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Leveraging Your ERP System for Continuous Business Improvement

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 by admin

So, you’re an owner of a small to mid-market manufacturing or distribution company. Your business is making a nice profit and you’re pleased with your personal earnings from the venture.  Even so, it’s not time to rest on your laurels and be satisfied with the status quo.

Every day, there’s someone out there who wants to eat your lunch. It could be an existing competitor who wants to get the upper hand, or it could be someone with a new idea to turn your industry upside down. Whatever the source of the threat, it is real, and it is coming.

Thus, it is imperative to make on-going adjustments in your business for purposes of continuous improvement unless you want to wake up some day to be the person wondering, “What hit me?”’

There are so many manufacturing and distribution businesses we walk into where “that’s just the way we do things around here” is a widely-used term. For example:

  • We always buy substantially more product than we need at the time because we get an additional discount from our supplier.
  • We always have three people sequentially check the same order and its pricing before it is billed so our customers always receive a clean invoice.
  • We couldn’t possibly require the receiving people to record lot numbers because it will hurt their productivity.
  • We allow our customer to buy a full container of product and pay us for it over a twelve month period, even though the customer sells all of the associated product in six months and is using us as their bank for interest-free money for the last six months.
  • We aren’t interested in going out and finding any new customers; we have more than enough business from the two big customers we’re already working with.

These are but five of the countless statements we’ve heard over the past several years about why businesses do quirky things – just because, “that’s the way it’s done here.”

Every day in business is a new opportunity to change old ways and to make improvements that can lead to improved operational efficiencies and customer service.  No one can afford waste in their businesses.  Customers are unwilling to pay a premium for your products to absorb your excess costs because you’re doing things the way they’ve always been done.

You’re encouraged to challenge the norm by setting up continuous improvement teams and rewarding your personnel to cut waste and streamline business processes.  And, assuming you have a high-quality manufacturing or distribution software system in place like Enterprise 21 in which data and metrics are available for ease of access and analysis through fully-integrated decision support and workbench technologies and are working with a software vendor like Technology Group International who is seen as a strategic partner to many customers bringing best-practice experience from working with a myriad of small to mid-market manufacturing and distribution customers, your ERP system can be a key enabler for your company’s continuous improvement efforts.

Technology Group International is such a strong believer in continuous improvement that we perform return on investment (ROI) workshops with our customers some six to twelve months after their initial Go Live with TGI’s Enterprise 21 ERP software. During an ROI workshop, the customer reviews key business practices from across their enterprise and how they’re using Enterprise 21 in those situations.  While there are numerous recommendations as to how the manufacturer or distributor can take better advantage of the software they’ve already bought, some 3-5 key elements tend to emerge for improvement out of the workshop that can help the given manufacturer or distributor derive substantial incremental ROI with the software they’ve already installed.


It’s 3:00 in the afternoon. Do you know where your ERP software support team is?

Friday, December 11th, 2009 by admin

Over the past 6+ years, we’ve heard a lot of questions asked by a lot of different manufacturing and distribution organizations evaluating ERP software systems.  While the great majority of the questions are predictable and heard over and over, there have been a new set of questions that have surfaced recently that are now being asked consistently from prospect-to-prospect.

Do you outsource your customer support services?  Where does your customer support team reside?

These questions have largely arisen in the past six months or so.  Companies can’t afford to spend a substantial amount of time and money to select their preferred ERP software solution followed by another 3-9 months for implementation (depending upon the size of the business) only to realize their new software vendor’s support has been outsourced to a third-party organization who can hold the customer hostage for the long-term use of the new solution.

In many cases when support has been outsourced, those third-party organizations may have elected to move those services offshore to reduce the expense of providing such support.  In these cases, there can be language barriers to effective support, and the offshore support may be unfamiliar with commonly-used manufacturing and distribution industry terminology in the United States and Canada which further compounds the issues.

In TGI’s case, 100% of our implementation and support services for our Enterprise 21 software suite are delivered by full-time TGI employees who work out of our corporate headquarters in Toledo, Ohio.  Enterprise 21 is developed, sold, implemented, and supported exclusively by TGI, and we intend to keep it that way.  That’s what our customers can expect from TGI.


ERP Software Upgrades: Don’t Turn the Upgrade Process into Another ERP Implementation

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009 by Alex Smith

To continue to achieve a return on investment in the years following ERP implementation, manufacturers and distributors should be sure to take advantage of future software enhancements and upgrades to their ERP application. All too often, the organization becomes bogged down in the company’s daily operations and puts software upgrades on the backburner. When this occurs year after year, the software that serves as the information and transactional backbone of the enterprise becomes outdated and puts the organization at a competitive disadvantage, as technology and the mechanisms in which businesses interact with customers is constantly evolving.

