Megaventory Blog - Online Inventory Management Software, Order fulfillment and Control System
This is the company blog for megaventory, an online software that helps small businesses that buy, sell and manufacture physical products to manage sales, purchasing, manufacturing and inventory. We blog about new features and updates but also about enterprise software, small businesses, cloud computing and the industry in general.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Homepage Localization in Spanish and Greek

We are excited to announce that last week we launched the localized Spanish and Greek versions of our homepage. The Spanish version can be found at http://es.megaventory.com and the Greek version at http://el.megaventory.com.

The Spanish version of the Megaventory homepage

On top of that, we developed specific pages to cover industry verticals that Megaventory is really good at. For example, a page dedicated to franchise chains that sell physical products can be found at http://www.megaventory.com/solutions/Franchise.

The Megaventory page dedicated to franchise chains

Similarly, a page dedicated to small manufacturing companies can be found at http://www.megaventory.com/solutions/Manufacturing and a page for Small Office - Home Office businesses (1-2 person businesses) can be found at http://www.megaventory.com/solutions/SmallBusiness. Finally, a page for companies selling consumer electronics can be found at http://www.megaventory.com/solutions/Electronics.

We believe that this addition -and forthcoming ones- will make it easier for non-English speaking visitors of Megaventory.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Megaventory Technical Manual

We just went ahead and published an analytical technical manual to describe the operations of the modules of megaventory. We believe that the documentation will help both new and existing Megaventory users.

The manual can be found online at http://www.megaventory.com/Megaventory_Manual.pdf or you may go ahead and give it a quick read below:


Monday, September 17, 2012

The benefits of business reports

After you’ve set up an ERP solution for your business, are comfortable with its basic functions and the routine it enables for your company, it’s time to take the next step. Namely, answer the question of how I will allow my company to run better, how will I optimize it?

Surely, that’s a broad problem and there’s lots of things that can be done depending on many factors. The one thing though that is necessary to have before you can even begin to break down the problem is data.

In other words, if you want to reach any meaningful conclusions about your company, you need to drill down in what’s called business intelligence and make reports which will allow any problems and pain points to come to the surface.

Any ERP software should be able to make at least a number of basic reports which should also be customizable across time and all other relevant factors (locations, products and their value, etc). In megaventory, it’s easy to create the following types of Reports - easily selectable from the top menu.

1. Availability Levels.
In one handy report you can have the full information regarding the current state of your inventory across all of your locations, your products (and any versions/types of them) including obviously goods that are in transit. This allows for real-time tracking of your inventory, supplements you with all the information necessary to make timely purchase orders and ensures you don’t run out of stock (although setting up alerts for certain levels also helps prevent that).

 



2. Gross Profit.
This helpful report allows you to drill down across time and across your product range and categories in order to understand the products that are the most and least profitable and how that changes with time. Although any manager will know the best and worst sellers without even looking at the report, such information allows for other less obvious results to surface.

 



3. Inventory Value. This is another important report that breaks down the value of your products per the location they are stored and allows you to constantly be able to track your company’s assets - a factor crucial for keeping your financials accurate and consequently making solid business decisions.

 



4. Product Movements.
It’s important to be able to tell which of your products move the most and this report is the one to create if you’re after this information. In conjunction with the next two reports, you can understand far more about your business than the general impression you get from following the everyday process - or what accumulated experience may indicate.

 



5. Purchase/Sales Orders.
Knowing which product is bought or sold the most per location is another very practical bit of information allowing you to make corrections to the way your business runs. For example, locations that seem to sell a certain product more may need support (another supplier close to them or perhaps another store in the future), products being sold showing a spike at a particular location may indicate an opportunity and so on. The number of conclusions from studying this type of reports is virtually unlimited.

 



6. Works Report.
If manufacturing plays a role in your business, understanding how relevant figures such as quantities, costs etc change with time for each of your product and its components can also provide tons of information on how to improve your work flow.

 


Having collected all of the necessary data is usually just the first step - although obviously without it no further progress can be made. Once you have the basic numbers you can move on to either combine them, find out more detailed data, review and evaluate the performance of your staff, extrapolate them to try to forecast your future needs, etc. In any case such reports are an essential measure to start understanding your business - otherwise you’re essentially flying blind.

A case in point is the Eastern European Mission, an NGO which helps spread the Bible to those who need it. Since the project spans a number of countries in the Eastern European region, tracking inventory levels and having a complete and real-time image of where is what and associated costs is extremely helpful. It allows the EEM to take their efforts to the next level by minimizing their logistics overhead and focusing more on their core noble goal.

"Our organization has remote warehouses in several different nations of Europe. Megaventory allows us to maintain organizational control and prompt customer service by providing real-time data for our inventory and orders. It simplified our reporting by having all data in one central place." Bartosz Rybinski

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cloud ERP better for your finances, the environment, the child in you

We haven’t done an industry roundup post in quite a bit now and it’s time to see what’s going on in the outside world. Here are a few news items worth absorbing.

Money in the cloud

Traditionally, one of the industries among those that affect a business which resist the most against change is the finances/accounting department. It has been clinging to the on-site ERP model for a long time but CFOs now shift towards the cloud as well. Companies such as Workday (recently many financial extensions went live), Adaptive Planning (which acquired business intelligence reporting MyDials) and NetSuite (driving its billing module sales without ads) have all been making moves to invest on the cloud.

The cloud is green

Karin Wilson of Software ThinkTank points out another excellent argument why cloud ERP makes more sense than traditional hosted solutions - it’s greener! Based on a study, having less infrastructure in-house (servers etc) not only means less money on energy bills but also a reduced carbon footprint. So if the environment is a priority for you, there’s a another reason to go to the cloud!

