP system, the data is accessible to those who need to see it and reports and analysis can be done with the data captured to further enhance efficiency in the process.

Check out the below demo of how the pack-to-container functionality works in Blue Link!

 

Courier Integration

Courier integration with an ERP system is a challenge that many B2B eCommerce wholesale distribution businesses face. Many require employees to spend countless hours manually extracting orders from their current software or Excel spreadsheets, which they then have to input into courier websites by logging into separate accounts. Then, they must manually enter the shipment and customer information order by order.  This type of repetitive, manual process is time-consuming and can be costly when errors are inevitably made.

The key here is to automate this process by integrating courier systems with a true ERP solution.  When looking for an ERP system to manage your picking, packing and shipping processes, be sure to choose one that can integrate with large courier companies such as FedEx, Purolator or UPS. With this type of integration, your ERP system will push and pull information from your account on the shipment courier’s site to save you from having to enter shipment details twice into two separate software screens. You will be able to access courier screens with links in the actual ERP software and do not need to open or login to courier screens as a separate task. This will allow you to:

Automatically feed customer shipment information from the ERP system, such as addresses, phone numbers, and emails to courier screens.
Eliminate the need for employees to manually enter information, thus significantly reducing dispatch times.
Set up shipment and delivery requirements such as signature needed upon delivery, or insurance required for order over a certain amount.
Utilize email tracking functions offered by the selected courier services.

Rate Shopping

Blue Link ERP integrates with rate shopping applications to help your business and customers get the best shipping rates on every order. Once orders are packed into boxes and the size and weight of each box has been entered, the ERP system will automatically populate a list of available courier companies as well as the types of services they offer and the rates for each service. Employees then choose an option and the information is used to generate shipping labels and any associated paperwork.

Reducing Delivery Status Update Requests

One of the most common issues for customers is around obtaining tracking information or status updates for their orders. Not only does integrating your B2B eCommerce site with ERP software remove the need for employees to manual enter tracking information into the system, it also enables customers to track orders online themselves, reducing order status update inquiries.

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Distribution ERP Software Tools for a Successful Tradeshow

Does your business attend tradeshows? Are you considering starting to attend tradeshows this year? While in certain industries attending tradeshows has long become a thing of the past, there are still various industries where it makes sense to sponsor, exhibit or walk tradeshow floors to increase brand awareness for your company, network with potential clients and partners, and sell product. This is especially true for emerging markets like the recreational cannabis industry in Canada and other specific industries such as automotive, entertainment and the healthcare/medical industry. To be successful at a tradeshow, a lot of thought and consideration needs to go into your marketing and sales plan. It is important that you present a strong, cohesive and relevant brand image through your booth design, brochures and handouts, displays, demos and swag. You want to prepare the appropriate sales collateral to give to visitors at your booth and you want to ensure you have a process in place for following up with leads after the show. As a distribution business, there may be an opportunity to generate actual product sales at a tradeshow in which you need the right tools and processes in place to show product, create sales orders, collect payment and then ship and invoice orders from your warehouse. Before you start to consider manually taking orders or looking at alternative solutions, consider whether your existing distribution ERP software has the functionality to help. Below we explore distribution ERP and specifically Blue Link tools your team can use to successfully exhibit and sell at a tradeshow.

Point-of-Sale (POS)

Not just for use in a retail brick and mortar stores, point of sale software allows you to easily create an order and accept payment from anywhere you have a terminal set-up. Since Blue Link’s POS solution works offline, it’s a great tool for businesses that want to take and process transactions at a tradeshow. Your company can simply sync with your system’s real-time data before the show for an up-to-date list of inventory, then set up a computer terminal with payment processing equipment to enter orders and accept payments during the actual show. At the end of the day, once again you can sync the system to update inventory and order information which then automatically sends appropriate orders to your warehouse staff to pick, pack and ship.  Blue Link’s POS system works with barcode readers, cash drawers, receipt printers and display poles and so you even have the ability to scan and sell product that is physical on display at your booth.

RepZio (Mobile Sales App)

RepZio is a mobile sales app designed for use by sales people in a showroom, at a tradeshow or while onsite with customers. Fully integrated with Blue Link ERP, RepZio allows your business to sync orders between applications, sync product details, pricing and photos as well as sync client information. Available on iOS devices, RepZio works great for a variety of industries, especially those that would benefit from a visually appealing representation of products.  RepZio allows you to show customers a visual representation of available inventory and can even specify alternate or similar items. Since the app also works offline, even if you don’t have a good internet connection, you’re still able to process orders.

Contact Relationship Management (CRM)

Although it is unlikely that you will be capturing leads through your CRM system while interacting with prospects on the tradeshow floor, access to your distribution ERP’s CRM functionality allows you to manage this information easily from your hotel room after the show. Instead of waiting until you’re back in the office to manage all of the sales leads collected from the show, cloud-based distribution ERP with CRM functionality means you can access the system from anywhere with an internet connection to start triaging leads. CRM functionality allows you to generate lists, track communication, schedule appointments, set follow-up dates, log field changes, specify primary contact information, manage lead status’ and maintain a record of verbal and email communication.

