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CME_pic_AvalaraA white paper from Avalara, Inc., a firm specializing in sales and use tax compliance for business, reminds us of the importance of properly collecting sales tax and managing tax exemption certificates.

Anyone who has survived a state sales tax audit knows that the price for non-conformance and even innocent errors can be very high, easily running into the tens of thousands of dollars.  And these days, states are more eager than ever to find new revenue sources.  Ensuring that you are consistently charging and reporting the right sales tax to each customer in each taxing entity has become more critical – and more complex – than ever.

Fortunately, for those doing business in many states and owing taxes to many taxing authorities, there are automated solutions to manage the process of exemption certificates and to ensure compliance.

Most ERP systems can be matched up with today’s better tax management systems.  They require the addition of two pieces: Exemption Certificate Management (ECM) software, and tax decision software.  Together, these two pieces can interact with ERP systems like Microsoft Dynamics NAV and others, to ensure compliance.  While it’s beyond the scope of a blog post to give a detailed analysis, following is the simple version of how these things work.

(For a white paper on the topic, contact us or you can go directly to a provider such as Avalara.  They provide a more detailed overview here.)

Standard Exemption Certificate Management software is installed in-house on your own computers and allows you to image, index and store all appropriate sales tax certificates.  It will also help you manage the process of securing these certificates from customers, telling what certificates have been requested, received and so on.

Intelligent ECM software provides a similar service, but does it via the cloud so that all you need is a web connection.  This version often integrates with your ERP software.  Software updates are automatic every time you log in and usually included in your license agreement.

Next, your tax decision software helps you determine and manage the taxability and rates based on factors like the purchase order, the product being sold, the location of buyer and seller, and so on.

Once the rates and taxability have been determined this information can be fed into your ERP system so an invoice will reflect the correct sales tax amount.  It’s all automatic and seamless.  The biggest issue your company has to deal with then becomes requesting appropriate sales tax exemption certificates.  The integration of both ECM software and tax decision software helps ensure that mistakes do not occur by ensuring that certificates on file are not expired, current and up to date, so the tax decision software is making its decisions based on accurate, up to date information.  In essence, you can’t have one without the other.

Together then, the ECM and tax decision software programs ensure that the right taxing information is being fed into your billing system.

In the end, it’s all about ensuring that you charge and remit the right sales tax, each and every time.  Since state tax audits are becoming increasingly more common, the pieces together ultimately provide the peace of mind a small business owner needs to ensure their own audit will not be a cause for undue concern nor unexpected expense.

rockandrollWhile certainly guilty of a bit of overreach or, in the words of a 19th century poet, “he’s too clever by half…” Panorama Consulting’s Eric Kimberling stretches a metaphor a bit too far by comparing ERP implementations to some rock & roll song titles.  Nonetheless, his points are well taken, so we’ll give proper credit in reprising this gem today from an article he wrote entitled “Five Things Rock and Roll Can Teach Us About ERP Implementations.”

Avoid the ERP implementation highway to hell.  Smart organizations, Kimberling points out, know it’s not easy.  Implementations are always challenging, but they don’t have to end up as famed disasters like Hershey’s, Waste Management or Avon.  Most initiatives take longer and cost more than expected.  Start by expecting it to be hard.  Then invest the necessary time and budget.  Be aware of the need for process change and organizational change management from the outset in order to increase the odds that your implementation will be one of the successful ones.

Watch for smoke on the water. ERP implementations don’t fail overnight.  It’s an accumulation of risks and challenges and decisions over time.  Under-budgeting time and cost are a good ‘smoke on the water’ sign of warning.  Ditto for insufficient user-training or over-worked staffs too busy to realistically complete the work required.  You have to be realistic.

The times they are a-changing.  Organizational change management is always a challenge.  Employee acceptance and adoption issues mean that employees need to take responsibility for the changes imposed by a new system.  That moves from being excited at the onset through the hard work of the actual gritty requirements, challenges and compromises of the actual implementation.

Your ERP project should be about taking care of business.  Don’t get hung up on the technical aspects of your implementation.  People and processes (and process change) are at the core of it.  Remember, it’s all about the business.  Successful implementations require business process reengineering.

Don’t stop believing.  Because they’re so difficult, “it can be easy to lose hope and lower the bar for success,” notes Kimberling.  Go in with realistic implementations, keep your eye on them, and keep moving forward.

He may be killing us softly with his song(s), but Kimberling is right on the mark.

Sorry, we couldn’t resist.