Let the Games begin

Network World has a nice - but lengthy - piece on our favourite latest trend by which business software is becoming increasingly more consumer-like - think using an inventory management service that’s as intuitive and user-friendly as using Facebook. Only the piece takes it one step further: forget consumerisation, it’s about gamification! Soon doing work on your business software will have similar features as playing a game - keeping score, earning badges, involvement of virtual goods and currencies, etc. Can’t wait for the game to start?

Have you found any bits of news worth sharing? Share them in the comments below or on Twitter @megaventory.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Handling Sales with your ERP software

Sales Orders

Sales is the arguably the lifeblood of your business and efficiently handling the sales order your customers issue is as such crucial. Here’s how easy it should be to issue a sales order.

First, pick Sales Order under Orders

Choosing Sales Order from the main menu


Once picked, you need to choose the Client that is to receive the Order - simply typing the first couple of letters should be enough to bring the details and auto-complete half the form.

Start typing to fetch Client data


The other half can be filled by completing product details - such as the product code (SKU) or the product description along with other applicable details. Stock information is also readily available in real-time to notify you from selecting a low-stock product or sending the item from the wrong location.

The product entry is easy and fast


Once product details have been filled in, click on 'Verify' to lock the product details of the Sales Order.

Verification requires the Inventory Location to be chosen

 
The only thing left is to decide whether the action will be recorded as just a change in the inventory or whether an invoice will be issued as well. The former is useful in the case of a Sale on Consignment (explained below in this post).

The choice of the Document Type to issue at the time of shipping

 
Closing the Sales Order will make the Sales Order and all the documents that were created against the Sales Order strictly non-editable.

Closing the Sales Order completes the process and makes the Sales Order non-editable

That way -in a few minutes- you can start and complete a Sales Order to one of your clients! A megaventory client that uses the feature efficiently is infraredsauna.com.

Infrared Sauna is a US-based company in the business of innovative infrared light saunas (instead of the conventional steam ones) with sales from all over the world and partners in 3 other countries (Australia, Belgium, Malaisia). With such a varied and wide network of business it is crucial to handle orders efficiently - especially given that saunas are expensive and hard to transfer due to their size (so ordering and inventory mistakes are not an option).

Sales on Consignment

Another popular type of sale is by consignment, i.e. when your business has transferred your products to a seller (e.g. a shop) while still owning them. It’s only when the seller manages to move your product that you issue a Sales Invoice to the client. This way of making sales can also be handled by the above Sales Order system - just by appropriately choosing the Document Type to issue upon shipping. Invoicing of the shipping documents can then be performed at a later time.

For example, lomography.co.il, an Israel-based online shop about lomographic cameras and accessories. Apart from the e-shop, the business sells their product via a number of other physical retail shops in the city of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, while they cooperate with labs which help customers develop their films.

This means there’s a need to track where is what across a network of quite a few locations and for a highly specialized product line. That’s something that could translate to a huge administration overhead but is made easy with inventory management software.

Pre-Sales and Purchases

Most of the times however and unless we’re talking about an established relationship with your customer a sales quote must take place before the actual order happens. Sales quotes should ideally transition seamlessly into sales orders if accepted - you can see how this should flow in this post on pre-sales.


And of course in order to make sales you have to make a purchase first (either of the product itself or the materials its made of). That’s why a proper ERP package comes with a function called Purchase Order (or an equivalent). That’s essentially the opposite of a Sales Order by means of which your business purchases products (or materials) from a supplier and your inventory levels increase accordingly. You can see examples of all three functions (sales, sales quotes and purchases) in this short tutorial video.

 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Megaventory September 2012 Upgrade (code named: Verbania)

New features are coming to Megaventory on Sunday the 9th of September. Here is the list:

1. Clipboard

This is a totally new layer of functionality that allows products to be added to a Clipboard and be pasted to Documents (sales/purchase orders, goods in/out etc.). The Clipboard is noticeable by a small icon in the lower left of the screen as it can be seen in the screen-shot below:

To access the clipboard from any page, just click on the Clipboard icon

To Pin products to the Clipboard, one has to select the products from a list and click the Pin option. After pinning the products, a small notification icon is added which displays the number of products pinned and the product list is populated inside the Clipboard.

To add/pin products to the Clipboard select the products and click the Pin option

Once you are done adding products to the Clipboard, you can paste them in any New/Unsaved or Pending Document. To do so, just click on the Clipboard icon and select the Paste option.

To Paste the contents of the Clipboard, open any new or Pending Document and click Paste

That's it! Products will now be added to the document on-the-fly, saving you time and effort. The clipboard is so flexible and dynamic, you may even Pin products to it  from any Document:

Pinning Products to the Clipboard from a Document

this is extremely handy if -for example- one needs to copy the full contents of a Sales Order to a Purchase Order.

2. Addition of Invoices in the Account/Billing Profile

We have added a list to include all your payments (Billing History) to Megaventory and a link to print those Invoices. Just visit your Account/Billing Profile (under the Admin tab) to access them:
To print your past invoices, click the Print Invoice link next to the required payment date

Apart from the features listed above, as always, we've worked hard to eliminate bugs; more than 30 minor bugs have been fixed in this upgrade.

To have your say related to this upgrade, just use the comments section below!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How we built our uptime monitoring page

This is a somewhat technical post targeted at website administrators and developers. The post breaks down the process of creating an 'uptime monitoring' page which can be extremely useful to Software-as-a-Service providers such as Megaventory. The % of up-time is a crucial factor that refers to the period of time when the service is up and running. Needless to say, this metric should be taken into account by users evaluating any SaaS provider.

1. Choose the uptime monitoring tool

A simple google/bing search will do the trick here. We decided to use the service by www.uptimerobot.com. This is a reliable (we have been using it for 3 years now) and free service that provide -amongst other features- email notifications and an API layer. We use the latter to fetch service data in our uptime monitoring page later on.


