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msdynOur friends at MSDynamicsWorld.com recently took note of some tips provided by a product manager to a major bank on how to manage their Microsoft Dynamics implementation.  They’re applicable to a wide range of IT system implementations, so we’ll reprise their thinking in today’s post.  The full text is available here.

  1. Develop a “long view” strategic roadmap. “Our roadmap is about twelve to eighteen months out and it’s our high-level priorities for our system and our application,” said the product manager heading up the project. “Having a long-term view is going to allow you to set milestones for your team.  It will give you a baseline to measure yourself against. Priorities change all the time, but at least if you have a baseline and you broke down what you thought you wanted to do, you can use that to measure yourself against later.”
  2. Actively manage change. Managing change with regard to a system like Dynamics means planning for flexibility and understanding which changes are important enough to require new releases. “Our environment is very locked down. We are not allowed to make changes on the fly,” said the presenter.   Furthermore, making changes could impact the downstream partners if they are not prepared and coordinated.  Analysis of the impact of changes helps you understand which are highest priorities and which should be delayed.
  3. Create a development backlog. The next step is creating a development backlog to manage changes requiring development. “Think about it like a big bucket of all the changes you want to make to your environment at some point – and for us it means requiring development at some point,” she says. “Our backlog includes the large roadmap items and those sit in the backlog next to small enhancements and also defects. Everything goes on one long list because if the development team has to work on it, it really only works when we work off one list. You just need to create the list with a tool that everyone has access to” (for example, as we’ve found at PSSI, SharePoint or Asana).
  4. Prioritize and “groom” the backlog. Agile software developers do not prioritize by first-in, first-out; they approach their backlogs daily, prioritizing based on customer requests, bottlenecks, development capacity and so forth. You probably needn’t meet in a daily stand-up meeting as developers do (or three times weekly as we do at PSSI), but still, be prepared to prioritize and groom the backlog, adding and subtracting items on the list and changing priorities as they arise.
  5. Plan the release. The next step is to plan the release, including estimating and “spending” development capacity. “We pick all the candidates for our release based on priorities, in a nice, ranked order.  You just take the first 20 or 30 items off the top of the backlog – which should include all the candidates for the release,” she says.  “Then we go through each item, one by one, and talk about the requirements for each of our items in the backlog with the development team and the testing team.”
  6. Release changes to users. Finally, when you get through the development process and QA and you get ready to release it, tell your users about the changes. “We do three things with each release. We do a release email briefly describing the key changes. Then we hold training calls and we record them and post them out on the SharePoint site for the people that couldn’t make the calls.  We also post some reference guides and some quick online demos on a SharePoint site.”

 

manufacturing-vs-all-industriesERP consulting firm Panorama Consulting just released its 2015 Manufacturing ERP Report which includes a listing of “Top ERP Vendors” by market share.  While earlier reports showed SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft Dynamics leading the pack among ERP vendors in all industries, the new report shows Microsoft Dynamics holds the largest share in the manufacturing space.  The recent rankings are:

  • Microsoft Dynamics: 38% share of ERP manufacturing space
  • Epicor: 25% of that space
  • Oracle: 13%
  • SAP: 11%

The report also divulges that “unpredictability is more rampant among manufacturing ERP implementations,” and… “that manufacturers are just as likely to take longer to implement than expected, but when they do, they are more likely to extend their timelines by a greater amount than in other industries.”

The report also noted that “manufacturers implement at a lower total cost of ownership than those in other industries.”  They add that “when normalized to account for variation in company size by looking at total costs expressed as a percentage of annual revenue, manufacturers come out ahead with costs of 7.5% of annual revenue compared to 8.4% in all other industries.”

Manufacturers are also more likely to customize their ERP software than those in other industries.  Still, it’s interesting to note the report indicates that virtually every company, manufacturers or not, does some level of customization to their software.  Some 75% (of manufacturers) and 90% (overall) report “minor, some, or significant” modification.

And finally, one interesting note, which we’ll quote directly from Panorama’s report verbatim:

“Adoption of manufacturing-specific functionality is relatively weak. While most manufacturers adopt core modules such as sales and distribution, materials management and MRP, relatively few are actually implementing more advanced functionality in areas such as product lifecycle management, advanced planning or CRM. Many of these same companies actually paid to acquire the software, but didn’t acquire those modules for whatever reason. It is important to be cognizant of the propensity for manufacturers to invest significant money in shelfware and to make sure they are getting a good ROI from some of this advanced functionality offered by ERP vendors.”

Benchmarks, the report concludes, are key.  Everyone needs them to ensure goals are met during implementation and beyond.  You can view the Panorama report here.

 

IoT2While the IoT (“Internet of Things”) promises a plethora of interconnected of devices and a boost to productivity and lifestyle alike, builders of these newly web-connected devices from refrigerators and air conditioners to automobiles and medical devices would be wise to slow the truck down just a tad.