 

 

internet_dogYou may also remember when… cars were going to fly… razors would eliminate beards… and automation would deliver us all into the lap of leisure.  In a recent article in The Economist (Oct 18, 2014) the editors make the point that the internet is no exception to missed prognostications and overblown predictions.

“On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” went a famous New Yorker caption back in the Net’s early days.  Now, truth is, Google and Facebook and other means of surveillance know a lot more than that about you (or as The Economist jokes: “whether you have fleas and which meaty chunks you prefer”).  While a “flat” economy was predicted, along with “the death of distance,” the reality is that recently Amazon – viewed by many as the ultimate destroyer of retail — announced plans to open a genuine brick and mortar store.

While the impact of the internet on certain industries is undeniable (think: books, music) there are a lot of e-commerce firms opening physical stores, including Bonobos and Screwfix.  Supporting the logic, research has shown that for every 1% increase in the distance between the country you live in and a foreign country, there’s a 2% decrease in the chance you’ll visit a website in that country.  In other words, location still matters.  Research has also shown that online products’ popularity first spreads by physical proximity, from one zip-code area to nearby ones.  We still show our friends, even on our phones, what we like and they in turn to tend to shop there.

Indeed, the article points out, “companies are increasingly treating the physical and virtual worlds as complements rather than alternatives.”  We may compare prices in the virtual world – thus helping to level the playing field across geographies – but many people still want to touch before they buy.  One new trend that has resulted from this is called BOPS (buy online, pick up in-store).  Macy’s is spending $400 million to digitize its flagship New York store to allow mobile app guides and provide custom information to in-store shoppers.

In other areas, like insurance and newspapers, these companies are still around, only now they have channels allowing customers to connect directly with the company or publisher.  And middlemen and wholesalers still have a place helping people otherwise confused by the internet’s overwhelming choices and glut of user reviews.  People still need trustworthy guides.  (Maybe dogs, too?)

The death of brick & mortar (and a lot of other non-retail businesses too), like so many dire and outrageous predictions before and since, must be taken with a grain of salt.  Technology does have the capacity to shrink supply chains, offer diversity of choice and cut costs.  But incumbents in all forms of business have a way of adapting to change, integrating the digital with the old-style ‘analog’ and using tech as a springboard to improving the customer experience.

As the article concludes: “There is a world of difference between disruption and destruction.”

 

win10Microsoft’s Terry Myerson, Executive VP for Windows, recently announced that “sometime late in the year” of 2015 they will be releasing the next version of Windows, number 10 – yes, they’re skipping the number ‘9’ entirely.

A recent preview demo shows that the new version is intent on giving users the best of both worlds – that is, the best of the much-loved Windows 7, PC-based operating paradigm and the best of the touch-based, more mobile-oriented look and feel of Windows 8.  That’s a tough combo to pair up.

The version we saw showed a pure mash-up: A Windows 7-like Start Menu arising from the bottom left of the screen set right up against a Windows 8-like screen full of Live Tiles.  From there, users can customize these elements to their liking.  [See image above.]

Other things you can expect from Windows 10 (parsed from an article by techradar.com entitled “10 great new features in Windows 10” that you can read here) include:

  1. It hasn’t given up on “touch” – at least not yet. Microsoft purports to want to ‘evolve’ touch (i.e., change it a lot).  Rumor has it those right-side-of-the-screen ‘charms’ may go away.
  2. The Start Menu is back. Paired with live tiles that can be resized.  This is the Windows 10 + 8 mash-up we mentioned earlier.
  3. Task Switcher will be dumped in favor of a new Task View, which you can use to switch between virtual desktops. Apparently, not enough folks knew about Alt+Tab, which will now switch between desktops.
  4. A new Snap Assist feature helps you figure out the best way to snap apps to, like new screens or tiles.
  5. The Command Prompt is getting keyboard shortcuts, so you can paste in your commands. Hardly groundbreaking, but handy.
  6. A new Home location is the default view in Windows Explorer.  There’s a new Share button too.
  7. Improved navigation without a keyboard (something called Continum). We’re waiting to hear more.
  8. New Universal Windows apps. They’ll run on phones as, by the way, will Windows 10, which is intended to be a cross-device platform from phones to servers.
  9. Modern (‘Universal’) apps will now float on the desktop. To quote techradar.com: “The new Universal apps also work on the desktop and ‘float’ in their own Windows. Microsoft wants to banish the separation between the Modern UI and the Desktop.”
  10. Win10 will have a lot for Business and Enterprise. Again, quoting techradar.com: “This version of Windows will have plenty of other features for enterprise, including a customized store and protection for corporate data. Mobile Device Management will be able to be used for all devices.”  Microsoft wants to appeal to business users and to show enterprises what this OS is capable of.