Tradeshows are busy enough without having to manually track customer, prospect and order information. As you prepare for the tradeshow season, check with your existing ERP vendor for the above tools, and consider switching to a more robust solution if you require additional functionality. Not only does processing orders and contacts at the show save your team time when back in the office, but it also eliminates errors when you try to remember who you spoke with an ensures you actually have the product to ship that was sold at the show.

 

 

 

 

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4 Ways to Keep Your ERP Software Resolutions in 2019

On behalf of everyone here at Blue Link ERP, we wish you a happy new year and all the success and prosperity in 2019! The advent of a new year presents a sea of new possibilities and is the optimal time to fulfill your ERP software resolutions for your wholesale distribution business. Employees are better engaged and more flexible to change which means they are more willing to embrace new projects — take advantage of this frame of mind before the year gets into full swing and time runs out to make the switch to new software.

Here are a few tips to help you stick to your resolution to implement new ERP software this year.

Define Your Technology Change Management Plan

Implementing a new ERP system is so much more than just swapping out old technology — it impacts your entire wholesale distribution business. With the right new technology comes improvements to inventory and warehouse management, picking/packing/shipping, customer management etc. However, this also means that current processes and your employees’ day-to-day tasks will change. The objective of creating a technology change management plan is to address the people that are impacted by the transition and to help them and the teams and departments they belong to within the organization, to adopt the new software in the most efficient manner possible.

In order for this to occur, first, you need to get buy-in from stakeholders and employees right from the very beginning, even before you start speaking with ERP software vendors. The more people you have supporting the project, the less likely that it will fall off the radar come Q2. However, prepare to receive some push back as some people are reluctant to change – to some, the thought of swapping their current, familiar and comfortable processes with new ones is daunting.

Here are a few things to consider in your change management plan:

Create a compelling and common vision for the future

Address employee questions – technology can affect the relationships between management and employees, it is up to the leadership of the company to address any employee questions and concerns such as “Am I going to lose my job?”, “How complicated will the change be?” etc.
Present the benefits that will occur with new software to stakeholders and employees such as improved processes, automated tasks and workflows, improved inventory and warehouse management, opportunities for growth with eCommerce integration, industry-specific functionality, etc.

Educate staff on what types of changes to expect in their day-to-day tasks to create a more digestible vision. How will the new software impact accounting, your warehouse workers or your sales team? Speak with individual departments and collect feedback on the specific tasks they expect to improve with new software and set realistic expectations.
Training – reassure employees that they will receive the necessary training to be a successful user in the software and that it will be a learning process. Never shortchange the training period as unsuccessful implementations commonly happen when training gets brushed over.  It is also important to keep track of who received training so no one is missed.
Identify a project manager, search team and any key stakeholders

Address differing skill sets and competencies of your employees to assign roles for the project.
This allows these specific individuals to plan ahead and dedicate the necessary time to complete project tasks.
It also clearly defines who is responsible for what and holds individuals accountable to set goals and meet deadlines to ensure that the project stays on track and top of mind.

Timeframe

To make any type of new year’s resolution a success, it’s critical to create a timeframe and stick to it.  Having an idea of the project completion date is useful when speaking with vendors to ensure that both parties are on the same page. Consult with the key stakeholders in the company on when the software implementation should take place taking into account peak seasons. Keep in mind that implementation is not an overnight process and the time it takes to get set up with the software depends on several factors such as the amount of data to be migrated, software training, etc. Furthermore, change management also requires time. No matter how user-friendly the software is, implementing a new inventory accounting solution requires significant change as employees learn to integrate the new software into their everyday processes and across departments – this should be accounted for when setting a timeframe.

Deadlines/Milestones

Think of the timeframe as the overall deadline for project completion – specific deadlines must be created for individual tasks of the project. By creating deadlines for each task, you’re measuring out your time and making it easier to track your progress towards meeting that overall timeframe. These tasks cover the project from start to end – from creating a search team and establishing functionality and budget requirements to choosing vendors to speak with and shortlisting candidates. Consider having weekly or bi-weekly check-in meetings to ensure the team doesn’t fall behind with the tasks.

Along with your deadlines, choose a few milestones that will let you know you’ve made progress.  Make the most important events your ERP software project milestones such as:

Completion of major project tasks such as completing the research phase, setting a budget, setting a timeframe, shortlisting top vendors, etc.
Go/no-go decisions and other key decision points
Implementation of the new ERP system
Completion of testing and final sign-off

Preserve Employee Buy-in

To avoid the project from dropping lower on the priority list as the months pass, it’s important to continuously communicate to stakeholders and employees how the business will change with new technology. Communicate any important milestones that are reached and updates throughout the process and be sure to listen to any feedback.  It’s important to keep the momentum going even after the vendor has been selected. Have a company meeting to share information to preview the system and share information on the vendor. Use videos, posters, and other methods to create excitement and a buzz around the office to create a positive atmosphere about the upcoming changes.

