Old dogs? New tricks? Make the most of your Inventory & Accounting Software

July 31, 2012

new-tricks-bookkeeperLearning a new business software system is daunting, even to those with lots of previous experience in ERP Software implementations. How much more so, then, for someone who has perhaps only ever used one system, possibly for a decade or more?

That’s often the dilemna faced by the long-term employee of a small or medium-sized company that’s finally switching to more modern and up to date Inventory and Accounting software. The reasons for changing software, in addition to better management information and tools, usually include the ability to automate routine and largely manual tasks. That should benefit everyone. And yet, it’s often that very automation of routine tasks that most scares some employees. They will frequently perceive this is a threat to their job, sometimes subconsciously.

As a result, there are many instances of companies, having implemented a really good new system, still being held back (or limited) by time-consuming and potentially unnecessary manual processes, perpetuated at the insistence of those loyal, valuable but threatened employees.

An example of this would be a bookkeeper who continues to manually check the customer pricing on each invoice, even after the new system has been set up to default correct pricing, and even after several weeks of manual checking have not revealed a single error. In this real life example, the consequences of the delay in sending and posting invoices, sometimes for several days, include delays in collecting payments (and hence cash flow issues), and a lack of up to date sales and gross margin information for management.

So what’s the solution? Well, in my opinion it’s definitely not to fire said employees (at least, not unless that’s the last resort). Ownership / management needs to manage these people more appropriately, both during the software selection process and during implementation, so set their expectations, provide them with tangible positive benefits, and also to clearly spell out the expectations they must meet and the consequences of not meeting them. Then, post-implementation, management should follow up on managing those expectations. Where that takes place, even the most recalcitrant of employees usually comes around and turns into a happier and more productive member of the team.


Food Traceability Software | Requirements Outline

July 26, 2012

food-traceability-software-wholesale-distributionThe Food & Beverage industry is somewhat unique. Unlike durable goods, food wholesale and distribution attracts much public and official scrutiny because of the potential danger these products can pose to the public. Whether it is the FDA or CFIA, a close watch is being kept on food industry activities. For these reasons, as well as for ethical considerations, food traceability software is crucial to the success of a food wholesaler or distributor.

This article outlines key traceability requirements for the food industry, and some of the functionality you should expect from food traceability software.

Lot Tracking (Traceability)

Lot tracking (or batch tracking) is one of the most important aspects of a software system for a food wholesaler or distributor. In order to comply with the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act or the CFIA’s Safe Food for Canadians Act, proper lot tracking must be maintained. This is not discretionary; all wholesalers and distributors, and for that matter manufacturers, are required to be able to trace the path from supplier to customer. For many businesses, this tracking is a manual exercise, which can be cumbersome and costly in the long run.

The FDA and CFIA strongly encourage the use of software to automate this process, and to facilitate faster and more accurate recalls. In fact, there are funds/grants available to encourage this type of investment, such as:

 With improper or non-automatic lot tracking, you may be required to recall all product produced after a certain period of time. This can be excessively costly if only a portion of the product has been deemed unsafe. However, without proper lot tracking software, this may be the only way to ensure fast and accurate recalls.

 To simplify the recall process, look for food traceability software that includes the following:

  • Internal and external lot number tracking
  • Pre-assignment of lots to facilitate FIFO methodology
  • Manage best before and expiry dates

For more information on this important subject, please download the Lot Tracking and Traceability white paper.


Who’s Responsible for Successful ERP Software Implementations? Customer or Vendor?

July 21, 2012

In the past, we’ve seen statistics that show up to 75% of all ERP Implementations are considered a failure (in terms of meeting objectives, on time, and within budget)1. This contradicts my personal experience here at Blue Link, where most of our implementations are on time and within the budget outlined in the Agreement with the new Customer.

 But there’s no doubt that many ERP implementations are, shall we say, less than successful. This led us to consider “Who is ultimately responsible” for a successful ERP Software implementation? The question was raised to a group of professionals in the ERP Community Group on LinkedIn.

