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Training Takes on Many Forms – Observations from the Recently Completed TGI Users’ Conference

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 by admin

I have been sitting here smiling while thinking about the recently completed TGI Users’ Conference from early May 2009. I always enjoy these events.

As the sales leader here at TGI, one of the best things about what I do is that I get the opportunity to meet and establish relationships with a lot of great people throughout a lot of different businesses and industries. And, it’s great to see these people whom I’ve gotten to know also get the opportunity to meet and interact with each other. It is a lot of fun to introduce these individuals to each other and to observe the dynamics of various groups as they come together.

TGI users’ conferences are tremendous opportunities for customer personnel to learn in a number of different ways. Oh sure, there are presentations on the most current functionality TGI is delivering in the Enterprise 21 ERP system. These are always well received and customers get excited about upgrading their software installations and adopting the newest functionality.

In addition, this year’s conference was the first time TGI offered more in-depth, half-day elective training sessions. These sessions included events focused on such areas as accounting, ad-hoc and financial report writing, customer relationship management, manufacturing, warehouse management, and workbenches and dashboards. While the lecture portion of these events was well received, from my observation the hands-on portions of these events were of most value to the participants. Users were given the opportunity to dig into the software and ask one-on-one questions with the instructors about how they might best apply the various capabilities to their specific situations.

The last day of the event primarily focused on soliciting feedback from the participants as to what additional functionality they could use to derive additional business value. There were some great suggestions received directly from TGI customers in areas such as accounting, manufacturing, inventory management, purchasing, customer relationship management, and warehouse management. When one customer might raise an idea, others might nod their heads in agreement or say, “We could use that too.”

Finally, there were a series of less formal training opportunities – times when customer personnel could interact directly with each other during receptions and meals. These were opportunities for individuals to discuss topics directly related to their use of Enterprise 21 and in areas totally unrelated to software for further knowledge sharing.

In one case I observed participants from several companies exchanging ideas about their freight management practices. In another case, there were discussions about how various organizations were improving their respective operations from an Internet marketing perspective.

Overall, the event was informative and enjoyable. I look forward to the next opportunity to interact with our customers in such a setting, and I am excited to think about the fact that other new TGI customers whom I’ve not even met yet will be participating in next year’s TGI Users’ Conference.


Establishing and Maintaining a Comprehensive Recall Management System

Friday, June 5th, 2009 by admin

What do pistachios, cough and cold medicine, cheese, dietary supplements, cookies, fruit and nut blend, and alfalfa sprouts all have in common?  They all appeared on the US FDA’s recalls, market withdrawals, and safety alerts list during April 2009.

Many companies that believed they were immune to this process have recently had to initiate recalls.  Some of these companies were so ill-prepared they had to close their doors due to poor preparation for such a possibility.

So, what do companies in life sciences and food and beverage industries need to do to make certain they are well prepared for a potential recall initiation?  Companies need to have automated lot tracking software functionality and a comprehensive recall management system in place.  At the core of a comprehensive recall management system are well-defined policies and procedures to be followed in the event of a recall.

The Ohio State University Extension published an excellent article on this subject titled, “What Can You Do to Be Ready for a Recall?” which overviews what companies can do to avoid the potential need for a recall and a high-level summary of the procedures that should be followed in the event that it becomes necessary to initiate a recall respectively.

Key points made about how to avoid a recall include having a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan in place, complying with the FDA’s current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) regulations, developing and maintaining quality management systems, developing a food security and tampering prevention program consistent with the FDA’s Bioterrorism/Food Safety Security Act of 2003, and ensuring quality of raw materials by working with credible suppliers.  When defining a recall plan, one must pay special attention to the key element of such a plan which is fact gathering about the defective product.  This includes both internal and external discovery.

In TGI’s Enterprise 21 ERP system, service and support functionality can be used as a coordination point for external discovery.  This includes logging of all support calls, routing to appropriate resources for investigation, and documenting and tracking the associated resolution.  A recall coordinator would be alerted should the problem be determined to be of sufficient nature and require immediate action.