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Why ERP Will be the Biggest Decision Your Company Makes in 2019

With 2019 just around the corner, have you started planning for the year ahead? If software is on your radar, it’s important that you have a plan in place BEFORE you start searching for a new solution. In the world of back-end business management software, there is sometimes a disconnect between the types of systems available on the market and how they can help run your business. This is further complicated by the fact that may software vendors use the same terminology in different ways. Let’s start by distinguishing between two common types of software solutions – introductory systems (which includes standalone accounting and inventory systems) and ERP (enterprise resource planning software). Introductory software solutions such as QuickBooks, are designed to manage one aspect of a company’s operations such as accounting. Even if these types of systems provide additional features for inventory or contact management, it’s primary functionality is around one business process and often requires integration with additional systems to include advanced functionality for inventory, contact management, warehouse management and barcode scanning. Introductory systems are great for companies with a low number of transactions, inventory items and users, and for basic management of operations. These types of solutions have a lower price tag and are quick to implement. However, as the name implies, introductory solutions are just that – a starting system for when your business is new and small. As your business grows and you expand into new markets, there may come a time where ERP is a more appropriate solution. This can happen for a variety of reasons including a restriction on the amount of data or number of users your existing system can manage, the need for additional functionality such as lot tracking, landed cost tracking or barcode scanning, or the need for a unified solution to manage all business operations (as opposed to manually entering information into multiple, standalone systems). Whatever the reason, if you decide to make the transition to a sophisticated ERP solution, you need to prepare the appropriate resources, as the search for ERP and implementation process will be the biggest decision your business makes in 2019 and should be treated as such.

It’s true that researching different ERP solutions, speaking with vendors, watching demonstrations, implementing the software and training employees is a big project – but that is not the only reason why the transition to ERP software should be treated as such. Rather, ERP software is designed to manage all aspects of your company’s operations – including sales, inventory management, invoicing, purchasing, warehouse management, POS, eCommerce, customer service – and therefore, as the backbone to running your business, has huge implications on the success and growth of your company. Moving to ERP software provides your company with various opportunities to automate processes, eliminate errors and tedious manual work, reduce double entry, scale to reach new markets and customers, improve your warehouse operations and much more. This is why proper thought and consideration needs to go into the search and implementation process – the ERP project as a whole. As with any capital investment such as purchasing additional warehouse or retail space, launching an eCommerce store or buying new equipment and machinery, a successful ERP project requires significant planning, research and dedication of resources. Whoever is responsible for finding a new solution and making the purchase, needs to feel confident that their decision will be well received by all employees and that it will provide positive ROI and help the company achieve its goals. Proper planning for such a solution helps to mitigate this fear of failure and find the right solution. In addition, you want to work with a vendor who will give you peace of mind that you will always have access to the latest and greatest in technology and process improvements through an ERP solution that is under constant development and provides regular upgrades.
Download our Software Buying Guide to help your business find the right ERP system. 

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Blue Link Food Distribution Software Named to Food Logistics’ 2018 FL100 Top Software Providers List

Blue Link Food Distribution Software is named to Food Logistics’ 2018 FL100+ Top Software and Technology Providers List for the sixth year!

Vaughan, Ontario. (December 17, 2018) – Blue Link Food Distribution Software, a  leader in all-in-one B2B ERP software, announced today that it has been recognized by Food Logistics for the sixth year to its 2018 FL100+ Top Software and Technology Providers list.

The annual FL100+ Top Software and Technology Providers list serves as a resource guide of software and technology providers whose products and services are critical for companies in the global food and beverage supply chain. The publication recognized Blue Link for helping its many food and beverage customers to remain FDA/CFIA compliant, automate processes and sustain growth with its all-in-one ERP solution.
“The digital supply chain continues its rapid emergence, bringing with it expanded capabilities that impact visibility, security, compliance and efficiency,” remarks Lara L. Sowinski, editorial director for Food Logistics and its sister publication, Supply & Demand Chain Executive. “Every aspect of the global food supply chain stands to benefit from new and innovative software and technology that is fundamentally changing the global food supply chain.”
Companies on this year’s 2018 FL100+ Top Software and Technology Providers list will be profiled in the November/December 2018 issue of Food Logistics, as well as online at www.foodlogistics.com.

“We’re thrilled to once again be recognized by Food Logistics on its FL100+ list,” said Mark Canes, President and CEO of Blue Link. “With the food safety regulators recalling about twice as many products as a decade ago, we’re going to continue to see an increasing demand by food distributors for agile, all-in-one software to manage processes in 2019.  In order for food distributors to remain competitive and compliant in today’s market, end-to-end food distribution software must be implemented to not only help manage recalls but to automate all parts of the business from accounting and inventory management to landed costs and warehouse management.  We ’re constantly improving our system and functionality to meet the changing needs of our food distribution customers and look forward to continuing to be a part of their success.”

– Mark Canes, President, Blue Link Associates
About Food Logistics
Food Logistics is published by AC Business Media, a business-to-business media company that provides targeted content and comprehensive, integrated advertising and promotion opportunities for some of the world’s most recognized B2B brands. Its diverse portfolio serves the construction, logistics, supply chain and, other industries with print, digital and custom products, events and social media.