Why?  Security concerns.  Like insulin-interrupters (medical devices) and mobile hackers (automobiles) and a lot of things in between.  A recent article in the July 18, 2015 issue of The Economist on cybersecurity illustrates by example some of the threats that perhaps not enough folks are thinking about.

It starts innocently enough.  Mattel has a new Barbie doll that with a chip that “listens.”  Ask Barbie a question and she uses her built-in wifi connection to connect to a data center that comes up almost instantly with an apt reply.

At home, smart thermostats learn about their owners’ heating and cooling preferences and adjust themselves accordingly.  Insulin pumps are being computerized for diabetics that instantly relay their vital signs to their doctors.

What do these all have in common?  Not a lot of defenses against modern day hackers.

But then, think back not long ago to the original internet: Who was worried about worms, viruses and hackers then?  Now, we worry about cars being hijacked by hackers (witness the recent huge Jeep recall when it was discovered that a hacker outside the car could take over its controls).  People fear diabetics being murdered, as the article points out, by having their pumps disabled remotely (it’s been done, sans the murder part), or thieves hacking a home’s temperature settings to learn when its residents are away.

The issue here is whether manufacturers – with little internet security experience, or even the need for it up til now – can thwart a determined hacker.  Most haven’t even been thinking about it much.  At least not until now.  Most widget-makers have little experience with these things.  They are mechanical engineers by training and, as one European car maker noted, “suddenly we have to become security developers, cryptography experts, and so on, and we have no experience of how to do all that.”

Most computer and software companies have learned that perfectly secure code is a myth.  Often, companies like Google and Apple actually pay hackers to find holes in their security, then patch them.  It’s a never-ending cat chasing its tail problem of course – at least in today’s technology.

But the biggest threat, The Economist article notes, is that “companies have few incentives to take security seriously.”  Just as in the Internet of the early 1990s, most of these threats are still on the horizon.  So getting security wrong today has, for the moment “no impact on a firm’s reputation or profits.”  Expect that to change before long, especially “in industries where the consequences of a breach are serious.”

Just as in the early years of the train era, when it took many boiler explosions and crashes before railways started taking safety seriously, and in the auto industry, which really only started getting serious about safety in the 1970s, safety and security protections will come to the Internet of Things – especially where real safety issues are involved.

But it’s going to take awhile, and a few bumps and bruises – and probably worse – along the way.  Just something to be thinking about…

 

nav-inventory-mgmtIn our prior post we noted that wholesale distributors, especially in the small to midsize market space, have specific requirements that match up well with many of the new features in Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2015.  In that post, we looked at some key features in the area of sales and receivables, and started to look at warehouse management (including automated data capture and the setting up of bins).  In today’s post we’ll conclude the warehousing comments and highlight some of the key feature for distributors in the area of inventory control.  These comments are taken from an article published in a recent post at MSDynamicsWorld.com which can be found here.

So, continuing where we left off last post…

Warehouse Management

  • Returns Management: Ensure any returned items are quarantined and assessed for eventual resale.
  • Location Transfers: Ensure that stock is tracked from one location to another, for example from stock to distribution centers, retail outlets, etc.

Inventory Management

  • Stock Analysis: NAV provides rich analysis functionality to enable analysis of customers’ purchase patterns by item, spot trends, assess item pricing, etc.
  • Alternative Suppliers: NAV also allows the management of purchasing the same item from different suppliers (with different price points, lead times) therefore providing the best customer service and availability of items.
  • Item Ledger Integration: NAV’s item management enables the setup of core item information (costing methods, unit cost and price, margin, lead time, etc.) and integrates fully with the General, Sales & Purchase ledgers.
  • Substitutions and Cross References: NAV manages item alternatives/substitutions together with the ability to cross reference supplier or customer item codes with those held internally.
  • Traceability: You can batch or serialize track items enabling full traceability from supplier to end customer of any item.
  • Time Line Visualization: NAV provides a fully integrated tool, providing the user with a visual projection of future supply and demand and enables the user to make dynamic modifications on the fly.

Add to all the above features NAV’s inherent ability to be customized and modified to a company’s specific, detailed requirements, and it’s no wonder that NAV has become the best-selling Microsoft Dynamics ERP product in the world today.

nav-warehouse-mgmtA recent post at MSDynamicsWorld.com makes note of the specialized needs that a growing distribution firm faces as business quickly evolves.  The needs of the SMB (small to medium size business) distributor may be even more specialized.  As ERP evolves from the manufacturing sector into wholesale, the author points out of a range of new features in Dynamics NAV meant to help distribution companies grow.

In this and our following post, we’ll look specifically at what they had to say about the new features in three key areas especially critical to wholesale distributors: receivables, warehouse management and inventory control.  (We’ll cover half the features in each of our two posts.)