 Based on the responses received to date, there is no one definitive answer, as the reasons given on both sides make a lot of sense. To put it into perspective, from those professionals that actually gave their opinion:

  • 39% responded that the Customer is responsible
  • 44% responded that both the Customer and Vendor were equally responsible
  • 17% responded that the Vendor is responsible

 Software-implementation-responsibility

So is there a right answer? Below we have summarized arguments put forward by the respondents, so you can draw an educated conclusion for yourself.

Vendors are Responsible (17%)

In general, the responses from those that indicated “The Vendor is Responsible” made the argument that expectations must be set at the right level, based on the Customer willingness or ability to participate in the implementation process. As an example, if the Customer is unable or unwilling to educate the Vendor on their operations or business model, it is the responsibility of the Vendor to ensure the Customer is aware that they will likely get a more generic installation, one that might not improve their operating efficiencies as they hoped.

From the comments received, it appears these professionals have had some bad experiences with previous implementations and, as the Vendor, would take the responsibility to ensure the Customer understands what they will get with their lack of detailed involvement.

Customers are Responsible (39%)

As with the “Vendor is Responsible” responses above, the responses from those professionals who indicate the ‘Customer is Responsible” has one overwhelming theme: “The Customer is the one paying the bills and therefore they are ultimately responsible.”

The discussions focused on the Customer knowing what they purchased, using the ERP software to improve their efficiency and an expectation of an ROI. Often there were additional customer-or-vendor-responsible-erp-software-implementationcomments regarding the responsibility of the Vendor to provide what they claim they can provide in a system and in the signed Agreement.

One response was very clear when they discussed Software as a Service (SaaS) implementations and stated that if the implementation is not successful, the probability of the Customer remaining with the vendor is low.

These professionals realize that the one holding the money is normally the one who should be responsible, but we think they also realize that sometimes this is not what actually happens.

Both are Responsible (44%)

The responses we received that indicated “Both are Responsible” were not a surprise. In all the comments, there was one very clear statement, “the Vendor and Customer must work together and be equally responsible for a successful implementation”.

Phrases such as “Team Work” and “active and constructive liaison” were used in the responses. A statement like “to be able to identify correctly everyone’s role and responsibilities” puts it all in perspective.

Our Opinion

In our opinion, implementation is the responsibility of both the Vendor and Customer. As professionals in the world of ERP implementations, it is our responsibility to make sure we understand what the Customers’ needs are, to provide them with the software to help them in the period of time agreed to in the Agreement, and to provide them with the guidance in their implementation-related tasks, as we have the ERP implementation experience.

In turn the Customer is responsible for educating the Vendor as to all needs and business processes up front, so that the vendor can determine if their solution will fit these needs. I The Customer also needs to allocate the appropriate resources (including people with the authority to make decisions) to the project, and take direction from the Vendor on implementation tasks where the vendor’s expertise exceeds the customer’s.

This may seem too black and white and implementations are rarely that straightforward. As vendors, we try to ensure that both sides understand the tasks, roles and responsibilities before the process begins, and then work collaboratively through the more colorful issues that arise during the implementation.

1 In the reports discussing implementation failure rates there were specific criteria such as projects being over budget and how much additional time over estimated schedule did it take the implementation to be completed. An additional note to consider is that the research was normally conducted on the top ERP Vendors. Search “erp software implementation failure analysis causes” to learn more about failures.


Medical & Pharmaceutical Traceability Software – What to Look For

July 16, 2012

medical-pharmaceutical-traceability-software

This post outlines functionality one should expect from Medical and Pharmaceutical Traceability Software.

Apart from the standard inventory and accounting ERP software, medical and pharmaceutical distributors need robust traceability to help them comply with regulatory guidelines and legislation. There are many important aspects to traceability but the core component is lot tracking to aid in FDA / ISO / CFIA compliance. In this post we will explore some of the most important software functionality for those in the medical and pharmaceutical industry.

Key Features

●   Lot tracking   ●   Landed cost tracking   ●   Serialization    ●

●   Revision Control   ●   Special Orders / Drop Shipping   ●

Lot Tracking

It is obvious that one of the most important features in ERP software for the medical and pharmaceutical industry is traceability. Despite the importance of lot traceability for the industry, many businesses are still performing these processes manually – often on spreadsheets. This is a huge cause for concern, of course; not only because it can be an arduous process but also because very costly errors can be made.