When beginning the software upgrade process, TGI customers’ existing production environment of Enterprise 21 is compared to the latest software release, and all prior customer-specific enhancements and configurations are migrated into the newest release of Enterprise 21. From there, the new version of Enterprise 21 is installed on the customer’s hardware, and the customer begins to enact a thorough test plan. This test plan consists of completing a number sample transactions (in a test environment) to ensure that the customer’s requirements are met before beginning to conduct business with the most recent release of Enterprise 21.

Unlike many annual maintenance agreements that charge organizations additional software license fees for future software upgrades, TGI’s annual maintenance plan includes all future updates and upgrades to Enterprise 21 at no additional cost. This philosophy enables TGI customers to continue to realize a return on investment long after their implementation of Enterprise 21 and allows TGI customers to take advantage of the latest software technology for their business without hidden fees or complex financing offers.


What’s New in Enterprise 21 7.1 ERP?

Thursday, September 17th, 2009 by Alex Smith

We recently launched the latest release of Enterprise 21 – Enterprise 21 7.1 – and all of us at TGI are really excited about it. Enterprise 21 7.1 has some great new features that can be deployed throughout the organization for enhanced usability for the end user, as well as updates to Enterprise 21’s workbench technology, which allows end users to create their own inquiry screens without any modification to the application’s source code. So, what specifically are some of the new features in Enterprise 21 7.1?

A sample option for reports. Have you ever run a report only to find out it wasn’t the report you wanted in the first place? The “Sample” button helps prevent this problem by allowing users to get a preview of the report they are about to run.

Screen shot 2009-09-16 at 8.33.04 AM

System-wide search functionality. In Enterprise 21 7.1, users can search for programs and screens within the application and be taken directly to that screen from the search results, allowing for quick navigation to a program, screen, workbench, etc.

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Intelligent hot buttons. The hot buttons in Enterprise 21 can be set up on a screen-by-screen basis. Hot buttons can be global in nature across all users, applicable to specific groups of users, or unique by individual user. Users can set up as many hot buttons as they like for any screen. The hot buttons allow users to move from one screen in Enterprise 21 to any other screen in the system with a single click. More importantly, Enterprise 21 knows the information content in common between the two screens – the screen the user is on and the screen the user is going to. From the product master screen, for example, a user could click on an available inventory hot button to view the real-time inventory status for that item at each of the organization’s facilities and inventory that is in transit between facilities.

Screen shot 2009-10-08 at 12.39.07 PM

A complete document management system. Enterprise 21 7.1 allows users to attach an infinite number of documents to individual sales orders, purchase orders, customers, products, etc. These documents can include invoices, certificates of analysis (COA’s), spec sheets, product images, import declaration documents, and pretty much anything else. These “documents” can also be in the form of HTML links to a given web page. A wholesale distributor, for example, may have a supplier who provides product information on its website and set up a link to the web page containing that product information from within Enterprise 21.

Screen shot 2009-09-17 at 9.33.26 AM

Paperless AP. A great new feature in 7.1 is paperless accounts payable functionality. This functionality can enable a manufacturer’s or distributor’s accounts payable department to operate in a completely paperless environment, allowing for reduced overhead expenses and streamlined payables operations. As long as the organization has a document scanner, adequate electronic storage space, and Enterprise 21, it is ready to adopt Paperless AP.

Updates to the Enterprise 21 Workbench Designer. One of the most positively received new features at TGI’s Annual Users’ Conference in May 2009 was the Enterprise 21 Workbench Designer. The Workbench Designer allows end users to create their own inquiry screens, programs, and graphical reports using a WYSIWYG editor. For a demonstration of Enterprise 21’s Workbench Designer, please click here.

These are just a few of the new features in Enterprise 21 7.1. To request a formal demonstration of Enterprise 21 7.1 that focuses on your organization’s specific business software requirements, please visit TGI’s online request form or call us directly at 800-837-0028.


Continually Realizing ERP System ROI – The Importance of Routine Dialogue with Your Software Vendor

Thursday, September 10th, 2009 by Alex Smith

An organization’s return on investment (ROI) for its purchase of an ERP system can be achieved in a number of ways. ERP software systems can allow organizations to streamline business processes, eliminate the need for duplicate data entry, improve access to information across the enterprise, provide the analytical and business intelligence software tools that are necessary to make informed business decisions, reduce inventory levels while simultaneously improving order and line item fill rates, speed up the order entry process through e-Commerce and EDI – the list can go on and on. Much of the ROI that is achieved through ERP system implementation and deployment, however, tends to occur in the first 18 to 24 months following initial system go-live. Given that a typical ERP system’s lifecycle within a given business can last as long as 20 years, organizations and software vendors should make it a point to work together on a routine basis to develop new methods and strategies that will enable the organization to achieve further return on investment long after the initial deployment of the software.