Sales & Receivables

  • Sales Order Management: Manage sales quotes, blanket sales orders, EDI orders and sales order processes in NAV. Realize shipping and invoicing independently of each other, control partial shipments, manage prepayment invoices, etc.
  • Sales Invoice Discounting: Set up flexible discount terms (percentage, minimum levels, etc.) at line or total order value in multiple currencies. Once set up, discount calculations are carried out automatically.
  • Campaign Pricing: After setting up a price/discount campaign, customers or contacts associated with the campaign will automatically receive the campaign level prices and discounts.
  • Alternative Shipping Addresses: Multiple ship-to addresses accommodate and manage customers that have more than one site to which orders can be shipped. The delivery location can be selected when generating a sales order or invoice.

Warehouse Management

  • Automated Data Capture: Hand held bar code devices can assist in streamlining the receipt and put away of items and subsequent picking for dispatch.
  • Set Up Bins: Creation of a warehouse layout within NAV enables optimization of put away and picking processes, allows restrictions for size, weight, volume, etc. to be assigned to specific bins and certain areas of the warehouse to be utilized for quality control procedures and the generation of picked orders.

 

We’ll look at more wholesaler-friendly improvements to NAV 2015 in our next post.  Stay tuned…

 

 

scribesoftWe noted in our prior post a few of the critical mistakes and costs associated with the failure to integrate your accounting system with the rest of your operation, as noted in a white paper from Scribe Software, found here.

Having noted some of those very real business costs in our prior posts, we take a quick look today at 7 examples cited by Scribe where companies can eliminate errors, delays and costly redundancies and mistakes by replacing “manual re-entry processes” with a more integrated and elegant, full ERP solution.

  • REPLACING AN ORDER ENTRY CALL CENTER with a web-based customer order entry system, or converting to an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system to accept customer purchase order entries completely eliminates errors on the part of your staff, mainly because you no longer have staff involved in the process.
  • INTEGRATION BETWEEN CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT (CRM) & ERP systems enables Customer Service personnel to expedite resolution of complaints by accessing customer, order, inventory and related information far more quickly, accurately, and efficiently from one interface that connects all these systems together.
  • INFORMATION SHARED FROM YOUR ERP BACK TO CRM informs sales management of customer buying patterns, periodic and seasonal inventory requirements, pricing history and other strategic insights which can dramatically improve the selling process.
  • INTEGRATION WITH SHIPPING APPLICATIONS such as UPS WorldShip prevents the exorbitant costs of deliveries being made to the wrong address (or not at all) caused by mis-keyed shipping addresses.
  • INTEGRATION WITH TIME ENTRY FOR PAYROLL can avoid the costs of paying employees too much or too little.
  • INTEGRATION WITH MANUFACTURING SYSTEMS can eliminate errors in inventory procurement that waste valuable cash when excess inventory is carried or conversely that result in lost revenue when production is temporarily shut down because key materials have not yet arrived from the supplier.
  • INTEGRATION WITH BILLING SYSTEMS can increase cash flow by providing more timely and accurate invoices to customers that shorten collection cycles and increase liquidity

As noted in our title, it’s called “enterprise” resource planning for a reason.  If you just need accounting, there’s always QuickBooks.  But when an enterprise is looking to grow – or to support its current growth – an accounting system is not enough, and it becomes time to ditch the pure accounting system approach of the 70s and 80s and start to investigate the fully integrated ERP solutions that form the backbone of today’s modern business enterprise.

 

scribesoftA recent white paper from Scribe Software of Manchester, NH, reminds us that there are several very important reasons why companies adopt ERP systems, while reinforcing the very real business benefits of doing so.

In this quick two-part post, we’ll first look at a half dozen costs that businesses incur – often in a big way – when they fail to integrate their accounting and related applications in a manner that helps manage the entire enterprise, rather than just parts of it (like inventory, production scheduling, human resources and others).

All too often, integration in some companies means people manually copying information from one system to another.  If this sounds something like your company – or your day – then this (and the next) post is for you.

Too often then, the unseen costs of such “manual” integration will include:

  • Extra time: It takes people far more time to hand-enter data than it does for data to transfer electronically from one system to another.
  • Data entry errors: People can and do make errors when copying information from one place to another.
  • More extra time: It takes more time when errors are found to correct them, re-enter the information correctly, and then correct any damage which may have been caused by the errors.
  • Lost customers: Incorrectly entered data, or delays in entering data into systems used to conduct transactions constantly, regularly cause mistakes in order fulfillment, receivables activity, or other functions that can frustrate and even anger customers who may take their business elsewhere.
  • Excess shipping & processing: Every time late or incorrectly entered data causes a mistake, excess costs may be created in shipping the wrong product back to the warehouse, shipping the right product back to the customer, and other costly activities meant to ‘apologize’ to the customer.
  • Extra staff: Customer Service departments may need to add additional staff as their workload increases to correct these costly mistakes.

Most of these are obvious and intuitive, yet we see companies (admittedly) making these same mistakes and costly errors every day.

In our next post, we’ll take a quick look at a few examples Scribe Software uses to demonstrate the business improvements and cost reductions companies can take advantage of by better integrating their disparate accounting functions with their other business processes.  Stay tuned…

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