Watch out for the varying degrees of lot tracking offered by different ERP software vendors. As they are not all created equal, be sure to make an apples-to-apples comparison. The optimal lot tracking solution should include:

–          Internal and external lot number tracking

–          The ability to pre-assign lot numbers based on expiry dates

–          Proactive management of, and alerts for, expiry dates

–          Auto-generate lot numbers (optionally)

–          Printing of lot (or batch) information on packing slips, invoices etc.

Landed Cost Tracking

Medical and Pharmaceutical businesses that import product need a landed cost tracking system to accurately cost inventory and provide meaningful gross margin data. This is particularly true of generic drugs or medical devices manufactured outside the country. Factors such as duty, brokerage and freight can have a profound impact on inventory costs. In order to ensure you are making the right purchasing and pricing decisions, make sure your software system handles landed costs appropriately.

  • Define expected landed costs on purchase orders, and factor these into inventory costs – for accurate product costing
  • Ability to specify default landed cost factors by product
  • Ability to apply each landed cost factor to each line on a purchase order using one of several pro-rated methods – including a manual override for unusual situations
  • Ability to reassign landed cost components to different vendors after receipt of purchase orders – if you expected the freight cost to be Carrier A, but the invoice arrives from Carrier B, you need to be able to account for it appropriately
  • On-screen lookups and drill down to landed cost details – making it easy to see how the landed cost reconciles back to the supplier cost
Serialization

Medical distributors who supply medical equipment, and big-ticket devices, need to track each device individually. Of course, for such companies serialization is important throughout the entire process, purchasing, sales and even RMAs.

Revision Control

Internal lot numbers (or other methods) may be used as a means of keeping track of product revisions. For example, you may have a product that has received blanket FDA approval under one product code (SKU), but you carry several different versions (minor revisions). Splitting these into separate SKUs is a non-starter, but you still need a method of differentiating the revisions. This is ideally tracked at the lot / batch level.

Special Orders / Drop Shipping

Medical products can be complicated and made-to-order, resulting in special orders. Ensure your software can accommodate these special orders and manage straight-forward drop shipping.

To fulfill the requirements of the medical and pharmaceutical industry, any software package under examination should have all of the above features. If it doesn’t, keep looking.


A Southern African Celebration

July 10, 2012

I thought today I’d share with you the following write-up on a fund-raising event  held on June 21st, where my company (Blue Link) was one of the event sponsors, and of which I am proud to have been one of the organizers. The following was written by Samantha Hornby:

 south-african-celebration-csan

 Even though Toronto boasts a diverse culture, it is sometimes easy to get stuck in your neighborhood’s cultural bubble. This is why events such as the recently held “Southern African Celebration” are great opportunities to explore another culture. The event gave guests a chance to learn more about Southern Africa through traditional dance performances, exotic South African foods and wines and an exhibit of hand-carved stone sculptures from Zimbabwe.

 The event was held at the historical Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto, and began with a silent auction, various appetizers and the chance to peruse Zimbabwean and South African art on display.   This was accompanied by the entertainment of Derek de Beer from the drum circle Rhythm Safari who, with the help of some brave audience members, demonstrated his drumming talent. If guests were not too full from the assortment of appetizers by the time dinner came, they were treated to a selection of barbequed meats and vegetables, all cooked with a South African flair.  During the meal, guests were entertained by an amazing group of young men from the Mafa Dance Village who performed traditional South African dances and a bongo routine.  Afterwards the guests were invited to help themselves to a collection of desserts and the live auction began; thanks and congratulations to all those who won! As the night started to wind down and the silent auction closed, a few energetic souls took to the dance floor as Brian Litvin and Jabulani took the stage as the final performance of the evening.

Overall, the event was a huge success and Blue Link Associates was proud to be a sponsor of such an exciting evening, in which approximately $30,000 was raised.  Blue Link president Mark Canes said, “This is such an enjoyable way to give back to communities in Southern Africa, where I came from, and Canada, my true home – I’m very proud of all who attended and contributed so generously.”