For a more in-depth review of Windows 10, also from techradar.com, go here.  No doubt you’ll be hearing lots more about Windows 10 in the months ahead.

 

Panorama_9_TrendsIn our preceding post we listed 5 of the 9 trends that Panorama Consulting in a recent white paper described as likely developments in the ongoing development of ERP systems and the needs of the customers who buy them.  Their full report can be downloaded here.

In today’s concluding post we’ll look at their last four predicted trends…

6. ERP vendors will offer flexible deployment options. This basically means the ability to choose among methods by which to deploy and use your system.  We’ll increasingly see opportunities to choose from – or switch from – cloud and/or on-premise systems.  The fast-start, agile and low-cost-of-entry cloud solutions can get a company up and running quickly.  On the other hand, on-premise systems are typically more robust, much more customizable and, particularly for manufacturers – a more complete solution.  Clients will want both options, as well as scalability and timing options (like for adding users).  Vendors will need to deliver multiple options.

7. Best-of-breed and two-tier solutions will regain popularity. Single ERP systems aren’t always the best solution for all firms.  Sometimes, two-tiered, or best-of-breed, or even more than one solution is the right solution.  As integration among systems becomes easier and more common, it makes sense to use specialized systems to run, say, the warehouse, and then integrate that back to the ERP accounting system, even when they’re not from the same vendor.  It’s about finding the right fit for your  Vendors who can provide such one-stop-shopping solutions will best serve their clients’ best interests.

8. Experienced, independent ERP consultants will be in high demand. Vendors with no direct software affiliation will gain favor.  It’s worth noting that Panorama itself is one of these firms, and thus might be guilty of a little bias here.  Then again, our own firm – which provides a variety of solutions from multiple ERP vendors – can be guilty of our own, similar bias.  Either way, the point is: a vendor offering a solution from just one software vendor is more likely to be like the “hammer” that views everything in the world as a nail.  Whether the consultant is truly vendor-independent, or multi-dependent, clients will be able to take advantage of these consultants’ expertise from their independent or “multi-lingual” viewpoints.

9. Implementations will be all about business. Forget features/benefits.  Forget “technology.” (Remember when the most important thing about an ERP system was that it ran under Windows?)  The real issue is (and in our views always has been) about the business.  Business processes… workflows… strategy… competitive advantages… turning data into information and turning information into the ability to make well thought out business decisions – these are the things that truly matter.  Or should.  As Panorama points out, “the real winners will be the ones that force their ERP implementations to fit in the context of their overall business vision and goals.”  Focus on business process reengineering, organizational change management and benefits realization – that’s where the real, biggest and longest-term ROI will always be found.

We think the folks at Panorama have done a pretty fair job of predicting ERP’s future.  What do you think…?

 

 

panorama_PicPanorama Consulting, a Colorado-based consulting firm specializing in larger ERP implementations, often does research and writing on ERP that is applicable to the business world as a whole, including our marketplace of small- to mid-size businesses.  In a recent white paper entitled “20/20 Panoramic View of the ERP Industry” they’ve identified 9 trends in business/technology that they believe will shape the ERP industry – and thus the companies who buy ERP solutions.

In our next two posts, we’ll share some of their views and predictions, beginning with these…