At TGI, we stress the importance of routine dialogue and bi-annual ROI strategy sessions with our customers. These ROI sessions allow customer personnel to speak directly with their software developer, express existing issues they are having, and communicate to TGI the various ways in which they see their business evolving. We, in turn, analyze these needs and recommend processes that can be deployed throughout the organization by leveraging various functional features in Enterprise 21 to meet such requirements. Many times, it is as simple as “turning on” a certain process in Enterprise 21 that already existed but was not enabled during implementation because the need to do so didn’t exist at that time.

Other times, it may be that the customer is ready to upgrade to the latest release of Enterprise 21. I have talked to a number of new business prospects in the past who were using software that they purchased 15 to 20 years ago, and a common comment I have heard from them is, “We didn’t really take advantage of upgrades while the software was still supported [by the developer].” Enterprise software solutions are updated, enhanced, and finely-tuned on a daily basis. Technology in general is rapidly evolving, and the ERP software industry is no exception. It is important for manufacturers and distributors to take advantage of software upgrades from their supplier to ensure they don’t find themselves in a technologically archaic business state. Furthermore, companies do not want to find themselves in a situation in which they suddenly learn one day that their 15 year-old business software will no longer be supported by their software developer and must purchase new software altogether.

By engaging in routine dialogue with their software provider, communicating evolving business needs, and taking advantage of software upgrades, manufacturers and distributors can continually achieve a return on investment long after the first few years following initial go-live with their ERP system.


TGI’s Stance On Software Development and Support Outsourcing

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009 by Alex Smith

A rising trend in the ERP software industry is the outsourcing of development and support services to third-party companies overseas. In the last two years, virtually every prospect I have spoken to during the selection process has inquired as to who is responsible for support services and, more importantly, where such support staff is located. There seems to be a common concern among business owners, senior management, and IT directors across the United States that should they ever require software support and/or assistance that they will be directed to somebody who is not a full-time employee of the software company and that this person will not be able to communicate an adequate diagnosis and solution with customer staff effectively.

ERP vendors’ justification for third-party development and support outsourcing is fairly simple – third-party outsourcing to other companies (and countries) can provide significant cost savings for software vendors. The cost to educate, train, and staff full-time software developers in the U.S. is significantly greater than for staff in many regions internationally. Average wages for software developers and support staff are substantially lower outside the United States, and by outsourcing to other companies, software vendors are able to eliminate costs such as employee benefits and retirement contributions.

While such development and support outsourcing is quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception in the ERP software industry, TGI believes that a key to providing effective, exceptional customer service lies in the quality and knowledge of the support staff the software vendor employs. TGI has remained committed to providing direct developer support for each of its clients; when calls are placed to TGI’s customer support line, calls are answered directly by TGI software developers with an average tenure of over ten years. We believe this philosophy provides our customers with an opportunity to interact with their software developer (TGI) in a truly unique way, which in turn leads to better business relations and lasting partnerships. This philosophy also places an added pressure (and opportunity) exclusively on TGI to routinely deliver effective solutions and responses to customer requirements. It is our job to respond to and meet these customer demands on a daily basis.

When selecting an ERP software solution and provider, software functionality is certainly of the utmost importance in the selection process; however, software selection teams should also conduct a thorough analysis of the software company and the support staff that will be charged with the task of meeting customer requirements on an on-going basis.


Criteria for Selecting High Service Factor Items

Friday, July 3rd, 2009 by Alex Smith

Inventory management is a key element in any sophisticated distribution software or manufacturing software solution. In Enterprise 21, inventory levels can be maintained on a product-by-product basis using a variety of inventory control methodologies. These include a simple reorder point with minimum and maximum values, safety stock level (measured in days supply on hand), and service factor, with each methodology accounting for seasonal fluctuations in demand for a given product. Service factor, which is a number between 1 and 100, allows the organization to select a desired line item fill rate for a given product. An item with a service factor of 50, for example, means that for every 100 orders for that item, 50 orders will be able to be serviced directly out of available inventory. An item with a service factor of 95, however, means that for every 100 orders for that item, 95 orders will be able to be serviced directly out of available inventory. So, with this basic understanding of service factor, what criteria should the organization use in determining the products that should be set to have high service factors?

There are two key criteria for selecting products to have high service factors. First, items with a high order volume or high order frequency should be set to a high service factor. Items with a high order volume and high order frequency account for a significant portion of the organization’s business and revenue. Having the ability to fulfill orders for these items routinely out of available inventory will not only increase gross revenues, it will also lead to increased levels of customer service and satisfaction.

The second criteria for selecting items to have high service factors is high profit margin. Setting items that have a high profit margin to have a high service factor will result in increased bottom-line profits for the organization. Even if an item has a relatively low order volume or frequency, being able to fulfill orders for items with a high profit margin directly out of available inventory will decrease the likelihood of the customer shopping for the product elsewhere and increase the likelihood of repeat business from that customer.

