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PanoramaLogoWhile it’s admittedly a very small sample, the folks at Panorama Consulting conduct an ongoing poll at their site asking the question:

“What ERP implementation approach did your organization adopt on your last ERP project?”

Here’s how companies (not quite three dozen to date) responded:

  • About one-third said they used what they call The Big Bang Approach – generally meaning, we brought the whole thing up ‘live’ pretty much all at once.
  • Nearly as many (29%) said they used a Phased Approach by Module. (We’ve found this is usually the most desirable approach, because it’s the least painful and stressful, but… unfortunately, it’s simply not always possible.  Each client differs and each needs to be queried on this one to determine whether the “phased” approach will actually work for them.)
  • At 23% they heard Phased Approach by Geographical Location – relevant, obviously, for larger organizations with multiple sites.
  • A Hybrid Approach was preferred by 10% – we suspect this means Phased where possible, Big Bang where not.
  • A Phased Approach by Business Unit was favored by 6%.

Again, an admittedly small sample, but revealing.

We always suggest to clients that a Phased Approach is the safest, most conservative bet.  Or at least, a Hybrid Approach by which we phase in the things we can, and Big Bang all together the things we cannot simply phase in due to business operational considerations.

So for example, it may be possible (and we often try) to bring up, say, Accounts Payable and Purchasing in one phase.  A next phase might be Accounts Receivable and Invoicing.  Sometimes, General Ledger (Financials and key financial reporting) can follow.

After that, it’s a crap shoot.  In our area of specialty – manufacturing and distribution – oftentimes, the rest, including inventory, must come on line together.  So Bills of Material, perhaps Routing, Inventory Control, and any number of related activities may have to be brought on line more or less together.

It can get ugly.

That’s why we like to warn clients: You’re gonna’ love at first, then you’re gonna’ hate us.  But in the end, if we all do our jobs, we’ll be back to the love.

 

virtualization-NAVVirtualization is a term you hear a lot these days in the business computer world, and for good reason: it represents a way for companies both large and small to save a lot of money on their I.T. costs.  A recent article by journalist Mark Anderson at www.msdynamicsworld.com – one of our favorite Microsoft Dynamics NAV blog sites – serves us some relevant examples.

In its raw form, virtualization is simply the idea of letting additional computer RAM (internal memory chips) serve as the basis for “pretending” you have more than one physical PC.  Utilizing memory, you can in effect replicate the features and capabilities of a whole additional computer – but without the expense of that additional computer hardware.  It’s like having two, or three, or perhaps even four computers – in one!

We’ve done it ourselves at our firm to reduce a dozen or so previous PC servers down to a few.  We advise client to do the same.  It takes some additional software, available from a couple of major sources (and other smaller ones) to make it happen.  Leading virtualization providers today include names like Hyper-V from Microsoft, or its chief competitor VMWare.

NAV software works with either.  As the owner of one Dutch virtualization provider firm based in Netherlands put it: “If you buy a physical machine [today], no matter what you buy, you’re buying way more hardware resources than you actually need.”  That owner, Adiraan Van Bauwel of SQL Perform Europe, cites the example of a three person shop that runs its entire business on NAV using three Hyper-V instances on one physical server.  Each instance allows them to cordon off its business into separate “machines” that can then be compromised, slow down, or even crash without affecting the others.

In effect, it’s like having three physical machines, while only actually paying for one.

The concept scales upwards nicely as well.  Here, Van Bauwell cites the example of a company with 1,000 system users.  They run the VMWare flavor of virtualization.  They keep their legacy system running on one instance even as they set up and test in another instance a new version to which they plan to upgrade.  Users can test and play in the new version (what we at our firm call the “sandbox” version) without disturbing the “real” operating version in the other instance.

“Disaster recovery, walling off every piece of software onto its own isolated machine and snapshotting instances for backup purposes,” is something Van Bauwel says companies should treat like insurance – hope you’ll never need it but be glad if you ever do.

“Functionally, a virtual machine can provide up to 95% and more of similar performance to a physical server,” Van Bauwel says.  And so long as machines keep getting faster, the case for adding some virtualization to one’s Dynamics NAV environment looks like it’ll keep getting stronger too.