  1. The “consumerization of IT” trend will reach ERP systems. With so many younger workers entering the workforce, do you really believe that today’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter users – the always connected generation – will long tolerate the old “green screen” and AS/400 style of computing paradigms in their daily work?  Not likely.  Attractive user interfaces that more resemble today’s consumer technologies, along with simpler functionality and quick access to critical business information are likely to become increasingly prevalent.  And it is estimated that today’s “Millenials” will be 46% of the workforce by 2020.
  2. Mobility will go mainstream. While talk about Software-as-a-Service and cloud technologies are all the buzz lately, the real change is being seen in the use of mobile devices.  Phones, tablets and handhelds – from the warehouse to the front office – will eventually become more prevalent than desktop PCs.  Here again, younger users’ familiarity with phones and handheld devices will push the trend forward.  And with a trend towards more part-time, mobile and contract employees (it is said there will be more of these types of workers than there will be full-time workers by 2020) – the need for mobile ERP software can only be expected to grow.
  3. Businesses will focus on business intelligence, big data and analytics. This trend is already in motion.  After years of collecting data, companies are moving toward deeper analysis of it.  This takes today’s simple, static business reports to a whole new level of dashboards, drill-downs and business intelligence.  Most ERP systems today already include tools for this type of both ad hoc and more complex analysis.  Of course, users will need to learn how to use these tools, but that’s coming as well through a greater implementation emphasis on user training.
  4. The ERP software “suite” will be built one solution at a time. ERP buyers are often faced with a choice between complete “suites” of software that purport to address all their needs, and more narrowly focused solutions.  This is often characterized as a one-size-fits-all versus best-of-breed contest.  Cloud versus on-premise is one flavor of this theme: cloud solutions tending to fit the one-size model, versus the depth and robustness (and customization capabilities) of a dedicated, on-premise ERP solution.
  5. Organizations will finally embrace organizational change management. This has always been a challenge confronting ERP implementers and clients alike.  A change in system is the perfect time to revisit all your processes and make changes accordingly.  It’s too often easier said than done, or lip service is paid to it.  Recently though, Panorama found that organizational change was the top reason that ERP projects went over schedule (i.e. late).    The suggestion is that companies are actually focusing on this important issue (thus delaying projects).  As well, we can see “technology” being much less the issue (as opposed to how things were in the pre-Y2K days) as the tech issues alone reach a point of diminishing returns.  In their place, less tangible issues like organizational change management are increasing becoming “the primary differentiators between companies that succeed in their ERP implementations and the ones that fail,” according to Panorama’s report.

In our next post, we’ll look at their remaining conclusions.  Stay tuned…

APICS logoWe reprised APICS writer David Turbide’s comments regarding the evolution of ERP from his recent APICS Magazine article in our first of this two-post series here.  Today we’ll see what he and APICS have to say about today’s systems and choices.

Turbide notes that topping the list of tools modern ERP suppliers now include in their product suites is enhanced analytics capability.  Dashboard indicators, business intelligence (BI) tools and deep drill-downs are becoming the norm today.  This encourages executives to have more interaction with their systems personally than in years past.  Data analysis tools – often involving Microsoft Excel at some point – are being enhanced with more powerful data visualization capabilities, a trend expected only to evolve further.  It makes decision makers more connected to the pulse of their organizations.

User interfaces (UIs) are likewise evolving.  We see this today in things like Microsoft Dynamics’ recent innovations in the area of the role-tailored client, which lets users focus only on what’s important to them, instead of seeing screens cluttered with other (and often irrelevant) menu options.  For a long time systems increasingly came to look like Microsoft Windows and in particular Office tools like Excel.  That’s still true, but it’s equally true now that they are starting to look more like websites.  Both design approaches serve the greater functionality of the user, with both built in to today’s UIs.

That UI is now moving into mobile as well.  (Here too, Microsoft recently announced availability for its Dynamics NAV product on tablets including iPad and Android devices, moving beyond pure Windows devices.)

And best of all, users will say, is the ability to search within an enterprise system for just about any piece of information they need, from just about any functional area or module.  Once again, UIs are delivering greater value to the user.

Turbide goes on to point out how today’s systems have evolved from a dozen or so modules to as many as 50 or 100 “apps” that can be stacked like blocks to form a tailored ERP solution for specific industries.  These (often third-party) adds-ins serve to further extend the functionality of today’s ERP offerings.  Meanwhile, the lines between ERP, supply chain and manufacturing execution systems (MES) are becoming fuzzy and less meaningful.  Overlaps occur between scheduling and quality as ERP encroaches into the MES domain by offering direct connection to machines and sensors.  Similarly, ERP has been gradually improving in other areas outside its traditional domain, like demand-planning ability, distribution and warehouse management bundled functionality.

In short, ERP continues to evolve, grow and spread its influence into more and more areas of the enterprise, encompassing an ever-greater share of the firm’s database of business intelligence.  That trend will only continue.  The benefit is that today’s buyer has greater choice in the tools and solutions available to them for managing the enterprise than ever before.  As Turbide concludes, “Today’s ERP is far and away more functional, flexible and capable than ever before.”  But if you look closely, you can still see the long heritage of providing the tools and automation that manufacturers need to run their business.  ERP evolves to keep pace with the changes in manufacturing that today’s global business demands.  Plus, as the article notes, there will always be the upstarts stoking the competitive fires as well.  All this bodes well for the continued innovation, integration and growth of business management and planning systems for the growing manufacturer.  And in so doing, will advance the entire industry.

 

 

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