2. Set up the API call and get the results

Here one may have to refer to the API documentation. In our case, this is located at: http://www.uptimerobot.com/api.asp and we use the getMonitors function. An API key is needed to call the API, you can get the key after signing up for the service at www.uptimerobot.com. Here is the Javascript code to use this API:



 

(kudos to this post: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2499567/how-to-make-a-json-call-to-a-url).

Now, some things to consider:

- We request the uptime percentages for 7, 30 and 365 days and we pass this info to the url as: 'customUptimeRatio=7-30-365'. You may set your own custom periods.

- The jsonUptimeRobotApi function consumes the data that are returned by the API. For example, the uptime percentage is returned in the data object as a string separated by dashes. To get the individual uptime percentages, we split the data object using the following code:
var ArrayOfUptime = data.monitors.monitor[0].customuptimeratio.split("-");

- Finally, we call the drawChart() function that is included in the Google Chart Tools (https://developers.google.com/chart/) and we pass the ArrayOfUptime to it: drawChart(ArrayOfUptime). That generates the correct percentage values in the Gauge graphs (see step 3 below).

3. Load the Google Chart Tools

To use the Google Chart Tools, we need to add the following libraries just before the closing of the 'head' tag:

 
Then, we can call the drawChart function that looks like this:
 

the chart.draw(data, options); is the call that sketches the graphs. 

4. Bring in the latest tweets of your application

On many occasions, especially if the service is down, adding a Twitter stream provides an easy source of useful information about the service, for example, the expected time when the service will be up again! To add it, we use the native twitter widget which can be customized easily. It can be found at: https://twitter.com/about/resources/widgets.

EDIT: As you may have heard, the twitter API has been discontinued. The new link to create your own widget is at: https://twitter.com/settings/widgets/new

5. Set-up a server response (ping) timer

A timer that informs users about the latency of the server is a good to have feature in a status page. However, there is no direct way for a browser to ping a server so we are applying a few workarounds. Here is the Javascript function that does so:
 

Some things to consider:

- The server response time should be visible only if the status of the server is operating normally (status==2 in our case). If there is a service disruption, there is no need to display the response time.

- We define a starttime variable to log the current time

- We use a tiny image (an 1KB, 1x1 pixel 'NoImg.gif' in our case) and we place it in a folder where the application resides (for example megaventory.com/images/).

- The onLoad event fires when the src attribute of the img is set and the image is fetched from the server and loaded in the browser. This is exactly when we subtract the 'starttime' from 'new Date()' to get the time in ms

- We add a random number to the URL that requests the image and we do so to prevent caching of the image in the browser when the user refreshes the page. For example, the image should be fetched with a URL that looks like: 'http://www.megaventory.com/images/NoImg.gif?0.434387483'  

6. Add everything in a single html file and upload it to a server

After we finish with all the coding and widgets, we need to publish our index.html file. A good and fast way to make the file available online is to add it in the public folder of your drop-box folder. This will assign a unique URL to it (for example https://dl.dropbox.com/u/XYZ/index.html) and you may send the link to your friends for a review. Once everything is finalized, you can publish it officially using the standard monitoring page URL which looks like http://status.YourCompanyName.com. The status URL must resolve to another hosting environment than the one your application is hosted at. The reason is obvious: if your hosting environment goes down, users should still be able to look up your application status and twitter stream. The web is full of options for hosting a static html page. We use FastMail (http://www.fastmail.fm) for managing our e-mail & DNS, and hosting the monitoring page as it provides a 50MB web space for static html pages.

So how does the end result look? See for yourself at status.megaventory.com. Feel free to provide your feedback in the comments section below!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Business software should mean customization - Printout templates.

Most of the feedback we get from time to time refers to the level of customization that megaventory provides to the end user. In fact this is also one of the main points the Pemeco Consulting and VM associates have made in the respective presentation posts in our blog: "match the software to the requirements of your business and not vice-versa".

In this post we'll see how one can customize the appearance of the document printouts. If you are unfamiliar with megaventory, a document can be a Order (Sales/Purchase), a Sales Quote, a Goods In/Out or a Sales/Purchase Invoice.

Megaventory provides a very convenient way to fully customize the looks of Documents (Goods Out/In, Invoices, Sales Quotes, Sales/Purchase Orders). To do so, navigate to the list of your Document Types and click on the Document Type description to open up a specific Document Type. Once the page loads, check to enable the Custom Header (or Custom Footer) and add your HTML code in the HTML tab. Specific text strings are replaced as follows:

