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.
Showing posts with label small business. Show all posts
Showing posts with label small business. Show all posts

Friday, 14 June 2013

PRISM: the case for realism

As the dust settles after the recent Guardian revelations that the US Government has systems in place to monitor information online, various sources are starting to analyse what this means for the future of enterprise software, cloud computing and generally the prospect of doing business online.


For those of us in the industry, the dangers of placing your data online are not new. Ongoing cyber attacks - especially from China - has been in the focus of discussions for months now. Security has always been one of the main issues and perhaps - along with service availability - the basic concern voiced when talking with new customers and collaborators.

The recent events are likely to make even more business rethink the prospect of moving some of their software online but fortunately things are not as grim as portrayed by some. Let’s break down the situation to some distinct cases.

Size does matter

For one thing there are large and medium businesses and then there are small and very small ones. The first category, the larger they are the more likely to be a target for online snooping for whatever reason - either from the government itself, a competitor from abroad or something else. These types of business have a lot more to worry about and should be alarmed by the recent developments. However, they probably are already aware of the dangers and have already taken measures either by customised, hosted or otherwise protected solutions or by some sort of hybrid approach.

The second category, the rest, are simply too small to either be worth the trouble of becoming a target or of affording to be properly protected by extreme measures. But their best protection is their size - why would anyone bother with a small business minding its business? There’s always of course the possibility of a rogue hit but what extreme is justified to protect something from a one in a thousand (or more) danger?

Don’t try this at home

The other thing to note is the type of protection itself. Many evangelise (and will increasingly do so from now) that companies will or should start moving their data either behind firewalls or on privately owned clouds.

Again the solution of take everything off the internet and put it behind a firewall is an approach offering protection. This means having or being able to own the expertise to appropriately set things up. The key here is appropriately. A firewall - and similar measures - not set correctly is quite dangerous in itself. Perhaps the complacency it offers is even more dangerous than knowing you’re not protected and need to do something.

The complexity increases exponentially when considering buying and setting up your own cloud. In other words, if you can’t handle a firewall, something much more elaborate will definitely need more resources than you can afford to maintain its security.

So unless what’s at stake is really that valuable and expensive it’s probably best to make sure management of your infrastructure happens at the hands of experts. This doesn’t mean outsourcing it. Instead it actually means “letting go of it” to be in the cloud, in a quality data center somewhere where dedicated expert personnel will allow it to have the best possible protection. That will happen in bulk along with businesses of a similar profile as yours - but that’s ok. It’s good enough.

Time to relax

And what more could you ask for in this overcomplicated business setting but for someone to take care of the infrastructure issues in an efficient, value for money approach?

PRISM and similar initiatives which may or may not exist in other countries are a serious issue for individuals and the society. They are potentially a significant issue to be addressed by large companies. But smaller companies should probably have at least off their minds.

Monday, 23 July 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, 18 July 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.

Thursday, 5 July 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!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Choosing an ERP consultant: Pemeco Consulting

This post is the first of 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’ll be doing this by discussing with a different consultant or consulting company in each post.

First up is Pemeco Consulting, via the words of Jonathan Gross, Vice President and Corporate Counsel.
 

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

Our firm, Pemeco Consulting, has been in business since 1978. Over this period, we have transformed from an IT service bureau into a pure IT consulting/advisory firm. Though the service bureau and consulting business models are very different, our evolution happened quite naturally. In the 1980s, manufacturing and distribution organizations came to us looking for help selecting and implement sophisticated software for material requirements planning (MRP) and production scheduling functions. In the 1990s, software vendors began to extend MRP software functionality to other business functions. And, we correspondingly expanded our range of services. We’ve been in the ERP consulting space long before it was called ERP.

Personally, I joined the firm in 2009. I’m lawyer, an MBA, and a part-time MBA professor of Systems Analysis and Design at the Schulich School of Business at York University (ranked #9 worldwide by the Economist Magazine). I advise clients on IT/ERP strategic planning and project manage their selection 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? 