About Blue Link ERP Software

Blue Link ERP software is designed for small to medium size distribution, wholesale and retail businesses looking to grow their company. Business management processes are improved with Blue Link’s flexible and user-friendly ERP functionality such as inventory management, accounting, warehouse management, barcode scanning, eCommerce integration, lot tracking, customer relationship management (CRM), and more. Blue Link functionality can be readily customized to match customer specific business processes. The result is higher productivity, more meaningful reports and better business decisions to drive growth.
“Blue Link Elite has provided us with easy access to important business data via an extremely user-friendly interface. This has allowed us to make informed business decisions and has helped us manage our business effectively.”

– Ray Martin, President, Qualifirst Foods Ltd.
Blue Link’s Food Distribution Software offers a variety of flexible tools that can manage and automate business processes across the entire company and also help to achieve and sustain FDA/ISO/CFIA compliance. Blue Link features include:

Fully integrated inventory, accounting, contact management, order entry, warehouse management and more
Traceability – lot tracking
Price matrices with automatic markup, volume discounts and contract pricing (individual or group)
Landed cost tracking – duty, brokerage, freight etc.
Multiple units of measure: unit conversions – buy and sell the same products by weight, multiple containers, volume etc.

 

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How Blue Link ERP Performs Data Migrations

Data migration is an integral part of any ERP software upgrade. Whether you’re moving from introductory software like QuickBooks, or legacy ERP, it is important that any significant existing data is properly imported into your new solution. This service is typically included as part of the software implementation process; however, it can vary significantly in terms of scope of work and costs from one vendor to the next. Understanding your options for data migration and the factors that influence cost will help your business decide what software vendor to work with. Even though costs will vary from one vendor to the next, aside from training expenses, the data migration process tends to make up the majority of the implementation costs and therefore your budget should reflect this.

When it comes to data migration options there are typically several available depending on the vendor:

The vendor will charge you a set rate for moving your data
The vendor will charge you by the hour for moving your data based on a predetermined estimate of the time required
The vendor will provide you with a data import tool or spreadsheet for you to manually update and import the data yourself
You will be solely responsible for manually inputting any data into the new system
Some combination of the above

For the most part, unless you’re a start-up company, some form of data migration will be required. If you’re a start-up company with no transaction history data, customer information, vendor information or product information, it is usually ok to manually enter this information into the system as needed. Even if you do have some product/vendor/customer information, the volume is low enough that manual data entry is still your best and most economical option. For most other businesses, it is never recommended to move your own data. Even if this seems like a good idea initially as a means to cut implementation costs, it can end up costing you even more money down the road, as you lose productivity due to inaccurate information in the system, or when you run into issues moving the data yourself and end up having to pay the vendor to do it anyways. We recommend you work with a vendor who has experience moving data and will perform the entire data migration process at an hourly rate, as discussed with you beforehand. To better understand the benefits of this method, let’s explore the data migration process itself using Blue Link ERP as an example.

Step (1) Initial Data Analysis

The first step in Blue Link’s data migration process is an initial data analysis and discussion with your team to assess the best approach for migration – what data needs to be moved, where is the data stored, is there an opportunity to clean up existing data etc. At a bare minimum, you want to make sure that your existing data is stored in the correct fields and following the correct formats. This step also provides you with the opportunity to improve the quality of your data. Do you have a lot of duplicate customer records? Are you happy with existing product codes? Do you have duplicate inventory items to account for different UOMs? If you want to change anything, now is the time to do so. For example, if you simply wish to change Product Codes, we can provide you with a spreadsheet template that includes an extracted list of all existing Product Codes and a column for you to include Product Code changes. Changes can be done with the help of a simple spreadsheet template, or, if the data follows a logical pattern, our team can write a data conversion import routine.

As a general rule, it’s usually best to keep the vendor responsible for providing guidance on data types and formats, and for the actual import process, while taking ownership yourself of the quality of the data. Either update data manually in your existing system, get the vendor’s assistance in dumping data into a spreadsheet to review and clean or have them write an import conversion routine to automatically make changes.

Step (2) Accessing the Data

The second step involves our team of knowledgeable consultants working with you and your team to actually access and extract the raw data to begin the migration process. Blue Link does this with the help of its data conversion import routine. This step will vary in complexity depending on your existing company set-up, how many systems you want to extract data from (for example accounting systems, CRM software, warehouse systems and eCommerce platforms) and whether you are moving data for multiple separate entities. Although you can migrate as much or as little data as you want, most often, the data that is transferred includes vendor, customer and product information, historical sales data, A/P and A/R outstanding, open sales orders, GL account numbers and balances and inventory quantities.

During this step, Blue Link will validate the data, identify any issues and update any data changes that follow a specific pattern. For example, does the tax authority associated with the salesperson in the migrated data actually exist in the Blue Link data? Do the terms associated with that salesperson exist in the new Blue Link data? Blue Link’s data conversion import routine will identify any missing data or “orphan records” where data exists in one table but not another. Another example of how the validation process works is if the conversion import routine tries to populate a field in Blue Link with text that is longer than the number of characters for that field. Whatever the issue, the routine will create a record of the missing or incorrect data so that it can be fixed afterwards without stopping the import from continuing.