  • xxxLOGOxxx - Replaced by the logo of your company.
  • xxxLABEL_TRANS_DATExxx - Replaced by "Document Date" or "Order Date" or "Quote Date", according to the Document Type.
  • xxxTRANS_DATExxx - Replaced by the date that the Document was created.
  • xxxLABEL_TRANS_NAMExxx - Replaced by "Document Number".
  • xxxTRANS_NAMExxx - Replaced by the Description of the Document Type that gets printed
  • xxxLABEL_TRANS_NUMBERxxx - Replaced by "Document Number".
  • xxxTRANS_NUMBERxxx - Replaced by the Document number.
  • xxxLABEL_WAREHOUSExxx - Replaced by "Inventory Location".
  • xxxWARE_NAMExxx - Replaced by the Inventory Location name.
  • xxxLABEL_CUSTOM_DATE_1xxx - Replaced by "Custom Document Date 1" or "Custom Order Date 1" or "Custom Quote Date 1", according to the Document Type.
  • xxxCUSTOM_DATE_1xxx - Replaced by the Custom Date 1 field the user has entered in the Document.
  • xxxLABEL_CUSTOM_DATE_2xxx - Replaced by "Custom Document Date 2" or "Custom Order Date 2" or "Custom Quote Date 2", according to the Document Type.
  • xxxCUSTOM_DATE_2xxx - Replaced by the Custom Date 2 field the user has entered in the Document.
  • xxxLABEL_PAYMENT_TERMSxxx - Replaced by "Payment Terms".
  • xxxPAYMENT_TERMSxxx - Replaced by the Payment Terms the user has entered in the Document.
  • xxxLABEL_COMPANY_NAMExxx - Replaced by "Company".
  • xxxCOMPANY_NAMExxx - Replaced by the name of your company.
  • xxxLABEL_COMPANY_ADDRESSxxx - Replaced by "Address".
  • xxxCOMPANY_ADDRESSxxx - Replaced by the street address of your company.
  • xxxLABEL_COMPANY_CITYxxx - Replaced by "City".
  • xxxCOMPANY_CITYxxx - Replaced by the city of your company.
  • xxxLABEL_COMPANY_ZIPxxx - Replaced by "Zip".
  • xxxCOMPANY_ZIPxxx - Replaced by the zip code of your company.
  • xxxLABEL_COMPANY_COUNTRYxxx - Replaced by "Country".
  • xxxCOMPANY_COUNTRYxxx - Replaced by the country of your company.
  • xxxLABEL_COMPANY_TELxxx - Replaced by "Phone".
  • xxxCOMPANY_TELxxx - Replaced by the telephone number of your company.
  • xxxLABEL_COMPANY_TAXIDxxx - Replaced by "Tax ID".
  • xxxCOMPANY_TAXIDxxx - Replaced by the tax ID of your company.
  • xxxLABEL_CUSTOMER_NAMExxx - Replaced by "Client" or "Supplier" according to the Document Type.
  • xxxCUSTOMER_NAMExxx - Replaced by the Customer/Supplier name the user has entered in the Document.
  • xxxLABEL_CUSTOMER_ADDRESSxxx - Replaced by "Address" or "Billing Address" according to the Document Type.
  • xxxCUSTOMER_ADDRESSxxx - Replaced by the Customer/Supplier address the user has entered in the Document.
  • xxxLABEL_CUSTOMER_SHIP_ADDRESSxxx - Replaced by "Pickup Address" or "Shipping Address" according to the Document Type.
  • xxxCUSTOMER_SHIP_ADDRESSxxx - Replaced by the Customer/Supplier shipping/picking address the user has entered in the Document.
  • xxxLABEL_CUSTOMER_TELxxx - Replaced by "Phone".
  • xxxCUSTOMER_TELxxx - Replaced by the Customer/Supplier telephone number.
  • xxxLABEL_CUSTOMER_EMAILxxx - Replaced by "e-mail".
  • xxxRECIPEMAILxxx - Replaced by the Customer/Supplier email.
  • xxxLABEL_CUSTOMER_TAXIDxxx - Replaced by "Tax ID".
  • xxxCUSTOMER_TAXIDxxx - Replaced by the Customer/Supplier tax ID.
  • xxxLABEL_CUSTOMER_COMMENTSxxx - Replaced by "Supplier Comments" or "Client Comments" according to the Document Type.
  • xxxCUSTOMER_COMMENTSxxx - Replaced by the Customer/Supplier comments.
  • xxxLABEL_TRANS_COMMENTSxxx - Replaced by "Document Comments" or "Order Comments" or "Sales Quote Comments" according to the Document Type.
  • xxxTRANS_COMMENTSxxx - Replaced by the comments the user has entered in the Document.
So, here you go! Now, you are only limited by your creativity! As an example, let's see a simple header template below:



Sales Order
SO Number: 54
MegaFilms (fictional)
Tel: (434) 123 4567
e-mail: youremailhere@demo-email.com
Sales Store: San Fransisco 1
Sales Order Date: 17 Aug 2012
Sales To:
mr. John Smith
15 George Tsapel st.
Shipping Address: 22 High St., City, Zip, Country
(413)335 5663
someEmail@email.com
Ship From:
My Company's Address
My Company's City
My Company's Zip
My Company's Country

So, enough said! Happy Customizing!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Business software should mean mobility


Another important parameter to keep in mind is ease of use when it comes to your business software. Now, ease of use can mean lots of things and it’s primarily related to the website design but at a more fundamental level it’s also about to what extent the tool can actually get out of the way and let you get things done.

A good example of that not happening is finding yourself either away from the computer or the office and a client or a supplier asking you for specific information that you can only find by looking it up in your system.

Up until relatively recently you would have to make a note, put the asker on hold, look up their information and get back to them - perhaps as late as the next day, if not more. And by then the prospective client might have lost interest or found something else or the supplier might have delayed shipping an item and so on.

Well, not anymore. These days we’re able to cut down on such downtime and bring the request and its resolution much closer - while at the same time making it all much easier.

It’s all about the business software running online (or in the cloud or as a Software as a Service). This means it’s not installed on a particular machine in your office but rather on a server somewhere on the internet and as such you can access it from anywhere you happen to be when a request reaches you, provided you have an internet connection handy. 

So, for example you may be at home looking after the kids and also keeping an eye on your business' inventory levels from your desktop at home. Or you can be at an errand somewhere waiting at the queue when a customer calls to ask for a particular item - you can look it up on your mobile and get back to them without waiting to return to the office. 

Or better yet, you can be down at your warehouse and processing orders immediately straight from your iPad without having to go back and forth at a desktop at the other end of the floor. Here’s for example how megaventory looks on the iPad



Business software does not need to have a dedicated tablet or smartphone application or sometimes not even a dedicated mobile version. As long as it’s accessible online you should be able to do all the tasks you need from your tablet or your smartphone - after a brief or no learning curve.