Pemeco Consulting is 100% vendor-agnostic. As an advisory firm, we’re in the business of filling our clients’ expertise gaps in the areas of IT strategy, ERP selection, ERP implementation, and post-implementation optimization. Our clients need to trust that the recommendations we make as trusted advisors are in their best interests. The only way we can maintain this trust is if we shun benefits offered by software vendors and resellers. In other words, our business model is built around the principle that our advice and services are un-conflicted.

Do you specialise 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? 

As a firm, we specialize in the project management of all things ERP – including strategy, selection, implementation, and post-implementation optimization. Our objectives are threefold, to deliver projects: 1) on-time, 2) on-budget, and 3) according to defined performance expectations. To do so, we generally build teams that include personnel from our firm, the vendor, and the client. 

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

We rely on proprietary project management methodologies that we’ve designed specifically for complex ERP-related projects. For example, our ERP implementation methodology – Milestone Deliverables: The Hands-On Approach to Implementing ERP Projects - is published, and our book sells in more than 40 countries. The underlying premise is that teams are more effective if they work towards small, tangible, and achievable targets.

Our clients trust us to bridge the gap between its business needs and an ERP-optimized future state. To successfully bridge that gap, the client has to buy-in to the proposed changes. However, it should never do so blindly. Therefore, it’s critically important that the client’s people be appropriately involved in the projects – both to make effective decisions and to undertake project-related work.

One of the ways we do this is by setting up an appropriate organizational structure and communications mechanism. For example, we establish an executive-level steering committee that we report to periodically about project status – such as budget, schedule, and progress. We also establish a core team comprised of departmental leaders. This team is generally responsible for assisting in day-to-day project execution. In the case of an ERP selection project, for example, the core team would participate in software demonstrations. Under the leadership of the project manager, the members would be responsible for evaluating the extent to which a proposed software solution is capable of handling the company’s business processes. In the case of an implementation project, a core team would be responsible for mapping the business processes, testing the software, and training the end-users, among other things (again, under the leadership of the project manager). 

Do you focus on particular industries? 

Over the past 15 years, we have largely served businesses in a broad array of manufacturing and distribution sectors. On the discrete manufacturing side, we serve hi-tech/electronics, aerospace, automotive suppliers, home furnishings, industrial equipment, durable goods, among others. On the process side, we largely serve paints, chemical, plastics, and pulp and paper companies. 

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

The emergence of SaaS and cloud ERP software as mainstream doesn’t change our services delivery model. We have to stay informed about the technologies, risks, and business case implications of the various forms of software. Moreover, our advisory methodologies don’t change either. On an implementation, for example, businesses have to focus on organizational change management, data migration, and system testing regardless of the platform. 

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? 

Small businesses – like any sized business – have typically embedded sub-optimal processes into their operations. As these businesses grow, the detrimental effects of the sub-optimal processes become manifest. Common warning signs include: increasing delivery delays, increasingly undetected product defects, and increasing turnover of long-standing customers. An ERP consultant who is assisting with software selection should, first and foremost, be able to advise a small business on how it can improve its business processes using ERP software. This typically involves defining core non-negotiable processes as well as proposed business process enhancements. This is what we mean when we say “define your requirements”. Once the requirements are well defined, a consultant should be able to manage a due diligence project aimed at finding a software that fits those requirements.

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. Avoid using canned templates and specifications lists. These templates weren’t built for your business and, consequently, the results they yield might not match your business’ requirements.

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

The price of ERP is dropping, and the array of alternatives available to small business is widening. In some respects, the availability of choice is a good thing for small business. In other respects, it complicates the selection process.

The ERP consulting space generally struggles to effectively service the small business community. There is clearly a need, particularly given the high failure rates associated with ERP selection and implementation projects. Though ERP software is becoming commoditized, the supporting business services are not. Selecting ERP, implementing ERP, and optimizing business processes are still high-value services. The challenge is convincing a small business of this value before it makes a mistake.

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

Enterprise software and peripheral technologies are rapidly evolving. Innovations in the areas of cloud, mobile, analytics, human capital management, and sustainability are providing opportunities reflect evolving business needs. To build a better business, it’s important to understand the scope of these technologies, and whether there is a supporting business case given their particular circumstances and needs.