This step also includes “massaging” or adjusting the data according to specific patterns. For example, if you have different SKUs for each UOM of a specific product but the information is stored following a pattern (SocksPair, SocksDozen, SocksBox) our consultants can work with this pattern to create a single SKU with different UOMs in Blue Link. Different software solutions will store data in different ways and using different fields, titles and structures. Therefore, part of the validation process involves ensuring that the data makes sense and follows structures and functionality in Blue Link.

Step (3) Final Data Extraction

Step three involves re-extracting the data from your existing system right before Go-Live using Blue Link’s data conversion import routine to ensure the data is the most up-to-date. Before this happens, however, there are a couple of considerations to keep in mind. Certain information that was originally migrated ahead of Go-Live does not need to be moved again. This includes data such as GL Codes and Salespeople as any new additions can be manually updated (as long as you have a good process for tracking this). Instead of spending the time and effort to move data that does not get updated frequently a second time, we will advise the customer on which data they should manually enter if they add anything new between the initial import and Go-Live. However, current/open transactions and balances will need to be re-migrated at the point of Go-Live, and then with historical data such as sales history, timing is much more flexible – you could import sales history any time after you’re already live on your new system. Alternatively, you can save a local copy of your historical data for reference as opposed to migrating it into Blue link depending on the data in question.

As you can see from the information above, the data migration process is complex and time-consuming. Trying to move the data yourself does not make much sense when it’s not your area of expertise. Charging a set fee for data migration can cause issues before you start to see and play with the data as there are a lot of unknowns. Since there are so many things to consider when it comes to migrating data, be wary of choosing a vendor that charges a set fee for the migration process. It might seem like a smart choice initially but can cause issues and cost money down the road. A better option is to work with a vendor that provides an estimate of how long the work will take and then provides you with an hourly rate, keeping you informed on the progress of the process to avoid any surprises throughout. If they are an experienced software vendor, they will have years of information from past implementations that will make their estimates very accurate. Remember that one of the benefits of using Blue Link ERP is that the system controls data entry. It prevents users from storing and using “bad data” and it provides one database from which to manage all your business information. Having access to accurate data in real-time is key to running a successful business. Spend the time and money to properly move your data and it will help run your business going forward.

The Dangers of Migrating Your Own Data

If you don’t understand the technology behind the new system, there can be mistakes when trying to move data yourself
It takes away from your day-to-day responsibilities
It does not allow for any data clean up
During this time you will be busy learning how to use the new software, training employees, changing processes etc. and so trying to move data yourself adds a level of complexity and stress that is unnecessary

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Top ERP Software Trends for 2019: Is it Time for a Digital Transformation?

Hot cocoa, twinkling lights, holiday parties and…year-end budgeting for 2019? It may be the holiday season but for many wholesale distribution businesses, the end of the year is an opportune time to evaluate what went well, how the business has grown in the past year… and most importantly, evaluate what’s not working. If you’re like most businesses, technology, specifically existing introductory software or outdated ERP systems is at the top of the naughty list.

Consider making room in the budget to invest in a new system as it could be transformative for your business.  According to Allied Market Research, the global ERP software market is expected to garner $41.69 billion by 2020. As businesses become more and more aware of the all-encompassing benefits of this type of technology, ERP vendors continue to keep up with demand. Advancements in ERP technology has certainly grown leaps and bounds from what it was a decade ago…and even what it was a couple years ago.

ERP is definitely changing, but it is still a core system and has the potential to drive digital transformation for your business. The issue that most business owners have when they start thinking about ERP is that they don’t see the full potential and advantage of what an all-in-one system can do to grow their organization. Looking ahead to the new year, it’s time to stop thinking of ERP software as just accounting and inventory software and think of it as an all-inclusive, transformative technology that will help your business reach new heights and strategically expand into new markets.

Keep the following trends in mind and compare them with your current system and/or with new ERP vendors you speak with in the new year.

Cloud ERP Adoption

Cloud ERP is definitely on the nice list for the new year. Not surprising, more and more small to medium-size businesses have opted for cloud deployment methods mainly due to the fact that cloud options are more affordable with lower upfront fees and lower IT costs, making it possible for smaller businesses and even start-ups to consider ERP as an option. There is no longer a need for small businesses with tight budgets to invest in large, expensive servers to keep on-premises and they no longer need to have an expansive in-house IT team as cloud ERP vendors manage the hardware and maintenance aspect of the software.

The rise in cloud technology adoption also aligns with the rising number of mobile employees. As more and more businesses hire remote workers such as on-the-road salespeople, it is important to have an ERP system that is capable of remote networking. With Blue Link’s hosted offering, employees access the full Blue Link ERP software package remotely via the internet through an RDP connection meaning they can work from anywhere in the world as long as there is an internet connection.