Take for example undz.org, a Canadian underwear ecommerce business and a megaventory client with offices in Montreal, Vancouver and New York shipping 250K underwear items in just a year. That averages out to shipping one piece per 2 minutes! It’s not an easy task to reach that scale of business if you haven’t solved issues of accessibility to your business at the best level possible.

“The simple fact of having access to my work desk from anywhere is a must....”


undz.org

Another example of a megaventory client is tmdesigncorp, a wholesale screen printing service in Rochester. Although a single-location business, given they work wholesale they have often requests from their clients regarding their own customers and little time to lose to address the request. The ability to have readily available a clear image of the state of their inventory is invaluable to delivering results on time.

“When a client calls I can open inventory from any location that has Wi-Fi”


 tmdesigncorp.com

Overall, going for a business software solution on the cloud means being mobile, always on and ultimately more efficient. It is not an exaggeration to say that an online ERP approach is fundamental in fulfilling your business’ potential.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tracking incoming & outgoing goods in your warehouses

Once you’ve imported your initial warehouse information and are able to look up basic information such as stock levels in your ERP software, perhaps the next most common task you want is to be able to track inbound and outbound items. Simply put, this means adding an item into your inventory levels when it arrives at the warehouse and subtracting it when it leaves.

So to do that, just go to Inventory again (intuitively enough) and select Goods Inbound.
 


Once there, start typing the supplier, i.e. who’s sending the item which is to be checked in your warehouse. Contact details are also automatically filled in and you’re ready to enter what’s incoming.
 


Again, simply type the SKU or if you don’t know the magnifying glass allows you to search for the item.
 


When you finish entering the items click Verify to finaliZe the data entry - or Save for interim saves to make sure you don’t lose your work.
 


Almost done - the only thing left is to tell megaventory which location or warehouse is receiving the item
 


That’s it! Your inbound goods are safely stored in megaventory in just a few clicks.

Similarly, when you decide to ship an item off a warehouse (to a ‘client’ or equivalent) the process is very similar. Just go to Outbound Goods and fill in the first few characters...
 


and what you want to ship
 

Note that you’re informed about which location has how much stock - a significant detail which also saves you time and clicks.

A good example of this process of inbound and outbound goods is followed by the marketing department of Andrews University: “Large quantities of promotional materials are shipped into our office, and they are entered into Megaventory. When those items are sold or distributed for recruiting or marketing purposes, they are deducted from the inventory and this allows us a chance to have more automation. Alerts also help us to know when to order various items.

A necessary feature when managing your warehouse is to know of course when stock levels are low and need to be replenished (i.e. new orders to be made).
  

The On-Hand Inventory and Alerts option in Inventory easily lets you set such levels to ensure you don’t run out of goods.

Overall, running the marketing department of an organisation as complex and diverse as a university requires a systematic approach to make sure the necessary material is always available and there aren’t any unfortunate surprises due to improper warehouse management.

Another good - even though totally different - example of a company making use of this core ERP feature is CWB Smart Home Solutions, a Florida, USA based company offering home automation, home theater, home security and home networking solutions.

In this case too, CWB has to handle ordering, receiving, storing and consequently shipping expensive equipment on a rolling basis based on their work flow and their clients’ requirements.

A quick look on their high-profile work and anyone can understand that there is little room for mistake in ordering products, arrival times, keeping deadline etc. As such a proper inventory management solution is crucial for keeping it all together.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Looking up stock availability in your ERP

This is a quick post showing how easy it should be (and it is with megaventory!) to handle a very common task that hopefully you should have to do all the time.

Say for example you’re working and an email arrives or - even better the phone rings - and a customer or possible customer of yours is asking whether you have ‘Our Family Wine’ in stock.

Obviously, it’s crucial both to provide them with an answer as soon as possible - preferably within a few minutes if by email or without even putting them on hold if by phone. Any delays past what’s expected might mean a lost customer.

So how would you be able to do that in a few moments?

To give an answer to your customer just click on Inventory - as expected - from the main menu.
 



Once there the simpler way is to start typing in the top left corner the name of the item you’re looking for. Before you’ve finished searching you’ll have found what you’re looking for in most of the cases!
 


Just hit enter and you’ll be able to see a list of all the relevant results. In particular, in the column ‘Detailed Inventory’ you can see that the location ‘Ath’ has 150 bottles of ‘Our Family Wine’ the customer is asking for. It’s that simple and it took less than one minute to find it - even the most demanding customers won’t have a problem with that...
 


In addition to this simple search, you can look for example by location of your inventory (if, e.g. the customer mentioned their city you could look first in the location nearer him) or by supplier (again following a similar reasoning).
 


This process is exactly what’s regularly happening in Eshanima Fabrics:

Customer calls and we can give live stock availability figures.”, eshanimafabrics.com

Eshanima Fabrics is a South Africa-based small business selling fabric for almost 30 years now with four locations in the country covering the national market. Their product range spans pure linen, premium design fabrics and print base fabrics among others with a wide variety of collections in their inventory.

So a common scenario would be for someone to look them up online (after a Google search or a word of mouth reference), find their site and give them a call asking for the availability and the location of a particular piece of fabric for their project or business. That’s when a quick inventory lookup can turn a prospective client to a satisfied customer

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Importing business data as it should be done

Following the results of the recent customer survey we ran, you all made it pretty clear that one of the most interesting things you would like to see on this blog are practical guides about how to get specific things done in megaventory. Moreover, we’ve asked you to share a typical use scenario in which megaventory makes life easy for you - and lucky for us many of you did. So in this series of posts we’re combining the two types of information into one neat type post: practical guides for typical megaventory uses.

First up, is importing your data into megaventory of course.

Generally speaking there are two ways to get your data into the service. Firstly, you can try creating the entire data structure piece by piece experimenting as to what works best. This is something you probably need to go through to familiarize yourself with megaventory - but it’s not necessary.