Friday, 15 June 2012

How to employ a consultant to implement ERP for my business?

Assuming you’ve been hooked up with our latest ERP related posts and you actually want to implement one in your business, you may start to wonder, “OK, so how do I actually do it?”

Broadly speaking, there are two ways to go about doing it.

The first is to bite the bullet, do the research, google it, read fora, speak with friends and associates and eventually pick a solution. Then you should start the real work of migrating your existing system to the new way of doing things - and that includes changing your software -possibly some of your other infrastructure as well- and of course training your colleagues or your employees. And once most of this work has been done, hopefully you’ll be seeing the first signs of improvement.
 

-OR- 

you could hire specialized experts or consulting companies to handle the entire process for you. Although this may seem to involve an additional overhead (in terms of extra cost, time and administration), given a consultant’s experience and the best practices they follow, a business is most likely to benefit in the long run from employing one.


 

So, how would you choose a consultant or a consulting company? We collect here a number of questions you should ask yourself or them: 

1. Define the scope of the collaboration. Basic parameters of their work will obviously be set from the beginning such as whether they will be helping you select a solution or implement it (or both), whether they will provide training to your staff, whether they will be handling the transition period and offering support during and after the change.

2. Obviously, find out as much about the consultants as possible. Things like the type of clients they’ve worked with in the past, their general experience and their high points so far all paint a picture you want to know a lot of detail about. Contacting the manager of a company the consultant has worked with, is always a good idea.


3. Make sure you know of any affiliations they have with certain ERP software and whether they offer only that. Certain consultants specialize in offering services related to particular business software choices. Although that’s not a bad thing in itself it’s important to know you’ll be adopting a solution based on your needs and not just because that’s the only thing a consultant knows about - or, even worse, benefits from.


4. Do the consultants specialize in a particular part of the total spectrum of ERP functionality? Some consultants may not be as knowledgeable in certain aspects of a business - they are quite a few after all: CRM, inventory, manufacturing, distribution, financial, project management etc.). Consider the possibility of employing more than one or simply hire someone who has experience in all aspects you need.

5. Which tools and/or approaches they will be using when working with you. In practical terms how will you be collaborating? What software, what methodology, how will progress be measured and how will the entire project be managed? These are questions that should be addressed before starting.


6. Do the consultants focus on particular industries? If they have a proven track record e.g. in apparel or food and beverages, they might actually be a poor match for you if your industry is hardware. Despite if the other indications are favorable it might be good to go with someone with experience in the industry who’ll speak the same language as you.

7. Make sure you are offered a cloud solution too. Rather obvious these days, but we should mention it as certain consulting companies still only offer on-premises solutions only for a number of reasons (mostly associated with their profit margins). Make sure they know of (and are willing to use) the latest technology; it is going go get you further along the road.


8. Size matters. Take a look at the consulting company’s portfolio. If they’ve worked only with large companies and you’re a small business, they’ll probably be applying approaches that will not work as well in your case. Cost will also be prohibitive most likely and will not correspond to quality. Stick to similar scale consultants as you.

9. Don’t get your expectations too high. Or you will be disappointed. About 50% of ERP change projects go off budget and a similar ratio goes off schedule. Be prepared for this but also for the fact that there should be improvements in the way you do business but not miracles...
 

These are a few of the things you should keep in mind - others can probably be added on the list too, so feel free to add them in the comments.

Overall, choosing a consultant is not a commitment to be taken lightly (as with any other collaboration). Of course, as with any business decision, there’s always the danger of ‘paralysis by analysis’, so once you’ve crossed at least some of the above items with a candidate, take the plunge and start!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The most important aspect of cloud ERP

As long as your business is smaller than a certain size software-as-a-service ERP makes all the sense in the world for a number of reasons. Cost, efficiency, scalability, multi-location benefits, mobility, even security are all factors to make you choose the online instead of the traditional approach.

Once that decision is behind you however the next step is to decide on which of the existing platforms you should adopt. A quick research might reveal that there are many solutions out there. Each has its own set of features, its own pricing, its own peculiarities overall.