Functionality and Automation

The main reason for buyers to replace their existing ERP is still software functionality.  According to G2 Crowd, around 48% of buyers switched to a new system for better features. Price was only a 4.5%  deciding factor and only 7% switched due to ease-of-use.

We’re starting to see that more and more businesses want solutions that are tailored specifically to their industry so that they can avoid customization and ensure that they stay current long-term.  For example, the pharmaceutical distribution industry requires specific functionality to remain compliant with industry regulatory bodies such as the FDA…these features include transaction reporting, lot tracking/traceability, and serialization.

The food distribution industry is also unique in the sense that comapnies also need lot tracking/traceability functionality to comply with global and trade regulations and consumer protection laws as well as the ability to trace items in the event of a recall. Working with a vendor that provides industry-specific functionality not only helps manage your specific requirements, but you also gain a long-term industry expert who can offer advice on how to succeed in your market.

Part of this need for improved functionality is ultimately the need for automation in workflows. A growing number of businesses are wanting better document management options.  Depending on the ERP vendor, there are workflows in place to reduce the amount of human interaction when it comes to document management. Blue Link facilitates two-way integration with DocuWare – an electronic document management system which allows users to quickly store, index, search, display, download, retrieve, edit and integrate documents and create automated workflows to help businesses operate in a paperless environment.

Improved Data Security

From Facebook to Uber…it seems like data breaches were at the top of every news channel this past year so it’s a no-brainer that data security is not to be taken lightly in the new year. When looking for a new ERP system, go with a vendor that prioritizes data security.

Look for features such as encrypted databases to keep credit card information safe that will help meet PCI compliance standards. Where your data is stored is also a crucial factor in your data safety. With Blue Link’s hosted solution, customer data is kept safe in a facility designed to Tier III standards. It is equipped with 2N backup power infrastructure, cooling and connectivity infrastructure and an indoor generator facility located off-site for added redundancy, providing high levels of reliability and support.

Blue Link also has a disaster recovery plan in place which includes managing data from multiple physical locations with extensive backup power. In the event of a blackout, the data center has two times the generation capacity required to run the entire building – so even if one set of generators fail the other set can still run everything.

Flexible and Agile Vendors

Partner with vendors who not only specialize in your business but are willing to step outside of the box. With the popularity of the cloud on the rise, the traditional role of technology partners will no longer suffice. Businesses want to partner with vendors who will cater to their unique needs and become an asset to their business long-term.  While the functionality of the ERP system you choose should accomplish the majority of your organizational tasks, there will be a need to customize functionality if your business has unique processes in place. Go with a vendor who is willing to listen to your needs and ideas and are open to customizing their solution.
We’re also seeing a desire for personalized software – for example, the ability to create custom dashboards with reports catered to specific job roles and the ability to change color schemes and homepages are highly sought after. Personalization can also relate to vendor customer support.  Think about what your current experience is with your existing ERP software vendor. Do you feel like just another number to them? How well do they know your business? With the next system you choose to go with, ensure that it is not only the right fit in terms of improving your business processes, but it is a fit when it comes to the people behind the software as well.  Click on the resource below to learn about 6 factors other than functionality to consider such as company size, on-going dependability, costs etc. when partnering with an ERP vendor.

 

Amazon Integration

Amazon is predicted to make up 50% of all US eCommerce by 2021. The eCommerce giant has gained quite a bit of ground this past year with no signs of slowing down. This is an opportunity that small businesses should not overlook in 2019. Think of your next ERP system as a catalyst to break into the online market for the new year by integrating its back-end functionality with marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay. Go with a vendor who is able to handle this type of integration as it will open your small businesses to sell more product and reach new customers without a lot of extra effort.

Flexible Business Processes  

As ERP vendors continue to improve and advance the technology behind their systems and feature offerings, it’s important to be flexible as a consumer of ERP and be careful not to silo the functionality as standalone features. Rather, gain the full advantages of the automation technology that comes with a true ERP solution by being flexible to adopt new ways of operating. For instance, you may see better business results simply by changing the process around sales order creation in the system.

It’s also important to take the advice of ERP vendors seriously when it comes to creating workarounds if there are certain processes you do not want to change.  However, keep in mind that although workarounds typically relieve issues in the short-term, they can be quite difficult to maintain so it’s easier to be flexible as a company and be open to process changes if your vendor has a better solution to doing certain tasks.