Megaventory's step-by-step tutorial


Secondly, or when you’re confident enough about the initial data you’ve already uploaded, you can start massively uploading information. This is done with our handy import tool which covers most of the data that can be stored in megaventory.
Step1 of the Data Import process of Megaventory



It’s really easy to get things online. Say, for example, we want to upload all our suppliers. We click the second icon and proceed to download the special spreadsheet file by megaventory.
Step2 of the Data Import process of Megaventory (here importing Suppliers)


Upon opening it we see its columns have already been constructed appropriately so all we have to do is fill in as many rows as necessary.
 



Needless to say, fields that need predetermined values are filled in by drop-down menu to avoid problems due to a typo for example. Obviously, any data entry mistakes can also be corrected afterwards individually.
 




And as expected once the data has been entered (or copy-pasted) we just need to upload the file. With a bit of preparation you could have your entire business online and ready in a few minutes!
Uploading the Data


The importing feature is especially useful in two cases. For one thing when you’re just starting to insert your business in megaventory, you can do a couple of test imports manually (i.e. individually) and once you get the hang of it import with the tool the bulk of your data - and save loads of clicking.

For another, when you have to import things regularly (e.g. new contacts or products) it can be a huge timesaver if you want to process data entry in batches. Just let some of the work gather, enter it all in the interim spreadsheet provided by megaventory and upload the lot in a few clicks.

The importing tool is extremely useful.”, laxtongroup.com

Who would use the import tool? Take for example laxtongroup.com, a company selling kiosk and touch screen related products among others. With various types of products, components and items to keep track, inventory management software is a must.


Also, given that their products move relatively fast, the need to keep their catalogues up-to-date is no surprise and need to make heavy use of mass importing regularly.

Depending on the size of your company and the turnover times of your business such simple features can save considerable time and effort from trivial tasks (while also preventing silly errors), resources that can then be redirected to more important things.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Choosing an ERP consultant: Panorama Consulting

In this third installment of our series of posts aimed to help anyone interested in finding an ERP consultant for their business, we're very glad to present Panorama Consulting.

In particular, Brevard Neely, Senior Manager with them has agreed to answer a similar set of questions as the previous two ERP consultants.

 

Here it goes:

Tell us a few words about you or your company and your personal role in it:

Panorama Consulting Solutions provides services including ERP software justification, selection and implementation, organizational change management, benefits realization and project recovery. Panorama also is frequently called to share its expertise as expert witnesses in ERP failure and mismanagement trials.

Our clients run the gamut — from domestic, family-owned SMBs to enormous multinationals in industries as diverse as financial services, manufacturing, life sciences, food and beverage and retail, to name just a few. Panorama’s methodology is so flexible that it can be customized to suit any size ERP engagement.

I am a Senior Manager working in a dual role overseeing both Panorama’s marketing department and several client projects.

Do you have expertise in a particular brand of ERP software or are you totally brand-agnostic when it comes to your consulting? Why did you make such a choice?

Panorama was founded on the principle that ERP consulting is most beneficial when it is provided by independent, vendor-agnostic consultants. While we have broad and deep ERP experience in more than 150 packages, we are not compensated by ERP vendors for our work or recommendations. This structure allows us to find and deploy the ERP software that best fits our clients — not the ERP software that best lines our pockets. Panorama has pioneered this approach in the ERP consulting industry as it allows us to serve as true, trusted advisors to our clients. Our commitment to this approach is nonnegotiable. In fact, we have turned down countless offers to partner with this vendor or that vendor. It’s just never going to happen.

We also remain technology-agnostic because implementation success factors are the same across specific ERP systems. Whether a client is implementing a Tier I solution such as SAP or Oracle E-Business Suite or a Tier II solution such as Epicor or Infor, we use the same proven and technology agnostic implementation framework. In addition, we partner with the world’s top experts in each of the leading ERP systems to provide the technical expertise required to complement our other consulting service offerings. This breadth and depth in various ERP solutions means that our clients get the best of ERP implementation best practices and have “one throat to choke” when selecting and implementing ERP solutions.

Do you specialize in a particular part of the total spectrum of ERP functionality (CRM, inventory, manufacturing, distribution, financial, Project Management etc.) or do you offer a broader service?

Panorama offers a 360-degree spectrum of ERP services, meaning we are accustomed to joining ERP engagements at any time to offer benefit to the client. We specialize in bringing value to a client at all points in the ERP life cycle, from negotiating optimal deals with ERP vendors to conducting exhaustive software selection evaluations to managing complex implementations on time and on budget to helping organizations recover from ERP failures. Our input and leadership is proven to minimize ERP project risk and increase the success and value of these initiatives.

Do you have certain tools and/or approaches you use when working with our clients?

Panorama has developed the PERFECT® methodology to ensure our clients benefit from our experience, expertise and insight at every turn of their ERP projects. These proven and proprietary tools allow organizations to harness the benefits of Panorama’s collective decades of ERP experience, regardless of which of Panorama’s expert staff members are on-site.

In terms of approach to our work, Panorama is focused on forging true and lasting collaborations with client teams. We want to educate and engage clients to take responsibility for and ownership of their ERP systems to ensure success long after our team leaves the building.

Do you focus on particular industries?

No – Panorama’s methodology is applicable to all private- and public-sector industries that use ERP software, including aerospace, manufacturing and distribution, financial services, local and state governments and so forth.

In what ways is your role changing due to the broader cloud adoption for business uses and the abundance of online ERP vendors?

Frankly, it isn’t changing our role at all. Regardless of which software package or deployment model chosen, organizations still want and need help implementing ERP systems, managing the organizational change associated with the implementation and ensuring the company realizes all the benefits possible from the system ... and that’s where we come in. In terms of cloud or online vendors, bring them on. We’re happy to see any advancement that can simplify the process, save organizations money and disempower the vendors’ control.

