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.

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!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Industry roundup: Business software future and regulations

Here’s another roundup of interesting articles which managed to stand out in our regular following of the industry.


P2P and Video in the workplace?

ReadWriteEnterprise provides us with a glimpse of the future when they summarize a report which finds that p2p and video usage of corporate bandwidth is on the increase. What this means in practical terms? That employees on the company time and network participate in file-sharing activities and watch video increasingly more.

In other words, two of the most characteristic consumer-like activities are taking place at work - and nobody can really be sure they’re about work. In fact, most rush to assume it’s not and suggest IT admins ‘protect’ the companies’ resources and its employees.

We think that the new means of conveying information should be included in the way a company works and embraced to make it a better and more effective workplace. And although not many services exist currently to ‘consumerize’ p2p and video for the company, we expect such services are just around the corner.

Mission Critical SaaS - why not?

The all-around interesting CloudPro blog has had two posts with interesting insights in the past 10 days or so. The first identifies - based on a report by a VC fund - the trend even for mission critical businesses to move to the cloud: 50% of those asked agree the cloud is appropriate for such tasks. Issues that play an important role in deciding to move ahead with transitioning to the cloud are scalability, flexibility, security, regulations’ compliance and vendor lock-in.

When talking about going to the cloud most of the respondents meant Software-as-a-Service and when talking about mission critical functions they mean none other than plain old e-commerce functionality. So if you're worried that you may lose traffic and money from your e-shop by adopting a cloud solution, just remember that most of your peers are positive about taking the plunge.

Business software and the cloud shaping the way we’ll work

The second post although less factual provides insights about the future business software trends straight from the mouths of analysts and stakeholders in the industry. Some of the points we liked:
  • 3/4 of employees use their own devices to complete work tasks. This means employees are more likely to use their phone to message a colleague rather than the corporate intranet.
  • The combination of consumer & cloud technologies will revolutionize the way they work - some argue to the point of negating a need to have a physical office
  • Notions of change for the office does not mean no company HQ anymore - instead it means new rules for handling decentralized workers.
  • The most important issue to tackle is company data security - which can be addressed by storing everything in a central, distributed, cloud-accessed location.
  • “Value comes from face-to-face conversation in a room. CIOs must work out where they can use digital technologies to add value, rather than to think about how systems can be used to replace human interaction.”

Regulation matters

ZDNet addresses another topic which may be of importance to most companies - and in particular small businesses. When considering moving to the cloud and no matter how small your business is, you have to take into account how well the new solution will abide by laws and regulations by the government and other bodies.

That’s especially true if you’re in a heavily regulated industry (such as food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, military etc). Whatsmore, when it comes to cloud solutions for companies that need to track resources across different countries, the problem becomes considerably complex.

Questions that may arise vary but examples include things like what measures are in place with regards to security? Must your data be stored in a specific geography? How can the change to the new system be ensured to not cause any service compromise?

All these and more are issues that need to be addressed professionally and as such, unless you’re up to the job, a consultant should be hired to help you with evaluating your business software - especially one with relevant experience - to ensure the necessary requirements are met.