 

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Insights from an ERP Software Sales Rep to Help You Find the Right Solution

As an expert in technology software sales for over 5 years, I’ve learnt a lot from my interactions with potential clients. Although sales will be quite similar across all industries, when it comes to selling enterprise software solutions there are some specific nuances unique to the market. My particular area of expertise is in the sale of ERP software (inventory and accounting software) specifically for wholesale and distribution businesses. This type of enterprise system is designed to manage your entire operation – from sales, purchasing, invoicing and customer service, to inventory management, warehouse management, eCommerce, tradeshows, retail and more. The opportunities ERP software provides a business makes the purchase and sales process extremely important – you want to make sure you find a solution that can meet your specific needs, help your business grow for years to come, and ultimately you want to build a partnership with the software vendor to be able to continue to work together after the initial sale. As with any capital investment, purchasing software requires a large dedication of time, human resources and money to find the right solution, and requires that your business…

Evaluate internal processes to determine existing requirements and gaps in functionality
Evaluate available solutions in the market appropriate for your business
Determine a budget and set aside the necessary funds for the project
Find a solution and begin the implementation process – including migrating data from existing systems into the new one
Train staff on using the new solution and update existing processes as required

Ultimately, your experience during the sales process will influence all other aspects of the search and implementation – which means you want to feel comfortable with not only the software solution but also the people behind the software with whom you deal with right from the beginning. Below I’ve shared some thoughts on what I’ve learnt as a salesperson and how they can help your business prepare for the software search and find the right solution.

(1) There is a still a lot of stigma around salespeople.

This one should come as no surprise, and I can’t deny being guilty of the same. Even though I spend most of my time interacting with potential customers in a sales role, I am still hesitant when speaking with salespeople in other industries, however, it’s time to break the stigma. First and foremost, there are definitely still untrustworthy and bad salespeople whose only purpose is to meet quotas and get a commission. However, there are also good salespeople, specifically in the software industry, who are dedicated to helping your business find the right solution and are invested in your company growth and success.  To help break the stigma around interacting with salespeople, and to help you distinguish between the good and the bad, I’ve identified some common issues below.

Information Sharing

With so many privacy breaches it can seem counterintuitive to share information with a stranger, however, information is the key to finding the right solution when it comes to searching for software. Keep in mind that when you speak with a software vendor, they will know next to nothing about your business, operations, challenges and goals – aside from what they can find online. The more information you can provide throughout the sales process, the better each vendor will be able to evaluate whether or not their solution is the right fit. A good salesperson is someone who takes the time to try and understand your specific business needs and processes so that they can make a proper recommendation.  Be wary of salespeople only interested in talking about their product and bashing the competition as it can indicate that they are more interested in making the sale than truly becoming a business partner. Ideally, the right software vendor will become a trusted business partner that you can continue to work with well into the future. Gathering information on specific processes, company size, the number of warehouse locations, geographic customer base, etc. can help both parties determine whether the solution is the right fit, and allow the vendor to provide a realistic idea of costs.

Sales Processes

You’re a wholesale distribution company in the business of buying and selling inventory and have a process for selling to customers. Perhaps you like to assign each customer with an internal account rep, perhaps you have a B2B website that allows customers to purchase product, check open orders, review sales history etc., perhaps you have sales reps in the field who work with your customers face-to-face – whatever the situation, you have a sales process that you’ve developed over time after carefully examining the market and understanding how customers wish to purchase your product. This exact same mindset applies to the software vendors you speak with as they will have also developed a specific sales process that works for them. At Blue Link, we have fine-tuned our sales process over the past 10 years to come up with a specific set of steps that help potential customers find the best system for their needs, in the most efficient way possible – whether or not they choose Blue Link’s software. Therefore, it is important that you’re open to following the vendor’s suggested sales process to ensure success.  Just because the process was different with another software vendor, does not mean that it will be the best approach.
Learn About Blue Link’s Sales Process

Dedicate the Time

If you’re not willing to dedicate the time and resources to the software search and following the vendors’ process, it will be very difficult for you to make a truly accurate and informed decision on what system will be the best fit.  Implementing ERP software does not happen overnight. If you’re interested in a solution that you can get up and running within a week, then you need to focus on introductory software, which may not have all the functionality you need to grow and manage all business processes. If you’re interested in an all-in-one solution to help grow your business, you need to dedicate the time to find such a solution. If you can’t dedicate 10 minutes on the phone to speak with vendors, how are you ever going to find and implement a new solution?

(2) Brand doesn’t matter.  

Aside from the top consumer and business brands around the world, brand names and recognition are quite subjective. You may not have heard of every possible software vendor in the market, but that does not mean that they don’t have a superior product and it doesn’t mean that they won’t be a good fit for your business. Consider the flip side – it is likely that the vendor you’re working with has never heard of your brand or company name either, but does that mean that you don’t operate a reputable business? Instead of only focusing on the big brand name vendors in the market, take the time to do your research on available products for your industry. Frequently, smaller software vendors will have more functionality for specific industry niches – versus larger organizations that cater to a variety of industries with more general functionality. One of the best ways to get a feel for how well a system works is to talk to that vendor’s existing customers. Ask for references, and where possible try and actually visit an existing customer to see the system in action.

(3) Research is important.

For today’s buyers, self-education is the norm. Consumers (and salespeople) do not want to spend their time talking about a system’s features when this type of information is readily available online in the form of videos, customer testimonials, website content, blog posts and more. Finding a solution that is going to be a good fit for your business involves doing some research on your own. Spend the time perusing through vendor websites, watch their YouTube videos and read the testimonials and case studies they have put together. Then, when you do speak with someone on the phone or in person, spend the time discussing information that can’t be easily found online. You wouldn’t decide to buy a new office space without first doing research on the neighbourhood, surrounding businesses, demographics etc. ERP software is another such capital investment that requires research. Keep in mind that the information gathering step is a two-way street – just like you want to learn about whether or not the vendor has functionality that can meet your needs, the vendor also wants to learn about your business processes to ensure there is a fit. After you speak with potential vendors, spend the time reviewing the information they have shared to better understand their offering.