Here’s the thing though: provided you’re not after a very specialized feature (and you shouldn’t be if you’re an small business), by this point down the evaluation path all the companies in your shortlist will seem rather similar or equal.

And your impression will be correct - because, and at the end of the day, all online ERP companies share their core functionality and differ in the extra, not so crucial features. So how do you decide?


Here’s an argument that you don’t hear often enough - usability. You would have thought it makes sense right? Still, people usually decide mostly on other reasons (number of features and cost for example) and they end up with something that takes a lot of time to learn, working with obscure menus, and generally resenting each day they see an ugly interface first thing in the morning.

It doesn’t need to be like that though. There are a lot of things you should be looking for when choosing an ERP vendor (or developing them if you are the ERP vendor).

First of all, the interface design should work. The layout itself needs to be self-explanatory and helping users navigate themselves through its many options. Usually this is in the opposite direction of pretty but it’s in the direction of helpful - and that’s more important.


Proper categorization of functionalities is crucial so that users don’t get lost in too much information. In fact, the design should revolve around the users and common tasks they have to do, not around whatever internal category of features the company offers. A lot of testing needs to have taken place to get this right - with real people - but when you do, it shows.

Help should be readily available - not on another window, a help file or a community section. Right in the website buttons and fields should explain what they do (see the AdWords interface and how much helpful information Google has crammed in it). Hovering the mouse on pretty much anything should show what you would otherwise need to look up in a FAQ - and disrupt you from your actual work.

Also, for beginners in the world of ERP or for users who just start on the company, game-like on-site tutorials or guided tours are an excellent way to get people familiar with the platform quickly. You should really offer that to your employees or your colleagues when choosing an ERP.


These are but a few of usability related items to keep an eye out for when deciding which ERP to use. Most vendors are not paying attention to offering a user friendly experience but as industry matures more and the feature sets converge, it will be whoever offers this ‘simple’ differentiating factor that will win the day.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Online ERP Guide for Small and Very Small Businesses

In our effort to make the life of small and very small business owners that much easier, we decided to collect all useful content that's been posted in this blog in a handy PDF guide.
 
The 'Online ERP Guide' is made up by two sections. The first part introduces the basic concepts (what is ERP, the basic benefits from using ERP for your business, the choosing criteria, etc). The second part goes through the major online ERP vendors for small and very small businesses and reviews its functionality and features.
 
The two components put together -along with our glimpse of what lies next in the field- should make an excellent read for any entrepreneur running a small business in need of an ERP. So, if you are a small business owner, make sure you forward the e-book appropriately.
 
Enough said, here is the guide:

Of course, it can also be downloaded here: Online ERP Guide.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Open or closed cloud?



As a small business owner you have the choice of running your business software either on your own server/PCs or in the cloud. Each choice has some pros and cons but overall, the scale weighs towards the cloud.

When it comes to small businesses in particular the choice is pretty straightforward: there isn’t really any good reason why you should not be on the cloud.

However, if you start looking into the cloud solution, sooner or later you’ll stumble across another dilemma: open or proprietary cloud?


First of all, let’s see what each is. Proprietary generally refers to an infrastructure that’s been set up in vendors’ servers and is ready to receive your requests on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business solution you’ll adopt. Installation, maintenance and everything that has to do both with the platform and the service is handled by the vendor (or its subcontractors). In any case, you’re not involved with it.

In the above definition, each vendor offers their own solution they’ve developed themselves and maintain. One such vendor is megaventory, the SaaS we offer has been developed in-house and all other infrastructure (servers, storage, backup, load balancing, etc) is managed by us and our hosting provider.

And then there’s also the open cloud.

In this case, the software part of the infrastructure is open-source and freely available. It has multiple components depending on what you want to do and anyone can roughly speaking download it and use it. In theory at least, as in practice the previous sentence needs a couple of disclaimers.

For one thing, there isn’t a single flavor of open cloud - yes, you may have heard of something called the Openstack but actually a couple of dozens exist (see e.g. the comments here) - each with its distinct characteristics.