What is the role of the ERP consultant when it comes to helping a small business which is on the market for an ERP solution?

The role of the ERP consultant helping a small business is the same as one helping a large business: make sure the ERP system is chosen correctly, works correctly and is used correctly. With that being said, small businesses typically have more challenges when it comes to resource allocation and backfilling necessary for ERP success, so we spend time getting their project management processes squared away and ensuring the right staff members are receiving the right support to participate in the project.

What do you think are the major problems/challenges in the ERP consulting industry?

The major problem we see is that organizations still want to focus almost exclusively on the technical aspects of implementation and cut the change management aspects that truly create successful ERP initiatives. ERP failures aren’t caused by technical mishaps; they’re caused by employees not learning the software, not caring about using the software and sabotaging the new processes. Organizations that refuse to see this are doomed to failure, and there’s nothing any ERP consultant can do to save them.

How do you see the business software evolve? What should a small business keep in mind and expect in the next 12 months?

Small businesses should keep in mind that they’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to ERP software. Between the new technologies, new deployment options and new companies coming on the market every month, SMBs shouldn’t feel as though they have to choose a marquee vendor or multi-million dollar software package to compete. The options are there for the taking. The issue with this, however, is that the more diluted the market becomes – the more confusing it becomes to a small business without the manpower or expertise to make the best choice. This is where ERP consultants come in. So, in the next 12 months, I would suspect that the role of ERP consultants will become even stronger as companies begin to realize that nothing will save them more time and effort than putting experts on the project from the very beginning.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Industry roundup: go small, future-proof and track

There was lots of interesting content out there in the past week or so but the most interesting and perhaps overlooked ones are about the new trend where SMBs are starting to avoid large vendors, another factor when choosing SaaS vendors and the funding of cloud services tracking startup, Cloudability.

(By the way, we are in no way affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this post)

Small companies abandoning large vendors 

CloudPro identifies an interesting trend in this recent article of theirs. Cloud-based CRM provider Workbooks claim to have most of their clients have a legacy, on-premises solution for their CRM needs and come asking for a more modern, flexible and lean cloud approach.

That’s to be expected, but in addition to this, Workbooks Online notices a flow of SMB customers from large providers - namely Salesforce - to their customer base. In other words, an increasing number of small business try their luck with an established, enterprise vendor - and then decide to abandon them and adopt a smaller, leaner provider.

The cited reasons are cost & customizability but obviously the trend is much broader. Overall, it makes sense. It is easy and cost-effective to identify other, more viable vendors - or even to hire a consultant to do that for you. Once there, it’s only natural for an SMB to decide to jump ship for a more efficient solution - it has the flexibility to move that fast and comparatively minor change management pains to address.

Future-proofing yourself from your vendors 

Chris from VM Associates has an interesting insight about companies offering Software-as-a-Service. In essence, he provides a couple of other factors regarding how to choose such a company, e.g. to handle your CRM or ERP needs.

It’s all about reliability in the long term really - since most of the times we’re not talking about established companies of considerable impact and size (e.g. Microsoft or SAP), there is always the danger that your vendor will either shut down completely, be merged or taken over (and then shut down) or similar disaster scenarios.

Actually, it may or may not be a bad thing for them, but it’s definitely a huge issue with whomever has included the company in their workflow and now have to change everything to an equivalent solution, migrate data, train their staff etc. So a bit more preparation when choosing providers is a good idea:

  • The younger a company the more volatile it (still) is - obviously months old ones are risky but once a few years have set int they should be ok.
  • If a company has taken external funding there is pressure to pay it back - quickly and in volume. This means going for an all or nothing approach - which usually turns out to be nothing.
  • Is enterprise the target group - and only incidentally do they offer a ‘Basic’ SMB-oriented account? If so, that’s a giveaway of a (hoped) buyout and subsequent changes down the road.

In short, answering questions such as the above should part of an SMB’s evaluation when choosing a vendor who may themselves be an SMB. And in case you’re wondering, we’re less than 3 years old, with no external funding and our main target group is SMBs - but with strong enterprise options though.

Putting the cloud in order

We had heard about Cloudability but it managed yesterday to reappear on our radar and this time with big news about an 8.7M investment.

Now such an infuse - apart from providing additional pressure for the company to perform - is a huge confirmation of their business model. Cloudability aims to help you keep track of all your cloud-related costs, from monthly fees to usage spikes related e.g. from unpredictable online traffic to your business, etc.

Given that more and more business functions are transferred to the cloud we agree that services such as Cloudability will be more and more crucial for the modern online entrepreneur.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Megaventory July 2012 Upgrade (code named: Thessaloniki)

We have a few breaking changes and some exciting new features coming to Megaventory this July on Sunday the 15th. Here is the list:

1. Export Data module
to ease data export of Documents (Purchase Orders, Goods In, Purchase Invoices, Sales Quotes, Sales Orders, Goods Out, Sales Invoices, Goods Return to Supplier, Goods Return from Client, Goods Transfer) from a single point in Megaventory, we have added a new module that requires minimal effort to export all -or- specific document data in excel or CSV format. This is particular handy if you'd like to send Sales and Purchasing data to your favourite accounting software. Here's how the new module looks:
 

The all-new Data Export module

The new page is available only to account administrators and can be found under the Admin menu.

2. Cancellation of Documents
This feature allows for cancellation of verified Goods Inbound/Outbound, Sales/Purchase Invoices, Goods Return and Goods Transfer documents. The new functionality can be found under the 'more' options at the Document header.
 
The new 'Cancellation' feature in verified Documents
 
This option reverts the effect of the verified document (stock/costs/revenues). The document remains in the database as Cancelled and cannot be edited further.