Enterprise 21 manages internal discovery by supporting complete chain of custody tracking through lot traceability of inbound ingredients, their consumption in manufacturing processes which can yield intermediates, and ultimately to finished goods which are shipped to customers.  In addition, quality data is recorded for each lot during this process.  Enterprise 21 supports both forward and backward lot traceability.

Through a combination of policies and procedures, along with strong system functionality for quality management and lot traceability, TGI customers leverage the Enterprise 21 ERP system as a key element of their comprehensive recall management systems.


Food Distribution Software – Good Systems Enable Your Food Retail Customers to “Have it Their Way”

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009 by admin

One of the ways in which businesses can elect to compete is through a strategy of customer intimacy. In other words, enabling companies to make it so easy for their customers to transact business with them that they’d be fools to go anywhere else. So, let’s explore how a customer intimacy strategy applies to the food distribution industry and how a strong food distribution software solution can enable a business to achieve a sustained competitive advantage.

First, there are a multitude of methods by which orders can be placed in the food distribution industry. Of course, there are the traditional tried and true methods of phone and fax orders, where customer personnel speak with their vendor’s customer service or sales representatives or fax in their orders respectively. When phone orders are taken, good food distribution software solutions enable the customer service or sales representative to take the order in a rapid manner without slowing down the conversation with the customer. These systems can also present a series of other data including information about those products the customer orders most frequently and those products the customer has not ordered within their typical frequency. By doing so, there can be opportunities to upsell the customer or prompt the customer to remember to include additional SKU’s on the given order.

Additionally, there is an entire series of electronic means by which customer orders can be captured and entered into the supplying food distributor’s ERP system. These methods include traditional EDI processing, Web data entry via the supplier’s Web site, and several means by which handheld devices can be leveraged. Relative to handheld devices, if the vendor is performing direct-store delivery, the sales or delivery person can capture information about what products are needed in the next order directly in the customer’s store. Likewise, if vendor personnel are not directly in the customer’s stores on a day-to-day basis, the vendor can provide handheld devices to their key retail customers so customer personnel can enter orders directly into the handheld units as they walk the retail floor. These orders are transmitted directly into the food distributor’s inventory control system for replenishment.

Order acknowledgements and advance shipping notices (ASN’s) can be tailored on a customer-by-customer basis as well. Order acknowledgements can be delivered to food retailers via email, fax, or EDI. ASN’s can be sent by food distributors to their retail customers alerting them as to what products are being delivered associated with a given shipment.

Food retailers can have their vendors perform additional value-added services on their behalf to reduce requirements for internal operations at the retailers and speed product to the shelves. Unique product labeling and retail price marking are two relevant examples of value-added services food distributors can perform on behalf of their retail customers via good food distribution systems.

When the given distributor performs direct-store delivery, the electronic notification of the product delivered can be provided and an electronic proof-of-delivery can be captured which can be provided to the retailer. When shipping is done via common carrier, retailers may elect to have their distributors mark the product for store-level delivery though the actual physical delivery may occur via a retailer’s distribution center. This, too, will help to speed product to the shelves for consumers.

Finally, after the transaction is completed, delivering clean invoices is another element of delighting the customer. Whether these invoices are printed and delivered at the store via a mobile printer, delivered electronically at the point of delivery via DEX processing, printed and sent from the food distributor’s back office operations, or delivered out of the food distribution system via EDI processing, customer transaction processing can be tailored easily to customer preferences (or demands).

Food distributors can become invaluable partners to their retail customers through a combination of strong processes, systems, and technology. TGI’s Enterprise 21 ERP, which can be leveraged with Versatile Systems’ Mobiquity Route™ for direct-store delivery and route accounting, provides food distributors with the opportunity to establish and maintain a competitive advantage in their respective marketplaces.


Despite a Troubled Economy, the 2009 International Dairy-Deli-Bake Show Should be a Fruitful Event for Exhibitors and Attendees

Friday, May 29th, 2009 by Alex Smith

For the past several years, TGI has been a consistent exhibitor at the International Dairy-Deli-Bake (IDDBA) show. This year will be no different, as we will be exhibiting at the 2009 IDDBA show held in Atlanta, Georgia June 7-9. Surprisingly, it looks as though we will be one of the only, if not the only, food processing software suppliers exhibiting at this year’s show.