For another, not literally anyone can download and use it. Surely, it’s not protected behind a company’s firewall and given enough time and money it’s possible. For the time being though you need to have serious IT department to handle laying out such an infrastructure. You either need specialized staff to implement and maintain it or you must outsource it to specialized consultants.

(It is the same as how operating systems evolved in the 90s - few people could run an open source/Linux machine; and few really needed to. The rest of us worked fine with good ol’ proprietary Windows machines).

So what can you do?

Well, if you’re asking the question you probably know the answer already. It’s not a bad thing to admit lack of knowledge (and basically resources) and leave it to the professionals.

And by that we mean that choosing the proprietary platform that suits your needs and not bothering with open platforms and the overhead they involve. It’s the quickest way to get the groundwork done and be able to focus on your business rather than the infrastructure on which it runs.

In any case, the trend is that for quite a few years the open source solution will be reserved for those who have the resources (staff, time, money) to afford it. For the rest, and especially for small businesses, the issue is simply about which proprietary solution to pick.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

What the cloud doesn't do doesn't matter


Much as I can admit to learning and being inspired by reading other people’s rants on the blogosphere, it’s very easy to be disoriented and misguided by certain staff.

Case in point this post by Alex Haislip in Techcrunch itself. Alex Haislip’s main premise is that cloud computing only expands and doesn’t make obsolete computing in your server.

In what seems to me a somewhat sloppily put together piece, he gives some examples in which transition from past to future system is gradual or the future system ends up complementing the past one for a long time. TV coexists with VCR, TiVo etc. while radio does the same along hi-fi, podcasting etc.

He then also gives reasons why the cloud can’t be expected to do everything. For example, cloud backup is inferior to tape(!) storage for speed, security and reliability reasons. Tape storage has also been optimized for mission critical stuff, is very cheap and complies with government regulations. Also, if you have very specific hardware requirements - e.g. for graphics computation - it’s again a bad idea to go to the cloud.

That’s the argument line according to Haislip and he’d almost have you convinced... if you weren’t to bother with reading the comments. It’s there that most of his arguments break down.

From handling graphics (Amazon offers GPU instances) to complying with regulations (cloud companies specifically designed for this) solutions actually do seem to exist - at least at first approach. Moreover, cost is increasingly less of an issue as prices both for storage and CPU cycles continue to go down.

Handling mission critical data with a tried and tested platform is perhaps the best argument in Haislip’s post but for at least some if not most of the cases, redundancy in the cloud systems can save the day for when all hell breaks loose.

In short, unless you’re after something very specific, yes, the cloud can’t accommodate you. But for 99% or more of the cases, and especially when it comes to small businesses, the choice for the cloud is a no-brainer!

This just goes to show, how things should not be taken at face value and definitely not changed by the eye-catching and provocative title. But then again this is Techcrunch.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

New feature - Sales Order APIs launched!

We are pleased to announce that three API functions have just been released for the CSV, JSV, JSON, XML, and SOAP protocols. The API functions are related to:

  • Retrieving Sales Orders [API name: SalesOrderGet]
  • Inserting & Updating Sales Orders [API name: SalesOrderUpdate]
  • Cancelling Sales Orders [API name: SalesOrderCancel]

With those in place, a developer can integrate a 3rd party shopping cart software to megaventory and gain access to the most powerful inventory & order management cloud based software for small and very small businesses.

The APIs can be found at: https://api.megaventory.com/v1/metadata and here's a screenshot with the new 3 functions:
Sales Order APIs


We are committed to improving the way small businesses operate! New APIs for Purchase Orders and Inventory Documents are next in the release queue.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The long tail of business software

Following the previous post about where things seem to be going, here’s another one that offers a similar insight into the future.

(credit)

This Techcrunch guest post by Robert Scoble - in usual Scoble style - rants about a number of things but here’s what intrigued me:

Scoble notices that, nowadays, large cloud computing companies try to get affiliated with business professionals because they are the influencers that grant the large companies access to their main customer base. This customer base consists of small and very small businesses which constitute the so-called long-tail. This strategy is similar to the one the photography giant 'Nikon' has used in the past; they got affiliated with well known professional photographers and through them, they accessed the consumer mass.