 

email privacyWe veer a tad off topic today from our usual hash of ERP, software and biz postings to digress for a moment into a timely topic: Who owns your emails?  The topic was brought to light last week in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal penned by Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith, explaining why “We’re Fighting the Feds Over Your Email.”

The issue at stake is who owns your email, which today is often largely stored in the cloud.  Is it you… or the company who stores it, like say, Google or Microsoft?  Microsoft was sent a search warrant last year seeking a consumer’s emails as part of a drug investigation.  The emails were stored in Ireland at a data center.  Microsoft’s position is that you own your emails stored in the cloud, not them.  For the government to get them, they must be subject to Fourth Amendment protections – and thus require a warrant.  But by case law, warrants cannot reach beyond U.S. territory.

The government is taking the position that since the emails were stored in the cloud, they cease to belong exclusively to you.  They claim such emails are “the business records of the cloud provider” according to Smith’s letter to the Journal.

Courts have long made distinctions between “business records” and an individual’s “personal communications.”  So it can, in Smith’s example, subpoena UPS to show where a customer shipped packages, but must “establish probable cause and get a warrant from a judge to look at what a customer put inside.”  Even under current phone rules, the feds can obtain the metadata about calls in a phone company’s records but it’s a farther legal reach to listen to actual conversations.

Microsoft’s position is that such legal protection for personal conversations should be “preserved for new forms of digital communications” including emails and texts.  Recently, a Supreme Court ruling unanimously upheld the notion that police must get a warrant from a court before searching a cell phone, since it may contain “the sum of an individual’s private life…”

A recent poll by a research firm found 83% of American voters believe personal information stored in the cloud “deserves the same protections as personal information stored on paper.”  The question becomes one of balancing the advancement of technology with the “timeless values” (Smith’s words) that should endure.  His concluding hope in defending Microsoft against the feds’ intrusion is that “digital common sense should prevail.”

The government’s position would appear to prefer that it be able to obtain emails stored in in a European data center.  As Smith notes, “It’s hard to believe that the American people will blithely accept that foreign governments can obtain their emails stored in U.S. data centers without letting them know or notifying the U.S. government.”  Yet the U.S. government wants to do exactly the same in reverse.

 

20 erp tips_2In our prior post here we listed the first ten of what Panorama Consulting – an implementer of ERP systems located in Colorado – believes are key things to know before implementing one of today’s modern ERP systems.  In today’s concluding post we offer up their other 10 of the Top 20 Tips.

(You can find Panorama’s presentation of these points in a 10 minutes YouTube video here.)

  1. The A-Team is critical to ERP success
  2. There is no “one size fits all” ERP strategy
  3. If your operations and ERP system are misaligned, it’s probably not the fault of the software.
  4. Expectations are high, but most ERP implementations don’t properly define the “finish line.”
  5. Most organizations strive for “no customization,” but most fail to do so. (It simply doesn’t work that way for the vast majority of companies we’ve seen in our own practice.)
  6. You don’t have to implement ERP all at once. (Well, some firms may, for reasons to lengthy to go into here, but put it this way: IF you can avoid implementing all at once, by all means, do!)
  7. In addition to planning, implementation is also about execution.
  8. If you don’t measure it, you won’t achieve it.
  9. It is important to recognize “the canary in the coal mine,” or signs that your implementation may be in trouble.
  10. ERP success and benefits realization is largely determined before the implementation starts.

As we noted in our prior post, those of us in the business of implementing ERP systems have differing opinions sometimes about “what matters.”  But generally, those with experience tend to agree far more than not.  And Panorama’s tips in these two posts pretty well hit the nail on the head.  Heed them, and your chances of long-lasting and meaningful ERP success will improve significantly.

And as always, fail to heed them at your own risk.

20 erp tipsEveryone in the ERP business has their opinions about “what matters” when it comes to successful implementations.  Fortunately, most experienced implementers’ opinions are informed by years of doing it – doing it wrong and doing it right – until the ones still standing have a pretty fair idea of how to make an implementation work.