Given the current state of the economy, it is certainly common for companies to scale down their normal trade show calendar. It is also highly likely that in addition to fewer exhibitors, overall attendance at trade shows across the country will be lower in 2009 compared to prior years. Trade shows require a significant investment in employees’ time and company money for both exhibitors and attendees; however, unlike many industries, the food and beverage industry has been largely unaffected by the downturn in the economy in 2008 and 2009. If you think about it, food is one of life’s absolute necessities – people are always gonna have to eat! Unlike new cars, flat screen TV’s, and other “luxury” items (like my girlfriend’s weekly, and unnecessary, manicure and pedicure), food is a must no matter what the state of the economy may be. In fact, numerous studies have shown that in times of economic downturn, people actually eat more! I recently read an article in the May 2009 issue of Food Processing magazine that stated that despite the economy, food processors are increasing their overall dedication to new product development compared to prior years, a clear sign that food companies are making strategic moves to differentiate themselves from the competition.

As I result, I anticipate attendance at this year’s IDDBA show to be relatively strong despite the existing economic climate. The IDDBA show provides an ideal avenue for cheese, dairy, deli, and bakery companies to showcase their new products to thousands of attendees at a time when food consumption and new product development is on the rise.

For more information on the 2009 IDDBA show, please visit www.iddba.org. If you are attending the IDDBA show, please feel free to stop by and visit us at booth 4070.


Find a Proven ERP Software Selection Process and Execute It

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 by Alex Smith

One of the keys to proper ERP selection is finding a proven ERP software selection process and then executing that process. Many times, manufacturing and distribution organizations start their search for a new ERP system with little understanding of what selection process elements will provide them with the best software solution for their respective businesses. Furthermore, even if the organization has committed to a specific selection process or methodology at the initiation of the selection project, the software selection process is frequently executed incorrectly as the organization gets further along in the project. Fortunately, TGI provides free software selection tools to aid manufacturers and distributors in selecting the best software for their individual business operations. TGI’s proven software selection process can be easily followed, and, more importantly, executed in a timely, efficient manner. TGI’s ERP software selection process consists of five key phases: (1) Project Preparation and Planning; (2) RFI and Introductory Demonstrations; (3) Requirements and Request for Proposal; (4) Scripted Software Demonstrations; and (5) Reference Calls, Site Visit, and Supplier Selection.

While I will not expand on these steps in detail, it is imperative that the organization searching for new ERP software adheres to these five phases and does not initiate the next phase of a selection process without first completing all activities of the prior phase. For example, an organization should not move into the RFP phase of the selection process without first completing the RFI and Introductory Demonstrations phase for all potential ERP software vendors. It is astonishing the number of times we see prospects send Request for Information (RFI) documents and conduct initial remote software demonstrations and move into the RFP phase only to have another software vendor enter the mix of potential software suppliers without conducting the same detailed software analysis for the new software supplier as it did for all other software suppliers in consideration. To provide the most comprehensive, quantitative analysis of each ERP software vendor and solution, the same standards and requirements must be applied to each software vendor at each phase of the selection process. This strategy will give the organization the best apples-to-apples comparison of each software vendor and will ultimately lead the organization to make the best software selection decision.

Again, find a proven software selection process, follow the process, and execute it in full at each step along the way. For more information on TGI’s proven software selection process, click here. You can also request TGI’s free software selection tool kit CD by visiting our online request form.


Training Before and After Go-Live – Critical Success Factors to Gaining Desired Benefits from Enterprise Software Systems

Friday, May 22nd, 2009 by Alex Smith

Training is an integral part of every business software implementation. End users must be trained in the software application’s processing of all transactions and functions they perform on a routine basis. Customer service and order management personnel need to learn a new process for not only entering but tracking both existing and past customer orders; warehouse managers and operators must learn what could be a completely new warehouse process focused on improved warehouse productivity and inventory accuracy while reducing inventory levels; and business executives will learn to use new business intelligence tools for improved visibility and analysis of key business performance metrics such as days supply on hand for a given product, gross sales on a product-by-product basis, and sales margin on a product-by-product basis.