That is where all the money and the action is - there’s plenty of reasons, proof and examples why this is so damn true. Scoble is just saying the obvious from one of the many possible perspectives but people have been talking about the real customers being in the long tail for years.

But it gets really interesting when you realize that this market force towards small, flexible and numerous is not only true for customers but also also for vendors. In other words, there is a long tail of business software vendors; business software is not offered by just a couple of large players anymore.

Small business software vendors are hidden in the long tail trying to stand out for you and offer you a new way to cover your needs. Moreover, with the current tools, the threshold for being able to offer a solution for a problem you have felt yourself is relatively low (at least compared to what it was in the past). This leads for many original approaches to sprout.

For example, solutions like NetSuite or other one-size fits all approaches may not be able to fit your specification without considerable expense either in customization or money. A not so large vendor though -let’s just use megaventory as the example- may have just the features you need; no more and no less.

The reason? Small vendors are small businesses themselves and can often understand much better what a fellow small business owner needs. It is the same as checking a blog to find the solution to a problem others might have already solved and shared. These days, online entrepreneurship is so broad that someone else is certain to have created almost exactly what your company needs.

So, if you commit to it, it’s comparatively easy to become a software vendor yourself and have a product out in a couple of years that can actually help people with a business itch similar to what you’d like to have scratched as well. In fact, that’s to some extent how megaventory came to being - but that’s a story for another post!

That approach has been going on for quite a few years now. When accompanied by quality, persistence and the fact that the offered solution is the labour of love of a team of market-savvy entrepreneurs, the odds of it being effective and value for money increase. 


Taken together with the natural flexibility and reliability of relatively simple and small-scale systems, means that this new type of lean almost home-brewed vendor is probably the best option for a large number of small businesses.

The only thing that’s probably an obstacle is actually finding the right software for your specific profile in the long tail. But right now you know where to start - you can immediately check whether megaventory fit your needs or not!

Friday, 30 March 2012

The blurry line between the enterprise and consumer world



I’ve been catching up on the industry blogs the past couple of days and it's been really interesting. I found myself confirming -again- that there’s huge value in some of the posts from the world of business software.

What are those posts about? They talk about a trend that has been pretty obvious for us who have been in the industry of Software-as-a-Service with our online ERP solution of course.

The trend? Businesses are increasingly moving to smaller and leaner web-based platforms for their operations. This transition makes perfect sense as cloud-based software is overally more cost effective when compared to desktop software. However, there is another trend that slowly emerges. Read on.

It dawned on me when I read this post by ex-Techcrunch Sarah Lacy. There, she gives a detailed account of how a large company - Oracle - has been playing their game. She gives the journalist’s take of how - in the late 1990s and the early 2000s - Oracle tried to and successfully stayed in the ever-changing business of enterprise software.

However, both Oracle and other large enterprise software providers stayed current by constantly adding new features and elaborating their offerings. This led to a situation in which roughly speaking the salesmen sold features, reliability, extensibility, maintenance etc. which the software simply could not deliver.

This went on for a bit 
only for Oracle and the rest to find that by the late 2000s most of their customer base had become totally disillusioned and just wanted something that did what it said in the box. Customers wanted something that just worked.

What Sarah Lacy is saying is what most companies have been wanting (and still want). That is simple, elegant and intuitive 
technology. She refers to it as “consumerised” technology; people want to use in their business equally simple tools as the ones they use in their own consumer world. People want to be spoilt by technological wonders.

In other words, they want something that just works the way an iPhone application works or how 37signals or Yammer for example has solved collaboration within a company: 1) focus on a single core feature, 2) add smaller and simple features around it and 3) do everything well.

So much has changed in the past few years and that trend is quite common by now. Software technology is increasingly accessible - both to consume and to develop - and the market has loudly spoken: clean, lean, specialised, low-complexity applications is what everyone wants.