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Manual Reports vs. Blue Link’s Report Automation Tools [Report Scheduling]

Ever have that dream where you are running but getting nowhere? Frustrating, isn’t it? Well, this feeling can be the same when it comes to business reporting. Trying to “run” fast by manually extracting the latest data, plugging it into countless spreadsheets, and then making sure the right people have access to the information, only to repeat the process all over again on a daily, weekly and/or monthly basis can be exhausting and unproductive.  This is what work nightmares are made of.

The simple truth is that no one likes to repeat the same manual tasks over and over again. Manual reporting not only takes up valuable resources but hinders management and growth efforts in wholesale distribution businesses as it is often riddled with human error and inaccurate data. Many wholesale distribution businesses are aware that they need to improve their reporting but are unsure how to go about it – mainly because their current software may not be robust enough for advanced reporting or they are unaware of the report automation tools available in their software. This is why reporting functionality and reporting automation are still one of the most frequently requested features by the companies searching for software that we speak with.

But, before we get into the many benefits of report automation tools, a disclaimer is necessary. Reports of any kind are only as good as the data that is used to generate them. This is not to be taken lightly. Wholesale distribution businesses that have multiple systems with disconnected data and/or outdated data are in danger of looking at the wrong information to make business decisions as the accuracy of your reporting will be greatly skewed.

It’s important to implement the right all-in-one business management software which allows businesses to store essential data across all channels in one central hub. This in itself has numerous benefits such as only having to update information once,  thus reducing the chance of human error and providing users access to real-time, accurate insights into business performance. Most importantly, it provides the framework for you to be able to create, automate and schedule the delivery of accurate and meaningful reports.

One-Off Reports vs. Report Automation

There is a significant difference between creating one-off reports that have to be replicated during set intervals whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly, and using automated report tools. Instead of manually re-keying information and re-generating reports from the beginning every time, automated reporting allows users to create a report once, and then have that report update based on specific criteria, or as a result of refreshing the data or changing timeframes. One example of this type of report is through live-linked data between your business management system and reporting tool of choice (for example Excel or Power BI). In this situation, once a report is created using live-linked data, the user simply has to open the existing report, hit refresh or plug in a date range to get real-time insight into specific information. No more typos, no more cut and paste errors and no more skewed results!

Report Scheduling with Blue Link Business Management Software 

With Blue Link’s Automated Routines Manager, (or “A.R.M” for short) you are able to create and schedule rules-based, automated reports using real-time information stored within the system. The tool’s functionality goes one step farther, allowing users to render the report into PDFs or Excel format, create an email and send it to all appropriate stakeholders based on certain criteria in the system or set timeframes.  Our customers are particularly fond of this feature because of the time savings it provides just by eliminating manual re-keying.

Here are a few examples of what you can do with report automation and report scheduling:

Weekly Sales Reports

Your sales team can use information such as sales-by-date to determine the progress of sales on a weekly basis or any other set interval.  This allows teams to know, in real time, about changes in sales volume throughout the week and allows them to monitor any other KPIs to make strategic decisions around reordering inventory, or creating targeted campaigns to leverage dates with higher or lower order volumes. Using Blue Link’s A.R.M, you can automatically schedule the creation and delivery of the report to the appropriate people at a set time, let’s say every Monday at 9:00 AM. You no longer have to manually create or share this report.

Automated Order Management

With A.R.M you can automatically email order confirmations, invoices and overdue notices and alerts to customers or internal teams without any need for human intervention. For example, when your customers place an order,  you can set a rule-based action to send those customers a confirmation once the order is shipped and marked as such in the system. The invoice is then automatically posted, changing the status in the system and emailing the invoice directly to the customer.

You no longer have to manually send each customer individual invoices or have awkward conversations around overdue payments as these are now automatically emailed to the customer. How much time would this type of automation save your business? Think about what other tasks employees will be able to accomplish with that free time.
A year later using A.R.M and our phones ring less, we have less emails to respond to, less complaints to address, we have decreased staff, increased productivity, and reduced errors. Because of this we have saved time, money and overall our staff are much happier, and so are our clients. Thank you Blue Link!

– April Tobin, CSR & Warehouse Lead
Warehouse Workflow Management

With Blue Link’s A.R.M functionality, you can send orders from all your sales channels directly to the warehouse to be picked, packed, and shipped if they meet certain pre-determined criteria. For example, you can create a rules-based automation workflow to send orders to the warehouse if the status of that order is “payment received”. The system will generate pick slips so that the warehouse staff can begin picking items. You no longer have to manually print out orders, allowing information to be distributed efficiently and consistently to the relevant warehouse staff in order to get orders out the door faster and without errors.

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