The overriding principle is that training is an important part of the implementation process regardless of a given software user’s role or organizational level. Without training in the business’s newly selected manufacturing software or distribution software package, the capabilities such software provides cannot be utilized to their fullest potential.

During the Enterprise 21 implementation process, training can be conducted in one of two ways. First, training can be delivered to all software users in a given functional area simultaneously. For example, business executives and accounting personnel will be trained in the software’s financial management tools; warehouse workers will be trained to receive and putaway materials and pick, pack, and ship products to customers using Enterprise 21’s fully-integrated warehouse management system; customer service and order management representatives will be trained to utilize Enterprise 21’s order management and CRM ERP software functionality; etc.

A second form of Enterprise 21 training that can be employed during software implementation is a train-the-trainer approach. Using this approach, TGI personnel would train each business department’s functional leader or super user, and those functional leaders would in turn train other software users in their given functional areas. No matter which training methodology is employed, adequate end-user training in the new business software package is essential for a successful go-live experience.

Following go-live, management and software users must remember that the training process is not over. Training should be an on-going effort. TGI offers integrated training tools that include multimedia-enabled presentations, how-to help, screen help, and field help. These tools can be updated and altered to meet each organization’s specific requirements. Furthermore, TGI’s integrated training services enable existing users to refresh the knowledge they learned during implementation and new employees to receive a level of training consistent with all other employees in the organization. This approach to training enables organizations to maintain consistent system and process knowledge across all of the organization’s departments and functional areas.

Both during and after implementation go-live, adequate training in an enterprise software solution is essential to increased productivity and on-going business process improvements.


Process Manufacturing Made “Simple” with Formula Management and Scalable Batches

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 by Alex Smith

Process manufacturing is frequently referred to as “simple” by those in the discrete manufacturing camp, yet if you ask any food, chemical, or pharmaceutical manufacturer if process manufacturing is truly simple, the manufacturer will quickly provide many examples of the growing list of challenges faced on a day-to-day basis.

For process manufacturers, two of the most common challenges are formula and recipe management and scalable batches. Experienced processors recognize that regardless of the product produced, one size does not fit all. A can of soup, a box of detergent, and a bottle of cough syrup are all packaged and sold in multiple types of shapes and sizes. The need for flexible units of measure, formulas, and batch sizes have united food, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies into a process community focused on improving the capabilities and processing options at all steps of the production process. This unification has taken the historically discrete-focused ERP software industry and brought about a number of strong process-based ERP software packages.

A key differentiator for process manufacturing software is the ability to take a standard bill of materials and craft it into a sophisticated and scalable formula that is comprised of a variety of ingredients, units of measure, yields, and by-products or co-products. This formula or recipe can be dynamically scaled to match the ideal batch size, thus meeting current demand levels, optimizing vat and ingredient usage, tracking all ingredient costs, and blending in the appropriate manner to facilitate a finished good that is within specification and acceptable for final sale.

While the idea of a scalable batch may appear rudimentary for ERP software packages, it is not functionally feasible in the original, discrete manufacturing ERP software solutions. In fact, it is not even feasible in all of the ERP software solutions that are marketed to process manufacturers. A recipe with ingredients, yields, and instructions is not the same as a discrete bill of materials. The recipe needs to accommodate ingredient-based instructions and be able to scale up or down based on a given demand level. The recipe or formula needs to be able to manage intermediates, ingredient level yields, and support private label requirements if necessary. The software needs to provide operational control while allowing for a high level of flexibility and scalability.

How does a process manufacturer select the right process manufacturing software solution? The most reliable means of doing so would be a thorough evaluation of potential software packages demonstrated with real data via an onsite scripted demonstration. Even with the advancements in process manufacturing ERP software, not all software packages can perform at the same level. The best technique for separating and comparing one package from another is through reviewing the definition and processing of a sample formula that is scaled for a specific batch or production run. If the ERP vendor cannot demonstrate the software’s ability to manage this process, the software will struggle in a real production environment.

TGI offers free software selection tools and resources for both process and discrete manufacturers. Please visit TGI’s available online resources or TGI’s online request form to order the free Software Selection Tool Kit.