Oracle, SAP, IBM and the rest are behemoths that have grown too big for their own and their customers good. Up until recently there was nothing anyone could do about it - including themselves. But those of us in business software have known for a few years now - and the rest of the world is quickly catching up too - that something can be done now.

You can move to the cloud and choose lean and flexible software-as-a-service approaches out of a multitude of offerings out there. It’s scalable and cost-effective. It’s fast, mobile and takes most of the worries of running and maintaining it off your shoulders. It can be fun, even social and at the same time effective.

It’s like a consumer product but one which also addresses most of your business needs. What more could you ask for to make your work day?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Customer Analytics

So far we’ve come a long way both in terms of features development but also in growing our relationship with our customers. Now, having just launched a major upgrade, we feel ready to take on more businesses which can benefit from our new features and so, we thought it’d be a good idea to look at who our current customers are.

So, drilling down to our database and after some simple slicing and dicing, we can present the following data of our customer profile. Company names have been left out to comply with our privacy policy.

1. Number of users per business


True to our mission we serve very small and small businesses having less than 15 people in their staff. In fact 90% of the business have 1 to 5 employees with a fairly uniform distribution within this range.



2. Number of different products


Whether talking about thousands of different products (SKUs or stock-keeping units to use the appropriate jargon) or just a few tens, megaventory is up to the job. About a third of our customers have less than a hundred products, half have between 100 and 1000 and the rest have more than a 1000. Any type of small to medium business can essentially be catered for.



3. Number of locations

Another important parameter when it comes to inventory & order management is how many locations products are spread across. Locations might include both a warehouse where stock is stored but also a shop or shops where the goods are sold or distributed from. Although we offer a range of services even for single-location businesses (about a third of our customers has just one location), the rest are multi-location with a significant portion having 9 or more locations. It’s clear that regardless how far a business spreads, megaventory can handle the complexity easily. In fact our seamless simultaneous handling of multiple locations, multiple users and multiple currencies is one of the strongest points of megaventory.




4. Number of clients & suppliers


So far we’ve covered metrics which are inherent to any business that buys, manufactures, sells or distributes goods. Let us now take a closer look to the number of people a company actually collaborates with; its clients and suppliers. Efficient handling of clients and suppliers makes sure a company can build and keep track of all the business relationships involved. Even if this number grows large, megaventory can help with easily tracking all interactions and operations involved.




When it comes to clients, although most of our customers (40%) have a relatively small number of clients (<6), the rest of them coordinate their operations successfully with as many as 200 clients or more in a uniform distribution. Essentially this means that megaventory enables companies to keep track of their client base equally well at a broad range of volumes. In other words, any complexity or overhead involved when managing 10, 100 or 500 clients is hidden entirely.



 

Similarly, the number of suppliers tracked for our customers is in almost a third of the cases less than a handful - this is to be expected from a small business which usually has a relatively simple operation in place with few suppliers required. On the other hand, as many as a 100 suppliers can also be handled seamlessly and with ease using megaventory as the relatively uniform supplier distribution shows. As with clients, megaventory is immune to the complexities of handling large number of suppliers and manages to remove any related overhead.

5. Number of Work Orders


Another extremely powerful feature is that of being able to organize the manufacturing part of a business. Megaventory is one of the few companies among SaaS ERP solutions which offers this functionality and approximately 10-20% of our customers have adopted the manufacturing module in their day to day operations.




Looking at the data, about a fourth of the companies are putting the manufacturing module in limited use having issued only a handful of work orders (2-5). The rest of our customers have been using manufacturing considerably or heavily given the tens and hundreds of orders respectively. Even considering the limited sample size and the corresponding small numbers statistics involved overall, the above serves as an excellent proof megaventory can also deliver on the manufacturing front too.

Looking at the big picture this all demonstrates that our customer base can manage their day to day business tasks regardless of their staff size, the number of products, the different locations and the number of clients and suppliers. It’s important to know that there exists a service that can take complexity out of the equation and can keep track of all your business needs seamlessly. Moreover, it’s exciting to know that all this will be true both now when you might be 4 people strong and later when you have grown to having 40 people on your payroll.

The only question left then is simply where does your business fit in the above profile?