 All proceeds from the event will be donated to ZimArt’s primary school construction project in rural Zimbabwe and Mariposa in the School’s cross cultural programming for students in Ontario.  Thanks to all who attended and donated!


Do Your Homework Before You Start Looking for New ERP Software

July 4, 2012

selecting-ERP-softwareIt surprises me when someone contacts Blue Link looking for new software and they do not know what they really need out of the new system. Often, there is one specific problem that they want to solve and they have not really considered all the other operational processes that could be improved.

Before you start looking for new software, there are 5 key areas to consider that will make your search easier and much more productive. With this information in hand, you will be able to ask the right questions of the prospective software supplier and answer the questions any respectable ERP Software vendor should be asking.

1.       Reason for your Software Search

Usually, something has happened within the organization that has led to the desire for a new software system. Before you take on the responsibility (and time investment) to start a software search, make sure you understand what you are looking for.  Find out the answers to the most important questions first:

  • What happened that has led us to begin this search?
  • How do we expect the new software to solve this problem?
  • Will we be able to afford new software if we find something?
  • What is our budget?
  • When would we want the new software to be installed/ implemented?

If any of the questions above cannot be answered, a big red flag should be raised and you should be asking yourself if the time you will be putting into this search is going to be time well spent. Sometimes, out of frustration, a search for ERP software is started and the only answer we hear is, “Our current software does not do what we want it to”, but no consideration has been given to the process of actually implementing a new system. Make sure your company is ready to take on this project before you spend too much time performing a search. Once you determine that a search is warranted, it is time to find out other areas of your operations that new software could improve.

2.       Inventory/Purchasing/Warehousing

Engage the staff that are purchasing your inventory and performing the daily operations in the warehouse. They will be able to provide you with information on how they perform various tasks and make suggestions on how their processes might be improved. Furthermore, it also helps with “Buy-in” when a new solution is implemented if the people using the new solution feel they have had input to the solution. The questions to ask include:

  • What tools are used to determine what to purchase?
  • Do we ever run out of inventory to ship?
  • How long does it take to fill an order?
  • How often are there errors when shipping?
  • How much dead stock are we carrying?

Depending on the answers, a new system might be able to improve the efficiency and accuracy of your warehouse and purchasing activities. Think “if we do not have enough product to ship, we cannot sell more product”, together with “if we have dead or slow-moving items they cost us money” – in either case we are losing money.

3.       Sales

In our experience, sales processes are normally one of the biggest areas where new software can drastically improve a company’s operational performance. Here are some questions that could be asked:

  • How many sales orders are processed each day in total?
  • How long does it take to process an incoming order?
  • Do you have access to all the information you need to perform your job?
  • Is there anything that would help you improve the customers experience while processing their sales order?

Find out as much information as you can in this area as it will ultimately improve your operations.  Ask yourself, “If we can improve the sales process how will this impact our sales?”

4.       Accounting Processes

If you have been in business for any length of time, you are either using a generic accounting package or a solution that has accounting functionality built-in. In either case, there are still areas where improvement can be made. Consider asking these types of questions:

  • How are invoice payments received and reconciled to the appropriate customer account?
  • Are you using paper to collect accounts receivable?
  • How are payments processed to your suppliers?
  • Is there any functionality that would make these processes more efficient?

Most companies are not looking for new ERP software because their accounting functionality is inadequate. What you want to make sure of is that you will not be losing functionality with a new solution. Ask yourself, “If we can improve the accounting processes will it make an impact on the work load of our accounting staff?”

5.       Nice To Have

This section allows you to better understand the “what if’s” in your company. As an example, “What if we had barcode scanning in the warehouse?” or “Could we be more efficient if we had on-line ordering for our Customers?” This is where you and your co-workers can think outside the box and allow your creative juices to flow.  Remember though, added functionality normally costs money, so never promise that the added functionality will provided.

With the information you have accumulated, you can now put together a more detailed list of what you really need and what you would like to have in new ERP Software System.

There’s a supplementary question you should be asking: do you have the authority to purchase a new system? Before you actually start contacting software suppliers, have a meeting with the decision maker(s) and offer them your findings. This will allow them to consider if your next steps are still warranted and again offer for some “buy-in”.


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