Gaining Visibility to Key Performance Metrics in the Distribution Industry

Friday, May 15th, 2009 by admin

In a recent survey research paper titled, “Technology in Distribution: Trends and Future Challenges,” Adam J. Fein, Ph.D., founder and president of Pembroke Consulting, Inc., discusses, among other things, how many distributors across various industries lack the ability to track key performance metrics. The specific key performance metrics evaluated in Dr. Fein’s research include gross profit by customer, average order size by customer, operating profit by customer, delivery performance by customer, and profitability of fee-based services.

While executives from various distribution industries report mixed and, in some cases, disappointing results in their abilities to access such information, distributors using TGI’s Enterprise 21 wholesale distribution software can readily gain access to these and other key performance metrics. While Dr. Fein’s research paper focuses on the distribution industry, manufacturers who run the Enterprise 21 system can also leverage its business intelligence software capabilities to gain a competitive advantage.

By leveraging Enterprise 21’s business intelligence functionality, executives and all system users can have their own personalized dashboards consisting of the information that is most important to their day-to-day operations. Each individual’s dashboard in Enterprise 21 can consist of an infinite number of tabs with up to four information panes per tab. The information panes can include data displayed in graphical and tabular formats. Some of the graphical views available include pie charts, bar charts, area charts, and gas gauges, which allow executives and other system users to enjoy rapid access to key performance metrics.

Furthermore, while individuals can view summarized data in their dashboards, Enterprise 21’s business intelligence capabilities enable individual dashboard panes to be opened in full analytical drill-down mode, so users can slice-and-dice the information for further analysis purposes. This slice-and-dice capability enables executives to start with a broad brush view of their operations while being able to drill down in detail to pinpoint opportunities for continuous improvement within their organizations. In addition to being able to review and analyze operational data within Enterprise 21, executives can also have financial reports delivered to their dashboards, providing them with a consolidated electronic management book with easy access.

Through the use of Enterprise 21’s business intelligence functionality, executives can efficiently manage their organizations by gaining immediate, consolidated visibility to key performance metrics through individualized dashboards. By leveraging Enterprise 21’s analytical slice-and-dice capabilities, executives can readily identify opportunities for improvement which can lead to increased bottom-line results.

For additional information about Enterprise 21’s business intelligence capabilities and to further review how distribution and manufacturing executives can gain improved visibility to their organizations’ key performance metrics, please view an overview demonstration of Enterprise 21’s business intelligence functionality by clicking here.


The Scripted Software Demonstration: Making an Enterprise Software Decision on More than Gut Feel

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009 by admin

The great majority of companies with whom we work perform their own software evaluations without the assistance of an independent consultant. While independent consultants bring a variety of benefits to the table during the ERP selection process, a key element that strong consultants offer which is commonly missing when companies perform their own enterprise software evaluations is an onsite scripted software demonstration.

So, what is meant by a “scripted” software demonstration? A scripted software demonstration is one in which the company has documented a series of its key business processes that it wants to see all potential ERP vendors demonstrate in a consistent manner. While the scripted demo would generally touch all functional areas of the business, the most important areas of focus would fall into three main areas:

  • Customer-facing (i.e., quote to cash, customer service, customer self-service)
  • Operational (i.e., demand to pay on the procurement side, inventory management and warehouse operations, manufacturing planning and execution)
  • Compliance and control (i.e., financial management and reporting, lot traceability, quality management, industry compliance)

In addition to the script which describes the specific processes, good scripted software demonstrations will also include select sample data and instructions that tie this data to specific processes reviewed during the demo. The sample data should be sufficient while not excessive – 2-3 customers, 2-3 suppliers, 2-3 purchased items, 2-3 manufactured items with associated bills of material or formulations and routings, and sample customer pricing scenarios.

Some companies with whom we’ve worked performing evaluations have merely dumped complete sets of data from their existing legacy database of products, customers, vendors, pricing, etc. In these cases, vendors will cherry pick the data yielding inconsistencies as to which processes show which data or even how much of the data is used, if any.

The script should also have an accompanying scorecard which will be used by company personnel to score each of the processes on two scales – one that defines whether or not the vendor showed the specific process performed by the software, and the second defining how easily the process accomplished the desired task. There should also be an explicit scoring scale (i.e., 1, 3, or 5), where exact wording is associated with each of the scores and communicated to all participants during the scripted demo process. That way, there is an attempt to make the scoring processes as homogeneous as possible, and allows for a true “apples to apples” comparison.