Thus, we mostly tend to agree on many of the key success factors.  In this and the next post, we’ll list what the folks at Panorama Consulting say are 20 key tips they align with.  While we have a few quibbles – like for example, we think the process analysis (or what Panorama calls the Business Blueprint) should be the first step to a successful implementation, not the second, as they opine – still, for the most part, businesses would do well to heed their advice overall.

By the way, you can find Panorama’s presentation of these points in a 10 minute YouTube video here.

So in the sharing spirit, we’ll take a look today at their first 10 Must-Know Tips:

  1. ERP is about your business, not the technology.
  2. ERP initiatives are very challenging.
  3. Selecting the right software is the first step in a successful ERP implementation (we respectfully disagree; we think it’s further down the list – the business analysis should come first).
  4. No ERP software is perfect. All have their strengths, weaknesses and tradeoffs.
  5. A business blueprint is the second step to an effective ERP implementation (as noted in no. 3, we beg to differ… though our overall objectives are the same.)
  6. Business process re-engineering should happen before, not after, you implement your ERP software (here, we couldn’t agree more strongly).
  7. ERP software best practices and pre-configuration solutions do not solve all the challenges of ERP (in other words, oftentimes, change and modifications are still necessary.)
  8. SaaS (Software as a Service, or “cloud” software) won’t eliminate all your risks either.
  9. Your project will fail without adequate organizational change management.
  10. Executive buy-in and support are critical to ERP success.

In our next and concluding post on the topic, we’ll look at the remaining 10 Must Know Tips.  Stay tuned…

3d printerA recent article in the Jul/Aug edition of APICS Magazine points out where innovative businesses can score gains when it comes to the newest 3D printing technologies, often known as “additive manufacturing.”  We’ll reprise their thinking briefly here, based on an article by Julie Kim and David Robb entitled “New Dimensions.”

3D printers use an “additive manufacturing process” to build objects layer upon layer.  It’s appropriate when one or more of the following hold true:

  • Customization is a key business strategy.
  • Production volume requirements are low.
  • Demand is constantly changing and difficult to predict.
  • Remoteness leads to high transport costs and long lead times.
  • The cost of traditional manufacturing makes for a significant barrier to entry.

Most of us only started hearing of 3D printing in the past couple of years.  The idea that an object could be literally printed into existence seemed pretty exotic initially, but it’s fast becoming reality today.  In their article, the authors point out “five key conditions that comprise an appropriate environment for implementing 3D printing technology as a manufacturing method.”  These are:

  1. High level of customization.  3D printers have the ability to print highly complex geometric shapes with little to no impact on the cost of manufacturing a product.  That’s mostly a function of raw material used.  Production is efficient and economical with minimal machine configuration and the ability to switch between products rapidly.
  2. Low-volume production.  Traditional manufacturing methods favor cost-efficient mass production.  Today’s 3D printers produce slowly, building an object layer by layer, thus rendering themselves to small production volumes but with high levels of customization.
  3. Unpredictable demand.  3D printers require minimal reconfiguration and setup effort.  They can switch between designs with little delay, and thus are highly useful in unpredictable environments, with minimal custom tooling or manual reconfiguration.  Again, all this favors low-volume production environments.
  4. Remote distance to market.  “3D printing enables simplification of the supply chain and can eliminate a large portion of the transportation and waiting time involved with offshoring,” note the article’s authors.
  5. High barriers to entry.  Taking an idea and turning it into a physical product involves substantial investment, often at high cost.  3D printing offers an affordable alternative, both for prototypes and for a continuous (limited) run of finished goods.

3D printing allows for operational efficiency at some levels: while holding inventory can be costly, 3D printing has essentially the same cost per unit, regardless of how many units are produced.  Thus, “pull” production systems tend to be more appropriate here, with the benefit of limited runs and avoiding of overloaded inventories.

3D printing is still a relatively new technology, the authors point out, yet to fulfill its full potential.  But its promise of simpler entry to markets and the growing availability (and plunging costs) of 3D printers will provide benefits to many over time.

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