For items with high order volume and frequency or high profit margin, using a service factor inventory management methodology can provide a powerful tool that can be leveraged to increase bottom line profits, improve customer service and satisfaction, and improve the likelihood of repeat business from a given customer.


Capturing Multi-Level Training Opportunities at the Annual Users’ Conference

Friday, May 1st, 2009 by Alex Smith

In a few days, the Enterprise 21 user community will gather in Chicago, Illinois for TGI’s annual users’ conference, Enterprise 2009. Without question, attendees from all organizational levels will find Enterprise 2009 an educational and rewarding experience.

TGI’s annual conference is suitable for technical employees, functional end users, and executive level staff members. The conference is designed to educate, foster networking, and provide an avenue for open, two-way dialogue between TGI and Enterprise 21 users. While attendees enjoy the less formal evening events over dinner and socializing, the conversation typically flows towards best practice usage, functionality questions, and future software enhancements.

Each year, TGI hosts and facilitates an event that is a must-attend conference for Enterprise 21 users. TGI’s customer base, however, makes each year’s conference a true success. As the software developer, TGI spends substantial time preparing for the workshops and training sessions. The conference agenda is simply the foundation, however, as each conference session is enhanced dramatically by those in attendance; peer-to-peer interaction and participation provides the greatest learning opportunities.

TGI’s executive staff and senior development team members attend the conference each year. This creates a powerful three-day training session for users. Although interaction with this resource pool is extremely valuable, it is the interaction between users that tends to show the greatest rewards. From discussions on testing and in-house user training to custom reports and functionality usage, the users share and discuss their company’s experiences and best practices with Enterprise 21.

Thankfully, TGI has recognized and embraced this phenomenon and built time into the conference to encourage and foster peer interaction. When the conference was in its infancy, we attempted to fill every minute of the event with TGI-led user education. The conference has since evolved, and we have opened the floor to users more and more each year. TGI-led instruction and education is still the staple of the agenda, and the conference is driven by training and the exploration of Enterprise 21’s newest functionality. That being said, as the years pass, the mechanism of content delivery and the opportunities for user interaction and discussion become more fluid and more available. As the agenda adapts, the conference provides more value to the user community as CEO’s speak with other CEO’s, and accountants learn from other accountants.

Any educational opportunity offers an avenue for learning, skills development, and enrichment; an ERP software user conference is no different. The event benefits a wide range of individuals regardless of their position or functional focus. For these reasons, TGI customers continue to participate in TGI’s annual users’ conference year after year.


Learning To Develop Your Own Reports In Enterprise 21

Thursday, February 19th, 2009 by Alex Smith

After the dust has settled from a software implementation and system users have become fully submersed in the various functions they perform on a day-to-day basis, one of the key areas of importance post go-live is to learn to develop personalized reports.

In Enterprise 21, reports can be generated in a variety of ways with each possessing varying degrees of difficulty and flexibility for customization. If you are only looking to export data out of the system and into a report, with appropriate security privileges you can simply click an icon that allows you to export the raw data that you are viewing directly into an Excel spreadsheet. The data you see in this report, however, is limited to the fields and data contained on the specific screen from which the data was exported.

The second way to generate your own reports in Enterprise 21 is to use the fully integrated business intelligence software. The business intelligence module is designed for users to view and track data residing primarily in Enterprise 21’s associated data warehouse in a variety of formats, including pie charts, bar charts, area charts, simple spreadsheets, a combination of graphs and spreadsheets, etc. With this reporting and analytical tool, users can “drill down” on information from high-level views to more detailed views, such as viewing sales over time to then viewing sales over time by customer or product.

A third way to generate reports in Enterprise 21 is through workbenches. Workbenches enable users to create and design their own inquiry screens without touching application source code. Users can choose any of a variety of fields to place on a given screen and then use these fields to generate data that can be put into reports in graphical or spreadsheet format. The benefit of using Enterprise 21’s workbenches to generate your own reports is two fold; first, the workbenches can be created on a user-by-user basis with no two workbenches being exactly the same, without touching application source code. Secondly, such a tool further alleviates users’ dependence on their software provider. The workbenches offer Enterprise 21 users a degree of independence on the part of the user after what was largely a dependent process in the software implementation project.

Finally, users can also be trained to develop reports using Crystal Reports. Depending on the complexities of the information contained in the report, this may or may not be an option for users looking to create reports without the help of a technical resource.

Having users within your organization learn to develop reports on their own is an essential part of the implementation process; remember, the implementation process does not end at go-live! In a world with routine (and lately, dramatic) price and market fluctuations, creating reports to track daily and weekly fluctuations and trends is vital to ongoing business success, planning, and forecasting.