3. Easier Selection of Supplier/Client while creating a document.
We have replaced the drop-down option with an easier to use (and faster) text box. Supplier and Clients can now be fetched based on their Name, Tax ID, Telephone and e-mail.
 
Supplier/Client Selection while creating Documents
 
We have also dealt with more than 20 minor bugs and have improved the efficiency of the code. That translates to faster response times throughout Megaventory.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Choosing an ERP consultant: VM Associates


This post is the second in a series of posts aimed primarily in helping small businesses understand how to better pick a consulting company for their ERP, Inventory Management, Order management or Sales software implementation. We’re doing this by discussing with a different consultant or consulting company in each post.

This time we’re talking with Chris Bliss, Operations Manager for VM Associates.

Tell us a few words about you or your company and your personal role in it.

I’m a partner at VM Associates, a New York City based IT consulting firm. We help small businesses implement awesome software - CRM, ERP, accounting, inventory, you name it. We deal entirely with web based applications, which means engagements are quicker, cleaner, and less expensive (we don’t have to fly somewhere to install a server). The software is better too.

As a partner, I do a bit of everything - project management, vendor relationship management, product design, etc. I like client work best though. Watching a business take off after you’ve re-hauled their IT infrastructure is really gratifying.

Do you have expertise in a particular brand of ERP software or are you totally brand agnostic when it comes to your consulting? Why did you make such a choice?

We’re brand agnostic, deliberately so. The old model - consultants reselling software - just doesn’t make sense anymore, especially for web based applications. Businesses don’t need IT guys to install patches and updates, and software vendors don’t need consultants to make sales or install product. Cloud computing changed all that.

Being vendor neutral lets us deliver real value to clients. We can objectively match software to a client’s unique needs, and clients don’t need to sign up for costly maintenance retainers. Likewise, vendors get a good deal because we’re only sending them clients who are suited for the software. That helps lower churn and boosts buzz. It’s just better for everyone.

Do you specialize in a particular part of the total spectrum of ERP functionality (CRM, inventory, manufacturing, distribution, financial, Project Management etc.) or do you offer a broader service? 


CRM is our bread and butter - it’s what most small business need most but don’t have, and the software options are pretty mature. We do some full-blown ERP jobs, though ERP solutions have been much slower to move to the cloud (though folks like Megaventory and Brightpearl are changing that). Of course, we also implement customer service solutions, accounting solutions, and project management software, so we’ve got a little of everything. It all depends on the client.

Honestly, the limiting factor isn’t expertise, but software options - business software has been slow to move to the cloud. Even the most robust solutions out there are less than 8-10 years old. A big part of our job is identifying the best contenders, then forging a relationship that makes sense for everyone.

Do you have certain tools and/or approaches you use when working with your clients?  


Definitely. We begin engagements with a “Discovery” session - this is a workshop that focuses on who the client is, what they have in place and what they’re trying to achieve. The goal is to really clearly map out their pain points and objectives.

After Discovery, we produce a roadmap for going forward, which the client is free to implement internally, with another consultant, or with us (we provide an implementation quote). Implementation projects really vary client to client, but include everything from data migration to custom development and configuration.

We always end with training. Software is only as helpful as the people using it, so we make sure everyone who will be using the software has a good understanding of what they’re doing and why it’s helpful. Lot’s of Skype sessions...

Do you focus on particular industries? (do you have a proven track record e.g. in apparel, food and beverages, hardware, etc) 

Not really. Software needs are remarkably consistent across verticals. We see lots of demand from real estate, professional services, and contractors, but we’ve also worked with furniture distributors, lighting manufacturers, fishing rod franchises...

In what ways is your role changing due to the broader cloud adoption for business uses and the abundance of online ERP vendors? 

We’ve always focused on web applications, so broader cloud adoption is great news! That’s not true for everyone though - resellers have struggled to find an alternative revenue model, and that’s only going to intensify. We think the right way is via top-level strategic consulting and training - ie matching software to business process, then training on it.

Maybe the other thing to mention is that integration between services is an increasingly big deal for small businesses. No one wants multiple disparate services - it’s our role to help connect them all.

What is the role of the ERP consultant when it comes to helping a small business which is on the market for an ERP solution? 

I largely agree with the words of Pemeco Consulting, who you interviewed last week: “If there is one key takeaway for a small business, it is this: choose a consultant that focuses on defining your business’ unique requirements and matching a system to those requirements.”

That’s absolutely, 100% right on. I’m probably beating the drum to death, but consultants should focus on what a business does and needs before running off and implementing some pet software solution. Optimized process should dictate your toolset, not the other way around.

To add to that, ERP consultants should also manage the transition. Changing software systems is stressful and confusing and a headache for most business owners, never mind their staff. Consultants should do everything they can to ease that pain and make the transition easy. Users first.

What do you think are the major problems/challenges in the ERP consulting industry? 

Consulting is still too expensive for most small businesses, and it’s still too vague - business owners don’t know what they’re getting, so they can’t balance the value against the cost. That’s our problem, not theirs. We (professional service providers) need to package services in such a way that the deliverables, cost and value are all 100% clear. Until that happens, small businesses will keep keep making the same mistakes (wrong software, poorly setup), and consultants will keep losing money.

How do you see the business software evolve? What should a small business keep in mind and expect in the next 12 months? 

Cloud based ERP systems are still young: expect more of them, offering more services, and expect more on-premise solutions that offer hybrid cloud solutions.

Also, expect more “specialist” systems, as opposed to “generalist.” ERP as a concept is the idea that a core set of tools - CRM, inventory, accounting - can all live under one roof. That’s a generalist approach, and it’s pretty difficult to execute well. Software vendors are increasingly turning to the specialized approach - making one tool extremely well. So you get accounting tools and inventory tools, but not both under one roof. Integrating them becomes the main challenge.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for having us, and enjoy the fruits of great software!