The facilitator of the demonstration needs to constantly nudge the participants to score the process. To use a sports analogy, there are a lot of people who keep score of the top of the first inning of a baseball game, become distracted or bored, and stop. There are very few who keep score of the entire game. Make sure your participants score each process of the demonstration as it occurs.

Once a given section of the demo is completed, the finalized scorecards should be collected immediately to help minimize the risk of a misplaced scorecard. When the demonstration as a whole is completed, the scores should be compiled for each software vendor and added to a summary for all of the demonstrations.

Without a scripted demo, many software evaluations become a “beauty contest” where people make decisions strictly on which solution looked the best. Don’t be fooled by glitz without substance. Dig under the covers and make software vendors show you real transactions being performed in their systems with your data rather than just showing you sample screens with pre-populated data which may or may not work in a production environment.

By following these practices, a scripted software demonstration should yield a quantitative measure as to which software solution would best align with the key business processes and would be easiest to use by a given company. This will help you narrow down the field to your preferred solution so you can move into a final due diligence process with that vendor.

For additional information about the overall ERP software evaluation process including more detail about scripted software demonstrations and a sample scripted software demonstration template, please review TGI’s free ERP Software Selection Tool Kit.


Integrated Lot Traceability: A Critical Ingredient for Today’s Small Business Food Processor

Thursday, May 7th, 2009 by Alex Smith

I received a call recently from a small business owner who made a statement that I found to be quite profound, alarming, and unfortunately, characteristic of far too many small business food manufacturing and distribution companies. He said, “This whole situation with the peanut epidemic has really woken everybody up around here and made us realize it’s time to get a lot tracking software solution that will protect us in case of a recall. Is that something you guys might be able to help us with?”

This small business owner, despite being in the business of processing various nuts and fruits, was fortunate enough to have avoided the existing peanut crisis and was not forced to recall any of the company’s products. Nonetheless, he did say that the current peanut situation had made many of his existing customers call and inquire as to the company’s ability to manage any unforeseen recall. These customer inquiries, then, led the small business owner to call TGI.

My conversation with this particular small business owner only made me more aware of what many of us who develop and sell food manufacturing software have been aware of for some time now – there are a lot (no pun intended) of small food processing companies who do not have an adequate lot tracking software solution to protect themselves in the unlikely possibility of a recall. Smaller food processors frequently resort to entering raw ingredient and finished good lot numbers manually in Excel spreadsheets. Aside from the obvious problem of an employee entering a lot number incorrectly, the task of tracking the specific raw ingredient lot numbers used in specific manufacturing runs to produce multiple products that were eventually shipped to multiple customers is a near impossible feat to accomplish without data entry errors using Excel. Consequently, organizations of all sizes turn to food ERP software solutions with complete forward and backward lot traceability, such as Enterprise 21, to arm the company with the management and tracking tools necessary in the event of a food epidemic and subsequent product recall. While this type of software functionality is a must for any sizeable food processor, more and more food processing companies of all sizes are recognizing the need to migrate to a software solution that can account for the company’s lot tracking needs. As the small business owner I spoke with told me, “If we had been hit by the peanut recall, we would have gone from a small business to out of business.”

In Enterprise 21, lot traceability occurs for both raw ingredients and finished goods. Enterprise 21 tracks the receipt of raw ingredients and their associated lot numbers from suppliers, the use of these raw ingredient lots in manufacturing runs, and the lot numbers of finished goods (and the lot numbers of the raw ingredients used to produce those finished goods) that were shipped to end customers. This software functionality provides food processors complete lot traceability that begins with the supplier and ends with the customer. Enterprise 21 goes one step further to provide complete recall management, tracks the receipt of recalled goods back into inventory, and allows for any necessary accounting entries to be made for expenses incurred to the business as a result of the recall.

With rising levels of competition in the food processing industry and continuously changing compliance regulations in a global economy, complete lot traceability software functionality is becoming increasingly critical to smaller food processors’ sustained business growth and longevity. For the small business owner, lot traceability is worth more than just peanuts.