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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.

ERP System Implementation Continues After Initial Go-Live

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 by admin

OK – you’ve made it! After months of evaluating various ERP systems followed by more months of implementation, your business is now up and running on your new ERP software. Now you and your team can go back to business as usual and not give your software another thought – right? As Lee Corso, sports broadcaster and football analyst for ESPN, would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

The only way this would be correct is if the following were all true:

  • You were able to take advantage of virtually 100% of the functionality the new software provided that was pertinent to your business day 1 at go-live.
  • The software vendor never produced any software updates and fixes that provided any business value.
  • Your personnel grasped and retained 100% of the possible knowledge through the implementation and training process.
  • Absolutely nothing ever changed in your business – there were never any new personnel or resources that moved into new positions, and your business and industry as a whole never changed.

Since these statements are never true, even after initial go-live with your new software, there is an ongoing need to evolve business strategy and tactics to gain and keep a compelling competitive advantage in one’s industry, to improve business processes to gain business efficiencies, and train and retrain personnel.

Project goals are established and baseline metrics are documented as part of the business’ justification to move forward with the software evaluation and implementation projects. Some 3-6 months after initial go-live with the new system, the current business metrics should be compared with the baseline metrics to gauge progress made to date. Ideally, all of the targeted business metrics will have been met; however, it may be that there are areas where these objectives have not been achieved.

Whether or not the initial targets have been met, the business should perform an ROI Workshop to determine what can be done to drive additional return on investment from the new business software. An ROI Workshop would typically produce 3-5 key actions where substantial additional ROI can be derived by taking further advantage of the software that has already been acquired and implemented.

Another recommendation is to establish quarterly objectives to take advantage of additional software functionality. This can provide a rolling 12+ month calendar stating what advancements will be made over time. As part of this process, businesses should evaluate new software releases produced by their software vendors to determine the value of upgrading to the latest software releases. Companies are encouraged to create a measureable business case for upgrades just as was done for the initial software implementation and to evaluate the results against those targets 3-6 months after the upgrade has been put into production.

We also highly encourage companies to establish an ongoing training schedule for their employees. This should include refresher and more in-depth functional training for personnel who have been using the software for some period of time so these resources can become more proficient in their current roles. Also, there will be a need for introductory training for personnel who move into new roles and for new hires. Establishing an ongoing training schedule along with budgeted funding is critical for a business to gain the maximum benefit from an ERP system.

Regardless of the ERP system ultimately selected and implemented, businesses are encouraged to adopt continuous improvement principles when it comes to their ERP software systems to maximize the business value derived from these systems long after the initial production go-live.

When is Your Small Business Ready for an ERP System?

Friday, June 12th, 2009 by Alex Smith

A common question small business owners ask themselves is when their business is ready to implement an ERP software application that will replace their existing small business software. Fortunately for the small business owner, there are a number of small business ERP software solutions on the market today that serve as a viable replacement for QuickBooks, Peachtree, and other small business accounting software packages. In my experience, there are three telling signs of when a small business is ready to migrate from its existing small business software to a more sophisticated ERP system.

First, the small business is operating in a multitude of software packages based on a given department within the organization. Accounting personnel make journal entries in QuickBooks; warehouse managers enter data into Excel; sales representatives use ACT, Goldmine,, or some other customer relationship management software solution; and for production and scheduling, well, sometimes there are small businesses that abandon the concept of using software for production altogether and revert to more archaic methods – I recently visited a food processing company that had its production manager hand-write the week’s production schedule on a chalkboard! The problem with this lack of integration between software packages is that it leads to a lack of organizational and business process integration. Divisions and departments begin to operate independently of one another or develop into individual silos of activity and information. Access to information in a given department becomes highly dependent on the software package used to process transactions and the associated person entering the data. This level of independence between various departments poses a serious problem for the small business owner who needs to manage the overall success of all of his or her business’ operations and makes it substantially more difficult for the owner to identify what areas of his or her business need improvement.

A second sign that a small business is ready to move to an ERP system is that duplicate data entry and data processing has become a common practice within the organization. When operating a business in multiple software solutions, it is common to have employees enter the same data into two or more different software packages. This poses two problems to the business. First, duplicate data entry consumes workers’ time and leads to operational inefficiencies and added time costs to perform a given transaction. Secondly, duplicate data entry increases the chances of having data entered incorrectly or inaccurately, thus leading to more workers’ time spent trying to correct the problem and keep key business data up to date and accurate. A fully-integrated ERP software solution can help remedy these problems and provides immediate benefits to the organization. By having all employees enter data into a singular software package, there is no need to enter data more than once. This can reduce employee time spent on data entry and provide employees more time to perform their daily tasks, hopefully leading to an increase in worker productivity and overall business productivity and output. Small businesses can even see substantial reductions in time spent performing period and year-end processing with a fully-integrated software solution.

Lastly, one of the most common signs that a small business is ready to implement a sophisticated ERP system is that the business suffers from frequent inventory shortages for some items and dramatic inventory surpluses for other items. I frequently hear many small business owners offer the complaint that they are frequently out of stock on their most popular items. They even complain that they suffer from inventory shortages of the packing materials required for their most popular items. An ERP system with tight inventory control, a comprehensive warehouse management system, and sophisticated forecasting and planning capabilities can ensure that sufficient inventory of a given item is available to meet customer demand without excessive on-hand inventory levels; in fact, a true ERP software system can help the organization increase order fill rates and improve customer service while simultaneously reducing on-hand inventory levels. This leads to reduced inventory costs, improved customer service, and increased profitability, giving the small business a significant advantage over its competition.

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.

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.